Saving Downtowns: How do we #RestoreTheCore?

Joining CUI host Mary Rowe for our next session in our ongoing series: How can we revitalize downtowns and #RestoreTheCore?  – are Susie Grynol, President of the Hotel Association of Canada; Carl Weisbrod, Senior Advisor at HR&A Advisors in New York City; Kate Fenske, CEO of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ; Stephen Willis, General Manager of Planning, Infrastructure & Economic Development at the City of Ottawa; Andrea Jung, Planner of Homeless Services and Arts, Culture and Community Services at the City of Vancouver; and  Thom Mahler, Manager of Urban Strategy at The City of Calgary.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Focusing on the hardest hit sectors

According to Susie Grynol, some industries have a better chance of recovering from the pandemic than others, and it is critical to develop sector-specific solutions for those hardest-hit. The hotel sector, for example, is at serious risk of permanently losing a sizeable proportion of the industry. She proposes, among several solutions, the proportional restructuring the federal wage subsidy program, and policies that support businesses with their fixed costs.

2. Working together to populate vacant downtown spaces

According to Thom Mahler, it is vital for Calgary’s downtown ecosystem to take approaches that integrate across sectors—bringing together economic development, tourism, real estate partners, large employers, and others to talk about the future for downtowns. Kate Fenske shares similar views, emphasizing the importance of innovation around shared spaces and supporting businesses to go online. She cites the example of a recent business opening in Winnipeg—an online butcher shop renting space from a local restaurant.

3. Watching for the future of work-from-home

Ottawa is in a fortunate position, facing the fastest recovery of any city in Canada because of the proportion of its workforce comprising public sector employees. However, Steve Willis argues that there is a big unknown—if these large employers decide a proportion of their workforce will continue to work from home post-pandemic, it will have a massive ripple effect on the future of the city’s downtowns.

4. Responding to the needs of people experiencing homelessness

The pandemic has greatly impacted those experiencing homeless in our downtown cores, with the closure of many city facilities, non-profits, and physical distancing in shelters leading people to have nowhere to go. According to Andrea Jung, now more than ever, ensuring everyone has safe and secure place to live is critical.

5. Rethinking the future of our downtowns

According to Carl Weisbrod, technology has changed the way we think and move through our urban cores. In the future, everything—office use, brick-and-mortar retail, how we move, and more—will be transformed. Collectively, we must reimagine what our downtowns physically look like, and how they integrate pedestrians, commerce, and commercial use.




Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

Mary Rowe [00:00:19] Hi, everybody, it’s Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute. Thanks for joining us for another edition of City Talk. It’s a bit like the Nasacort count down at the beginning here because we wait for the room to fail, which is why that’s usually a holding slight goes up. We’re conscious today that we originate this broadcast in Toronto, which is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabe, the Ojibwe, the Haudenosaunee and the Wyandaot peoples. It’s home now to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Metis from across Turtle Island. We’re also in Toronto, covered by treaties including the Williams Treaty, which signed with multiple Anishinaabe, nations and the Williams Treaty, which was signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit. And we have at City Talk in coming to terms with the extent to which urbanism is and is an exclusionary practice. And those exclusions have often been racially defined and they certainly are defined by income. And we at CUI publish every hundred days a report called Signposts. We’ve had to now COVID one hundred and COVID two hundred. And in both cases it confirms that communities of color and communities and people that are in lower incomes predominate is where the Covid incidence is the worst. And we’re often the urban planning and urban investment has been negligent and we’re struggling with that and trying to determine how that needs to be addressed going forward. How do we deal with the legacy of that and how do we deal with it going forward? And one of the ways is to ensure that we are engaging diverse audiences in these conversations. And lamentably, this one is not particularly diverse. You’re going to see that we only have Caucasian participants here. And I just want to acknowledge that off the top that one of the dilemmas we have with this conversation and this particular conversation about saving downtowns is that it’s dominated by people that look like me. And I think we have to collectively have that conversation to see how do we ensure that the future downtown actually is the actual inhabitance of downtown are extraordinarily diverse in every city that’s represented in this call and in the great cities around the world, there are extraordinarily diverse places. And for some reason, our leadership structures, well, for lots of reasons, our leadership structures don’t reflect that diversity the way they need to. So I’m just mayor copying this off the top and suggesting that it has to be part of our conversation going forward about how downtowns have to be seats of equity and have to be more representative in  that our conversations themselves are disadvantaged without the benefit of that diversity and the reflections of those different views of people that are most affected. That being said, we’re very pleased to have this gang on and for them to throw their work into the water and help us navigate. How can we restore the core? CUI has been working on a number of campaigns through COVID. Many of you know those platforms. City Watch, Canada, City Share Canada and City Talk Canada. We post these webinars, live afterwards and we post what you put in the chat. So by all means, have a go say smart things in the chat, please. We want to see what you say and then respond to one another as best you can. We’ll post those and we’ll post some highlights. And then we recognize that these conversations are just the beginnings of these topics and we’re not solving everything in one conversation. And so we hope they’ll keep going back and back. And we’re noticing that people do go to City Talk, Canada or, and they continue to download the recordings. And it’s important for us to mark these moments because we’re trying to observe and understand how do cities and people that live in cities cope with adjust to improvise through these extraordinary circumstances? And I’m very appreciative of my colleagues coming to talk today, because in addition to bring back Main Street, we feel CUI, that we need to lead the second campaign called Restore the Core, because something is happening in downtowns or something is not happening in downtowns. And what are the implications for our economies? What are the implications for people that flourish in urban environments? How dependent are we on downtowns? What are the implications for transit? What are the implications for who is on the street? And how do we understand what our downtown streets need to become going forward? So we have a mix of perspectives here, all of whom will have something to say about downtowns. If you want to help us at CUI, we’ve got a lot of things that need doing and we’d love to have more volunteer support. Many of you know that we have people across the country working with us in various capacities. So if you’ve got some bandwidth and some time we’d love to have you can e-mail us at I haven’t asked for volunteers lately, but I’m really happy to have more. So if you’ve got some time this fall, we’d really love to have you So going forward, let’s just see who we’ve got first and the first presentation I’m going to ask for. And I should just say that often at city talk we rarely have. I think this might be the most number of participants we’ve ever put in a single city talk. But we thought it was important to just get a baseline for people to understand. What’s it look like in downtowns? What’s happening and what are the issues? And so we’ve asked Susie Grynol from the Hotel Association to give us a bit of a top line. She was on a session that I did with Mayor Tory in Toronto two weeks or so ago about the impact on the hospitality sector and what the economic implications of that for downtown Toronto, which is now a conversation that we’re now taking with other mayors in other cities. So I asked Susie come back on, if she could and just give us a picture of what’s going on in the hotel industry, in the hotel sector. And just reminding everybody, we don’t do long introductions of bios. They’re all in the chat with their Twitter handles or in the chat their bios are in the chat. So, Susie, over to you to talk to us about the hotel sector, if you could. Thanks. Welcome, to city talk.


