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10 Ideas We’re Excited About in 2021

These solutions are giving us hope heading into the new year

Person walking across city street

Published on January 11, 2021

When it comes to city-building, 2020 laid bare the inequalities and barriers that are built into the fabric of our communities. It also offered an opportunity to question business as usual, and to start imagining how we can build better cities for all residents, right now. 

It's that questioning that is giving us hope heading into the new year. We’re seeking out ideas, old and new, that will make our cities great in the years to come. 

In the wake of Evergreen’s Future Cities Canada:#UnexpectedSolutions, which brought together experts from around the world to discuss the future of city building, we’ve gathered some of the most compelling solutions shared that are inspiring us this year.

The Seventh Generation Principle

Planning for future generations is the key to creating infrastructure that is sustainable and resilient.  

The Seventh Generation Principle, which originated with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and is shared by shared by many Indigenous people across nations and communities, grounds present day decisions in the context of how they will impact future generations. This thinking is necessary if we want to create sustainable, lasting cities. 

The 15-minute Neighbourhood 

What is at the heart of a vibrant, sustainable community? Walkability.  

Many communities built in the second half of the 20th century are designed around the car, with residents driving from home to work, and everywhere in between.  

The 15-minute neighbourhood is a call to design communities where people live, work and gather withing a 15-minute radius, connected by accessible, walkable streets and public transit. It’s a vision for low-emission communities, but also ones with stronger social resilience, where residents are encouraged to shop at nearby local businesses, gather with neighbours easily, and feel a true connection to where they work and live. 

Repurposing Existing Assets 

Cities are full of underused assets — from lonely car parks to abandoned rail decks, plenty of valuable space goes unused in the busiest urban centres. 

This space is ripe for repurposing. Former industrial space can be transformed into much needed parks, parking lots can be used as neighbourhood hubs for events and markets, and sports facilities can provide much needed washroom facilities for those experiencing homelessness.  

By moving beyond seeing buildings and spaces as serving a single purpose, we can find innovative ways to better serve all residents.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

2021 must be the year that our communities move beyond the concept of diversity to one of diversity, equity and inclusion.  

Diversity alone is a reflection of who is in a room. Inclusive cities make sure everyone in the room has their needs met. Equitable cities must be designed to eliminate barriers to access along lines of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and ability.

If we want to build better cities for all, they must be adpated to meet the needs of all, not some, residents.

Reclaiming Public Data 

Data-informed city-building is better city-building. Data is a utility just like roads, electricity or water. Giving residents access to, and agency over, their data, will pave the way for a more engaged public and better-informed policy.  

The Doughnut Model 

For decades, cities have been built with unimpeded growth in mind. But what if we took a different approach? 

The doughnut model, which is gaining traction with city-builders around the world, proposes that the core goal of a city (the inner ring of the doughnut) should be to meet the basic needs of its residents, as outlined by UN’s sustainable development goals. These goals should then be obtained within certain boundaries (the outer ring of the doughnut), set to protect our climate, soils, oceans, freshwater sources and biodiversity.  

If city-building happens within these inner and outer layers, both residents and the environment will have their needs met. 

Participatory Decision-Making 

This solution goes hand-in-hand with making data available to the public.  

Participatory decision-making means actively including residents in every step of the city-building process. This will allow for services, environments and products that meet their needs, and is especially important when designing for marginalized communities and for re-Indigenizing our cities. 

Cross-Sectoral Partnerships 

Sectors are often siloed, delaying important city-building work and stymying the passage of information. 

By engaging across sectors — the tech sector, service providers, government agencies, not-for-profits, community groups to name a few — innovative ideas can gain traction and come to fruition faster.  

Reuse of Waste and Water 

Our waste and rainwater are two resources that can be harnessed to create more efficient, sustainable communities. 

Waste can be repurposed into biogas, while features like rainwater barrels can save water for community use. Communities that embrace combined drinking and wastewater facilities can use these resources to grow their own food, becoming more sustainable and resilient at the same time.  

Youth Stewardship 

Youth stewardship is essential to building communities that are actively engaged in caring for the environment around them. This can begin at a young age, and especially within our education system. Elementary students can maintain and own community gardens, reducing storm water sun off and learning the value of urban agriculture, as just one example.

Explore More Solutions  

These are just some of the inspiring solutions that were shared as part of #UnexpectedSolutions.  

Register for the Community Solutions Portal free today, to have unlimited access #UnexpectedSolutions sessions and resources for city builders.