Multisolving the polycrisis
The World Economic Forum uses the term “polycrisis” to describe “a cluster of related global risks with compounding effects, such that the overall impact exceeds the sum of each part.”
Canadian cities are facing an urban polycrisis at the local scale due to the climate crisis, the housing crisis, the opioid crisis, the cost of living, increasing inequality, polarization, systemic racism, and spiraling infrastructure and climate adaptation costs. City policymaking in the months and decades to come must multisolve for the polycrisis, meaning municipal policies must address more than one issue. It’s an efficient, fiscally prudent, and inspiring approach.
Cities often cite lack of resources and inadequate authority as key challenges to taking action on these intersecting, compounding crises. This isn’t going to change in the short term. And right now, given the dire situation outlined in the recent IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the short term is all we have.
So, how are city leaders to multisolve with limited power and resources?
First: use their extraordinary power to convene. When the mayor calls a meeting, the people invited will most likely attend. Cities can bring together people with diverse – and sometimes conflicting – views, get a shared commitment, and take action. During the pandemic, this convening power worked wonders in Victoria both to help address homelessness and to help keep our local businesses afloat.
Second: yes, cities need to continue to advocate to the provincial and federal governments for predictable, stable funding. Yet to multisolve, cities must also use their creativity, develop unexpected partnerships, and create new financial models to muster the financial resources necessary to renew infrastructure, reduce GHGs, adapt to climate change, and enhance the wellbeing of residents. The MaRS Municipal Impact Investment Fund is one emerging example.
Third: cities shouldn’t worry too much about the authority they don’t have, but rather, have the courage and risk tolerance to work at the very edges of the authority they do have. Even if that authority is challenged, it can lead to large scale change. We saw this in Victoria when the City created Canada’s first reusable bag bylaw. This led to multiple court challenges that ultimately found that the City had exceeded its authority. But the whole ordeal pushed the provincial and federal governments to move more quickly to reduce single use plastics.
Finally, cities need to bring everyone along.
If we are supporting climate friendly housing but only the wealthy can afford it;
If we have Equity, Diversity and Inclusion offices but don’t see diversity and inclusion in senior positions in city administration;
If we have climate adaptation plans that don’t account for people experiencing homelessness living in tents …
Then we may not be multisolving.
– Lisa Helps