Joining CUI’s Mary W. Rowe on “The Future of Downtowns and Central Business Districts Around the World” are Alicia John-Baptiste, President & CEO, SPUR; Greg Clark, Global Head of Future Cities and New Industries, HSBC Group; Gabriella Gomez-Mont, Founder and Principal, Experimentalista; and Abha Joshi-Ghani, Senior Adviser, Public Private Partnerships, The World Bank.
The Future of Downtowns and Central Business Districts Around the World
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. The pandemic is an agent of change, with impacts differing by city and sector.
Covid-19 has changed consumption, mobility, leisure, and work patterns. The regional context is key to understanding what has changed and what lies ahead. Locales including Dubai, Shanghai and Hong Kong have put in place incentives to attract local residents back to city centres. City centres of the future may shift to emphasize habitat and health, innovation, and experience. Downtowns that are diversified will have the greatest number of options going forward.
2. The pandemic has impacted cities of the global south. Good local governance and trust is indispensable for recovery.
Many migrant workers have left cities of the global south and the informal economy has suffered. The flight to the suburbs often cited in other contexts is not a reality for cities in developing countries. Credit cards to access e-commerce are inaccessible to many. Working from home is not viable when residential spaces are already cramped. Instead, some cities are doing more with less within existing office buildings via strategies including shift work. The pandemic may result in greater prominence for secondary cities. Local government will play an important role in the recovery, and countries with strong local governments will do better.
3. Diversify the inputs of a city in order to diversify the outputs.
The pandemic presents an opportunity to rethink and reimagine cities. A deep shift in organizational mindset is needed, from economic efficiency to public values and civics. City centres are not only economic hubs but also historic, political, and cultural hearts. Public and civic spaces are needed now more than ever. Social imagination and lived experience can play an important role alongside objective data. Social interactions, weak ties, and hyper-local approaches can be powerful levers for communities to overcome challenges.
4. Let social entrepreneurs lead the way to repair the strain on social cohesion wrought by the pandemic.
The pandemic is both a mirror and a microscope. San Francisco’s population has decreased, reflecting a “tale of two pandemics”: some residents left voluntarily thanks to the ability to embrace flexible work arrangements, while others relocated when affordability challenges made remaining simply untenable. Three Bay Area cities have recovery taskforces which identified equitable economic recovery as their number one priority. One tactic to spur equitable economic recovery is to bolster small business by finding new ways to facilitate access to capital.
5. Prioritizing investments in key areas can help drive a robust and equitable recovery.
Digital infrastructure and net zero strategies will be important to prioritize for investment, along with climate resilience, land banking for housing, and public transportation. A new organizing idea to build up civic collaboration can help re-equip cities financially for long-term investment.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with “transcription” in the subject line.
Mary Rowe [00:00:05] Hi, everybody, it’s Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute, thanks so much for joining us on our normal CityTalk time, which is noon Eastern. We’re in seven time zones today and we’re actually starting earlier. So, because we had a session at the beginning, this is our second one and it’s a kind of a marathon. Downtowns all the time today with the Canadian Urban Institute. So, thanks for joining us and we always appreciate people, as I suggest, who are coming in off their morning coffee or they’re heading out and want to have a cocktail at the end of the day, we appreciate you making time to be able to be part of these conversations. The Canadian Urban Institute is based in Toronto, but it’s a national organization with staff now in Vancouver, in Calgary and Halifax. We’ve got people working with us now and various kinds of arrangements and partnerships across the country because this is a national conversation, which is part of why we’re appreciative to have international people coming in to help us today to share with us what they’re seeing is going on in their own downtowns and their own central business district. And these are city watchers, this gang, who pay attention to these kinds of things and think about it all the time. So, we’re very appreciative to have these four join us for these 75 minutes. As you know, we tape record these sessions. That shows you how old I am. We record these sessions. There’s no tape; we post them. We post the chat. Everything you put in the chat stays in the chat. We’ll see it. We had lots of requests in the earlier session for presentations. Two of our session folks today are going to be on this session and will be making presentations. So, don’t panic. You’ll be able to find them online afterwards. When you’re participating in the chat, please use the setting, toggle your little switch there, to allow us to send it to panelists and attendees because we have fabulous people who participate in these sessions. You will, I guarantee you, you will have really interesting conversations with each other, parallel universe, while these four are engaged in conversation as well.
Mary Rowe [00:01:59] CUI is headquartered in Toronto, which is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Chippewa, the Anishinabek, and the Wendat peoples. And it’s home to many diverse First Nations and Inuit folks from different ancestral traditions. We are also covered by two treaties, the Williams Treaty and Treaty Thirteen and we are continuing in our ongoing evolution here as urbanists to come to terms with the legacies of exclusion that have affected and the way our cities are built, the way they’re managed, the way they’re funded, the way we plan and design them. We live with that legacy and we are trying and are continuing to be provoked and challenged in terms of how do we actually create more equitable spaces and have cities that actually are for everyone and more inclusive. And I’m sure we’ll touch on that today. It’s certainly manifesting in how we see our downtowns and our central business district and our main streets being affected not only by the pandemic itself, but by the measures that have been taken to contain it. So, I think all of us agree that we’re not going to go back to what was. We’re forever changed in whatever way. Pretty hard to prognosticate and predict the future. But there are trends and things that these folks are going to speak to that need to help guide us as we come to terms with really creating the urban environments that we need and that we want. It’s extraordinary global moment to have this conversation.
Mary Rowe [00:03:22] So to kick us off, and as I said, I’m so appreciative of them taking the time is, Greg Clarke. And you’ll see in the chat we’ll put proper bios of people so you can know who these folks are that are speaking. Greg will go first and then Gabriella will come second. And then I’m going to go to Abha and Alicia for their comments and then we’re going to have a free-for-all, also known as the bun fight section, where we really have an animated conversation among us from some of the folks who will put stuff into the chat and I’ll try to relay that into us. So, Greg, thanks for joining us. Really, really delighted to have you come in from the UK. You work all around the world and we’re really keen to hear what you’ve got to say. So, thanks, everybody. Over to you.
Greg Clark [00:04:01] Mary, thank you very much indeed. Good afternoon to everybody from a cold and chilly London. It’s cold, but the tea is hot, so that’s good. And let me say, it’s just a real honor to be here with with Gabriella, with Abha, with Alicia and with yourself, Mary. I’m really delighted to have the chance to contribute to this. Over the course of the last 12 months, I’ve spent much of my time thinking about the impact of COVID-19 on cities, on citizens, on urban systems and services, and thinking about how to make sense of all of this. And COVID-19, as everybody knows, is not just a health crisis, although it is one, it’s also become a mirror or a microscope on our societies. It’s, of course, occasioning terrible economic challenges, but it’s also, in a certain way, an agent of change. And I spent much of the last 12 months thinking about what kind of agent of change it is. So on the one hand, very clearly, there are very distinctive phases to this change. There’s a pandemic period of recovery period and a reset period. And we’ll look at how the recovery period is going in some other cities in a minute. Secondly, it has some very strong drivers or themes about it. If you like, vectors of change, they’re to do with trade and supply chains, they’re to do with technology and particularly the platformization of work and society and many other things, and they’re to do with the rediscovery of health as a public agenda and particularly health equity. It’s to do with underlining the link between human health and planetary health. And I think a stronger focus coming out of this on how to put the planet right and to see the pandemic in part as an environmental challenge. It’s to do with the relationship between citizens and governments, the changing way in which governments are active in the lives of citizens, but also a new kind of competitive nationalism that’s emerging, particularly in a reformed trade and supply environment. And perhaps, if we’re lucky, COVID-19 orders a new social contract in which business has to generate a different license to operate; tackling and addressing and adjusting to many of the changes that COVID has brought. And all of these things, I think, have big implications for population settlement patterns and for the locations of jobs. They have big implications for how cities and regions and places work, and they will change and reshape some of our core system’s utilities, mobility, infrastructure, and real estate.