Susie Grynol [00:06:15] As you to be here, I’m just going to share my screen here so that people can see. Can everyone see my screen OK?, and hear me OK? I can’t actually see you, so I’m gonna get I’m going to. OK. Perfect. There we go. OK. So let’s do a little dove into the hotel sector, shall we? Prior to COVID, this was an eighty three hundred hotels across this country. Twenty two billion dollar industry employing more than three hundred thousand employees. Some people don’t actually often realize that who owns these hotels is not big Reetz and you know, the Marriotts and the Hiltons of the world. Those are all franchise agreements. Who owns these hotels in this country are predominantly small players. These are small businesses who invested in the local hotel. Small players, medium players. There are a few large players, but predominantly these are Canadians who have invested their livelihood into the local hotel and who live in that community. The impact of Covid has been severe on this sector, disproportionate, I think, to a lot of other sectors. Occupancy dropped at the far left screen here to between 10 and 15 percent. This is this is historic. We’ve never seen anything like this. It held there for a series of months. We saw a small bump in the summer, which was really isolated to resort areas. But certainly we saw the downtown cores sit virtually empty and they have been empty since mid-March. And now we’re falling back into the off season, which means that we’re going to be dropping back into that 10 to 15 percent revenue occupancy rather category. And holding there until the summer is when we see some sort of, hopefully meaningful recovery. Most of our hotels did closed down. Then most reopened. And now we’re starting to see the trend of them closed down again. And some of them are closing down permanently. The impacts here, which has been heartbreaking, is for our employees. Fifty five percent of the industry was laid off at the beginning of this pandemic. Today because of the wage subsidy, we’re able to bring back a sizable portion. But today we’re starting to see, and I’ll explain why, permanent job losses. So 30 percent of the industry has now permanently been laid off. This is fifty seven thousand employees. And that number is growing daily. In terms of recovery by sector, and this is compared by monthly GDP, you see some sectors that have done fairly well. As a matter of fact, during the pandemic, real estate and retail and construction. Obviously at the very bottom here is where we live, which is this dark red line. Our friends in the airline industry are at the very bottom. And then we’ve got the silver medal, which is not a medal you want to win ever, and certainly not in a pandemic setting. And so of that, the cluster of red lines there, that’s where you see food services. So restaurants is the orange line. So they did see a quicker recovery. Appreciate that a lot of them are shut down now, but because of the patio season and the ability to do take out and sort of reframe their product, we’re able to see a quicker recovery there. And then the other line there in that cluster is all tourism related industries. So just to give you a perspective of where we sit here and if we were to expand this chart into the summer, you’re going to see that red line dropping off past July back into the the bottom end range and hold there until the summer. The impact on urban cores has been disproportional. And so these are the numbers that we’re seeing across the country in terms of hotel occupancy. This is year over year. August to August. And you’ll see that certainly Toronto, Montreal, Calgary have suffered the deepest blow. All of this to say is sort of where does this leave us as a state of the industry? It means that we are seriously at risk of losing a sizable portion of this industry permanently. In fact, 60 percent in our latest member survey said that they are going to run out of cash to pay their staff and fixed costs in the coming months. Certainly well before the summer. And since that’s when we’re forecasting a recovery, this is really what is at risk. Seventy five percent said they can’t go on without government supported financing. And 90 percent, of course, have said that the wage subsidy program is critical to their survival. The simple truth here is that some industries are recovering or have a better chance at recovering and others cannot. We are in the business of bringing people together. And, you know, we’re not bringing people together to keep people safe or not having weddings and hockey tournaments and festivals. And that means that we can’t function. And so there does need to be a sector specific solution for the hardest hit industries. I’m focusing today on the federal government because, I mean, this is a national organization and this is you know, we deal directly with the federal government. I have colleagues at the provincial and city level who are dealing with some very important issues there. But for the purposes of this presentation, I’m focused on the federal government and the supports that they can provide. We’ve been doing a lot of work around the hardest hit. And the good news is that the government is listening. We saw deep commitment in the speech from the throne to deal with some of these issues. And there’s really four things that need to happen here. And they need to happen before Christmas, like within the next few weeks, or we are going to see deep permanent loss and we already have. So this is really about clotting, the bleeding at this point. The wage subsidy needs to be adjusted so that it proportionately impacts or benefits, rather, the hardest hit, number one. Number two, the government needs to develop a fixed cost relief program to ensure that the hardest hit get proportional support. Number three is we need to access to debt. And that’s been a real barrier for our sector. I’ll talk about that in a moment. And number four is level the playing field. I would put this in the less critical category, but certainly, you know, a good opportunity for us to deal with a longstanding issue with our frienemies in the short term rental space, the airbnbs of the world who continue to have party houses in the middle of a pandemic and no regard for the public health measures. We believe that there should be a level playing field for anyone in this space and there isn’t currently today. I’m going to just touch briefly on these elements and then wrap up my comments. The wage subsidies support has been a lifeline for our industry and allowed us to bring back a sizable portion of our members, rather, our employees who were laid off. But it’s fallen now to sixty five percent and at sixty five percent, there are additional costs on each one of those employees. We just can’t keep everybody on staff. And so we are seeing deep layoffs. And I think that the challenge here is that the purpose of this program was to maintain the employee-employer relationship. And that’s not happening now that it’s fallen down to 65 percent. So we’re asking the government to adjust that and bring it back up to 85 percent for the hardest hit. So that we can maintain our employees. What’s at issue here principally and what puts us in the very bottom range of the category of who’s been hardest hit is the fact that we are an asset heavy business. So twenty five percent of our normal revenue is fixed costs. And so if you exclude wages, this is the cost that needs to be paid, whether you have anyone coming into your hotel or not. And these are all of the payments that need to be made every month. The challenge, of course, is that our owners have now burned through their cash reserves because they’ve been sitting virtually empty in those downtown cores for the last six months. And now they’ve got another six to eight months ahead of them. So what we’re suggesting to the government here is that they would pick up and they have committed to do this. So now we’re just in negotiations for what is this look like. A portion of revenue, rather a portion of fixed cost based on your revenue loss. So if you’ve had 70 percent revenue lost, the government would cover eighty five percent of those fixed costs. This is our proposal at this point. But it is certainly something that we’ve put in front of the government and that they are considering. This is the slide that should shock everyone most. This is the working capital shortfall for a typical one hundred room hotel. And why this should shock you? Because we’ve removed here the wage subsidy support. We’ve included in our assumption, a fixed cost released program because we know that is coming. And this is a liquidity challenge that remains. And so what you’re seeing here is effectively what I’ve just described, is that the owners that have burned through all of their cash and now are accumulating debt month after month after month. And so they’re going to need to get access to six hundred fifty thousand dollars in the next twelve months in order to stay afloat or the math simply doesn’t work. And so the solution here is a mix of these three things in our view. And what we’re really discussing with the Federal government now is what portion of each of these buckets is going to help us with these fixed costs and so on. The wage subsidy, as I indicated, we believe this needs to be more proportionately applied. It just doesn’t make sense that the government supporting businesses with five and 10 percent revenue loss. And and yet the program’s missing the mark to achieve its very goal for the hardest hit. So we think there’s a public policy element there that needs to be rectified on the fixed cost. We’ll know soon what portion of these costs the government is going to be willing to support. And then the balance, of course, is going to have to come from patient capital. And the banks, unfortunately, are telling our industry that as a matter of principle, they’re not going to be lending to us. And that’s because of the slide I showed you earlier. There’s no line of sight on when these businesses can repay their capital. And so we unfortunately, are falling into this gap where the broad based programing is not enough, the banks are saying we’re not going to help you, and so we’ve  reached mission critical. This is my last slide. And I’ll end on why we think it’s important for these critical infrastructure to be maintained and there are six reasons. The first is that we employ disproportionately compared to other sectors, a vulnerable workforce. These are people that came to us in many cases with limited language skills, who’ve built their life’s work now in a hotel to become experts and specialists in what they do. They’re the lifeblood of this industry. And we’re having to lay all of these people off permanently. That is going to have a severe impact on our ability to recover ever. And so this is why the wage subsidy is critical. Number two is we are a good investment. These are not rinky dink organizations that were on the edge before Covid. These are healthy businesses that will come back the second demand, there is lots of demand, but the second we’re allowed to recover we’ll be back. These are businesses that are deeply committed to health and safety and who’ve been working hand in glove with public health over the course of this pandemic to turn hotels into to shelters, to safe places for people to self isolate, to quarantine facilities, to hospital overflow. And all the while putting into place deep health and safety protocols to ensure that both guests and employees are safe. And the amount of other businesses that depend on hotels is significant. You can’t have a functioning airline if the crew have nowhere to sleep. You can’t have meetings and conventions if you can’t host people and have a place for them to stay. And that would also be true of sporting events, weddings, entertainment festivals. So these are critical infrastructure and it would be hugely unfortunate if we started to see these businesses just closed down permanently in our core and certainly rural and other regions as well. Again, these are small businesses. These are not big giant companies, as some people might believe. These are not big American chains with access to deep capital. These are Canadians that have burned through their life savings and are hanging on by a thread. And my final point here is that there is an uneven playing field between us and the short term rental space right now. It’s a significant problem. It was a problem before Covid. It’s an even bigger problem now. The short term rental, the airbnbs of the world are not paying tax. They do not have to adhere to health and safety standards. And that’s normally important, but it’s especially important in a pandemic setting. You know, this needs to be dealt with it at all levels of government and certainly federally. It starts with leveling the playing field so that they’re at least paying tax, which is going to help, I think also with our recovery. And so I am going to leave it there. Mary, and happy to [inaudible].


