You already know the stereotypes of Canada—vast stretches of empty space, millions of us living in courageous isolation through frigid winters, the Great White North. Yet the reality is, we are a nation of cities. Over 80% of us live in urban centres, more than a third in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Cities are also major contributors to climate change. According to UN Habitat, cities consume 78% of the world’s energy and produce more than 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet they account for less than 2% of the Earth’s surface. If cities are going to thrive sustainably in the decades ahead, we have to rethink how we design them, how we build them, and how we live in them.
“We actually need our cities to grow,” said Jennifer Keesmaat, former chief planner for the city of Toronto. “Because our cities offer the greatest hope and possibility of us mitigating the impact of people on the planet.”
We spoke to Keesmaat and Brent Toderian, the former chief planner for the city of Vancouver, on the final episode of The Climate Conversations.
Canada’s population is projected to rise about 30% to 50 million people in 2050. Since people live in massive concentrations in cities, much of our greenhouse gas emissions will also come from these urban settings. On the flip side, when people are in cities, they emit fewer greenhouse gases per capita.
“Cities may be the location of emissions, but they are the solution to emissions at the same time,” said Toderian.
If we are to continue this stampede to the cities and still meet our climate goals, we’ll need to make some fundamental shifts in how we think about land use, Toderian and Keesmaat say. We’ll have to be smarter about how we power our homes, offices and transportation networks. And we’ll need to ensure that the natural environment—those treasured green spaces often sacrificed in the push to develop—are part of the equation too.
“We knew 40 years ago that we should be in-filling in existing areas where we have schools, roads and transit,” said Keesmaat. “But what have we done over the past decade? We’ve built new houses on agricultural land that cannot possibly be serviced by transit.”
Transportation, electricity and buildings are three major areas in need of a revamp. Transportation is Canada’s biggest emitter after the oil and gas sector, adding 186 million tons of GHGs to the atmosphere in 2019. According to Keesmaat, 75% of all new housing in Canada over the past ten years is suburban sprawl designed around the automobile. As our cities grow, our suburbs need to become a lot more dense than they are now—meaning an end to car-oriented sprawl.
“And if we’re going to still build suburbs—which we probably will—they’ve got to be a fundamentally different suburb than we’ve been building up until now, because if we keep going down that path, we dig our hole deeper and deeper,” said Toderian.
Meantime, buildings are Canada’s third-largest source of greenhouse gases. For our cities to thrive—and for the country to deliver on our Paris Agreement commitments—we’ll need to innovate and make our buildings, as the heart of our cities, greener and cleaner.
“We need our cities to work—it’s not something frivolous or secondary,” said Keesmaat.
Speaker 1 [00:00:01] Hi, it’s John here.
Speaker 2 [00:00:02] And hey, it’s Theresa.
Speaker 1 [00:00:04] So, Theresa, here we are in episode four, The last of our climate conversations for this time, but I think we may keep the conversation going because there’s been so much ground that we’ve covered and yet so much we still have to cover. When we started, the Glasgow Climate Conference was just getting going. And even though that’s now in the rearview mirror, it’s important to know what’s changed. A lot of meaningful agreements were reached in Glasgow on methane, on deforestation, among other things. But now’s the time for real action, and it’s kind of over to all of us. So what do we need to be thinking about?
Speaker 2 [00:00:41] What’s really exciting coming out of this big summit is the promise of green technology, right? And the in the coordination of global countries to make it affordable and accessible to all nations. So we have things like clean electricity, electric vehicles, green steel, hydrogen, sustainable farming, all of these transformational climate solutions that are taking root and will set us on the path to net zero. And you know, when we look even in our own backyards emissions reduction, Alberta made that a big announcement for funding of these big emissions reduction projects like the Canadian Pacific Railway project to build North America’s first hydrogen powered train. How cool is that? I think we’re seeing the future John, and the future is bright.