Greg Clark [00:06:39] However, I think it’s very important to avoid a conversation that appears to be premised on the idea of everything happening in the same way in a kind of aggregate city. I think there will be some major variables here. Regional context will be a key one: degree of urbanization, appetite for urbanization. We might plot all the countries in the world on a kind of scatter graph where those who have many cycles to go in their urbanization process and still have appetite for urbanization, maybe in a different position from cities in countries where there’s already a high level of urbanization. And perhaps the appetite for cities isn’t quite what it was. There’s also, of course, key specificities in cities: geography, history, sunk infrastructure that determine how agile a city can be. Obviously, every city has a different sector composition and there’ll be different degrees of change by sector. Not all jobs are digitizable, obviously. And of course there are competitive dynamics both between cities and between centres within cities. It’s perfectly possible that one centre in a city can come out of this pandemic renewed, vibrant, and working, while another centre in the same city, for different reasons, fails to do just that. So, I would be very careful not to talk about the aggregate effects in the aggregate place, because I’m not sure that exists. Now, one of the ways I’ve started to try and think about this is to imagine what happens when the physical city and the virtual city somehow come together. If you like, COVID-19 has really accelerated the virtual city. It’s created many opportunities using digital platforms to deliver what used to be urban services, but in a virtual way. And in some parts of the media, of course, there’s a conversation happening that this is a shift from the physical city to the virtual city. I actually think what’s going on might be more subtle than that. A kind of blending, if you like, of the physical and the virtual where people have some new choices depending upon their income level and the sectors that they’re in. They may be able to choose in different ways about where they live, how they work and consume and when and how they travel. And this will add up to some new patterns of activity that will sharply affect our city centres. But it also creates choices for cities too. Many of them are about where to innovate, how to reclaim public space, how to change mobility systems, how to reanimates the city in various ways, and in particular within that context, how to create a new fiscal and financial model; a new economic model for the city post-pandemic. But I think the overall impact of all of this, is to say that our cities will change their shape and their size. There will be an acceleration in this hybrid activity. And there are big risks here about fragmentation, segregation, inequality, and exclusion. So when we come to talk about city centres, these are clearly downtowns as we would call them in North America. They’re very complex ecosystems of what I would call interdependent activities and functions that feed upon one another very actively. Office districts, retail locations, hospitality, especially restaurants, live entertainment, culture, leisure, education, and indeed, of course, dwellings interact with each other in central business district and in downtowns, in unique and very specific ways. And in every city we have some parts of the downtown that’s more one thing than the other. But our experience suggests that it’s the most diversified downtowns that have the largest number of options moving forward from this. All of these, of course, rely upon these systems of security, mobility, health, and other things. And the pandemic, of course, has shut down many of the city centre functions, but some are also already reopening. And I’ll say a bit about that shortly. I think there are going to be different impacts from the pandemic on office, retail, hospitality, culture, and leisure. But if we remember those knock-on effects that they have where, as it were, a group that patronizes one function also patronizes another. There are clearly risks here that what will get our cycles of decline that could last long periods of time as we get a kind of blighting effect. In the same way, we might be able to use these different functions to restimulate our downtowns to become more diversified and more vibrant. So there’s opportunity in this as well. Now, right at the heart of this conversation, is a discussion about the future of the office. And people will be, I think, very much aware that there’s a new conversation about agile working, about offices, and becoming more of a service and less of an asset. The massive growth in digital connectivity enabling different ways of working as well as a new priority around healthy workplaces. And, of course, all of the growing ESG considerations, as we would call it, particularly the need to green the office district and the real estate within it. And so far, we see that large corporates are responding by saying that in general they will take a smaller amount of core office space and they’ll use much more co-working spaces, possibly in a more diverse set of locations. We’ll see smaller, less dense offices with more scope for flexible working. We’ll see that offices will be resilient for certain activities. Activities that require face-to-face or face-to-place activities will be very important. But the office as a service is already being reinvented as part of all of this and will increasingly see offices not playing the function of being primarily a place of work where people sit at desks, but more a place of creativity and innovation and everything else. Now, I would stress that as well as many adjustment challenges and downsides here, there’s some upside opportunities because for cities that get this right, there’s the possibility of using increased digitization actually to serve a much larger labor force. And it’s even possible that we may see some downtowns really growing as a result of the crisis later on, according to the competitive dynamics. Now, let me give you some quick examples and then we’ll hear from Gabriella.
Greg Clark [00:13:28] I want to talk firstly about Shanghai. And Shanghai, where 80 to 100 percent of people are back in their offices, leasing is going well. Shopping festivals have been really encouraged. A big incentives to get consumers back into the downtown have been really focused upon, as well as measures to attract and to attract, again, a new cohort of foreign companies with various incentives being driven. If you like, Shanghai is the example to me, of the city centre that’s got back on its feet most quickly and most precisely coming out of this. And you can see in the slide here a whole series of initiatives they’ve taken to reactivate the city centre, particularly the shopping festival where they’ve provided the kinds of incentives that are usually only provided to international visitors. So, Shanghai is already back and it’s interesting to see that much of what’s happening there is similar to what was going on in Shanghai in the past. But, there’s a shift much more towards an innovation focused in the economic activities and the opposite. If we pick up Hong Kong, there is a return to the office here of about 80 percent already, restaurants are back to almost the usual service levels that they had before. There’s been many consumer incentives here, much use of marketing to reanimate and reactivate the downtown and offering large discounts to local residents to participate in retail activities and to get that activity, as it were, back. There was, of course, just after the lockdown ended in Hong Kong, there was the reoccurrence of infection and they’ve gone back now into a partial lockdown with a rotorization system: one week on, one week off. And this, I think, heralds much more the sort of sequencing and the rotation of the city that we’ll see in the future. Singapore has a very interesting story of many people being back in their offices already. Travel bubbles are being created with other locations in order to drive international visitors and to get the CBD back working and to get the aviation economy working again, but also a strong focus on upskilling workers for new jobs, given the number of jobs that will have been lost in basic entry level in retail and hospitality and other urban services. If we go to Dubai and then we’ll stop at London, we can see that the office is back to about 100 percent in Dubai, although not everybody is back at the office. More flexibility, of course, is being created. A very large number of travelers went to Dubai over the Christmas holiday and this had a big boost for the visitor economy, although there was some increase in infections. As a result, we are now back into restricted travel in Dubai. But, there’s a very strong focus here, once again, on incentivizing local people to get back into the city centre; to use it, to make it work, and to consider, as it were, the shape of the city in the future later on. Where I am today, London, where we’re back in a full lockdown here in London. Our city centres are largely deserted. There’s concern about the future of the west end, the city of London, and Canary Wharf. Each of them bringing a kind of different set of conditions and assets to this. A lot of policy and incentives being discussed, a particular focus on things like licensing and planning, and other things to enable the city centre to become more viable again and to be agile, flexible and be able to adjust. But the key issue, of course, is going to be re-establishing public trust, particularly trust in transport systems and in public spaces and guaranteeing, as it were, a healthy downtown is going to be key to getting people back. The predictions are for quite a strong and quick bounce back, although it will take some time for international tourists to come back to central London. Therefore, there’ll be a strong focus on workers and on domestic visitors.
Greg Clark [00:17:44] So putting this all together, Mary, I would say simply that what COVID-19 is doing to our city centres is that it’s increasing the requirement for agility, for what I would call hybridity or the blended approach and the servicization in the city centre as a service destination. A bit like shopping malls we’re learning how to be. I think that we’ll see a lot of reform of citizen behaviour and reform of policies in relation to consumption, mobility, leisure, and work. Some of those will be driven by health. Some will be driven by sustainability. Others will be driven by corporate interests. The flexibility of the individual to choose his or her ways of working will be afforded to a few people. But a very large number of people who depend upon jobs in retail, F & B, hospitality and other sectors are feeling a huge series of challenges here around their future work. And I think for city centres, as there’s this sorting effect of COVID-19, where activities that can be digitized or relocalize to where people live will be so. I think the future of city centres is going to see a shift towards habitat of health. City centres becoming great places to live towards innovation. The parts of the economy that absolutely require face-to-face and towards experience, putting together the hospitality, the education, the participation, competitive socializing, and all of those other things that create the unique experience in a city centre that is place-based and can’t be done online. Thank you very much.
