Five Big Ideas From CivicAction's Better City Bootcamp
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Five Big Ideas From CivicAction’s Better City Bootcamp

The best questions, answers, and calls to action from a summit of local leaders.

Couretsy of CivicAction.

On Tuesday, some of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area’s leaders in healthcare, housing, labour, and governance came together for the Better City Bootcamp, a summit held every four years to identify and discuss the region’s most pressing issues.

This year, the Bootcamp focused on five broad themes identified by CivicAction, the non-partisan civic leadership organization that hosts the event, and TD Economics:

  • Housing affordability and matching senior healthcare to housing options
  • Mental health and the workplace
  • The importance of the “first 1,000 days,” from a child’s conception to its second birthday
  • Public spaces, physical activity, and health
  • Increased density and weather intensity and the infrastructure needs of tomorrow

The discussion, spread across speeches by the likes of John Tory and Kathleen Wynne as well as panel talks with experts and advocates, presented a wide array of solutions, concerns, and calls to action.

Below are the five we found most unique, useful, and stimulating. If there is one takeaway from the Bootcamp as a whole, it’s that all of these themes, and all the ideas brought up over the course of the day, are intertwined.

The goal is a city healthy in body and mind, with proper care for children and the elderly, and a strong economy with steady work and a living wage for all.

Transportation is still an urgent priority

“We’ve outlived, in some ways, the concept of building a better city,” said Michelle DiEmanuelle, president and CEO of Trillium Health Partners hospitals. “We’re building a better region. We need interconnected communities.”

Whether the issue is connecting people to healthcare, or green space, or social services, a vital component of the solution is developing better infrastructure said Rupert Duchesne, group chief executive of marketing and analytics company Aimia, Inc. “Our infrastructure on transit, in particular, is woefully lacking.”

Part of the problem, Duchesne said, is that transit decisions seem to be made based on where the votes are, not where the need is.

Mental health has a serious effect on the economy

Toronto’s major economic asset is its people, said Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO of the Wellesley Institute, an urban health think tank. We are not going to out-manufacture anyone, he said, but what will move us forward as a society is mental capital—IQ, emotional intelligence, and good mental health.

“The overall burden [of mental illness] on the economy and productivity is substantial, and still not acknowledged,” said Duchesne.

To properly address mental health in the workplace, businesses are going to have to get involved—something that, in Canada, doesn’t happen very often, Duchesne added.

What happens when people are ready to leave the hospital?

Alternate Level of Care (ALC) is a designation for patients who have completed their treatment in hospital and are ready to be moved to another treatment setting. It’s a vital to the functioning of hospitals that you keep flow moving, said Rob MacIsaac, president and CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences, former mayor of Burlington, and former chair of Metrolinx. But if you gave hospital administrators a magic wand and let them fix one problem, most of them would want to their problem with ALC, he said.

According to MacIsaac, our cities have not been built to accommodate the health needs of our aging society. “It’s very frustrating to me personally, because what could have been more predictable than an aging population? We all knew this was coming.”

Communal living might be the solution to many senior citizens’ needs

Margaret Denton, professor emeritus in McMaster University’s Department of Health, Aging, and Society, explained that, most often, elderly people are struggling to cope with day-to-day activities, as opposed to major health concerns. Seniors want to remain in their homes, but they need support systems for basics tasks, such as mowing the lawn, shovelling snow, or preparing meals. It’s time, Denton said, to start looking at new living arrangements for seniors.

Halton Region has a Housing Options for Seniors [PDF] report that includes suggestions like Home Share, in which an elderly homeowner takes in a tenant for reduced rent on the condition that the tenant also provides some level of assistance. The arrangement allows seniors to remain in their homes longer, and provides a low-cost housing option for people willing to help out.

Another option in the HomeShare Toolkit [PDF] is co-housing. The idea is that a group of people live in one home, each with their own private room or even a private apartment. But they share communal living spaces like a dining room and living room. And they can share the burdens of household chores.

A model known as the Village to Village Network is gaining traction in the United States. It entails groups of seniors coming together as a “village” and, for a small fee, chip in to employ paid or volunteer staff that provide transportation, health, household, or social services.

The most important element to handling an aging population, said Denton, is to stop thinking about the burden of an aging population and start taking action. “Canada has been planning for these baby boomers since World War II,” Denton said. “We built schools, we built hospitals, we built roads. There’s no reason we can’t continue to plan for the aging population.”

Building well-being starts at birth and earlier

“We have an opportunity on the front end, right from the beginning, to effect change,” said DiEmanuelle.

To make those changes happen, we have to act, not just talk about acting.

“Twenty-five years ago we were writing about those early days… and we didn’t take action,” DiEmanuelle said. “Today, child obesity is an epidemic.”

It’s also important to see which elements of city development, like job security and access to a living wage, can help or harm children at a young age.

“If you have a mom who is struggling to pay the rent, that’s going to have an impact on your childhood,” said Sarah Blackstock, director of communications for Unifor labour union.