Speaker 1 [00:01:24] I wish I had a hydrogen locomotive to play with when I had a train as a kid, but can’t wait to see it on the rail rails. I think when we look ahead, it’s important to keep that in mind, Theresa, that it’s now really up to the private sector. It’s up to entrepreneurs, investors, big companies to to take advantage of the really big shifts underway in the world, whether it’s the reimagining of the railroads, new techniques, new technologies in the oil and gas industry or changing the way that we go about agriculture, all things we’ve talked about in our climate conversations. But one of the things I thought was overshadowed in Glasgow was the role that we can all play as citizens, as consumers, as community dwellers. And increasingly, we live in urban communities. Cities, of course, are not just where we live, they’re where many, if not most, Canadians work, where businesses thrive, where people come from around the world to build new lives. Canada is a model for that. But if cities are going to continue to thrive sustainably in the decades ahead, we now have to rethink how we design them, how we build them, how we live in the great cities of this country and around the world watching the climate conference. I couldn’t help but notice the irony that it was in a very small city, Glasgow and most of the world is moving to gigantic cities, the mega cities. And that’s where we’re really going to need to focus a lot of our energy human energy in the years ahead. This is Disruptors, an RBC podcast. I’m John Stackhouse
Speaker 2 [00:03:05] and I’m Trinh Theresa Do. Welcome to the climate conversations. In this week’s final installment of the Climate Conversations, our special multi-part series on Disruptors, we look at the crucial role that Canada cities play in the push toward net zero emissions. Throughout this episode, you’ll hear from some of the innovators who are helping to make city living more sustainable. But first, John welcomes two of Canada’s leading urban thinkers for a robust conversation on what our cities, their elected officials, citizens and business leaders need to do to meet the climate moment.
Speaker 1 [00:03:46] We all know the stereotypes of Canada. You know, the vast stretches of empty space, the bucolic wonders, millions of us living in courageous isolation. Yes, the Great White North. The reality? Yeah, it’s different. We’re a nation of cities. Most of us live within 100 kilometers of the U.S. border, and most newcomers settle in a handful of cities. Today, 82 percent of Canadians live in urban areas and more than a third of us in Canada’s three biggest metropolises Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. So why does this matter to climate? Well, cities are major contributors to climate change, according to the United Nations. Cities consume 78 percent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. And yet, cities account for less than two percent of the Earth’s surface. Our last two episodes focused on the producers oil and agriculture. This episode, we’re going to look at consumers and dwellers, especially city dwellers. The way we live and how is ourselves get around and get food to our tables. They’re all critical forces in climate change, and our next two guests have spent their careers helping Canadians and many others come to grips with this reality. Jennifer Keesmaat is the former chief planner for the City of Toronto, where from 2012 to 2017, she led a team of planners overseeing unprecedented growth and urban development in Canada’s largest city. She’s currently a partner in Maki Developments, which designs, finances, builds and manages affordable rental housing in Toronto. Jennifer, welcome to disrupters.
Speaker 3 [00:05:21] It’s great to be here.
Speaker 1 [00:05:22] And also with us is Brant Toderian. Brant served as the city of Vancouver’s chief planner from 2006 to 2012. Prior to that, he was the manager of Center City Planning and Design for the City of Calgary. His consulting firm, Toderian Urban Works, works with municipalities around the world from Auckland to Rotterdam. Brant, welcome to disruptors.
Speaker 4 [00:05:43] Thank you, John. Nice to meet you.
Speaker 1 [00:05:45] Brenton, Jennifer, great to have you together, even if it’s virtual. And I wonder if we can jump on that virtual point and talk off the top about how Covid has changed us as city leaders and city thinkers. Jennifer, how has the past 18 months changed your thinking of the city?
Speaker 3 [00:06:02] Well, I think the past 18 months has changed our experience of the city really in three key ways. One is that by virtue of the fact that we haven’t been traveling internationally or even traveling often beyond our neighborhood, we’ve come to know the local much more better. There isn’t anyone I know who’s gone through Covid without having experienced a lot of walking and in some instances for the first time cycling in their local neighborhood. So we become more connected to local places just by virtue of the fact that that’s what happens in a lockdown. I think the second critical change that’s taken place has been around commuting. Many of us, many for the first time in their lives, have been freed of the long commute. You know, not having the burden of having to rush around in the morning, rush out the door, sit in traffic or, in my instance, crammed myself on to a subway car, which was a big part of my everyday life. And then the third way our lives has changed is really very much something that we are bringing into the future. And the fact that we’re doing this virtually is a reflection of that, which is we work differently. We’ve gone through an acceleration of a digital world. So the way we work has fundamentally changed, and that’s linked into the two other ideas that changes the commute and it changes how we experience that immediate environment.
