SSHRC - Imagining Canada's Future - Findings

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Southern Ontario Panel on Urbanization

 

 

From our Expert Panel Co-Lab, the Top Ten Challenges are:

  1        Advancing a diverse and inclusive society
  2        Enabling equitable access to ICT
  3        Governing ourselves responsively
  4        Designing sustainable cities
  5        Overcoming fear of change
  6        Including indigenous rights in planning
  7        Transitioning to a digital economy
  8        Upgrading transportation systems
  9        Stewarding regional ecosystems
10       Supporting our aging population

The Top Ten future challenges, and an additional 30 challenges received at least one vote by the expert panel. All are considered important for Canadian society in the global context.

Because the influence map indicates progressive influence of deeper social challenges on other challenges, we consider the first four challenges to have particular future leverage on long-term developments globally.

Our Top Ten list was derived from the top thirteen challenges by selecting those challenges that were most influential on the others, and were highly related to the triggering question. The three challenges dropped off the top thirteen were those that were judged in influence map voting as having the least influence on the others.

A follow up survey, and a public Design with Dialogue session correlated and expanded on the Expert Panel workshop findings.

We believe the results are largely generalizable to all Canadian provinces, perhaps only with differences in some priorities. In naming and assessing the influence of these future challenges, the expert panel considered both increasing urbanization globally and in Southern Ontario. Though urbanization trends will be most apparent in Canada’s large cities, all cities and communities will be affected by the transitions represented by the challenges.

A global context requires a Canadian societal response of both international engagement and local conservation of urban and rural ecosystems, Canadian values and aboriginal, emerging and urban cultures. 

"Where does the Top Ten list come from?" In Dialogic Design, the ‘collective wisdom’ of the panel, tested by dialogue and multiple rounds of voting, highlights which challenges have significant influence on most other challenges

Top Ten Challenges (by Level of Influence):

Challenge 1. Advancing a diverse and inclusive society

In the next two decades, Ontario’s diversity is set to increase, especially in our growing cities. This enriches our cultural composition, already among the most varied in the world. Still the inclusive values that make this possible must not be taken for granted, but practiced, advanced, taught and learned.

In the Expert Panel this challenge, like all the challenges, was first expressed in a statement by one of the panellists in direct response to the Triggering Question. It was originally articulated as “Designing a diversity-inclusive society that ensures all can participate and belong; and that the creative/social/economic opportunities of the diversity are realized,” and received 4 votes.

Through the Influence Map voting process this challenge appeared at Level V, the deepest level, associated with Most Influence. It is mutually influenced by (“cycling with”) the challenge of “Enabling equitable access to ICT,” which is also cycling with “Governing ourselves responsively.” In Dialogic Design this is taken to mean that, in the overall judgment or ‘collective wisdom’ of the panel, tested by dialogue and multiple rounds of voting, this challenge is believed to have significant influence on a majority of other challenges in our Top Ten.

The Online Survey of Expert Panel attendees found strong linkages between the challenge of “Advancing a diverse and inclusive society” with other factors of community building that fosters ecosystems knowledge, opportunity and value; as well as physical and social infrastructures that support the effects of urbanization, competition, and innovation.

In the Public Workshop, related challenges statements emerged, including: “’Keeping society open as diversity continues to increase,” “How do we deal with the very different needs and wants of the citizenship?” and “The challenge of changing values (Social, ecological, cultural, lifestyle, ethnic, corporate, small town vs. city, intergenerational).”

"How do we keep society open as values change and compete?"

Challenge 2. Enabling equitable access to ICT

Information and Communication Technologies or ICTs have been widely recognized as a significant arena and driver of change, and our panel reiterated this relevance. While unbridled urban adoption of internet, mobile devices, and other new media tools promises innovative forms of creativity and exchange, we must consider equity in assessing access for rural or disadvantaged communities.

During the Expert Panel, this challenge was articulated as “Inequitable access to information and new communication technologies,” and received 5 votes.

"The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed"  —author and futurist William Gibson

In the Influence Map, this challenge is at Level V, Most Influence, in a mutual cycle with “Advancing a diverse and inclusive society” and “Governing ourselves responsively.”

The Survey found tight links between access to ICTs and issues of socio-economic mobility and opportunity; as well as important enhancements in education, learning systems and critical discourse.

