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  • Author or Editor: Pierre Filion x
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Reflecting on experiences in Canada, the author begins by examining the necessarily ‘integrative nature of planning’ and what this means for planning across different scales. He examines issues of scaling by taking a transect from the province of Ontario, through the city of Waterloo and down to a neighbourhood organisation. He observes that ‘scaling fosters the emergence of communities of interest specific to each scale’ and that the interaction of these communities determines the extent to which messages are clearly communicated up and down and whether interventions at the top are shaped by aspirations at the bottom. This chapter provides a general critique of scaling in planning, applied here to the wider decision-making environment in which community or neighbourhood organisations find themselves.

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Many official smart growth-inspired Canadian plans limit sprawl by mixing land uses, transportation modes, jobs, and residents to create compact, transit-oriented, multi-functional intensification centers enriched with amenities and highly designed public spaces (Ontario Government Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, 2019 [2006]; City of Toronto, 2018). However, these intensification strategies, built on new or expanded public transit systems at metropolitan, regional, and local planning scales, face challenges amid the 2020 pandemic (Filion et al, 2016).

Recovery from the combined COVID-19-induced loss of commercial activity in intensification centers and confidence in public transit could take years, and combined with an increased reliance on private vehicles, could undo decades of planning efforts at shifting unsustainable land use-transportation dynamics. Concurrently, there is growing attention on sustainable cities with ample public spaces where safe walking and cycling can flourish. Advocates call for reclaiming the streets for people, pedestrians, and cyclists as a resilient strategy for cities and healthy living (Ewing, 2020a). Cities like Milan, Paris, New York, and Seattle are making permanent, temporary space accommodations to pandemic-related pedestrian flows and distancing (Laker, 2020).

This chapter is based on the Canadian (and to a large extent North American) urban reality, which is dominated by low-density, functionally-specialized, and automobile-oriented land uses. Over the last decades, planning efforts to modify this urban form took the form of high-density intensification centers focused on existing or new public transit rail or BRT (bus rapid transit) systems. Such a strategy faces mounting uncertainty amid pandemic-induced, and possibly long-lasting, transit ridership, brick and mortar retailing, and office work decline.

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Over the past decades, the academic debate on public space has been somewhat Janus-faced, with researchers generally expressing one of two considerations (van Melik, 2017). One set of authors has depicted public space as a socially open and accessible space where meeting and interaction occur, tolerance for diversity is enhanced, democratic values prevail, and art, theater, and performance take place (for example, Lofland, 1989; Watson, 2006; Valentine, 2008). Concurrent with this romanticized ideal, other authors express a sense of loss or nostalgia about public space being eroded and hence being under threat (for example, Mitchell, 1995; 2003; Kohn, 2004). In his critique of American urbanism, Michael Sorkin (1992) even went so far as to herald the ‘end of public space’. Authors in this second camp have painted a rather pessimistic picture of modern urban life; one that is characterized by neoliberal urban planning, consumerism, restrictive security measures, and social exclusion.

In a similar vein, chapters in this book by a mix of scholars (in law, criminology, geography, sociology, planning, architecture, and so on) have depicted both bleak and promising developments concerning public space and mobility in times of a global pandemic. With increased use of parks and pedestrian-oriented developments such as cycling and walking (see for example Chapters Sixteen and Eighteen), public spaces appear to be rediscovered by both policy makers and users alike. Public spaces are high on the urban planning and policy agendas, as Whitten and Massini (Chapter Nine) demonstrate when discussing London’s policies for greening the city.

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Cities play a major role in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic as many measures are adopted at the scale of cities and involve adjustments to the way urban areas operate.

Drawing from case studies across the globe, this book explores how the pandemic and the policies it has prompted have caused changes in the ways cities function. The contributors examine the advancing social inequality brought on by the pandemic and suggest policies intended to contain contagion whilst managing the economy in these circumstances.

Offering crucial insights for reforming cities to be more resilient to future crises, this is an invaluable resource for scholars and policy makers alike.

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The chapters of this volume explored the impacts of the pandemic from three perspectives: their contribution to changes in the way cities operate and in social inequality, and the policy responses the pandemic has prompted. Most contributions to the volume offered snapshots of situations prevailing at a specific time and place in the protracted worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. These snapshots exposed similarities and differences in ways the pandemic intersects with most aspects of urban life and challenges the capacity of institutions. This was also the case of the comparative chapters (Three, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, and Twenty), which identified parallels and divergences between responses to the pandemic adopted in different cities. The volume was about the COVID-19 pandemic, the reactions it triggered, and the consequences of both the pandemic and of these responses.

The chapters did not benefit from much hindsight, written as they were in the heat of the pandemic, though importantly, after the initial shock of the first months had already passed. They chronicled the pandemic, responses, and consequences in different locales as they manifested themselves in the winter, spring, and summer 2020, without knowledge of the ensuing evolution of the pandemic and relying on the information on COVID-19 that was available at the time. In this sense, the chapters were nearly written in real time, as the events they narrated were unfolding. Although the volume does not claim to provide a systematic overview of how the pandemic affected cities over this period, its different chapters did portray the urban impact of COVID-19 in different parts of the world and identified major themes related to COVID-19, its social consequences and urban policy and planning responses to the pandemic.

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