Speaker 1 [00:07:31] Brant, what did we miss about cities and the resilience in in Covid that has prevented? I’d argue their death, as predicted.
Speaker 4 [00:07:39] First of all, we need to make sure cities don’t fail, period. And sure enough, there was never any chance that they were going to. But there was a chance that they could be hurt a lot, that we could lose a lot of the progress that we’ve made on things like transit ridership increases over decades that have literally taken decades to happen. There was a real chance that we could lose progress. And frankly, with the climate crisis where it is, we can’t afford to lose any progress. We need to be speeding up, not trying to make up lost ground. So when these prognostications were happening about the deaths of cities, the death of transit, the death of the commute and replaced by almost ubiquitous working from home, you know, I sort of rolled my eyes and shook my head and changed the conversation to what do we need to have happen for cities? We need cities to survive. We need public transit to survive and thrive as a critical component of successful city region. We need to have more work from home. Ironically, planners like Jan and I have been talking about increasing work from home as a way to address the complex issues of commute based transportation. For decade. AIDS and, you know, for a few decades, we said, boy, wouldn’t it be interesting if we could get from one percent to five percent working from home? Now I suddenly found myself talking about what if we have too much working from home? And what are the implications of that to the future of downtowns as not only a successful place that is the literally the taxation and economic engine of cities? What are the implications of downtown’s weakening or even failing?
Speaker 1 [00:09:10] I might argue that one of the one of the aspects of the pandemic that we can certainly learn from is resilience, and we’ve talked a lot. You’ve both talked a lot over the years about urban resilience, city resilience in design and in the functioning of cities. And we’ve seen obviously a very different resilience in a call to the fore in a pandemic. But Jennifer, I’m wondering, what have we learned from all of us as city dwellers through the pandemic that could perhaps inform the kind of resilience we may need more of climate wise in the years ahead?
Speaker 3 [00:09:39] I love that. I love that question because in some ways what we’ve learned is that we can actually live to pick up on some of the themes that Brent was introducing that we cannot we can live in a smaller footprint that we can do that and we can have a very high quality of life living in a smaller footprint. We are very early on in the pandemic, a series of US leaders from across Canada pulled together something called the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian cities. And that declaration was very much rooted in the recognition that Brent has introduced, which is that we actually make choices about the future so we can talk about what is the future going to look like? Or we can say this is the kind of future we should create. And here’s a series of things that we can do to create that future. And so that declaration has really three key themes. One is ensuring the responsible use of land, which is all about 15 minute neighborhoods and walkable, walkable places and getting our density just right. Wait a
Speaker 1 [00:10:45] second. What’s what’s a 15 minute neighborhood?
Speaker 3 [00:10:47] So a 15 minute neighborhood is really a very old idea that’s been packaged up in a very new way, which is the idea that we can design our cities, both existing places and new places such that we can undertake the majority of our activities within 15 minutes of home. And this was popularized during the pandemic through the mayor of Paris, who adopted this as city policy and introduced a whole variety of really powerful initiatives along the lines of creating urban technologies, adding community gardens into neighborhoods, adding bike lanes into neighborhoods, looking at infill and adding a diversity of housing types in the neighborhoods. And so one of the things that the pandemic really introduced was this idea that, well, hold on a minute, we can plan and design our cities and our neighborhoods in such a way that we’re using land in a more responsible way and using the land in a more responsible way means less cars, more bikes, less freeways and highways, more parks, more places for community gathering. And the 2020 declaration was a document with 20 key actions to actually deliver on that promise. Really, going back to that idea that Brant has talked about, that the city isn’t something that happens to you. In fact, the future isn’t something that happens to you. Part of the Democratic Project is actually about creating the future. We’re all creating it together. We’re making decisions and choices every day that determine what the world will be like tomorrow.
