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Ten of the Stickiest Changes Underway in Cities Today

Since the onset of the pandemic, local governments have been responding to the public health, economic, and social crises. Cities cannot afford to wait until after the pandemic to effect change. So, what changes are happening right now at the local government level, and how are these changes laying the foundation for a pandemic-resilient future?



December 14, 2020

Local governments can be agents of positive change.

We cannot and should not stand in the way of the positive changes already underway in our cities, which are harnessing human ingenuity and adaptability in ways not possible in ‘normal’ times. The pandemic offers an opportunity to accelerate positive change, one of the few silver linings in the otherwise devastating human tragedy of a global pandemic.

Changes to an established system can be characterized as reactionary or sticky. Reactionary changes are the actions we need to take to get through a particular crisis. They are short term, and are not sustainable or warranted over the long term. Sticky changes are also actions we take to get through a crisis, but they endure because they transform our way of living for the better.

So, what are the 10 stickiest changes underway in cities today?

1. Citizen engagement needs to move online.

It’s cheaper, broader, more inclusive, democratic, convenient, and responsive to health mandates. Digital engagement is happening now in municipalities around the world, and this should be the norm moving forward.

2. Residential zones need to provide more basic services for those who continue to work from home.

This should include ancillary workspaces and small-scale essential support (e.g. corner groceries). At least one-third of all work will continue to be done from home, and those who benefit from that will want services and ‘third places’ nearby.

3. Package delivery needs to include curbside policies and services.

As shopping continues to shift online, people are having more packages, meals, and supplies sent to their homes. Curbside management strategies must evolve to meet these new demands.

4. Single-use municipal facilities need to become flexible, multi-functional spaces.

Community needs and health restrictions will shift constantly in the future, and our spaces need to be ready for the next major unplanned crisis.

5. Public amenities, services and spaces need to be made available via flexible online booking.

Citizens need to know when and where they’re able to go before they arrive, and they need to be assured that the latest safety protocols are in effect. This is part of a proactive strategy to re-open local governments.

6. Municipal inspections and approvals need to be done remotely and digitally.

Meeting face-to-face is time-consuming, inefficient and potentially unsafe. Remote inspections and approvals ensure that the business of cities can continue no matter the externalities.

7. Smart systems and plans need to be integrated to respond to future crises.

Cities are at the forefront of disaster response, and preparedness saves critical time and resources. Roadmaps and plans should incorporate disaster-resilience of all kinds, including against pandemics, fires and floods.

8. Mobile-first work policies and protocols need to be instituted in all cities.

Working from home, at least on a partial basis, is here to stay. It’s resource-efficient, space-efficient, and provides benefits to many workers.

9. Experiences and best practices need to be shared between cities.

All cities need to reach out, seek advice, and offer their own, because COVID-19 is a global crisis, and we’re all looking for answers. The lessons learned by many are invaluable and will inform a path forward.

10. Local private sectors need to align with local governments on a common cause.

We need each other. Local businesses want to make a contribution to their communities, and are adapting and making their own changes in innovative and creative ways. Local governments should tap into that expertise.

David Thom is President of IBI Group Inc. and IBI Group, responsible for providing executive leadership with a particular focus on managing and leading the firm’s multidisciplinary teams of professionals. He specializes in the planning and design of complex projects that integrate planning, architecture and transportation. He has had senior responsibility for many major urban development projects across Canada, in the United States and internationally, including public / private partnerships and private finance initiatives.

Mr. Thom joined the firm in 1975 after receiving his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Toronto. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC).

Headshot of David Thom

Written by David Thom

Vancouver, BC
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