Mary Rowe [00:19:28] Thanks, Greg. You just said the magic words “place-based”. We’re trying always to talk about this intersection of the physical environment and how people and place actually meet and how their potential is maximized. So next, we’re going to Gabriella. Can I just say to all the people that are attending, just to remind you, when you’re putting a comment into the chat change that toggled thing on your switch to panelists and attendees, otherwise only the five of us see it. And we’re happy to see your comments. But really what we want is for everybody else to see your comments. So, just talk to your switch so that you’re seeing panelists and attendees. Gabriella, wonderful to have you. You’re in Mexico City via Amsterdam or Amsterdam via Mexico City. Whichever, you can tell people about your expertise. And we’re really, really pleased to have you on the CityTalk platform. So over to you. Thanks for joining us.
Gabriella Gomez-Mont [00:20:15] Thank you so much, Mary. Always a pleasure to be on a panel with Greg. It’s been a while. So it’s so lovely to hear you, Greg. And you left off exactly where I wanted to start. So, when thinking about downtowns, I couldn’t help but think about my own downtown. As Mary said, I hail from Mexico City. And as you probably know, besides being one of the largest and perhaps more complex cities in the world, to put it lightly, funnily enough, it is also perhaps the first downtown that we’ve ever had, because it is we have had the same city centre since the Aztec days. And if you have traveled to the Mexico City centre and the Zocalo, you probably know that if you carve even a meter and a half in the Zocalo, the public, the main public square, etc, etc, you will find you will start finding residues of that other city, the Aztec city, upon which the Spaniards built our colonial city of nowadays. So, this is what our city centre used to look like. And when I was taking a look at the images of many downtowns that, as we know and Mary pointed out when we were discussing before this panel started, so many of the downtowns right now look like ghost towns and it’s quite disturbing. It would seem to be that in pandemic times, apocalypses looks perhaps a little bit less chaotic than I would have thought and more like a void; an emptiness. And funnily enough, that brought images back of my own downtown as it stands today of the city centre of Mexico City. But, it also reminded me that perhaps about 30 years ago, when night came, the city centre would empty out and become just as ghostly as we are now seeing so many city centres across the world. And during these last 30 years, because of this emptying out and because suddenly Mexico City found that we were dedicating our city centre solely to economic activities, as Greg pointed out, we thought it was incredibly necessary to start off with a very different type of policy that would bring back life in its myriad of forms to the very heart of the city. So, this is the Zocalo nowadays. And I wanted to give a few examples because, funnily enough, so many city centres have become quasi-monolithic in terms of it catering to business pertaining to commerce, catering to trade, to transnationals, and to corporations. And at the same time, perhaps the pandemic has shown us that when that happens and as Greg was pointing out, in terms of diversifying and the diversity of our city centres, that becomes a somewhat of an anti-fragile and not necessarily a very resilient state. So I think this reminds us that city centres are not only the economic hearts of many of our cities and even other countries in the case of Mexico City. But, they are also the cultural heart, the political heart, the story hearts, and the geographic hearts. So, I’m going to show you a few images of how I think the Zocalo speaks to all of these symbolic ways that a city centre could become. This is a picture taken by Spencer Tunick several years ago. Spencer Tunick, you might know, loves getting people naked in public space. And so what you’re looking at is actually eighteen thousand smiling butts that are looking at you. And he broke a world record. So in a certain sense, you know, culture is not only cultural of museums, which we have plenty of, not only in the Zocalo, but around our city centre, but also perhaps a live culture. Even performances. We also have massive concerts until the Zocalo can become a Justin Bieber concert having 100,000 little kids under age 14 accompanied by their parents. It also becomes a space for contention as when they turn 15 years old, they suddenly flocked to the city centre and have their celebrations there. And it can also become a massive wedding. Mexico City was the first city in Latin America to pass gay marriage. And so basically we’ve had, since then, these massive weddings of all types of of marriages happening in the city square as well. On a very sunny day as artist Francis Alys showed us once, it can become more subtle in nature instead of these massive reminders of what what the symbolic heart of cities should be and suddenly just have this line of people standing in the shadow on a very hot day. And then it can turn to a site of protest, as we saw a year ago, with a feminist protest, because unfortunately in Mexico, we have 11 women that are murdered every day and so many protests that occurred independently of where and why we’re protesting, happened in Mexico City, because it is the heart. The Zocalo is the heart of the heart of Mexico, if you will. So, we’ve also had lots of cultural events and fairs. It can also turn into a parking lot from one view to another. And now with a pandemic, something that is quite interesting is that first of all, because it has become so diversified, the city centre has not emptied out as it has in other places. But, what has happened very recently is a pedestrianization of the Zocalo. So, this reminded me of when I was Chief Creative Officer for Mexico City of something that we, me and my team, tried to keep to heart that we not only need to work with the objective topographies and the data and the numbers, but we also need to understand the social imaginaries of the city and the symbolic infrastructure, if you will, where mind anchors to matter in many ways.
Gabriella Gomez-Mont [00:25:56] So this brings me back to the pandemic. Right now, as I mentioned, I’ve been living in Amsterdam in another city centre. I actually live right, smack in the middle of the city centre in Amsterdam, in the border of the red light district. And for you, those of you who have traveled to Amsterdam, this is what Amsterdam looked like any given day of the week. It’s not even a special occasion or a holiday. It was truly these hordes of tourists, these rivers or tourists that took over the city centre. And interestingly enough, the mayor of Amsterdam has taken advantage of the pandemic in many ways to start a conversation with citizens of how do they rethink what the DNA of the city centre is, because as you can read from the quote, it suddenly became a very intense economic zone and definitely a great deal of Amsterdam income. You’re the income comes from tourism and comes from tourists actually visiting the red light district. But what happens with the cultural significance of an inner city? So right now, they’re rethinking everything from what happens with rezoning to how do they think about a very different type of tourism. And this is official already. They have already kicked out all of the urban bees from the historic centre. So I think that, as Greg was mentioning, this emptying out and definite crises that are downtowns are facing, but there’s no doubt about it, can also be a place and a time to rethink the very DNA; the very nature and the very cultural significance of our city centres. And instead of only being the economic heart, go back to being that multiple place that speaks in other ways. So this is what Amsterdam looks like right now. This I lived in in one of those little houses before the pandemic and after the pandemic. And I can tell you that local life has completely shifted from having, as I mentioned, these rivers of tourists that you could barely walk. Nowadays, you have neighbors taking out their tables to keep social distancing, but to be able to hang out with each other. You have people picnicking by the river front, etc, etc. It’s a tough conversation because so much of the tax income comes from tourism and comes from real estate. But, perhaps it’s also a great opportunity to speak about the nature of our cities. So very recently, I just finished a collaboration with Experimentalista, which is my company in New Cities Foundation that is based on Montreal of talking about cities on a mission. And we had a truly amazing, stellar amount of people coming through to speak about what is happening in different cities in terms of proximity. Everything from Paris and Carlos Moreno on The 15-Minute city, but perhaps also, interestingly, the One-Minute City that cities in Sweden are actually pursuing. So we had Dan Hill, who is in charge of this agenda and was speaking about how this One-Minute model is actually pursuing a hyper local twist and they are redefining the very essence of Swedish streets. One street at a time, or rather of Swedish cities, one street at a time. So he showed several examples of what those streets are looking like and what they’re turning into. I think tactical urbanism and these type of things are not new to anybody because they have become a thing before the pandemic. And we’re definitely seeing that that has been a way of surfing many of the crises of our areas. But one of the things that completely intrigued me by the vision that Sweden has and that has only been accelerated with a pandemic, is that, as Dan was saying so many times, when we look at our streets, we bring our urban planners and our transit experts. But as Dan said, when you bring in transport expert, you basically get transit.