Speaker 4 [00:12:26] We tend to talk about the two most significant ways that municipal governments are essentially in control of the climate solutions or climate crisis being municipal governments control over land use and transportation. But the two are really one thing because the density of your housing is going to determine your transportation more than any other single factor. You know, I live here in downtown Vancouver, where I say, not only do I not miss owning a car, the idea of owning a car would be causes me stress. It’s like, I mean, it would be a major hassle in my highly dense, highly mixed urban condition when I can walk out of my house based on the power of nearness, the 15 minute city and get everything I need much easier than if I went down into my parking garage and pulled out a car. And in my case, it would be a car share
Speaker 2 [00:13:16] for those urban dwellers who do want to keep a car but are committed to reducing their carbon footprint. Carter Li, the CEO and co-founder of Toronto’s Switch Energy, has a solution, and we’ll let him explain.
Speaker 1 [00:13:28] Hello, my name is Carter Li.
Speaker 5 [00:13:29] I’m the CEO and co-founder of Switch Energy Inc. Switch Energy Inc is an electric vehicle charging solutions provider, and we’re addressing the challenges to widespread electric vehicle adoption by making it easier for urban dwellers who live in a. Apartments and condominiums to get convenient access to charging where they live, 80 percent of EV charging occurs at 30, so it’s very important that we address the challenges that people who live in multifamily buildings don’t have access to charging at home. Buildings designed and built 30 50 70 years ago were never designed with the context of electric vehicle charging. So there’s a lack of electrical infrastructure within buildings to provide this service to these as an amenity to residents and tenants. We optimized the electric vehicle charging infrastructure to be energy efficient, to be able to spread out across different electrical infrastructures, as well as integrate with other smart building and smart city services to provide a holistic solution to the smart charging ecosystem within buildings.
Speaker 2 [00:14:38] Now, back to more of John’s conversation with Brent Toderian and Jennifer Keesmaat.
Speaker 1 [00:14:45] So I want to extend that point and challenge you both with the choice between technology and lifestyle. The number of people listening to you or listening to urban debates will say fundamentally you’re saying I’ve got to change my lifestyle. I got a bike more. I got to have a smaller home, smaller windows on and on. And there are others who say, maybe, but the real challenge and opportunity is technology. It’s not fewer cars, it’s more electric cars. And the problem is in cities, it’s how we power our cities. Why are we focused so much on how we live rather than how we power the way that we live?
Speaker 3 [00:15:24] I actually I actually think we are focused on the way we live because the way we live consumes resources or doesn’t. And that’s why walking and cycling are such a powerful, transformative way to live because we’re not talking about moving from gas or diesel to electric. We’re talking about moving from consuming to contributing something positive. And that’s a big deal, John. That’s a really big deal. If instead of getting in my car or even getting on transit, I can walk out the door on my own two feet. And oh, by the way, I’m making a positive contribution to our overall public health care system because we know that when I walk and cycle that my health indicators go up in my demands on the health care system go down. That is a really big deal for all of society and how society is structured. Communities where people know their neighbor are better able to handle the shocks of climate change, whether that is extreme heat, extreme cold or flooding or other kinds of natural disasters which we all know we’re living in the midst of right now, our city has become very, very hot in the summer. Knowing where the elderly people live on your street and who has air conditioning, who doesn’t is a really critical part of taking care of one another, and it’s about resilience and livability in the city.
Speaker 4 [00:16:55] Our riff on what Jen’s been talking about and start with this blunt statement lifestyle will change. I’m tired of this notion that we can address climate change with no change in lifestyle, but it illustrates the fundamental problem with our whole conversation because if you go back every year over the last five years, I guarantee you lifestyle has changed every single year over the last five years. Lifestyle is constantly changing. So can you imagine telling our grandchildren that we really wanted to address climate change, but we didn’t want our lifestyle to change, even though literally your fashion is going to change two times this season? I agree with Jen about the technology. What I say is that we need to focus on getting the fundamentals right and then using technology to optimize those fundamentals. But too often technology gets put out as the alternative to getting the fundamentals right. And that has never worked.