Mary Rowe [00:19:28] Thanks, Susie. That’s great. Oops, did we just lose Susie on audio, I don’t know if we did, but thanks, Susie. Really good to have that sector represented. Carl, I’m going to go to you next to New York. And I’m sure you would have been disappointed if you hadn’t heard at least one reference to a disparaging comment about American chains. Just saying, I’m sure that you’re used to that. But also only in Canada would you hear the head of the hotel association when she’s citing the things that aren’t going on, would she put up in her list hockey tournaments that we don’t have hockey tournaments? So, anyway


Susie Grynol [00:20:01] Big deal.


Mary Rowe [00:20:02] It’s a big deal in Canada. Absolutely. And we’re so appreciative that we just got a sense of the commercial hotel impact, which is sort of a, maybe you’re the canary in the coal mine in terms of all the different impacts of a shutdown, like there’s no air travel, no commercial meetings, all that. No tourism. Carl, New York’s been through this in a whole bunch of other ways. We’re going to hear from other folks who are going to talk about the impact on commercial office space. But I’m wondering if you can just tell us a little bit about what you’re seeing in New York City, but also what you have seen since you and I’ve known each other for a number of years and you’ve been through a number of things in New York. So over to you to give us and also for us to just say, as Canadians, we watch with bated breath what’s going to happen on Tuesday. We just want to let you know that we’re watching and we also are very cognizant that American cities and American communities are really extraordinarily challenged by COVID. And so we just want to let you know that we’re not unaware of all the significant challenges that the various fronts are having to address there in the United States.


Carl Weisbrod [00:21:03] Well, thank you, Mary and it’s really about the pleasure and honor to be among all of you. And to you, Susie, believe me, I spend a lot of time in Toronto going to hockey tournaments, and I’m a big fan, so I welcome a rapid recovery. I’ll just say, maybe I should go to the bottom line first and then come back, which is I am tremendously optimistic in the future of downtowns and future recovery of cities. All cities in the Western hemisphere and Europe, I think, are going through exactly the same challenges that you are and we are in New York. And I’m certainly not defensive about the United States, which has not handled this, in my view, this pandemic nearly as well as you have. I was struck by something that Mary said at the outset and Susie’s first reason why it’s important to see the hotel industry thrive, which is that we should really underscore that this pandemic has been affected people in such a disproportional way. It’s affected the poor. It’s affected minorities. It’s affected, in our country, the undocumented, both in terms of employment and in terms of health, in terms of death. It has been wildly disproportionate and has underscored the inequities in our society. And what’s so contradictory, and I’m finding in this pandemic is that while the people who have been affected the most, the individuals who have been affected the most, have been disproportionately poor, the areas that have been affected the most have been the central business districts. That the surrounding areas in New York, and I know in London, and I assume this is true in Canada as well, are actually doing pretty well. Real estate prices and both residential and commercial in New York, in the central business districts in midtown Manhattan and lower Manhattan are very, very soft. They are very strong in the surrounding for borrowers of New York. And those neighborhoods are bubbling with activity, whereas midtown and downtown, the engines of our city are almost not quite the ghost towns that Donald Trump has suggested, but are seriously suffering with many of the same economic issues that Susie laid out. As Mary said, this is actually my sixth New York City crisis over 50 years. The last major one for me was 9/11. There have been a couple in between, including the 2008 major recession. But in some respects, the lessons of 9/11, at least in terms of the recovery, strike me as particularly relevant here in how we bring back our central business districts. And what we’re seeing, as Susie said, is not that demand isn’t going to be back, but that the foundations of our central business district that we’ve relied on for the last, however long. Tourism, international travel, entertainment, culture, sports, restaurants, thriving nightlife, those are all on hold right now, and in part, the vacuum is not being filled by a residential population that doesn’t, for the most part, live in the central business districts. That’s one of the big lessons we learned from 9/11, which is that you really have to have a mixed use central business district that has, in my view, both residential and commercial uses that are interrelated. And that’s why the areas outside our central business district, for all of the pain that’s been imposed on the people who live there because they’re not as rich as those who live in the central business districts, they’re sort of surviving and doing OK economically whereas the central business district isn’t. I will also say that one of the lessons, or  two lessons of our experience with 9/11. One is that we learned for the first time, and we’ve continued it for the last 20 years, that it’s really important to maintain our talent base. We really learned that talent drives business. Business doesn’t drive talent. And second, where we actually missed the boat in repositioning lower Manhattan, particularly as a mixed use residential and commercial neighborhood, we didn’t think about mixed income. And so lower Manhattan has become a wealthier neighborhood than it should be and not the mixed income neighborhood with the affordability that I think we should add there. I think most of this that we’re seeing now will come back, obviously, after we have a vaccine and after commerce, international commerce particularly continues or resumes. But it’s going to be tough for the next couple of years. And we face, just listening to Susie about the various short term remedies. As you know, we’re facing exactly the same issue right now, which is that we did respond very reasonably quickly with some short term stimulus addressed to the needs of workers, mostly, and businesses. But as you all probably know, we have a frozen stimulus negotiation between Congress and the White House. And hopefully that will get unfrozen after the election. But who knows? Let’s hope and maybe I should stop there.


