Most of us around the world call cities home, including here in Canada, where more than 80 percent of people live in urban areas. Globally, another 2.5 billion people will live in cities by 2050. Urbanization represents one of the greatest challenges of our times, particularly because of rising social inequalities, unprecedented demographic shifts, and environmental degradation. We must make fundamental changes to the way we think about and build cities if they are to become places where all people can thrive. Our aim in Cities for People is to support inclusive urban innovationInclusive urban innovation: the process of developing strategies and solutions that challenge current urban practices and institutions for systemic change, creating cities that better address changing societal needs, aspirations as well as environmental imperatives. that contributes to more resilientResilience: the capacity of communities to self-organize, proactively absorb shocks and take advantage of opportunity. A resilient city is one where infrastructure and amenities are deployed to meet the needs of all. and livable cities for all people.
Our approach to city change
Cities are “systems of systems”—they encompass streets, buildings, public spaces, parks, libraries, residential spaces, institutions, social networks and economic activity. Viewing cities this way helps us find opportunities to support efforts to make positive changes. Following an experimental phase, in 2016 Cities for People began working with other entities to develop an approach for changing cities. We have teamed up with a host of institutions, municipalities and non-profit organizations to pursue the following priorities: 1) increasing equality, 2) strengthening the city as a commonsThe commons: our streets, parks, squares and other places where people gather to celebrate, learn, rest, play, trade, express collective aspirations, and provide for themselves and one another. The commons are spaces where we do together what we can’t do alone., 3) enabling city labs, and 4) supporting urban innovation networks. Cities for People provides backbone functions to facilitate learning, communications, and field-building across the system. We aspire to collectively advance change and create conditions to better equip cities to meet the challenges of our times.
We work with urban innovators to scale up initiatives that tackle poverty and social and economic exclusion. We also support neighbourhood revitalization projects that seek to improve social well-being, with a particular focus on urban Indigenous communities and areas with high percentages of newcomers to Canada. One major partner in this area is Vibrant Communities Canada (led by the Tamarack Institute), a network of individuals united to reduce poverty by building economically and socially inclusive societies.
Civic commons are our streets, parks, squares, and so much more. They are shared spaces that belong to all people. We believe in the potential of the city as a commons to support urban vitality and provide all residents with a sense of belonging. To strengthen these civic assets, we support placemakingPlacemaking: an inclusive and collaborative process that builds local capacity and leadership. It empowers communities to define the physical and social attributes of spaces they inhabit. and adaptive reuseAdaptive reuse is a key principle in sustainable city building that requires developers and architects to creatively reuse and upgrade existing infrastructure.. This involves reimagining and repurposing buildings and spaces whose original purposes have become redundant or obsolete, or could be updated to meet new community needs. We also believe in the value of open dataOpen data is data that is accessible for everyone to use and must be licensed in a way that allows for its reuse. to strengthen public participation and democracy.
We encourage the flourishing of “urban labs,” spaces and ways of working that enable citizens, governments, institutions, investors and non-profits to invent new ways to solve tough issues, like affordable housing, and to explore possibilities for collective change, such as re-designing public spaces to foster democratic practices and quality of life in cities.
We support networks of urban innovators through gatherings, civic innovation awards and strategic partnerships. We have worked with our partners to organize study tours that emphasize the value of city-to-city learning exchanges. These activities have taught us what works and what doesn’t in cities abroad so we can bring these lessons back to Canada.