Gabriella Gomez-Mont [00:29:49] So how can we start diversifying the input of a city to diversify the outputs? How can we, street by street, start thinking in a much more multifaceted form? And this is also another map from Vinnova, the agency where Dan works, who is leading this conversation. And as you can see, absolutely, property and commerce and real estate are important, but no more important than biodiversity and environment and health and well-being, maintenance, learning the social fabric, etc, etc. So if we start thinking in that more multifaceted form and those are the inputs, we will get very different outputs. We also had the pleasure of speaking to Philippe Chiambaretta. As you probably know, Mayor Hidalgo from Paris just announced that they’re going to be turning the Champs-Elysees, into a huge garden. It was truly interesting to hear from Philippe how Parisians are completely disenchanted with Champs-Elysees, like a Parisian wouldn’t be caught dead there. And that is a problem because, again, in terms of these hyper symbolization of modernity, as Philippe told us, where they became the very essence and the very metaphor and epitome of commerce. It also turned people completely off it. So, Paris is once again trying to rethink in a very similar fashion to what [00:31:09]Turin [0.0s] is doing, but perhaps on a much more larger avenue and incredibly emblematic how they bring back public life and how they bring back the diversity and they are able to do what they call “re-enchanting” Champs-Elysees. So, I have the feeling that, as Greg was saying, we need to translate policy into a social experience of the city. Not only economic. We also had the mayor of Bogota with us. And since the pandemic, Colombia has done a fabulous job with us, specifically in putting in bike lanes in what can be considered a megacity. And now it has seven percent of all of their travel. Every day happens on a bike. So it’s become the biking capital of Latin America in a very short time. And they are taking this forward in a very similar fashion and the permanent fashion. This is no longer tactical urbanism in terms of a temporary thing, but actually being able to think about how we can shift neighborhoods into becoming something else and to really be taking into account the social and the lived experience of neighborhoods, but also take into account issues such as urban health, for example, and how that happens at the street level and also in marginalized communities. So, it doesn’t necessarily become an exclusive space. So, I think that during this pandemic, we’ve all learned that we need public spaces more than ever. In Mexico City like this, this is pre-pandemic time. But, you know, I’ve always very much enjoyed the way that the city can become in a lake; it can suddenly become a floating cinema, and how our monuments suddenly become on any given Saturday, a water park and how our streets suddenly fill up with the most colorful peregrinations that I think I’ve ever seen. And then, suddenly, there’s a massive theatre that takes over the streets of Mexico City every Easter Sunday. But I would leave you with a small provocation in terms of how we think our city centres forward. We also need civic spaces, public space. You have perhaps strangers meeting in the same place, which is absolutely fantastic. But as Teddy Cruz would say, a Guatemalan artist and architect, perhaps we should think about density not only in terms of the number of bodies that occupy a space, but the intensity of social interactions. And I think that this leads to perhaps a conversation around different types of typologies and what civic spaces could become. We have fantastic examples in Mexico City of the government with participatory budgets, giving over spaces for, let’s say, [00:33:41]Chatbox Banda, [0.4s] which used to be kids that were in gangs that are now helping other kids in gangs to create jobs through cultural means, everything with music studios and street art, etc., etc. It’s one of the most successful programs. We also have an example in one of the most marginalized communities of Mexico City of senior citizens, also with participatory budgets 10 years back, suggesting that a senior citizen home be linked to a daycare centre, and this is 10 years going. Finland actually did a very similar project about three years back. It was all over the news. And it’s really nice to know that this was also a community based project and that it is bringing people together and truly trying to think about the social fabric and the way that we interact with each other. Obviously, there’s cinema in public spaces that can happen, but I think that we could even have this as we did when I was also Chief Creative Officer of Mexico City, become a space not only of cinema, but of collective conversation. So, how do we start turning these into a place and an excuse for social interaction and social intensities and civic life to happen? So, I know we’re all incredibly worried about the economic state of our downtowns, and I completely understand that the news all over and the numbers coming in warrants that type of worry. And at the same time, reading through Daniel Aldrich work, who studied the post-disaster Japan after the tsunami and the earthquake. He did this analysis of why it was that some places and it wasn’t dependent on socioeconomic standing of the cities, why some of them bounced back a lot quicker than others. And it turned out, it was the the “weak ties” that he calls them and as well the social interaction that happens. And that in many of these cities where we saw those weak and strong ties happening of neighbors knowing that when they heard the alarm going for the for the tsunami, they knew that they had a neighbor that was perhaps in a wheelchair or another elderly lady that could not get up to safety on her own. People really looked out for each other. And it seems that one of the interesting correlations he found was that there were things such as community centres and collective kitchens. These civic spaces. So even as we worry, because lives depend on economic activity, I would say that lives also depend on civic activity. So last but not least, how do we have a deep shift in organizing principles from a logic of economics and efficiency to one of public values and civics? Thank you so much.
Mary Rowe [00:36:30] Gabriella, thank you so much for that. Yes, and there Greg is applauding you from his muted position. So both of you have raised so many interesting topics. I’m sure that the Abha and Alicia are going to have lots to throw in. I’ll start with you Abha if we can, because your scope is cities around the world and it’s so interesting for Gabriella to just finish there with a kind of challenge about what’s going to guide us going forward. And I’m also reflecting on Greg. When you’re describing places that are already back or coming back, you know, it makes me a little anxious. Like if they come, are they just going to reinforce? You know, the other thing about Daniel Aldrich’s work, and I’m familiar with him because he was in New Orleans when I was, is that there’s still always a tendency to just revert back to what you had. The pull is to go back to regressing to the mean. So, I’m just curious. But Abha, from your perspective, as you look at cities around the world, what are you what are you concerned about? What are you observing?
Abha Joshi-Ghani [00:37:26] Mary, thank you firstly for inviting me to this panel. And I really enjoyed the presentations by Greg and Gabriella. I think compared to the first session, this sort of more upbeat and more optimistic. You do feel that this is not the end of the city and it is not. What we are observing internationally, firstly, is that a whole lot of cities are coming back. And we heard that from Greg regarding Singapore and Shanghai and Hong Kong. And we also heard about Mexico City from Gabriella. And we have Seoul, which is coming back. Bombay’s back, Deli’s back and so on and so forth. But I think there were a couple of things which have allowed these cities to come back. And I think one part of it is governance. It is how the city has dealt with the whole COVID crisis. It is the trust which was created with the citizens. And therefore, you know, we didn’t have this “I won’t wear a mask because I am an independent, individualistic person” and so on, and “I’ll stand my ground” kind of thing to people following and infections were traced and contained and so on and so forth. That’s one thing.
Abha Joshi-Ghani [00:38:46] Secondly, in cities which were extremely crowded and a whole lot of developing country cities are extremely crowded. Mask, or no mask, somehow people just had to survive. And they have come back. A lot of activity went on. But also what we see is that a lot of migrant workers had to leave large cities. There was a huge economic downturn in that sense. The informal economy, your street vendors, the guy who comes to your house to sell vegetables or just impromptu shops selling handbags and handkerchiefs and so on overnight or during the day, those informal workers suffered a lot. And then we find that most of the developing country cities have a large slum population. Today, one billion people live in slums around the cities. And what we find is that they brought in and it has been mentioned earlier, the fracture lines of social, economic, and ethnic inequity. And it really, really presented it in its fullest form. And we saw the infections in slum areas, how lack of sanitation, lack piped water, and the density of family of 10, 15 living in a small tenement. All of that revealed that a true public health crisis needs to be addressed by making these areas, the informal housing, into affordable housing and sort of dispelling this density. But, I also want to comment a little bit on, you know, is this the end of the city or is it not the end of the city? And what we find is that, you know, people live in large cities because of the amenities that cities provide. So I don’t think that over the long term, suburbs are going to be a big trend. And especially in developing countries. Cities, you know, there is no way that you can just up and leave and find a large house in the suburb. You are still confined to living in the city. You’re confined to having a two bedroom flat, even if you are upper-middle class or middle class, if you’re living in Bogota or living in Sivas or living in Bombay or Delhi. So that is not a reality for developing country cities. The reality of that is people can just work from home, but it’s not a reality when you have such confined spaces. So offices are opening up, but we are seeing shifts in those offices. So, you know, there’s a morning shift as an afternoon shift. There’s repurposing, that is more of, you know, doing more with less. So, the same office building is being used for different things. We’ve also found and I think there was a really nice little writer by Manuella [00:42:01]Rebate [0.0s] from our other group who talked about Bogota, mostly Colombia, and how although e-commerce took off during the lockdown and during the height of the pandemic, not everybody, especially socio-economic groups which are lower in the rung, do not trust e-commerce, do not have credit cards, and so on and so forth. So, we find that retail activity has to be brought back. And a whole lot of cities are helping small retailers to come back into the cities, through financial help, in terms of just upskilling and so on. What we also find is that, you know, while we’re talking about downtowns and how they’re emptying out in Canada or in the USA, these zombie cities, as it were, we find that a whole lot of developing country cities were already multimodal. So there is not one big place, which is the central business district. The business district is spread around and is very nicely in below retailers and restaurants and other activities. So I think the fact that we did not have concentrated CBD has helped developing country cities to sort of still remain vibrant. I also wanted to comment a little bit on the One-Minute city and the 15-Minute city and now it’s a big trend change in Europe. But I think a 15-Minute city is is very much top-down. It’s an urban planners dream. It’s a technocrat’s dream. But a 15-Minute city is not possible. It’s not possible in huge mega cities around the world because people commute an hour, two hours to get to their jobs in Joburg, a person coming to work in your house can take about three hours as she changes from a motorbike to a small little bus to a train. Where is that 15-Minute city? And I think a 15-Minute city is fine when you have the luxury of a nice neighborhood with good retail and good public spaces. It’s not a luxury when you’re living in cramped places with just 7-11s and a few grocery stores and auto shops and nothing else. So I think we have to make sure that if we are looking into reviving neighborhoods that it’s more the One-Minute city, which basically means involving the community saying what do you want at your doorstep. And also with 15-Minute cities there’s a trajectory that leads to gentrification and can push people out.