From the Public Workshop, related challenges statements include: “Build in personal adjustability to change faster.” 

Challenge 3. Governing ourselves responsively

Despite rising complexity and compounding challenges, we see widely varying levels of engagement and effectiveness in our political process, with elected leaders and the electorate. How can we ensure that efforts, from the grassroots to the halls of power, can rise to take on these tough problems?

During the Expert Panel, this challenge was stated as “How do we get our political leaders to deal with these hard problems?” and received 4 votes.

“How do we get our political leaders to deal with these hard problems?”

In the Influence Map it is Level V, Most Influence, mutually influenced by (“cycling with”) “Enabling equitable access to ICTs,” which is also cycling with “Advancing a diverse and inclusive society.”

For Survey respondents this issue, understood as political responsiveness to ‘hard problems’, is correlated with the capacity to positively intervene on any or all issues. Respondents raised concerns around impediments posed by a capitalist system and our education system, if not revised. International politics, polarization and shared understanding were additional concerns.

Related Public Workshop challenges included: “Equitable and efficient governance models,” and “What should the role of government be?”

Challenge 4. Designing sustainable cities

Our panel called for cities to increase their capacity for flexibility, adaptation, sustainability and resilience. While the great density and interconnectedness of cities does afford more efficient and effective use of resources, we have much to learn if we are to reduce our urban footprint without diminishing quality of life.

During the Expert Panel, this was originally articulated as the challenge, “Structure and design of our urban areas lack flexibility and sustainability” and received 4 votes.

In the Influence map this challenge is Level IV, Significantly Influencing, with direct influence on “Upgrading transportation systems.”

As in challenge one, designing sustainable cities was highly correlated with community building and redevelopments in social and physical infrastructure, and is further texted by concerns over divisions in education, income and values. Participation and empowerment may be key factors.

Related Public Workshop challenges included: Pollution (air, noise, light etc.) and its impact on physical and mental health →aggression, conflict increasing,” “Inflexible and out-dated ownership and zoning arrangements,” “Losing personal, social connection with nature,” and “How do we redesign the delivery of public services to adapt to the increasing complexity and scale of our urban built environment?”

Challenge 5. Overcoming fear of change

Panellists expressed belief that our species is more conservative than we often admit. Culture, in both traditional and contemporary strains, is predicated on creating and repeating patterns of familiarity to propagate meaning. Yet our world is changing rapidly and appropriate kinds of adaptation seem more necessary now than ever.

During the Expert Panel, this was originally articulated as “How do we deal with the fear of change?” and received 3 votes.

“How do we deal with the fear of change?”

In the Influence map, “Overcoming fear of change” is at Level IV, Significantly Influencing other challenges. It is influenced by the top three challenges (the cycle outlined above), and notably, it influences all other challenges, most directly, “Including indigenous rights in planning,” “Transitioning to a digital economy,” and “Upgrading transportation systems.”

The Survey demonstrated a strong link between the challenge (fear) of change with issues of education and competing / differing value systems.

From the Public Workshop, related challenges statements include: “Build in personal adjustability to change faster,” “How do we stop thinking that worldwide urbanization will be bad for us?” and “The challenge of changing values (Social, ecological, cultural, lifestyle, ethnic, corporate, small town vs. city, intergenerational).”

Challenge 6. Including indigenous rights in planning

Discussion emphasized that indigenous rights need to be recognized prior to and within urban development. Decision processes must include and take seriously the livelihoods of those most affected. The effects of urbanization on indigenous populations can and do impact and infringe on land use, quality of and access to natural resources, self-determinacy, and culture.

"Indigenous rights need to be recognized prior to and within urban development"

During the Expert Panel, this challenge was originally articulated as "Refusal to recognize and implement indigenous rights before urban planning" and received 3 votes.

In the Influence Map, “Including indigenous rights in planning” is at Level III, Influenced. “Governing ourselves responsively” is closely linked to this problem, suggesting that improving political responsiveness will help to resolve this challenge. Acknowledging Indigenous rights in planning will help to address the Level II challenge, “Stewarding regional ecosystems,” and may be critical to managing the effects of climate change.

An overwhelming majority of survey respondent linked Indigenous rights in planning with mismatches in different value systems, as well as growing polarization and inequalities. Fundamental issues contributing to this challenge have gone unaddressed while the tensions and grave disenfranchisement of native populations continues.