Mary Rowe [00:27:54] Carl, it’s interesting, you know, earlier on in the pandemic, I had a conversation with your controller, Scott Stringer, who has been a champion forever, about how do you actually sustain local businesses in Manhattan. And when I knew you, when I was NAS in New York City, this was something that we were concerned about, about the garment district and all those high end uses. Is anybody talking now about, I don’t know it has a little phrase here in Canada, vulture capital, where somehow there’ll be fire sales and all of a sudden things will get bought up and then you will see what will emerge will be more of a monoculture. Anybody raising those questions for.


Carl Weisbrod [00:28:33] I don’t think we’re seeing, we’re not seeing fire sales yet, but what we are seeing. Let me just take the hotel sector for the moment. We’re facing exactly the same issues that Susie outlined in Toronto. We are going to see, I am certain we’re seeing it already, smaller hotels that are going to be repositioned for residential use and they’re going to be marked down in value and many larger hotels also. That’s going to be definitely a contraction in our hotel industry. We haven’t seen fire sales in real estate. We are seeing, the sector in New York that’s been devastated the most, the restaurant and obviously that is a major source of employment for lower income workers. That’s a sector that’s just been devastated even though we’ve made great strides in terms of outside dining and waving all sorts of rules, me as a city planner, I’ve probably helped impose over a 50 year lifetime and that’s been a great success. Now the cold weather is here. Restrictions on indoor dining make the restaurant industry highly problematic all over the city and nonexistent in our Central Business District, where the restaurant industry, like the hotel industry, has been dependent on tourism, has been dependent on office workers who are not coming into their office. We have a 15 percent, 10 percent occupancy rate in our midtown offices. We’re not coming to concerts, we’re not coming to our World-Class cultural institutions. And that is going to be a function of demand. But as with hotels particularly, but even more so with restaurants, a lot of restaurants, thousands literally are not going to be able to hold out until the economy recovers.


Mary Rowe [00:30:35] You mentioned about how in some cases, you know, that the CBDs are having a particular experience outside, maybe doing differently. Mark Garnier, I see, is in the chat, and he’s the head of the downtown business improvement area in Toronto and he often says this, that, you know, the Eaton center, which is Toronto’s fabulous big mall downtown, is absolutely on the skids, whereas the malls in the suburbs are doing a bit better. And Kate, can I go to you now in terms of Winnipeg? You work with business improvement area as your downtown in Winnipeg, but also you deal with all your colleagues. Do you want to comment a little bit about what’s going on for downtown Winnipeg? And then also, are you seeing what Carl’s just observing? Is there other parts of the city that are doing a little bit better? Let’s just hear from you about Winnipeg, and then I’m going to go to you, Steve after that to talk about Ottawa and the whole commercial sector. Go ahead, Kate.


Kate Fenske [00:31:21] Thanks Mary and I think I was just sitting here nodding my head as Carl was talking. It’s absolutely wild to think what’s happening in New York is happening in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Right. And so we’re seeing this in downtowns across Canada with my colleagues across the country. One of the biggest challenges for us is our primary customer base for our businesses, our downtown workers. And when people are still working from home, that is a real challenge. So we looked in early September, we did a study with pro research. We had about 25 percent of downtown workers back full time in early September, and another 30 percent were back in some capacities. So some of them are coming into the office, you know, one, two days a week working from home the rest of that time. But that’s still half the workers that would normally be here are staying home. But since that survey in early September, we went into level orange in Winnipeg. We saw, you know, a really nice summer. Our cases were low. Everyone was doing their part. A lot of people were getting outside. Businesses absolutely still struggling, especially the restaurant, hospitality, hotel sectors. There hasn’t been much change there. But in September, there was a sense of optimism. You know, in early April when we surveyed our eleven hundred businesses in downtown Winnipeg, over about 250 city blocks, only 20 percent of them said they would be able to survive a year if nothing had changed. As things progressed, as the pandemic, you know, we started figuring out what to expect. That number then jumped to about 60 percent thought they would be OK. Now that we’re in level orange and in about one hour’s time, we’re hearing that we’re going to hear another spike in cases in Winnipeg and potentially going to level red. So we could be seeing another shutdown. It’s been obviously a big challenge for businesses here in terms of the commercial sector. And when we have businesses that have multiple locations, I’ve talked with coffee shops, with restaurants, that have another location, was probably their first location out in the suburbs, they’re actually doing quite well. Their customers still have their income. They haven’t lost their jobs. They’re not going anywhere and they’re looking for things to do and they’re staying at home. So they’re ordering in. Some of them were going out in the summer. The coffee shops are busy because people needed coffee still. But downtown, completely different story. So that’s, I think, one of the biggest challenges that we’ve been trying to figure out is we can’t get everyone back working downtown. It’s not safe. Health obviously remains number one priority. But if the economy doesn’t recover, our community can’t recover. So really, that’s where our focus is, is we have been working with large employers. Our original expectation when we talked in July was that people would be starting to return September, October as things were looking fairly good for Manitoba. That has completely shifted. It’s a whole new ballgame. We are in a second wave. We are expecting increased restrictions. Now we’re hearing workers are likely not going to return back to April. So for us, you know, there’s short term fixes. We’re trying to do whatever we can. We’ve offered micro grants to small businesses to help where we can. We’re gonna be launching a new program later this month to help, you know, businesses at least try to sustain through this. So whether it’s promotions, marketing, advertising, business consulting. So many businesses, you know, have been so innovative and finding new ways to do it. There’s some of the stats and I can share that, I think, to Carl’s point about remaining optimistic and I think that’s really important. We’ve had 13 new businesses open in downtown Winnipeg in a pandemic. One of them is an online butcher shop that is actually renting space, the prep kitchen from a restaurant. So there’s benefit there both ways. So I think we’re going to see some of that with some trends about shared spaces and how does that work? Really, it’s really important to support businesses that may not have the capacity to get online and to connect with customers, and that’s going to be critical for downtown. The other thing is, you know, when you’re looking at to diversify your business, it’s going to be critical for us to diversify downtowns. Downtown Winnipeg cannot solely rely on downtown workers. And I think it’s really important that we look at the residential population. There has been great momentum in Winnipeg. A lot of growth. You know, ten years ago, you’d see one train in Winnipeg. When I took this job two years ago, there were six. And I was thinking, my job is going to be easy. The momentum is there. There’s all these great projects coming online in the next four years. And then we got hit with this. So we’re figuring it out. The good news is for us, we still have major projects that all have a residential component still with mixed use. It is for us, the small businesses that we’re worried about in particular sectors that we have to figure out how do we sustain through. And then when we look at what makes that great downtown great or what makes it downtown great, it really is business, arts, culture, sports, all of it coming together, being in the heart of our city. And that has just been wiped out. So it’s going to be a challenge for sure. I think it’s going to take a long time. So there’s some short term things we need to do and definitely long term looking at residential. What does that look like and how do we support moving forward?


