How ‘world-class’ cities learn from each other

By David Chernushenko

David ChernushenkoLike most cities, Ottawa aspires to be world-class — or so I assume, because I hear the term quite often.

Whether or not we like it, most of us probably want Ottawa to bear the title of National Capital with dignity and to be viewed in a positive light here and abroad. Let’s broadly define this goal.

To be world-class means to share many of the attributes of advanced cities: a high quality of life, excellent transportation infrastructure and transit systems, top-notch healthcare facilities, schools, parks, libraries, cultural venues and events. A world-class city has thriving natural features such as clean bodies of water and an extensive tree canopy. The list goes on, refined by each of us according to our priorities.

So, does Ottawa qualify? We’re on par with many other cities but there’s room for improvement in several areas, such as:

  • frequency of transit service, especially outside the suburb-downtown express routes
  • affordable housing
  • complete walking and cycling networks
  • mixed-use zones combining vibrant street life with residential units
  • higher levels of waste reduction and recycling

To reach our goal and maintain it, we need to study what’s happening elsewhere, identify best practices, and adapt them to our circumstances: climate, geography, culture, economy, etc. Inspiration and guidance do not have to come from the usual list of European capitals. Smaller cities often adopt innovative policies first. Best practices can also be found closer to home. Any municipality willing to share its knowledge, successes and even mistakes can help us better tackle common challenges such as homelessness, air pollution or climate change.

Some professional organizations, as well as city departments, bring speakers to Ottawa to share their knowledge or ask experts to make presentations while they’re here on other business. I’ve learned a great deal about New York City, Chicago, Miami, Vancouver, Seattle, Copenhagen, The Hague and other cities without leaving Ottawa.

In July, as part of Ottawa’s participation in the World Cities Project (see capitalward.ca/worldcities), delegates from Hannover, Germany told us how our partner city is addressing urban planning, transit, waste management, energy conservation and renewable energy generation, as well as adapting to a changing climate. More recently, I participated in a public discussion at city hall featuring Vancouver Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer, who told us about her city’s goal to become the world’s Greenest City by 2020.

But knowledge sharing is a two-way street. It’s important to reciprocate by occasionally sending our own delegations of city staff, representatives of private-sector and non-profit groups and even the occasional elected official. On these trips, such as my own visit to Hannover in October as part of Ottawa’s World Cities Project delegation, we are both ambassador and student, learning from host cities and sharing our own knowledge and experiences. Ottawa has much to share, for example our Complete Streets policy, and our early efforts to put this into practice.

It’s tempting to label such trips as junkets or a waste of tax dollars. But a well-chosen conference or fact-finding trip to view another city’s advances in mixed-use community planning, for example, can be a valuable learning experience and opportunity to promote our own city.

Councillor David Chernushenko
613-580-2487 | David.Chernushenko@Ottawa.ca | capitalward.ca

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