Challenge 7. Transitioning to a digital economy

Our economic wellbeing is rooted in industries that may no longer be viable; digital economies have yet to supplant older, rusting institutions of dwindling value.

"Our economic wellbeing is rooted in industries and rusting institutions that may no longer be viable"

During the Expert Panel, this challenge was originally articulated as "Digital economy seeds, rust belt institutions" and received 2 votes.

In the Influence Map this challenge is at Level III. It is influenced by “Governing ourselves responsively” and has influence on “Stewarding our regional ecosystems” and “Climate change.” Panellists felt that established economic models and industries may continue to deliver short-term value and wealth, but that these institutions are out-dated, and may be damaging in the mid to longer term.

The Public Workshop identified the related challenge: “Developing an economy that reverses the trend towards income density and fosters social stability.”  The survey demonstrated the view that education (revitalised) was critical for a transition from industrial to knowledge economies. Some respondents believed that these economies can be bridged – rather than viewed as a transition away. The issue of a global market place and brain-drain were clear concerns.

Challenge 8. Upgrading transportation systems

Moving goods, people and information sustains the economic regions, and contributes to national identity. Many transportation options seem compromised based on crumbling infrastructure, safety and carbon calculation issues. Increased urbanization may be slowed by transportation difficulties; movement within, to and out of these centres may prove more problematic without a revitalization plan.

During the Expert Panel this challenge was stated as "Transportation across the region," and received 3 votes.

In the Influence Map this challenge is at Level III. It is influenced by “Designing sustainable cities” and “Supporting our aging population.” Issues of urban design and planning influence the transportation crisis. Increasing mobility of people, goods, services and information should be planned with the goal of addressing the issues associated with aging population.

"Planning to improve mobility of people, goods, services and information must also consider issues associated with an aging population"

The Survey correlated this challenge with socio-economic (non)mobility, community building and social, physical infrastructures. Commentary linked this with health and wellness, access and governance.

Related challenges from the Public Workshop include: urban food production, various forms of pollution, and divergent income levels.

Challenge 9. Stewarding regional ecosystems

Environmental stewardship is needed to safely manage our natural resources. The Great Lakes, as an example, supply fresh water, but plans to preserve, use and revitalize this critical resource may not be adequate to meet long-term demands.

During the Expert Panel, this challenge was originally articulated as "Environment, especially fresh water stewardship of Great Lakes water basin” and received 5 votes.

“The rest of the world will be looking to us when water becomes scarce,” and “we are not doing well”

In the Influence Map, “Stewarding regional ecosystems” surfaced as at Level II, Highly Influenced. It is most closely associated with the challenge of “Climate change”; progress in “Stewarding regional ecosystems” is believed by our Expert Panel to have significant improvement on climate change issues and outcomes. One poignant comment was: “The rest of the world will be looking to us when water becomes scarce,” and “we are not doing well.” Panellists articulated this challenge as a question of life and death.

In the Survey, respondents linked this with issues of health and wellness, education and joint (international) political action. The capitalist system is called out as part of the conflict between economic values and the need for high water quality for today and tomorrow.

Challenge 10. Supporting our aging population

Older adults face difficulties in care, finances and social inclusion. Elders are often victims of the growing digital divide and of flailing healthcare / social systems. These challenges will increase in severity and reach as Canadians are living longer and having fewer children; the average age of citizens will rise as a result of this population bulge. Canadians have a vested interest in securing “graceful aging,” where elders are not only supported in healthy, connected lives but continue to be recognized as critical, productive members of society.

During the Expert Panel, this challenge was originally articulated as "How do we deal with our aging population?" and received 6 votes.

In the Influence Map, “Supporting our aging population” is at Level II, Highly Influenced. Upgrading transportation systems, if done properly, might help with the challenge of “Supporting our aging population.” Efforts to address an aging population can influence the growing divide between rich and poor: “Wealth distribution” was a top contender challenge that received 3 votes but was omitted from the list of the top ten since it was understood as an outcome of and heavily influenced by the deeper level challenges identified on levels V–II.

The Survey correlated this most strongly with factors of health and wellness as well as community building. Further commentary expands on the need for life long learning for an aging population and cross-cultural inquiries for example models of value and social systems for integrating older, critical members of society.