Why Canadian metropolises will thrive despite the pandemic

By Joe Berridge, special to The Globe and Mail, Oct 2, 2020

“It’s too early to tell. But now, at the six-month mark of the pandemic, we can see some clues about how our cities will respond: very slowly.

“Cities have great inertia; they are enormous, complex, socio-physical objects which change probably less than 1 per cent each year. The city we have now is largely the city we will have post-Covid-19.

“After all, people and businesses have leases and mortgages, jobs and families, communities and connections, which take years — not months — to restructure. After that much time, the sense of crisis could have passed, or have become the new normal.

“All offices are likely to go on some form of blended work/home arrangement, staggered hours and shift work at first, with those constraints steadily easing as — hopefully — rates of infection diminish and any outbreaks are better tracked and controlled.

“But there are two wicked problems. First, elevators.

“Reprogramming of elevator speed and service, reserved time slots, no-touch operation, making all occupants face walls — along with in-place air-filtration, anti-viral UV and total sanitizer systems — all will become the new elevator normal.

“The less technologically solvable, much more significant problem is urban transit.” Berridge proposes several solutions, including:

“Transit has never properly explored the market price for movement, and to get people out of their cars it may have to offer a Starbucks’ as well as a Timmys’ level of service. Reverting to the ‘pack ’em in’ rush-hour style will be [transit’s] death, with fatal consequences for cities and their finances.”

Lastly, Berridge considers the impacts of the pandemic on Toronto’s poorest, least-well transit served neighborhoods:

“The pedal-powered ‘15-minute neighbourhood’ notions appropriate for downtown have little lived reality for [lower income communities in inner suburban districts]. Something more robust is required: a 15-year program of intelligent, comprehensive, and speedy regeneration, accompanied by the right forms of guaranteed income support to place a floor under poverty. Frankly, we owe these residents big time.

“Is big city density dead? No. Will the shape of the city change? Yes, but slowly. Could we use this opportunity to redress the glaring inequity of a city’s socio-economic structure and service quality? I hope so.”

Read the full op-ed here. (~15 min)

“Joe Berridge is an urban planner and partner at design and planning firm Urban Strategies. He teaches at the University of Toronto and is the author of the book, ‘Perfect City.’ ”

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