Speaker 2 [00:17:49] One company that is all about optimization is Peak Power, a Toronto based software company that helps building owners forecast a grid needs and make energy storage more efficient. CEO Derek LeNsTR explains how his technology works.
Speaker 5 [00:18:04] Hello, I’m Derek Lim, the CEO of Peak Power. We developed a AI powered solutions to transform buildings into resources which can generate power instead of just using it by turning these assets into profitable energy resources. We encourage building owners to take action that reduce greenhouse gases, energy use and provide flexibility and reliability to the grid. Climate contributors become part of the climate solution and get paid to do so. Peak power transforms buildings into distributed energy resources in three ways, which is like batteries, on-site batteries and mobile batteries. Buildings become synthetic batteries through energy optimization or piquancy. Platform provides metrics on energy use and performance without expensive retrofits. The platform delivers actionable recommendations that save energy without sacrificing occupant comfort. A peak synergy platform connects on site batteries with the energy markets to charge discharge them at the most profitable times. Essentially, our software knows when batteries should charge from the grid at times of low demand and when to discharge its power as needed. Each solution provides value to the building owner and reduces strain on the electricity grid. They empower the building and electricity sector to make a positive environmental impact with existing infrastructure. Peak power is clean. Energy solutions help facility owners and operators prepare for a future that is environmentally and economically sustainable.
Speaker 2 [00:19:23] Now back to John in conversation with Brent Toderian and Jennifer Keesmaat.
Speaker 1 [00:19:29] You’re acutely familiar, both of you, with the governance challenge in this country when it comes to cities. How can we go about? Maybe it’s an overstatement to say reinventing our cities, but certainly rethinking them, revising them in ways that are significant contributors to our collective journey to net zero. How can we do that when cities are perennially impoverished there that are beholden to the provinces? So many of the provinces are beholden to the federal government. What’s a better approach?
Speaker 3 [00:20:01] It has become incredibly popular to say, Oh, I can’t do anything, it’s the feds, it’s the province. I can’t do anything. The issue the Brant and I have been talking about here with respect to the land use planning is 100 percent the jurisdiction of municipalities. 75 percent of all new housing in the past 10 years in Canada. Auto oriented suburban sprawl. When you 40 years ago that we should be in filling in existing areas where we have existing schools, existing roads and existing transit. But what have we done? Over the past decade, we’ve built new houses on agricultural land that cannot possibly be serviced by transit, and we built new schools well. The schools in the core of our city see their populations disappear or decline or in our older suburbs. We see this the school 36 percent utilization rates in our schools, 20 percent utilization rates in our in our schools, in our older suburbs. We can fix this. Municipalities can fix this. The governance doesn’t need to change. It’s an absence of leadership. That is the problem.
Speaker 4 [00:21:10] Well, here’s what I’ve seen. I’ve seen bad government and good government at all three levels of government, and I agree with everything you said at the municipal level and I challenge municipalities as well. When I look at the cities that I’m working with around the world are the ones that inspire me. They have all sorts of governance structures. But what they have consistently is they’ve pushed your way from this culture of excuse to a culture of energy, a culture of experimentation and strategic risk-taking. What Charles Landry calls the willingness to risk competent failure and learn. So yes, let’s by all means talk about better governance structures and some of the limitations that we built into our system. But I tend to start with culture and that and it’s really about the cities that are doing amazing things are the ones that are just finding a way to get on with it.
Speaker 1 [00:22:00] I wonder why Canadian cities and this is a gross generalization, but there’s a fair degree of truth in it. Why Canadian cities are so slow to innovate and do this sort of dynamic things that you’re talking about. What’s holding us back, especially knowing what we have to do in the next decade to address our emissions coming from our big cities?
Speaker 4 [00:22:22] I’ve heard politicians say to me many times it’s controversial out there, so we need to be patient and bring the public along instead of a leader saying it’s my job to be persuasive, to actually tell the truth about the costs and consequences, not be boring. And I think it’s actually the job of people like us to find ways to be more persuasive, break through the noise, give political leaders a chance, a better chance to do the right thing because many of them want to. But they’re often afraid of the blowback, afraid of the controversy. So it’s our job to help give them a tailwind, if you will, and position them for success.
