Cities and towns continue adapting services and planning recovery in a post-COVID-19 world

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city watch canada

Ontario Construction Report staff writer

COVID-19 has highlighted just how much municipalities across Ontario are on the front lines when it comes to delivering services.

CityWatch Canada is an interactive tool launched by the Canadian Urban Institute to track municipal response measures that have been put in place by local governments in 65 cities across Canada, including major urban centres in all provinces and territories, and all cities with populations over 100,000.

“We designed these easy-to-use tools to give people opportunities to highlight what’s happening in cities across the country, shorten learning curves, and accelerate the adoption of effective local solutions,” said Mary Rowe, CEO and President of the Canadian Urban Institute.

CityWatch Canada features daily updates on emergency measures put in place by local governments across Canada. The site currently features 62 of Canada’s larger municipalities, with CUI staff and volunteers adding more each day.

The site documents cities that quickly implemented work from home policies, physical distancing measures and changes to how services are delivered at municipal facilities. They sourced and provided PPE for essential municipal staff, implemented passenger limits on public transit vehicles, and re-purposed municipal facilities or leased private hotels for homeless individuals that could no longer live at crowded shelters.

All of these activities have increased costs at the same time that many have allowed property tax deferrals and waived late payment charges.

When it comes to the economic recovery, municipalities will also face an uphill climb. Local government revenues will not increase automatically with the growth in the economy, and measures such as dipping into capital reserves and deferring capital projects, are not sustainable in the long run.

Here’s what some leading municipalities are doing:

  • Ottawa has taken a pledge to spend $1-billion over the next six months to allow cities and housing providers to buy properties on the market because of the pandemic and convert them to housing for those at risk for homelessness.
  • Barrie was one of the first cities to switch quickly to virtual council meetings, making sure public participation continued with virtual participation and feedback.
  • Toronto City Council has managed as the province’s hot spot for the virus. With lockdowns in
  • place and services shifted online, council received input from advocacy organization Progress Toronto asking to start meaningful public discourse on future decision-making.
  • Burlington continues virtual delegations at standing committees and council in mid-April, with delegates submitting an electronic request to appear to the clerk by noon the day before the meeting.
  • London amended the submission process for all applications pertaining to planning, development, building and licensing. Only digital applications are being accepted for all services, and the processes continues to work smoothly.
  • Greater Sudbury residents now have more options to apply for community housing through a new online portal, greatersudbury.ca/housing. The easy-to-use online portal is available anytime, anywhere, on any device.
  • Milton more than leads the race in terms of fastest growing cities in Ontario. Municipal services were quickly shifted online. Bradford West Gwillimbury offices are now open regular hours. however, virtual services (phone or online) will continue to be provided and residents are encouraged to use these wherever possible.
  • Kitchener-Waterloo council also shifted services quickly online, and made the decision to expand bike lane infrastructure – after an overwhelming response on the region’s online engagement platform.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment that calls for us to put our shoulders to the wheel and unleash our collective ingenuity—neighbourhood by neighbourhood, block by block,” Rowe concluded.

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