By Janani Mahendran, Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Ministry of Housing
This post is part of a series covering ULI Toronto’s Electric Cities Spring 2017 Symposium which took place on April 24 and 25 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. ULI Toronto’s second city building symposium saw over 1,000 industry professionals gather to learn and engage on topics revolving around placemaking, mobility and technology.
“How did we get here, and how are we going to dig ourselves out?” – Gabe Klein
The public and private sectors need to come together to address city issues in a collaborative manner, according to Gabe Klein, entreprenuer and author of Start-Up City: Inspiring Private & Public Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done, and Having Fun. Klein entertained and enlightened participants on the first day of the 2017 ULI Toronto Electric Cities Symposium, sharing his insight into the history of cities, including how they’ve moved away from the multimodal streets with people on bikes alongside streetcars, horse-drawn carriages and pedestrians to wider street that accommodate cars. Klein pointed out that to re-transform our cities to those walkable, integrated streets of the past with the added efficiency new technology and the shared economy provides, collaboration between public and private interests is essential.
This means aligning objectives and desired results, and ensuring the appropriate incentives are in place so the environment is designed to change perspectives and behaviour. The world is already shifting to be a more autonomous, shared and multimodal environment; with the advancements of services like Amazon, and the shift to a more knowledge-based economy, there will be wider implications on our urban form with store closings and shrinking need for large, permanent office spaces. Klein noted that governments have an important role by possibly owning the platform and providing the private sector with the incentives to supply alternative options.
Klein noted that there is a disproportionate increase in productivity and tolerance as the urban form becomes denser. Given the trend of people driving less, with our cities getting more dense and smart phones becoming a necessity, city infrastructure (both hard and soft) needs respond to the dynamic needs of its inhabitants.
As opposed to focusing on single element of our environment, like bike lanes or a transit stop, Klein said there needs to be a perspective shift to curate the entire system that integrates public and private services (eg. having bikeshare docks along dedicated bike lanes, near a transit hub, which has a pick-up/drop-off bay for ride-share services). If you make transit and alternative forms of transportation easy for people, it will change their behavior.
But the hardest part of changing our traditional transportation choices is buy-in from various stakeholders. Part of the issue is how costs and benefits of alternatives are calculated and communicated. There has been a lot of backlash against stimulus spending as it produces a negative return on investment, Klein said.
If you look at the full cost benefit, factoring in the benefits to the environment and health, transit is a zero-cost solution. There needs to be a focus on long-term returns and a holistic approach to cost/benefit analysis to drive investment in infrastructure to create complete and efficient streets.
Many also resist change due to the fear of the unknown. This can be mitigated by experimenting on the street – implement it temporarily on the cheap because people need to see it in action to be convinced.
“Everything that we are doing is not that smart,” Klein said. Things that were done before the car, coupled with advances in technology, can make life a lot more convenient. The keynote was an excellent teaser for Klein’s book, which he was signing copies off after his event.