Speaker 3 [00:23:00] I think the biggest problem with the changing the culture and enabling innovation is that because we’ve had a model of single family home ownership, there is a constituency that is vast majority in every city that has a stake in things staying the same. Unfortunately, that approach to development has been highly subsidized and so kind of truth telling about how we got that model for development, why that model for development is isn’t sustainable is really critical. But we currently have a situation where it’s very difficult to change because there’s this constituency that sees its primary interest, which is their home ownership as being protected by keeping things the same, keeping them exactly the same. So that’s another reason why it’s very difficult to implement change and build more housing the housing that we need and to create what we’re talking about here, which is more resilient and sustainable cities where you have that density, where people can walk or people can cycle and where transit is a real choice because it’s really viable. It’s really hard to do that because we can intellectualize it and identify that it is in the broader public interest. But then it actually ends up coming down to a process where when you’re implementing change, you have the vast majority of the people who are voting and who are participate. Aiding in the governance models that exist, the municipal level have a very clear vested interest in the status quo. So I think the culture we have to shake it loose by shaking loose those ideas about housing and land
Speaker 2 [00:24:44] to challenge the status quo will require a different approach to land use. But it also requires a different approach to how we build our homes and offices. Xhosa Browne, the VP of sustainability for Vancouver’s next year building solutions, explains how a lower carbon alternative to wood, concrete and steel could be a game changer for the construction industry.
Speaker 6 [00:25:06] I’m Xhosa Brown, I’m the vice president of sustainability with next. Next is a green construction technology company. We’re based in Vancouver, B.C., and we design and manufacture innovative, high performance buildings in green building products that are sustainable, cost efficient and also resilient in the face of climate change. Many people aren’t aware that buildings in the construction sector represent up to 39 percent of global energy related GHG emissions, and so we have a product that can really help reduce carbon across the value chain of buildings. We use a proprietary material called back site that has comparable properties to concrete but contains no Portland cement. And that means we’re really able to tackle carbon in the material itself, as well as build high performance, airtight, highly insulated building envelopes and then reduce carbon in the operation phase as well. We use precision offsite manufacturing and and our panels are able to be rapidly assembled on site, reducing construction waste, build times and cost.
Speaker 2 [00:26:11] And now the conclusion of John’s conversation with urban planners Brant Totten and Jennifer keesmaat.
Speaker 1 [00:26:20] Let me wrap up with a question for you both on what the city of the future and the future can be next year looks like in a country that clearly wants cities. We’ve opted for that and clearly wants more people and needs more people that there becomes a climate challenge when we’re adding every two years, roughly a million people, and we’ll go over a million people eventually just given given mass and putting most of them into, you know, half a dozen cities. How do we ensure that they don’t grow in the same way in terms of emissions, given the trajectories that they’re already on? And what would you want to do? What do we need to do today to ensure that that trajectory doesn’t take us, take us to a place we don’t want to be?
Speaker 3 [00:27:05] Well, this is a really important question because, you know, I would flip it around in some ways and say, it’s not that our cities are going to grow, but we actually need our cities to grow because our cities offer the greatest hope and possibility of us mitigating the impact of people on the planet. You know, ironically, in America, the per capita individual carbon footprint is lowest in any city in New York City. Why? Because people are most likely not to own a car in New York City, most likely to rely primarily on transit, most likely to live in a very tiny footprint where you can’t buy a lot of stuff and fill up your space with them with a lot of stuff. So the question becomes as we grow and change, how do we ensure that we can make our cities places where our quality of life is always increasing? One of the ways that we tackle this when I was chief planner, we put a planning framework in place was that we wanted to add more people, but not more cars. How do you add more people but not adding more cars? You do it through urban infill. We wanted to grow and add more people, but improve our air quality rather than decreasing our air quality. So how do we do that? We put a green roof bylaw in place and required the first city in North America to require green roofs on all new buildings so that our air quality is getting better as we’re building more buildings. We’re adding more of a natural environment, increasing access to green space and access to nature. The Ravine strategy, which is 17 percent of our land area in the city of Toronto. The ravine strategy, which is now being implemented, was not just about protecting pretty places, it was actually the counterpoint to intensification. It was precisely because we recognize there’s places that we want to grow and add density that in the city, there’s areas where we shouldn’t add density. We need cities to thrive in order to become a sustainable country and to deliver on our Paris Agreement commitments. We need our cities to work. It’s not something frivolous or secondary. It’s at the heart of being a country that can integrate new immigrants, for example, and where young people don’t leave.