Abha Joshi-Ghani [00:45:02] And the other thing I wanted to say was that there’s a lot of talk about, you know, people just working from home. But I always like to quote Ed Glaeser on this. And I think, Richard Florida also mentioned that in the earlier session, that a whole lot of high end jobs, they actually depend on face-to-face interaction. It is the magic of human interaction which causes the spread of new ideas, the spread of innovation. And, so people sitting at home and working is not going to be a reality. At the end of the day, people will come in. And also, I think another trend, just bringing this in from from developing countries, is that we’ve had huge megacities with 20, 30, 40 million people concentration in cities. I think this whole pandemic may bring a little bit of a reset to secondary cities through digitization. Although there’s a deep digital divide, there’s a deep, deep digital divide that through digitization, some of these jobs will actually move to secondary cities or medium sized cities. And we may see a little bit decongestion. Not emptying out, but decongestion, which is a positive thing in developing countries. I just wanted to say that we are also now hearing about a duty to the city, just like we had a right to the city. I was just reading an article from Carlo Ratti of MIT said that, you know, at the end of the day, a city is not just real estate and the built structure. What makes the city is the people. So how do we ensure that cities don’t empty out? The real estate is not sitting empty in big cities that should renters or large real estate owners who are just waiting for things to come back, so that they can rent again at the same prices and so on. Should they be taxed for keeping apartments empty? Should these apartments be repurposed for temporary housing and made into sort of more affordable housing? Also retail shops at which is the ground level, why does Paris thrive? Ground level cafes and so on. Why do other cities thrive? Toronto. So I think, while we are readjusting, how do you make these ground level areas into the pop-up shops or community centres or so? So basically, I think the role of the local government is going to be very, very important. And in countries where there is not enough of decentralization, where mayors don’t have that much power, either financial or political, or the resources, we will find those cities having a problem in adjusting. But cities with strong local governments will be able to move things around a little bit on municipal finance. We do find that a whole lot of cities now in developing countries have used their operating budgets to, in fact, help renters. They have reduced or put a moratorium on property taxes and so on. And they’re using whatever they have in their coffers to continue. And sometimes [00:49:03]Tappet, [0.0s] which was set aside for infrastructure investments, has also been used to just keep the city alive. And I think a lot of these cities are waiting for fiscal stimulus from either state or federal governments in order to move into infrastructure. And I think public spaces, the need for parks, the need for public spaces has suddenly become very, very evident with social distancing. And I know in my own city in India, where a whole lot of parks and sidewalks have been cemented over to make parking spaces for cars because it’s a middle class aspiration. “I have arrived. I need a car”. Roads are congested now. These are being reconverted into parks and back into sidewalks. We could have working cities. Not every city has been able to bike up like Bogota or do in the Sivas because sometimes the weather doesn’t allow it. You don’t have a place to come to the office and shower and then get to your place. And you can’t cycle for an hour if you’re traveling for an hour, two hours to, in fact, get to your job. So bike paths: yes, for leisure. I think they are taking up cities where the weather is been a bit better. In Singapore, it’s hard to cycle, so the humidity and so on. So we’re not just talking about it.
Mary Rowe [00:50:34] I can tell you there are there are stalwart cyclists in Canadian cities who cycle through the winter. And it just I’m full of admiration for them, but my God. Abha, thank you so much for all the insight you provided there. Isn’t it interesting for us to hear the common kinds of threads in cities in the global south and the global north? These are the issues around insecure tenancy, insecure housing, informal economies. What’s the future of transit? I’m so hopeful that we will continue to learn from one another. And I want to turn to Alicia because I can almost bet that a number of the things that you cited, Abha, that are going on in global south cities, Alicia, is enmeshed in that in the Bay Area in San Francisco. So, Alicia, let’s pass to you to reflect a little bit on what your colleagues have talked about and then we’ll have some time to talk amongst you. Go ahead, Alicia.
Alicia John-Baptiste [00:51:26] Thanks again for including me in this panel. It’s been really wonderful to hear all of the reflections from all the prior speakers. I’ve just really loved this conversation. So much of what people have raised is thematically true in San Francisco as well. And I’ll just offer basically a local view from San Francisco on what this experience has been and how we’re thinking about it. But before I do, I want to just step back, because I think I really appreciated Greg’s point that the pandemic has been both a mirror and a microscope. And I think it has raised, for so many of us, across questions of individual life, organizational life, city life, global life, really questions of why. And so stepping back to ask the question, does it matter for us to have vibrant cities? You know, what I would offer is I think it does. I know there’s been a lot of movement of both people and companies over this past year as people have been allowed to work remote. But we also have had, I don’t think it’s any surprise or any secret for people, but we have gone through, I think, a very harrowing experience in this country, particularly in this last year, relative to fragmentation of our social cohesion. It’s been an extraordinarily challenging period of time and when I think about what is the power of cities, what is the promise of cities as Gabriella was mentioning, it’s that density of perspective and density of different types of people and density of different orientations that allows us to create cohesion in a way that’s almost passive. And from that standpoint, I think cities remain an incredibly essential part of our collective well-being.
Alicia John-Baptiste [00:53:17] So what we’ve experienced here in the Bay Area, I think San Francisco is the most dramatic example of what’s been happening with COVID between March and December of 2020, San Francisco’s population declined by almost 100,000 people and San Francisco is not a very big city to begin with. That’s fully 10 percent of the population left in a 10 month period of time. And of course, again, the question is why? And I think you have we’ve had a tale of two pandemics here as everywhere else. For some folks, people couldn’t afford to stay having lost their income. But I think for a lot of people, there was a decision resting on the question of, “if I don’t have to be here, do I want to be here?” And the answer was no. And so for me, what that leads to is, well, what are our underlying conditions that have been revealed through this pandemic experience that lead people to answer the question in that way? And I think they are conditions of both place and of community. Some of our underlying fundamentals have to do with our unwillingness to build enough housing over time, so people have been living in overcrowded situations or they have been paying far more than they should be for their housing. We have under invested in our public realm. Our transportation systems have been very challenged and a lot of people were willing to put up with that when we had this social dynamism in place when you could go downtown or to different parts of the city to experience art and culture and restaurants and casual encounters. That disappeared with a pandemic and then that also tipped the balance in favor of not being in the city any longer.
