About the author:

Amr Saber is a Mindfirst blogger and an Energy Systems Engineering student at the University of Toronto.


Ontario’s population is expected to grow by 30% in the next 25 years – with the GTA population growing by 45% and the number of seniors aged 65 and over projected to more than double. (source)  
You may be thinking of the challenges that come with population growth: transportation and gridlock, infrastructure renewal and expansion, and the cost of living for a start. Add to that a list of problems that are projected to arise due to climate change, and requirements to promote the mixed use of resources and efficient use of energy, and enhance sustainability. Also keep in mind that all proposed solutions must take into account the importance of restoring the environment and protecting our cultural heritage as well as overcoming the conflicts of interest of the many stakeholders involved in such an innovation challenge.

This is where the concepts of smart growth and global sustainable cities step in as indispensable solutions for this daunting challenge.

There are many facets to the challenge of realizing sustainable cities: environmental, social and economic; each comes with its own set of difficulties, and as our panelists: Alex Gill, David MacLeod and Glenn Miller highlighted in Mindfirst’s Sustainability seminar on April 7, 2016, developing solutions for these growing problems will depend on the following:

Benchmarking and Networking

Many of these challenges are global, and while many cities around the world have adopted sustainability policies and models to address concerns specific to their locations, Ontario can benefit greatly through learning from these advances and initiatives, so as to generate credible solutions.

Japan is developing solutions for its urban heat islands; Australia for its natural disasters including its flood and drought cycles; and South Africa for its food security matters.

Some initiatives have come a long way: Sweden’s SKL International, through an integrated thinking model called SymbioCity, has had impressive achievements in promoting clean energy through the use of biogas, managing urban waste and recycling, and improving transportation. SKL International has been supporting cities all over the world in order to enhance their capacity to plan, develop and manage urban areas in a more sustainable direction.

Toronto has already started to network with cities that are analogous, including Barcelona, Spain and London, UK.

Support from the Insurance and Engineering Sectors

An innovation ecosystem in Ontario’s cities will be essential for backing the public-sector by developing concrete and appropriate solutions to Ontario’s projected challenges. For this ecosystem to flourish, Ontario’s companies and public sector will have to develop internally and collaborate in overcoming job-creation challenges. Ontario’s financial sector will need to be at the forefront of supporting green and sustainable initiatives, and promoting research in Ontario. The city regions must continue to not only attract inward investment and incentivize expansion, but to also create a suitable environment that attracts new talent.

Climate Risk and Interdependence Assessment
Understanding the interdependencies of Ontario’s infrastructure and assessing all projected vulnerabilities due to climate change will help stakeholders partner and collaborate in order to better anticipate and reduce these risk, and design for reliable and resilient expansion and growth.


Finally, the numerous stakeholders and major customers involved will need to be educated on major issues of sustainability in order to enhance adoption, promote collaboration and increase the demand for continuous improvement.

However, one must note that Ontario is in a great position to address this innovation challenge. It benefits from many universities and colleges fostering a mass of exceptional young talent. This will be essential in sustaining the research and advancements that will keep pushing Ontario forward.

At the cities’ level, the following three cities have demonstrated remarkable strengths:

  • Waterloo, awarded as a global smart city in 2007, has the right balance of highly trained and skillful workforce, a tech-supportive government and a private sector full of innovation and novelty.
  • The City of Toronto, already the most resilient city globally, has made additional progress with regards to structuring processes to enhance Toronto’s resiliency even more – from mapping high level risks and dependencies to listing actions and costs for mitigation.
  • And finally, Markham’s District Energy Centre has had a remarkable impact on the resiliency of the city through providing reliable and cost-competitive energy services that continue to support the local community and attract major investments to Markham.

Expect much excitement to come to Ontario’s cities in the years to come.

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