Speaker 1 [00:29:20] Brant, I wonder how we can think about urban growth in the 2020s and 2030s with a climate imperative, knowing that so much of our carbon footprint as a country comes from our cities. How do we rethink those cities for the next couple of decades to make some significant changes even while we’re growing?
Speaker 4 [00:29:41] Well, you know, we tend to say that that statement that so much of our greenhouse gas emissions come from cities, they don’t come from cities, they come from people, and that cities happen to be where the people are in massive concentrations. But we know that when people are in cities, they emit less, they emit less per capita. So cities may be the location of emissions, but they are the solution to emission emissions at the same time. So how do we plan for that? Well, we tend to throw out things like, here’s our Paris climate target. We want to be carbon neutral, we want to be whatever by 2060 or 2050 or what have you. But what I haven’t seen at a city level and I and I haven’t seen at a national level is you take those outcomes you want. You take the population that were expected or intending to grow by and you actually plan it out as a massive growth management strategy for the entire country. We need to have our cities be bigger, our suburbs be smarter and a lot different and a lot more dense than they are now. And we have to have full stop on a dime stop building car oriented sprawl. And if we’re going to still build suburbs, which we probably will. They’ve got to be a fundamentally different suburb than we’ve been building up until now because if we keep going down that path, we dig our hole deeper and deeper.
Speaker 1 [00:30:58] Cities are wealth generators as they’ve always been, and we just have to think of more creative ways to ensure that wealth is being reinvested in the transition in the way we live, the way we move around, the way we use land. As Jennifer, you’ve been articulating and as you said, Brant, how we think of our space, whether it’s downtown or in the suburbs, in more dynamic ways. Thank you both for being on disrupters.
Speaker 3 [00:31:24] Very happy to be here. It was fun.
Speaker 1 [00:31:27] After the break, Theresa and I will look back at the last few episodes of the climate conversations and reflect on what we’ve learned and where we can go from here. So stay right there.
Speaker 2 [00:31:40] You’re listening to Disruptors, an RBC podcast. I’m Theresa Do. RBC Economics and Thought Leadership recently released a report called, “The Two Trillion Dollar Transition: Canada’s Road to Net Zero.” It explores the costs and benefits of Canada’s shift to a carbon neutral economy and how it can fuel a new generation of Canadian innovation, from carbon capture technology to sustainable agriculture to the full potential of supercharging electric vehicles. We look at all the ways for Canada to take a leading role in the fight for climate action and the economic opportunities they create. To learn more. Check out the link to the show notes of this episode and visit our rbc.com. slash Net zero and be sure to like and follow disruptors wherever you get your podcasts.
Speaker 1 [00:32:28] Welcome back in the final few minutes of this episode and the series, I thought would be a good idea to reflect on what we’ve heard and maybe a bit on what we’ve learned. Let’s start with that really dynamic conversation with Jennifer and Brant. Teresa, how did that reshape your thinking about cities?
Speaker 2 [00:32:44] Jennifer and Brent really pulled out a key insight that I’m also contrasting with another interview earlier on in the series. And their insight from that discussion was about how we learned through Covid that we can live with a smaller footprint and still maintain a higher quality of life than an example that they gave. As when we choose to walk or cycle instead of drive or take transit, we actually improve our health and we reduce our demands on our health care system. So there’s a less is more argument there and torn between this tension of changing how we live versus changing how we power how we live. And I think both are crucial. You know, the short term is changing how we power, how we live, changing our processes over the long term, we will have to think about fundamentally changing our lifestyle, right? Like how do we create an infrastructure where we can do more walking can do more cycling? And so when I internalized this to my own life, what are the decisions I need to make on my everyday commute or how I choose to travel? Or where do I choose to live? So I haven’t quite come out on the other side of this yet, but this is causing me a deep reflection, which I think is the point of these climate conversations.