[00:55:13] Now, each of our three big cities in the Bay Area has put together an economic recovery task forces, all of which had the number one stated priority, was an equitable economic recovery. To me, what’s challenging about that is, first of all, we were talking about equitable recovery at a time when we were really doing crisis management when we were really saying we have hundreds of thousands of people going hungry. How do we feed them? We have hundreds of thousands of people about to be evicted. How do we keep them sheltered? Secondly, I think equitable economic. To develop an equitable economy is a long term prospect, so as we think about what is what do we do to build towards that as an outcome in this moment of recovery and reflection and renewal? I really go to what I think my fellow panelists have been speaking to, which is we have to focus on social dynamism. We have to focus on community investment. And that means being very creative with these spaces that have opened up and allowing for the small business, the entrepreneurial, because we know that black and brown people are overrepresented in small business. Leading with that type of investment, that flexibility enabling access to capital in ways that haven’t existed in the past, and also leading with the arts, leading with culture, leading with the restaurants and the creative use of public space, and almost a reclaiming of the public realm from kind of commute-centric and/or shelter of last resort for so many members of our community to a public realm that offers the opportunities that I think Gabriella is so beautifully represented to us and her presentation. That is what is going to pull people to cities. And we have had, I think, a bit of a fear reaction with companies saying we’re either work from home forever or we’re relocating to Texas, you know, whatever it has been, we need to compete on a tax basis, I get concerned that competing on taxes is a race to the bottom. I do think that we have to care about our regulatory environment. I think we have to care about this attitude. We often have in the Bay Area that large companies are the man and we need to fight against them. I think large companies are an essential part of our ecosystem and I think that large companies are going to ultimately locate in the places where people want to be and people want to be in places that offer social dynamism. So to me, the recovery has to be centred on this notion that we care first about our community, we care first about our social investment, and we let our social entrepreneurs lead the way. I will pause there.
Mary Rowe [00:58:30] That’s great. OK, well, I’m going to ask all of you to put your mics on so that none of you is muted and we’re going to have a conversation among us now. Such an interesting call that you all made to the potential of what the city can still be. And I think we’re all we’re all tired of people suggesting that the city is dying. None of us want to talk about that anymore because we just don’t think it’s true, right? But if we look at what the challenges ahead to try to build these things back better and indifferently, are there particular kinds of public policy leadership that you think should be prioritized by the hundreds of folks that are on this call? What would you be suggesting they’re advocating for? Abha, you said you need strong mayors, you need well-equipped local municipalities. Are there other policy incentives that you would think people should be really pushing for? Gabriella, do you want to go first?
Gabriella Gomez-Mont [00:59:29] Sure, I loved Alicia’s comment, I think they’re spot on and I definitely think that it will take very strong measures. The mayor of Amsterdam, for example, right now, as I was mentioning, they’re going through a transformation. And it’s not a single, simple conversation in any ways. I think that there are things to be heard on the other end as well in terms of who’s going to brunt the cost of tourism, not necessarily coming in hordes to Amsterdam. What happens with sex workers, which, funnily enough, she was actually very influential in passing laws to make sex work legal in Amsterdam when they know they want to push it to the edge. And at the same time, I do agree with her that bold initiatives are going to be needed, that we really need to rethink zoning and policy. So, for example, right now, if there is fear mongering going on and cities right now are paying the brunt for the COVID response and also the tax revenue has come down as well there.
Mary Rowe [01:00:29] Broke. Cities in Canada are broke.
Gabriella Gomez-Mont [01:00:31] Exactly. So it becomes a very difficult conversation to have with companies and not let them get their own way. But as I think as Alicia was pointing out and Greg as well, if we now have empty space, this is a time to actually rethink what we do with that empty space. And what is it that we need in there? Perhaps there’s more flexibility to be had that it doesn’t have to be either or. I remember Mark Westbury did in the Australian town, for example, where Main Street got emptied out and he found a loophole in the law where they allowed for temporary occupancy of these spaces and not the other cities that have double occupancy. It can be one thing during the day and another thing at night. Is that a way of actually creating a hybrid strategy? Also not allowing for people to park their money in empty buildings like real estate monsters that can actually wait out the pandemic and wait 10 years?
Mary Rowe [01:01:28] How do we free that up? Yeah, we’re doing some interesting work around meanwhile leases. You know, can cultural groups go in or as you suggest, Alicia, social entrepreneurs, if you’ve got empty vacant space, is there a way to create a new kind of form of tenancy? And I love your idea about daytime tenants, nighttime tenants. That’s an interesting idea, Greg, if you got thoughts on what the public policy priority should be?
Greg Clark [01:01:52] Well, I mean, I agree with what Gabriella said, but I would add a couple of other things, I guess. I think the first one is that, cities have to adopt a new business model, if I can put it that way. I think the old markets of consumption, commuting, corporate headquarters, these will be diminished in the future. And they do have to embrace that experienced economy. They have to embrace that civic milieu that Gabriela spoke about so many things that they have to do. But in order to do that, I think they have to build up trust and social capital. You see, I think nearly all of the transitions the cities now need to go through are only possible environments where you’ve got quite a high trust equilibrium. And that means you’ve got to invest firstly in reassuring people that cities are safe. That needs to be a big, you know, public education campaign. You need to demonstrate that public transport, shared spaces, public buildings are safe and we need to kind of woo people back. And then, of course, if we’re going to adopt the kind of agility that Gabriella spoke about, the rotorization of the city, the new sequencing of the city, the different functions at different times of day, the new super mixed use, the more agile space, the convertible, flexible amenities, all of that only happens with very active citizen participation. Which is why I think social capital is the kind of secret weapon. What’s interesting is that we all spoke about cities where there’s high social capital. Of course, there are cities where there’s low social capital and it’s much more difficult to make some of these changes there. And then the third thing, of course, is the financial models of cities. I think we all knew that most cities were working with pretty challenging financial models, except in the kind of cities states that we sometimes see in Europe and parts of Asia Pacific and the cities in Asia Pacific that have been well supported; the leading cities that are well supported by the governments. Most cities are operating with totally inadequate financial models, especially if we’re going to put our cities right at the heart of tackling the climate emergency, right at the heart of tackling inequality. They’re going to need a completely new set of financial tools. So re-equipping the cities financially is pretty important I would say.
Mary Rowe [01:04:25] You know, I think of after 9/11, lower Manhattan, the city of New York, made a decision that they would invest in housing in lower Manhattan and in other kinds of uses. And there are lots of skeptics who said, “Oh, are you kidding? No one is ever going to want to live down there”. And Alicia, the point you made, it was actually non-profits that first went into lower Manhattan and enlivened it. And we all know of examples where artists and creative uses and enliven it Abha, do you sort of imagine that this kind of re-shifting is going to take place? Will that happen organically? I love your critique of the 15-Minute city being a planners imposition. Wouldn’t be a good city talk if we didn’t have a little jab at our friends who were planners, many of whom were on this call. Abha, do you have a sense of whether it’s going to work? How do we enable this to organically happen, or are there specific measures you might want to encourage?
[01:05:15] I think some of it will happen organically, Mary, but I think policy interventions are extremely important. And what we find in the global south is that the federal, state and city levels are not always aligned. And we want to see an alignment. We would actually want to see fiscal alignment. We would like to see more devolution of functions, but also more fiscal devolution to cities. And I think zoning and regulation has to change. So if we are taking cities like Mumbai, you know, the floor area ratio is so confined that you can’t build up. And I was just reading the other day that in California they are now rezoning what they would call single family homes, especially near Berkeley into allowing them to have four or five units in the same building. So I think that’s going to allow for house prices to become more affordable, for more families to to be close. I mean, look at Melbourne. I think it was in 1980s during the financial crisis or some kind of crisis, I forget, that all the office spaces were empty in downtown Melbourne and they turned that into residential spaces and that’s when Melbourne started thriving. So I think that’s very important. And I think trust and social capital like Greg just mentioned is so important. And that cannot just be organic. Cities have to develop that.
Mary Rowe [01:06:50] It’s so hard to foster it when we can’t get together. I mean, all those beautiful slides that Gabriella was showing, honestly, I could feel my yearning coming to the surface when I saw those great group scenes, you know, and I’m hoping someday we’re going to return to that. Alicia, you just heard Abha talking about your neck of the woods. I mean, you had extraordinary housing inequality before the pandemic. Do you see a shift happening? Maybe?