Mary Rowe [00:36:31] It’s interesting this notion of complete neighborhoods. I mean I’m hearing it again and again from each of you. OK, Stephen, let’s talk about Ottawa, if you can. You know, Toby Jutka, the CEO of Shopify in April, said that, and Carl I don’t know if you’ve heard of Shopify, but it’s a big digital company around the world now. It happens to be Canadian and it’s based in Ottawa. And he said office centricity is over when he announced that none of his workers were gonna come back, and that’s a huge impact for a city like Ottawa. So can we just hear from you? I know you have 40 percent of your commercial space, I think it’s occupied by the government of Canada and they’re not coming back either. So over to you, Stephen talking about the capital city. What’s happening?


Stephen Wills [00:37:08] Yeah, the interesting thing about Ottawa, I mean, a lot of what we heard today is that spending is the great equalizer in many ways. I mean, Carl’s experience, Kate’s experience are very similar to Ottawa. But Ottawa is in a very fortunate position. I mean, we can’t ignore the fact if we look at all the reports coming out, the Conference Board of Canada and Banks and major multidisciplinary consulting firms, Ottawa actually is facing the fastest recovery probably of any city in Canada because of the stability of our workforce and because of where we’re specialized in. But we are the textbook example of a cake shaped recovery. We have a public sector in our downtown. Fifty five percent of the people who work. That’s hundred seventy thousand people working downtown. Fifty five percent of them work in the public sector or they’re in related services that sell to the government which is a big part or diplomatic missions or other forms of elements and that in Ottawa the public sector jobs are stable. They’re not going to go anywhere very quickly. The model might ultimately be a contraction, the government for financial management reasons. But that’s not going to happen in the short term. Our tech sector in Ottawa, which specializes in two things. We have a specialization in telecommunications and then an online retail of the two functions that Ottawa specialize, massive growth in those areas right now. We’ve actually had explosive growth in both of them. So Ottawa has a booming section of the economy and a shrinking section of the economy. Like Susie talked about, our accommodation sector is absolutely decimated in the downtown. You know, we normally have 11 million visitors a year because we are a national capital and two point two billion dollars is spent in our economy. We’ve lost the vast majority of that and it’s not going to come back quickly. And there are going to be people who have trouble hanging on. And we are already seeing the conversion of hotels in too long [inaudible]. Luckily, there’s a place for those property owners to go to because we have such high vacancy rate, excuse me, such low vacancy rate in Ottawa, an opportunity to make that switch. But we are going to lose that hotel stock and it’s not coming back. The big threat to us that’s different, I think in many ways, is you know the federal is the big elephant in the room. They represent such a big proportion of our population. And if they make the same decision that Shopify, that a big chunk of their workforces are not going to come back permanently. And these discussions are going on, as that elephant rolls over, that’s going to have a massive ripple effect in the downtown core. And there’s a lack of business confidence in our downtown right now because the federal government is not being clear about what their plan is. And frankly, even the city itself, we’re the second second biggest employer in the downtown area ourselves. And we’re struggling ourselves about sending a message out that we’re going to come back downtown. We’re still committed, but we can’t be counteracting the messaging for public health because we’re in a red zone right now. One of the first nontariff to be put back into further lockdown. But every day you pick up the paper, there are restaurants closing or hotels converting, retail businesses are doing it. And as many people have on the chart have said, you know, what happened is a lot of trends that were happening are accelerated by this, so the effect of online retail. But in Ottawa there are definitely healthy parts, the environment. But our downtown it’s the unknown that is the biggest threat to the downtown right now.


Mary Rowe [00:40:30] So it’s kind of counterintuitive, isn’t it? We’ve got two more to get in here before we even have a collective conversation and we have to end sharply on the hour. Andrea, can we hear from you a little bit? Your perspective is going to be quite different, but you are in Vancouver. You’ve been having all sorts of challenges to your downtown. Stephen just mentioned that some of these things, preexist COVID, downtowns have had challenges before COVID, you certainly have that. Can you just give us a little bit of a snapshot about what your perspective is in terms of the constituency that you serve in Vancouver?


Andrea Jung [00:41:00] Yeah, absolutely. So I think we all understand that, you know, through the Covid pandemic, there were so many, you know, you’ve mentioned a lot of business closures throughout our cities, but particularly for the homeless and student entrenched population. The closure of city facilities, nonprofit, and physical distancing requirements and shelters really impacted that community greatly because there’s not as many indoor places for people to go. Additionally, some of the lower cost housing, and that’s our roads that are occupied, instituted no guest policies that put additional pressure on public space and we lost several hundred shelter beds around the height of the pandemic. One of the responses to by our provincial government was with the purchase and lease of hotels. I think that other municipalities have also done. But that kind of really changed the dynamic in our downtown area because people moved, that were formerly homeless or in some encampments, moved into those hotels. So really changed kind of the balance on the street in the downtown area. In addition to all the business closures and closed storefronts, visually, there were a lot more people hanging out outside on the street in the parks. There were a lot of increased sanitation needs because, of course, indoor washing spaces that are accessible so that businesses like Starbucks and McDonald’s that we probably go to but, you know, drop in centers and public washing facilities were closed, created a lot of sanitation pressure as well as many cities here are dealing with an opioid crisis. And so the closure and lack of some safe consumption spaces that people were formerly accessing indoors really impacted that as well. And we had a couple of months of the highest death tolls from overdose. So it’s really like visually, it’s really, really impacted our kind of downtown core, the Granville area. And because everything was done in a crisis response, we didn’t have the sort of community, the communications, and consultation that we might normally have when we open new buildings for supportive housing needs. And it really caused a lot of negative impact on the community members, businesses and stratas. And so some of our responses included, you know, increased sanitation measures from our city engineering services. We’ve also kind of almost like retroactively started some collaborative working groups. So one of them is we include members of the stratas, the hotels, the new hotel operators, the business community health authorities, and as well as people with little experience that were formerly homeless or still are. And so we’ve had this collaborative working group to try to address some of those needs. But we’re really trying to apply an equity lens. Right. We’ve also, as a city entity, increased some of our services to homeless folks and street entrenched people in the downtown area because we have seen a lot more structures built as well to people sleeping outside under tents and makeshift structures. And some of that has been through our provincial governments providing extra funding as well.


Mary Rowe [00:44:56] Ihave a question andrea that I have that I’m wondering about is, do you think that we’ll be able to emerge from this with a healthier kind of coexistence of all the different dwellers in our downtown?


