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This past week I attended the 2013 Western GTA Summit in Mississauga. To learn more about the history of this summit check out their website.
This year's theme was: “Are we facing economic gridlock? How will we Live, Move and Thrive in the 21st Century?"
Driving to the summit I did not know what to expect, and I was blown away by the number of people present: hundreds of people were there, many dressed in suits and ties, while others wearing more causal jeans. They had pulled in many people of influence including mayors, MPs and MPP’s as well as world experts.
The history of this event is wrapped in community. The goal was to give the citizens of Mississauga a chance to help envision and shape their city. Since then, it has grown to include many of the other local municipalities, the goal remains the same though: give people the space and the tools and they can help bring insight to the dialogue.
What follows are some of the key themes that I pulled out from the day’s discussions.
There was recognition of a need to push beyond jurisdictional silos. Often municipalities and the residents that live within them see themselves as Miltonians and do not always recognize that they are interconnected with a network of other cities and people. This has lead to fragmentation in responses, and a lack of effective communication. It was universally realized that the problems we face demand that we rise above this thinking and engage with our neighbours on a regional basis, to share ideas and collaborate. This type of systems thinking is also required across different fields, institutions and the realities on the ground as move into and increasingly complex world. Luckily this summit is a testament to this as there were representatives from a diverse cross section of institutions, municipalities and practitioners.
We are also seeing a shift in culture. One speaker talked about how more and more young adults are not buying cars or houses these days. Instead, they are looking for walkable communities. This is causing a migration into urban centers where this is possible. This puts a large demand on the public transit system. It was also noted that if we want to engage the top young talent to our cities, we need to create a strong public transit system. This is a major shift from the suburb lifestyle that has been pushed for the last couple of decades.
Tied to this shift is a need for increased density of housing. How is this shift going to impact how we build communities? We know that suburbs often did not lead to strong senses of community; will dense urban centers be any different? How can we foster community in these new spaces?
One of the questions that I was wrestling with as we went through all these discussions is: How does transportation allow us to connect, live, grow and thrive?
I like the vision of getting the population to shape the direction of the city. I was disappointed, though, with how little space was given for this. The vast majority of the time was given to key note speakers and panelists. Though they had many interesting things to say, I did not feel like airtime was really given to the average citizen to participate. When there were discussions, the feedback I felt was seen as token at best.
Personally, I feel like this summit is having the right conversations but giving the wrong people the microphone.
Has your city or region had a similar dialogue? What thoughts or ideas does this bring up for you?