Alicia John-Baptiste [01:07:15] We still have extraordinary housing inequality during the pandemic. I think it will take decades to correct. Frankly, I see a bit of a shift. I think that there has been a pretty universal conversation about housing affordability as one of, potentially, the biggest crisis that we have faced as a region outside of the health crisis that the pandemic introduced. So there’s conversation about it, but that doesn’t mean that there’s agreement on what the solutions are politically fascinating and that they are able to take this step. I will say that there are cities just a couple of miles down the road that are really continuing to fight over some of these concepts. Eventually, I think we’ll get there. I think that part of why it’s been such a challenge to introduce even gentle density is because people haven’t experienced it. And so this abstract concept of more people that makes people nervous and that if you could actually just see it and experience it, it might it might lower the temperature a little bit. But I think to the earlier question on what are the policy interventions, one thing that has really kind of captured my imagination recently is an idea that Bruce Katz and in his new localism work has been pushing forward, which is around collective ownership on the commercial side and on the sort of small business side. And we think about community land trusts and public ownership or collective ownership on the residential side often. But we don’t think about it so frequently on the small business front. And we know, again, thanks to systemic racism, that so many of our small businesses lack access to capital. And I think if there are ways for us to create these kind of structures and institutions that allowed us to kind of smooth some of that economic risk, we could really bolster some of that investment. And I think that’s going to be really important going forward.
Mary Rowe [01:09:24] Well, you’re leading into what should be a final question among us, which is this: that there’s going to be a lot of money. It’s either going to come out of personal bank accounts or it’s going to come out of government stimulus. We know that people are saving more money than the people that, who have had money support, have a lot of it in the bank. And the question would be now, with this influx of money out of personal bank accounts or out of government stimulus, Gabriella, are you nervous about this? What would you prioritize in terms of what should be invested now? Go around each of you very quickly, what would you prioritize?
Gabriella Gomez-Mont [01:10:00] Going back to to the place of civics, I think that one of the things that started happening in terms of local politics, is that we stopped thinking about collectively. I think about the visions for our cities that we participatory practices, for example, are mostly quite practical in nature, saying, “OK, like what do we do here or what do we do with this?” Or even like, “What color do you want your subway to be?” But I think that we are lacking the participatory scaffolding to talk once again about the future of our cities and so that we can actually decide what’s at stake. So even though I know that it sounds a little ephemeral and slightly intangible, I actually think that we need to bring back politics to the street level, to the city level, and to create these civic networks that will then allow us to jointly decide the future of our city. Because if not, I think the decisions get taken for us. And I also think that, you know, in a way, we have to wrestle the future of our cities from corporate agendas because, I mean, it’s so much of it is already owned by corporations and public land is being sold. How do we recapture the social civic life?
Mary Rowe [01:11:19] We’ve got to go quickly. So I’m going to keep getting quick summaries from you. Abha, what would you prioritize?
Abha Joshi-Ghani [01:11:26] I would definitely prioritize infrastructure. And within that, I think digital infrastructure is really important. I would make sure that it doesn’t go into white elephants just to create jobs for that amount of time and I’ll stop there.
Mary Rowe [01:11:42] OK, Greg?
Greg Clark [01:11:45] I prioritize net zero strategies and I would say net zero strategies as the new organizing idea both to build up that civic collaboration that Gabriella spoke about, but also as a way of re-equipping cities financially for long term investments. So focusing on the, you know, the connected, the clean, the complexities and trying to drive carbon out and using the elimination of carbon as the organizing idea around which to create a new economy, new sharing platforms, new shared space, etc..
Mary Rowe [01:12:24] Alicia, last word to you.
Alicia John-Baptiste [01:12:26] Planning resilience, transportation infrastructure, land banking for housing and social investment in the form of access to capital and public education.
Mary Rowe [01:12:38] Well, there you are. You heard it here, so thanks very much to the four of you for enriching our conversation this this day as we start to tackle these questions. What’s so interesting to me is that you folks ratcheted the conversation up. It’s not just about downtowns, it’s actually about the city and who owns the city and who’s invested in the city and how do we actually build the city. I remember the first Mayor Daley was quoted. Somebody said, why do you spend so much time investing in the core? And he said, because an apple rots from the inside out. And I’ve never forgotten that. Carol Coletta told me that years ago that this is part of what we’re trying to understand, the whole organic makeup of urban regions, cities and neighborhoods and the scale and everything. So thank you so, so much for being part of this. I just want to encourage people that are wondering, what do you want to do for the rest of your day? Hey, you can come back on and join us this afternoon where we’re moving into what we’re calling the lightning round and those are provocations. Those are designers and entrepreneurs and thinkers and various folks who are going to put forward what their vision of the future downtown could be, should be, what has to be there. So it’s really to get us to imagine. I really appreciated the suggestion that people can’t think in the abstract. They need to understand what the possibilities are. You folks have really helped set the stage for that. And we need to be bold in imagining what’s possible. And I really appreciate you taking the time. So, Abha, Greg, Alicia and Gabriella, so nice to have you with us. We really appreciate it. Thanks, everybody.
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From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at https://canurb.org/citytalk
00:14:44 Canadian Urban Institute: Welcome! Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
00:15:05 Canadian Urban Institute: Attendees: where are you tuning in from today?
00:15:32 David Low: Hello again! David Low, Vic Park BIA in YYC
00:15:34 Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our sessions at https://www.canurb.org/citytalk Keep the conversation going #restorethecore #bringbackmainstreet #citytalk @canurb
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00:15:38 John Jung: Hello from Toronto and New York City
00:16:04 Annie MacInnis: Hello! Annie from Kensington, Calgary
00:16:17 Karen Dar Woon: Third generation settler whose family arrived at Turtle Island from China circa 1910. Born, raised and grateful to remain on lands of xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples.
00:16:31 Purshottama Reddy: Good evening, form Durban in South Africa.
00:16:45 Evangeline Sadler: Hi again from Montreal..
00:16:53 Kimberley Nelson: Hi from Bridgeland, Calgary AB
00:17:02 Adam Thompson: I’m going to hold to my heart being describes as “fabulous” by Mary for all my days:)
00:17:14 Reg Nalezyty: hi from Thunder Bay ON
00:17:51 Théa Morash: Hello from St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador!
00:18:14 Canadian Urban Institute:
Greg Clark, Global Head, Future Cities & New Industries, HSBC Group https://www.linkedin.com/in/prof-greg-clark-cbe-01145119/
Greg Clark is an author, global advisor, chairman and non-executive director. Clark has advised more than 200 cities, 50 national governments and a wide array of bodies including the OECD, Brookings Institution, the World Bank and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) on strategies for city development and investment. He also advises global investors and corporate service companies on how to align with city leaders. He currently serves as the Global Head of Future Cities and New Industries at HSBC Group.
00:19:12 Lana Hall: Hello! Joining you all from The Financial District BIA in downtown Toronto.
00:20:27 Canadian Urban Institute: Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
00:21:14 Donna Franz: thank you – Hello from Kelowna, in the Okanagan BC
00:21:23 Céleste Cordonnier: Hello from Hawkesbury, ON
00:22:20 Paul Shaker: Hello from The Hammer
00:24:18 Charles S: Yes, BCaaS
00:27:30 Donna Franz: ESG ? refers to –
00:27:41 Canadian Urban Institute: Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
00:27:46 Margaret Kish: what’s ESG?
00:28:07 Mary W. Rowe: Environment Social and Governance
00:28:13 Charles S: Environment sociala and governance
00:28:33 Mary W. Rowe: its metric the corporate community is starting to adopt
00:28:37 Diane Dyson: Hawkesbury, ON is a really interesting place, with the challenge of renewing a fading industrial base. Glad to have you here virtually! (My parents lived there long ago,)
00:31:22 Céleste Cordonnier: Yes it is a really interesting place indeed, I’ve started to work there since november as the town’s planner. We are currently working on projects to revitalize the Main Street ! I hope the dynamics will improve for locals.
00:32:07 Robert Plitt: In these examples where a significant return to the office is happening are we seeing any change in the social contract?
00:33:22 Diane Dyson: Share or follow along on Twitter using the hashtags: #RestoreTheCore #BringBackMainStreet #CityTalk
00:34:25 Canadian Urban Institute:
Gabriella Gomez-Mont, Founder and Principal, Experimentalista https://www.linkedin.com/in/gabriella-gomez-mont-1186a417b/
Gabriella Gómez-Mont is the former Chief Creative Officer of Mexico City, and the founder of Laboratorio para la Ciudad (2013 – 2018), the award-winning experimental arm of the Mexico City government. She now directs Experimentalista, a new type of nomadic and creative office specialized in cities – and that constantly shifts shape to accommodate high-level, transdisciplinary collaborations across the world.