Andrea Jung [00:45:09] That’s that’s my hope and that’s what yeah, that’s what we’re working towards. And I think because things were done in a very quick manner, you know, upwards of 300 new residents in a very small area, in addition to the opening of two emergency response centers that was sort of served as temporary shelters in the downtown area, really put a lot of pressures on public space in particular. And so we have a good relationship with our local business improvement association who sits on some of the groups. We also have tried to gather together all of the homelessness serving agencies in the downtown to have a more directed response, because we had already seen the pressures of increased street activity and homelessness moved towards the downtown core from the Downtown Eastside, which is where it was predominantly concentrated. Those things had already started happening, but just really increased through the Covid pandemic. So what we hope, like we’ve had a couple of good news stories recently, one of them with the opening of an overdose of bricks and mortar overdose prevention site in the heart of that affected area, and we hope that will be seen as a community amenity once it’s up and running. And that will take some of the pressure off, you know, needles on the streets that are found, sanitation issues, as well as, of course, address the opioid crisis that we have in the overdose deaths that we’ve experienced that faced a lot of community opposition. As you might expect, but our local business improvement association in that area came out in support of that opiods site. And we really attribute that to the good relationship and partnership that we’ve had with the business community that, you know, has really, really, as everyone’s mentioned here, has really taken a hit.


Mary Rowe [00:47:12] That you already had. You know, I’m afraid this session is going to be really like to say that nobody gonna be able to fully eat from. All we are going to be able to do, is just touched on a whole bunch of these issues and I can hear a whole bunch of others that Andrea’s introducing. I want to go now to Tom from Calgary. Calgary’s had seven years to try to deal with the impact of a downturn. They’re a little younger than New York now, but they’ve had their own knocks over there. They try to come to terms with the impacts. So I’m going to do that. We’re still going to try to end abruptly on the hour. I’m sorry, folks, because I feel like everybody here is flagged. So I guess I want you all to meet me again and we’ll do round two. But, Tom, let’s hear from you on Calgary, please.


Thomas Mahler [00:47:53] Thanks, Mary and thanks for inviting Calgary to participate in the panel. It’s great to be a part of this discussion and I won’t go to the slides because I think we’ll be a briefer and more relevant. I’ll just kind of stick to some key points. But I was trying to think of a good analogy of how to describe Calgary and the best way I could do it is, consider we’ve been a patient in the hospital for a long time already. We’ve been dealing with a sickness in our downtown, which is really the structural transformation of our economy from oil and gas through a much more diversified economy. Whereby we’ve been in the hospital treating that patient. It picked up an infection. So the pandemic has really just brought forward a whole bunch of issues that were already a problem. But I wanted to focus on a little bit of positive of that if I could not to negate all of the challenges and some of Susie’s presentation and what we’re hearing in other cities, it’s the devastating impact of the pandemic. But what it’s done is it’s really forced us to bring forward our best game much sooner. So the one thing I’d really wanted to focus on is that our objective  in our downtown is to really change the ecosystem from what it was, which was a head office heavily reliant on high income earning employees, heavily focused on the lunch hour, the business trade, business travel. We’ve always had strong tourism, but now we really have to change that game to be a much more integrated ecosystem. So there’s a big focus that we’ve put in place in the last five years, I’d say, is bringing all our partners through economic development, tourism Calgary, all of the big real estate partners to really talk about the future. And, you know, it’s taken us years to probably get to the point of always hoping oil and gas was going to come back in a big way and all those office towers were going to fill up. But you know what? Everybody now is firmly in the position and it’s always going to be there. Oil and gas might come back but the employees aren’t going to come back the way they were. So we have a situation where we’ve got 28 percent vacancy rate in our downtown core will likely go up as people are saying. But the big thing and the caution, I think, for everybody else is people are waiting for the return to work, that everybody is going to come back to their workplace. Hope for it, but don’t plan for it because we are impact of our downtown core. We’ve lost thirteen point nine billion dollars in real estate assessments. That’s half of the value of our office real estate value since 2014. That’s resulted in us having to transfer two hundred fifty seven million dollars of tax to other parcels, which in our crazy tax system in Canada means it’s going to be the smaller businesses, the smaller commercial property owners elsewhere in your city that are going to pay for that loss. And our council, unfortunately, has had to take money out of our reserves to try and subsidize and cap that impact. And now we’re asking the provincial government, our mayor just yesterday was saying, you’ve got to change some the tools, the way we can raise revenues in our downtown so that we don’t have to put the burden on residential tax payers. So that’s the big crisis thing. But in the short term, the things we’ve been focusing on, the one big thing is we do have a lot fewer people coming to downtown. Safety’s become a huge issue. One of the things I wanted to highlight is over the last months we put together something called an ambassador program where we’ve brought people who not only look after tourists and try and connect them with destinations and venues, but they also connect people, the vulnerable population, with social services that they need. So as opposed to this being an enforcement situation or trying to move people along, it’s really about connecting them with the services that get off the street and they can get the supports that they need. That program has been a huge success. It’s something we’re looking at funding permanently. And we’d be able to expand beyond the area. We piloted in the area around city hall, which is one of our biggest challenges. So that’s a good one. The other one I wanted to highlight was on the private real estate side. Nobody’s waiting around anymore for the big leases to come back. Starbucks have closed, some, not all of them, but some of them have. Those strong covenant leases like aren’t going to come back. So with our Calgary Downtown Association and City Council, we’ve put together some money and we’ve created a program called 1M. 1M stands for one million square feet of space. We’re trying to get one million of that 12 million that we’re losing and repopulate it. And the way we’re doing that is by creating an ecosystem at the ground floor, by curating new businesses within a defined area of the downtown around our Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall, which is one of our hard hit areas as well. But the idea that’s really taking a tech startup approach to creating new businesses to populate those spaces. So the hope is you’re going to change the character of these somewhat bland and corporate office towers into something much more vibrant. Our tech companies that are coming to Calgary, they don’t always choose our downtown core even though we have good, cheap office space. They tend to go to our funky, interesting neighborhoods, which as Carl said, those ones are actually doing quite well. Our  vibrant neighborhoods around the downtown do well. So we’re really looking as that as a way of really knitting together the city’s objectives, private sectors’ objectives and all our partners to pull together in some of those key. And I’m going to leave it at that because I think you’d like to have a bit of a conversation.


Mary Rowe [00:53:09] Well, we may not be able to. I think what I’m going to suggest is this. You’ve each raised immediate challenges, shorter term challenges and longer term challenges and what the responses need to be. What I’m going to ask now is there’s six of you. And if you each have a minute, then we’re out. If there were one thing, one positive thing that you think to make lemonade out of lemonades, what would be the one thing that you’d be advocating to happen? Susie, one thing. You’ve got to pick one.


Susie Grynol [00:53:42] I don’t know if I can make lemonade at this stage based on where I sit. I think that, you know, my one message to government, I mean let’s just clot the bleeding. There has to be recognition that there have been some you know, and there’s been a range of issues addressed here, but some issues that need to be addressed more urgently than others, and when it comes to sort of the commercial space and the, you know, the businesses that have been impacted, I mean, we just are unfortunately, you know, we have the gold medal on that front. The programs just need to be tailored so that we’re supporting people in the order at which they are going to fail so that we can lift up, and that would be true I think, of a lot of issues. Businesses need to be a priority who are hard hit so that we can keep these employees and we can have a functional society at the end of this.


Mary Rowe [00:54:34] So we can protect that infrastructure. Stephen, one thing for Ottawa.


