Building Sustainable Cities

Last week TAS’s President & CEO, Mazyar Mortazavi, participated in GlobeScan & TD Bank Group’s Sustainable Development Goals online Leadership Forum. The topic was Sustainable Cities & Communities, and Mazyar joined 11 other guest contributors from across North America, as well as more than 150 participants from 19 countries, for a text-based discussion on urban issues relating to infrastructure, environmental challenges, and resident accessibility and engagement.

Below is a summary of the discussion highlights and how this topic connects to TAS’s ambition of building resilient urban villages. GlobeScan and TD will produce a report on the main learnings to understand trends, current initiatives, and future challenges and opportunities to create awareness and inspire change among all.

When asked what kind of city they’d like to see in the future, almost every contributor emphasized the importance of great parks: “parks, recreation facilities and green spaces are the single largest contributor to livability in any urban environment,” said City of Toronto’s Janie Romoff. Parks and other public spaces are important drivers of social cohesion and improve quality of life for city-dwellers. 

Not only do green spaces benefit citizens directly, they also play an important role in protecting cities from future climate risks.  

“Natural environments [such as city parks] are more resilient than paved and concrete alternatives and soften the impacts of storms and heat by absorbing and redirecting water,” said Barbara Erickson, President and CEO of The Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts. “They can recover from storms and environmental changes and heal through regrowth.” 

Waterfront Toronto’s port lands project, and the new Trillium Park at Ontario Place were both cited as great examples of multiple-impact projects which protect our city from flood waters while providing usable public space.  

When asked about common barriers to planning and implementing green infrastructure initiatives, participants cited lack of funding as well as governance policies and mindsets. TAS believes finding ways to think and work outside of those current models is key. 

“It’s [about] imagining our ideal and then collaborating to make it our reality. We are working with the City of Toronto on integrating a multi-acre property downtown with two city parks and Fort York,” said Mazyar. “It takes a paradigm shift where public and private sectors—as well as not-for-profits—see each other as part of the solution through partnership.” 

“Cities need to better connect public health outcomes to urban trees,” added Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “Communication and coordination between a city’s parks, forestry and public health departments is rare.” 

To effectively measure the impact of urban green spaces, several contributors cited the importance of independent third-party studies, including TD economists’ evaluation of Toronto’s tree canopy, a Philadelphia study focused on the benefits of greening vacant city lots and CUNY’s research on parks as an indicator of public health. 

“We must also identify the stakeholders who contribute to creating these green spaces and ensure we define and use metrics that are relevant to them,” added Mazyar.

Beyond measurement and park implementation, GlobeScan Director Femke De Man asked participants for their ideas on overcoming access issues to make green spaces inclusive for all populations. 

“Building a resilient urban village starts with addressing the needs of those most vulnerable,” responded Mazyar. “We need to build for full inclusion—social and economic—for those under 7 and over 70. A new mindset is needed: we need to recognize green space the same way we think about physical and mental health, an essential ingredient to healthy living.” 

By excelling at outreach and engaging a diverse cross-section from local communities, TAS hopes to contribute to a sustainable and inclusive Toronto. You can’t build resilient urban villages without green infrastructure and urban green spaces that blur the lines between public and private. TAS is committed to providing access to surrounding green spaces and bringing green elements into all our developments; our projects start with a contextual connection to nature.  

You can read more about the forum discussion in GlobeScan’s summary report.

Do you have suggestions to help make our city and communities more sustainable and accessible? Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments section below.