Speaker 1 [00:33:57] Well, we all need to reflect on our roles individually and collectively, but I love where you’re going without Theresa, because so often when we look at challenges or even crises around us, we only look at the problem. And often it’s best, whether it’s in our lives are we’re looking at a business challenge to think about what’s working and build on that while addressing what isn’t working. I was reflecting on what Mark Carney said to kick off this little protective vase on how much already is out there. We often are left with thoughts of despair in climate conversations. But as Carney said, we’ve got a lot of things going right and that includes capital. There’s a lot of capital that is being mobilized to invest in these transformative technologies, and we just need to get the right incentives in place. Not necessarily easy, but also something that is within our reach and we can get going on today.
Speaker 2 [00:34:50] Yeah, I appreciated what he said about how if businesses don’t get on board, they’re going to be left behind and other challenges, how to ensure that all businesses can get on board and they have the support they need to understand. What does it take to get to net zero? You know,
Speaker 1 [00:35:05] I also keep thinking about Katharine Hayhoe, who was on that first episode as well, and what a dynamic speaker she is and so passionate about what we can all do as climate citizens. And I think that’s a really important point that I’m taking away from. This is to be a climate citizen, to talk about this and try to think about how it is relevant to different people in different ways to not think about it as judgy. She calls it or sciency because those are often the scare words or scare tones in the climate conversations. How do we talk about climate in relevant, exciting, ambitious ways that we can all connect with?
Speaker 2 [00:35:43] Hmm. I definitely would be remiss if I didn’t say that we have to be inclusive as well. And you know, part of this, we talk a lot about technology, about how exciting these innovations coming down the pipe are and they are. But also we have to acknowledge that technology is not the be all and all. You know, we think about like regenerative farming techniques that are so important to maintaining soil health and helping us to sequester carbon. But these techniques have been around since time immemorial. They have been practiced by indigenous communities while before the modern age. And, you know, listening to JP Gladu in a previous conversation. All climate action has to absolutely include partnership with indigenous communities. And so inclusion is definitely a big part of it, and that was take away from me as well.
Speaker 1 [00:36:28] What we’re going to need a different approach, a different playbook to climate, because when you look at how we’ve done over the last 30 plus years, a lot of ambitions and in so many different ways, we’ve fallen short of what we set out to to do and the clock’s running out on us, whether that’s the ten year clock or the 30 year clock, it is going to be a challenge for us to get to where I think we all need to get to. So doing the same thing over and over again, probably not the best approach. Whatever you’re doing today as an individual, what can you do in the climate conversations to get Canada moving faster and further ahead?
Speaker 2 [00:37:02] Absolutely. That is so well, said John. Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed listening to the climate conversations as much as we’ve enjoyed bringing them to you. And if you just can’t get enough, stay tuned in the weeks ahead because we’ll be offering extended cuts of some of our most popular interviews, including with Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain, former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and, of course, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. Until then, I’m Theresa Do and
Speaker 1 [00:37:30] I’m John Stackhouse. This is Disruptors, an RBC podcast. Talk to you soon.
Speaker 6 [00:37:39] Disruptors, an RBC podcast is created by the RBC Thought Leadership Group and does not constitute a recommendation for any organization, product or service. It’s produced and recorded by JAR Audio. For more disruptors content, like or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and visit rbc dot com slash disruptors.
Jennifer Marron produces "Disruptors, an RBC podcast". Prior to joining RBC, Jennifer spent five years as Community Manager at MaRS Discovery District and cultivated a large network of industry leaders, entrepreneurs and partners to support the Canadian startup ecosystem. Her writing has appeared in The National Post, Financial Post, Techvibes, IT Business, CWTA Magazine and Procter & Gamble’s magazine, Rouge. Follow her on Twitter @J_Marron.
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.