Stephen Wills [00:54:39] Just along the same lines as Susie, I think we need an incredibly focused, targeted, fixed cost support program for businesses in this area, and it’s got to be very, very laser focused on the small scale businesses, particularly because they’re the biggest job creators once things get roaring back. So we would want to see that focused.


Mary Rowe [00:55:00] OK, Andrea one thing.


Andrea Jung [00:55:03] That’s probably the same thing I would have said a year ago before Covid but we need more safe, secure, affordable housing. And maybe we can buy some hotel, Susie, and lease some.


Susie Grynol [00:55:17] Oh there’s a few for sale.


Mary Rowe [00:55:20] Kate, one thing.


Kate Fenske [00:55:21] I’m going to take a long term thing just because some of the other fixed costs have been covered. I think urban development agreements need to make a comeback. If you look at the core area initiative that created Porche place, the force and what happened in the early 80s in Winnipeg, I think all three levels of government need to come together on a few different fronts, but urban development agreements, then we can make some magic happen.


Mary Rowe [00:55:47] Right, Carl urban development agreements are sort of Canada’s version of a kind of mischief, but that you get all three levels of government investing in, like an opportunity zone in a tiff altogether. One thing, Carol, what would you and your wise words from your purge, what would it be?


Carl Weisbrod [00:55:59] I’m going to take a much more localized view, which is that technology is changing as we speak and this pandemic has as accelerated it. Office use will not be the same. It will be less, there’ll be some, but won’t be the same. Brick and mortar retail is not going to be what it was. We have to reimagine our streets and sidewalks and how they function in a downtown setting. We have to really rethink what our downtowns physically look like, how they integrate pedestrians, commerce and residential use. And that’s a physical change.


Mary Rowe [00:56:36] A complete neighborhood kind of approach. You and I have shared an anecdote about after 9/11, lots of people counted lower Manhattan out and said that there was no way that it would recover. But it did. It did.


Carl Weisbrod [00:56:50] It did and it did because it diversified, it brought in residents, it did change the downtown streetscape to a significant extent, even though it was a landmark and streetscape, as you well know, Mary. And it will withstand this pandemic as a result of that better, frankly, than midtown Manhattan, which has really been our major driver.


Mary Rowe [00:57:18] That’s interesting. So it’s going to have to reinvent itself, midtown, in a different way. Right. Last word to you Tom. One thing.


Thomas Mahler [00:57:27] Only one. Just so I’ll pick access to capital for small startups, be that hospitality, retail, tech, what have you. I think that the biggest struggle in Calgary right now is access to capital. And I think if you can approach it from growing the small things that are homegrown entrepreneurs, that’s going to be the best thing for our long term.


Mary Rowe [00:57:52] Thanks, everybody. And you know, this is not an easy thing. Not a simple topic as you each touched on so many interesting things so I can imagine. And I appreciate people in the chat who have been throwing up other questions. We weren’t able to get to all of them, obviously. But it just it just underscores why I think Restore the core is important. So I hope you’ll go to and work with us on this. It’s not a quick journey and there’s some immediate things that have to happen but as Carl and others have suggested, there’s going to be a transformation. Maybe there’s an opportunity to come out of this with something renewed. We just always have to remind ourselves that cities are all about self organization and people are remarkably resilient and they will come up with things we’ve not even thought of or imagined yet. And the question is, can we create the right enabling conditions and the right supports so that everyone has a chance to participate in that and reimagined together? Next week, we’re going to talk on City Talk. We’re launching a program called the Municipal Leadership Initiative, which is really to try to equip or support municipal workers in city government because city government has to change like crazy. A number of people here work for city government or have worked for city government, they know what I’m talking about. So we’re launching that program specifically for people that work for municipal government. But we’re doing it with a public session on Wednesday about why do local governments matter now more than ever with some fabulous people, including your very own Mayor, Tom, and then she will be the keynote and then flanking him will be Nigel Jacob, who I bet Carl knows from the Office of Urban Mechanics in Boston, and Andrew Rimer, former city councilor in Vancouver, who’s now doing all sorts of pursuits, are an equity and dynamism and innovation in urban environment. So that’s next Wednesday what would feary announced to tell you about that, folks. Thank you very much for joining us. I think we’re saying downtowns will save themselves but we’re gonna have to continue to have these conversations. So Carl, Stephen, Kate, Susie, Andrea and Tom, thanks for joining us on City Talk. And thanks everybody for the chat. Happy Halloween. Have a good weekend. Really great to see you. All right.


Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact with “Chat Comments” in the subject lin