00:34:41 Canadian Urban Institute: Besides her fascination with all things city, Gabriella is a journalist, visual artist, and director of documentary films, as well as a creative advisor to several cities, universities and companies. She has received several international recognitions for her work in different fields, such as the first prize in the Audi Urban Future Award, the Best Art Practice Award given by the Italian government, The Creative Bureaucrats Award by the German government, and the TED City 2.0 Prize, among others.
00:35:34 Adam Thompson: In London (Canada!) we are grappling with that central question of restoring confidence in public services. We’re looking hard at a community model where we can work collectively on this challenge with our businesses and service delivery agencies. Would love any insights participants may have.
00:39:59 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!
00:40:35 Mike Kasij: sutera-inground.com Our work in urban centres focusing on rethinking waste has been proving very effective and improving usage and confidence in public spaces.
00:43:13 Adam Thompson: thanks Mike. I’ll take a look
00:43:46 Melissa Ricci: Can you expand on why they prohibited Airbnbs in the historic centre?
00:51:15 Canadian Urban Institute:
Alicia John-Baptiste, President & CEO, SPUR
Alicia John-Baptiste is the president and CEO of SPUR. She is responsible for defining the overall vision and strategy for the organization. Alicia served for three years as SPUR’s deputy director, overseeing policy and strategic initiatives and running the organization day to day. Prior to joining SPUR, she held senior public administration and public policy roles for the City and County of San Francisco, including chief of staff positions at both the San Francisco Planning Department and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
00:51:48 Canadian Urban Institute:
Abha Joshi-Ghani, Senior Adviser, Public Private Partnerships, The World Bank https://www.linkedin.com/in/abha-joshi-ghani-7aa4b91/
Abha Joshi-Ghani is currently Senior Adviser for Public Private Partnerships, Infrastructure Analytics and Guarantees at the World Bank. Prior to this she was Director for Knowledge and Learning at the World Bank in the Change Knowledge and Learning Vice Presidency. She headed the Urban Development and Local Government Practice in the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Network from 2007-2012 where she oversaw the Bank’s work on Urban Policy and Strategy and Knowledge and Learning. She led the World Bank’s Urban Strategy in 2010. She also headed the Global Urbanization Knowledge Platform from 2011-2012. She is the Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Urbanization. She has worked primarily on infrastructure finance and urban development at the World Bank in South and East Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Before joining the World Bank she worked for the Reserve Bank of India.
00:52:27 DAVID TWIGG: Mark Granovetter’s work on the strength of weak ties is a must read for urbanists!
00:57:38 Kay Matthews: How important is rebuilding Consumer Confidence in Public Transit in our future “Reenchanting of our Cores”?
01:00:31 LoriAnn Girvan: Many of our cities’ suburbs are disproportionately low-income and home to newcomers and people of colour – facing higher impacts from COVID and for whom our downtown cores can be distant and unwelcoming places. How do we think about redistributing investment and resources to create more nodes of ‘complete communities’ that serve those excluded vs replicating the centre and the rings disparities?
01:01:26 Robert Plitt: Are we seeing any evidence in a decline in innovation as a result of Covid distancing?
01:03:02 Canadian Urban Institute: Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
01:03:40 paul mackinnon: Great question, Robert! Are most people, especially in the knowledge/creative economy really as productive when they work from home? Any studies on this yet?
01:04:56 Olusola Olufemi: Difficult to operate the 15 minute city in Lagos, Nigeria for example. Also the informal economy and over 200 slums in Lagos (density, crowding, lack of water and sanitation) were real concerns during the lockdown because of the non-compliance to social distancing, masking and hand washing measures. Generally, there is huge contrast in which cities in developing countries, particularly, Nigeria, experienced the COVID-19 pandemic when compared to the global north cities.
01:05:51 Karen Dar Woon: re: Winter cycling… Copenhagen is a year-round cycling city!
01:07:32 Johanna Hurme: re: Winter Cycling…So is Oulu, Finland, near the Arctic Circle
01:13:25 Jenna Dutton: Oops sorry meant to reply to attendees … So is Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto – granted we could use to invest more in winter friendly bike infrastructure (it’s not that fun to bike through all the snow piled in bike lanes 🙂 )
01:14:12 Robert Plitt: employee and co-operative ownership…
01:15:41 Diane Dyson: Lagos is the largest city in the continent! The only blessing around COVID is that the median age in Nigeria is 18 years old. I am glad the issue of informal work and housing was raised by Abha Josh-Ghani.
01:17:13 David Low: yes – how do we nudge the giant holding companies to care about their local vacancies and be more adapti
01:17:19 David Low: adaptive
01:18:42 Brad Krizan: Great question David. Activation of spaces in the short term can be highly impactful, yet Landlord’s and Asset Managers don’t seem to understand the benefit
01:18:52 Canadian Urban Institute: Our next session begins at 1:30pm and will feature provocations from leaders across Canada and around the world on what’s possible for the future of Canada’s downtowns. Register for this session here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_kATe2qxcT32UlejGDXgpcQ
01:20:03 Olusola Olufemi: Social capital, political will, smart governance are key to recovery in major cities.
01:20:09 Donna Franz: Do you feel that recovery could be accelerated by infusing funds to create more accessible cities, so that the greatest possible population can access, use and reuse, services, cultural opportunities etc in the city centre?
01:21:01 Brad Krizan: I think its important to better understand what the real sweet spot is between policy alignment and organic measures….how do we steward toward that so change can happen quicker and be stickier?
01:21:24 Canadian Urban Institute:
Greg Clark, Global Head, Future Cities & New Industries, HSBC Group https://www.linkedin.com/in/prof-greg-clark-cbe-01145119/
Gabriella Gomez-Mont, Founder and Principal, Experimentalista https://www.linkedin.com/in/gabriella-gomez-mont-1186a417b/
Abha Joshi-Ghani, Senior Adviser, Public Private Partnerships, The World Bank https://www.linkedin.com/in/abha-joshi-ghani-7aa4b91/
Alicia John-Baptiste, President & CEO, SPUR https://www.linkedin.com/in/alicia-john-baptiste/
01:21:25 Charles S: You have to ease policies holding back this change for this agility. That’s a big hurdle.
01:22:39 Charles S: Why is there social inequality in housing? What is driving this?
01:23:50 Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our sessions at https://www.canurb.org/citytalk Keep the conversation going #restorethecore #bringbackmainstreet #citytalk @canurb To support CityTalk and the Canadian Urban Institute’s other city building initiatives, please donate at www.canurb.org/donate.
01:24:46 Robert Plitt: yup- move to collective ownership – and rethink how municipalities control public land assets. Turn over to communities.
01:25:33 Guy Huntingford: Here in Calgary we have 30% vacancy of our office space and an ongoing conversation about switching this space to residential. Economics don’t always work.
01:26:38 Brad Krizan: Guy you are spot on, those conversion proforma’s don’t pencil out, our company tried moving one ahead and it doesn’t work for a private sector owner….
01:26:57 Kay Matthews: REITS – more interested in the shareholder return, than the community return?
01:26:59 Jenna Dutton: Re: Calgary: Yep, we recently published a research paper on just that topic! 🙂 https://www.policyschool.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Office-Vacancy-Graham-Dutton.pdf
01:27:32 Charles S: Thanks everyone!
01:27:48 Brad Krizan: Well REITS do have a fiduciary duty to their owners so that is an important consideration for them.
01:27:52 Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our sessions at https://www.canurb.org/citytalk
01:28:23 Shahinaz Eshesh: Thank you all!
01:28:31 Canadian Urban Institute: Our next session begins at 1:30pm and will feature provocations from leaders across Canada and around the world on what’s possible for the future of Canada’s downtowns. Register for this session here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_kATe2qxcT32UlejGDXgpcQ
01:28:57 Donna Franz: Thank you
01:28:58 Robert Plitt: Thanks.. great seesion