From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

12:02:14 From Andrea Jung to All panelists : my contact is if anyone would like to reach out after the talk.
12:02:41 From Canadian Urban Institute : Welcome! Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:03:00 From Abby S : hello from Tkaronto. hope everyone is safe and healthy. The CUI work is so
12:03:13 From Abby S : important in shining a light.
12:03:18 From Mark Garner : Thanks CUI for another great session and discussion
12:03:28 From Canadian Urban Institute : You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our sessions at
12:03:48 From Canadian Urban Institute : To support CityTalk and the Canadian Urban Institute’s other city building initiatives, please donate at
12:03:53 From Brian Pincott to All panelists : Hello from Treaty 1 territory & the Homeland of the Metis Nation
12:04:06 From Canadian Urban Institute : Keep the conversation going #citytalk @canurb
12:04:31 From Canadian Urban Institute to Brian Pincott and all panelists : Hi, Brian! You might want to change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees”. Thanks!
12:04:41 From Abby S : Mary I appreciate your openess and acknowledging these things.
12:05:13 From Brian Pincott to All panelists : Nah, just wanted to say hi to Thom… 😉
12:05:55 From Brian Pincott : Hello from Treaty 1 territory & the Homeland of the Metis Nation
12:06:26 From Barbara Myers : Hello from Victoria BC
12:06:36 From Canadian Urban Institute : CUI is looking for volunteers to help us continue the great work of our COVID-19 initiatives. If you can help, please contact us at
12:07:06 From Canadian Urban Institute : Susie Grynol, President of the Hotel Association of Canada @sgrynol Carl Weisbrod, Senior Advisor, HR&A Advisors, New York City @CarlWeisbrod Kate Fenske, CEO, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ @FenskePeg Steve Willis, General Manager, Planning, Infrastructure & Economic Development, City of Ottawa Thom Mahler, Manager, Urban Strategy, City of Calgary @thomcal Andrea Jung, City of Vancouver
12:08:05 From Abby S : yes
12:08:50 From Gwen Bang to All panelists : Hello! Gwen Bang from Kensington Market BIA
12:09:56 From Canadian Urban Institute to Gwen Bang and all panelists : Hi, Gwen! Your post only went to panelists – you might want to change your settings to “all panelists and attendees” and resend if you want everyone to see your comment. Thanks!
12:10:21 From Gwen Bang : thanks!
12:21:08 From Julie McGuire : Fantastic presentation!
12:21:24 From Gwen Bang : yes!agree
12:21:33 From Gloria Venczel : Hotels do provide significant employment. Has your organization considered exchanging shares with the gov’t equivalent to money lent? A small minority share would not affect business governance that your hotels would buy out when the industry bounces back. What would be the disadvantage of such an approach? Would this approach not also protect the overall Canadian financial ratings and overall economic health?
12:26:48 From Renita D’Souza to All panelists : a very complicated condition and brought out with extreme clarity and an even more important roadmap going forward. great presentation!
12:27:11 From Canadian Urban Institute : We love your comments and questions in the chat! Share them with everyone by changing your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees”. Thanks!
12:28:38 From Caleigh Doyle : Agreed, and small businesses in downtown cores are hit hardly without tourism, tourism both international and domestic. There are no games, no concerts, conferences, etc downtown which dramatically decreases the flow of people walking the streets downtown
12:29:53 From Susie Grynol to Renita D’Souza and all panelists : Thank you. Appreciate the comment.
12:32:44 From Cindy Simpson to All panelists : Carl, thank you. When will office towers fill up again?
12:33:35 From Jason Syvixay to All panelists : How can/should municipalities reconcile the desire from the local economy to convert the public domain for private interests (e.g. winter patios, cafes) with community-led discourse on how public spaces have historically left them out?
12:34:07 From Canadian Urban Institute : Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:34:27 From Jason Syvixay : How can/should municipalities reconcile the desire from the local economy to convert the public domain for private interests (e.g. winter patios, cafes) with community-led discourse on how public spaces have historically left them out?
12:36:36 From paul mackinnon : Oddly in Atlantic Canada, where we essentially have NO community Covid spread, our sales, office workers, etc are no better than anywhere else in North America. So concerns about the quickness of recovery, even post-vaccine.
12:36:45 From Carl Weisbrod to All panelists : I’m not convinced office buildings will ever be exactly the same. Crises don’t necessarily create trends, but they truly accelerate trends. There will be more remote work and obviously more stress on bricks and mortar retail.
12:37:37 From paul mackinnon : Thom, what can city planners do to accelerate commercial to residential conversions for downtowns?
12:37:41 From Canadian Urban Institute to Carl Weisbrod(Privately) : HI, Carl! Could you please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” and re-post your comment in the chat? The attendees didn’t see your post. Thanks!
12:38:33 From David Low to All panelists : or converting empty office space to school space to make that safer
12:38:37 From Thom Mahler : We in Calgary have removed requiremnts from Development Permits for a conversion – building permit only.
12:39:50 From Canadian Urban Institute to David Low and all panelists : Hi, David! Can you change your chat settings and re-post? Your comment only went to panelists. Thanks!
12:41:58 From paul mackinnon : BC gov’t has mandated employees to return to office. Any movement on this from other provinces, cities, or Feds? Has this advantaged BC more than other places?
12:43:42 From Carl Weisbrod : I’m not convinced office buildings will ever be exactly the same. Crises don’t necessarily create trends, but they truly accelerate trends. There will be more remote work and obviously more stress on bricks and mortar retail.
12:44:37 From paul mackinnon : Jason, our message on this has been that most re-allocation of public space for private business has come from spaces traditionally used by CARS, not pedestrians. So little or no free, public space has been lost.
12:46:11 From Mark Garner : I believe we will see a decentralized employment trend for a period of time until such time as TRANSIT issues are addressed and the community confidence is there knowing it is safe to commute again to our downtown cores
12:50:26 From Mary W. Rowe to Canadian Urban Institute(Privately) : can you post and invite folks to sign up? thx
12:50:30 From Michael Roschlau to All panelists : The truth of the matter is there have been no confirmed COVID cases transmitted on a transit vehicle or station anywhere in the world since the pandemic began. By and large, people travelling on transit are safe if they wear masks and keep a modicum of distance from others.
12:50:38 From Terry Wong : In several major cities, there is a significant festival and ethno-cultural (e.g. Chinatowns) enclaves that highlights the history and heritage of many downtowns. They cannot be forgotten and must be supported.
12:50:53 From Canadian Urban Institute to Mary W. Rowe(Privately) : For sure!
12:50:58 From David Low : BIA’s
12:52:05 From Kimberley Nelson : Hoping Thom will speak to the return of a hostile pedestrian / active transportation environment and sense of entitlement that is inhibiting our attempts to keep downtown vital and vibrant being exacerbated by lower transit usership
12:52:14 From Mark Garner : Paul Mac.. I think what we should be advocating for in a recovery to all levels of government.. this is a time for politicians to lead.. all government offices, federal, provincial and municipal need to return to work as a priority as most of our downtowns have those offices.. we need those economics to come back as a priority and baseline in the recovery
12:52:46 From Canadian Urban Institute : Engage with us at or email us at
12:53:33 From Michael Roschlau to All panelists : Check out this report on the safety of public transit:
12:53:54 From Kate Fenske : We’re looking at 1M in Winnipeg as well.
12:54:02 From Jessi-anne Reeves to All panelists : 1M great idea!
12:54:16 From Canadian Urban Institute to Michael Roschlau and all panelists : HI, Michael! Your post only went to panelists. You may want to change your chat settings to all panelists and attendees and re-post.
12:54:48 From Michael Roschlau : The truth of the matter is there have been no confirmed COVID cases transmitted on a transit vehicle or station anywhere in the world since the pandemic began. By and large, people travelling on transit are safe if they wear masks and keep a modicum of distance from others.
12:55:02 From Michael Roschlau : Check out this report on the safety of public transit:
12:55:54 From David Low : there needs to be immediate tactical responses tempered with long range adaptation
12:56:06 From Gloria Venczel : Have triple net leases been an insurmountable financial burden for small businesses in your cities as it has been in Metro Vancouver? Solutions?
12:56:07 From Canadian Urban Institute : Engage with us at or email us at You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our sessions at Keep the conversation going #citytalk #restorethecore @canurb To support CityTalk and the Canadian Urban Institute’s other city-building initiatives, please donate at What did you think of today’s conversation? Help us improve our programming with a short post-webinar survey –
12:57:13 From paul mackinnon : UDAs! Great call, Kate!
12:58:10 From Barbara Myers : UDAs and 1M in all Canadian cities…………
12:59:32 From Negin Minaei to All panelists : One irrelevant question, Ms. @Mary, are those jars of jam in the background?
12:59:38 From Kate Fenske : Thanks all. And I agree with ALL those things!
12:59:38 From Canadian Urban Institute : Engage with us at or email us at
12:59:57 From Kathy Suggitt : Great panel today. Thanks to you all.
13:00:02 From Julie McGuire : Thank-you all for the great panel discussion!
13:00:13 From Toby Greenbaum : Diversification is what its all about. Thank you for that clear idea.
13:00:21 From Nick Lilley to All panelists : Great job everyone!
13:00:25 From Mark Garner : Thanks CUI
13:00:48 From Dave Garand to All panelists : missed the webinar due to work. is it recorded and will be accessible?
13:00:56 From Ralph Cipolla : great discussion thank you from councillor Ralph cipolla from Orillia ontario
13:01:03 From Canadian Urban Institute : You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our sessions at
13:01:03 From Kathryn Mills to All panelists : thanks very much for an excellent discussion today
13:01:15 From Dave Garand to All panelists : ps, ride your bike, and get others on.
13:01:15 From Andrea Jung : Thank you everybody!