Improving Urban Life

I am not keeping up with my commitment to write more often. I am busy. In addition to my usual advisory work, I am investing a lot off time into three inter-connected initiatives:

  1. improving the urban environment and bio-diversity in towns and cities
  2. ending the homelessness crisis in Canada
  3. solving the affordable housing conundrum 

Interconnected because they are all about improving urban life and providing homes for everyone and everything.

How did I Ever Get Hooked? 

I blame it on an old friend. He asked me to give him a hand in a couple of files for a shelter organization in Toronto. I met some wonderful people working on those projects and I started to poke around homelessness issues. If you read my posts on a regular basis, you will recognize that I have always had an over-sized interest in urban development and affordable housing for everyone. My new work with these community organizations sharpened that interest. 

Also, I have written quite a lot about city environments and have often focussed on heat islands and urban sprawl. Plus, I have fretted about urban resilience. What is the ability of your city or town to resist rising oceans and extreme weather events? Or wildfires caused by permanent shifts in climate patterns? On a personal level, I was sad for days when my lovely, shade-providing mature ash tree was felled – a victim of the imported emerald ash borer. 

Then, my posts about cities caught the attention of my current collaborator’s husband. He was someone I had known from my banking days. Her area of practice in innovative financing had a clear real estate focus and he thought we would get along. She called.  I knew a little bit about her as she had worked in real estate finance at a couple of Canadian banks.  However, I lost sight of her as she had spent the last several years in impact financing and developing innovative financial solutions. I listened and she listened and we slowly developed an interest in working together. 

Housing First

And since then we have:

  • Invested weeks of work into developing proposals to finance green infrastructure culminating in a workshop with foundations, developers, and other interested parties. The workshop was held at Massey College, University of Toronto in late March. 
  • Researched structures for resolving the homeless crisis in Canada. In late May,  we put our proposals to four shelter organizations and to others that have an interest in helping get our most vulnerable into appropriate housing. 

Our work has been well received. Now we are looking to implement solutions. Projects are needed:

  • Large nature parks or Miyawaki forests which can be as small as 5 square metres (50 square feet) or anything in between
  • Conversion of heat islands to allow for green re-development 
  • A pool of capital to start building an inventory of independent living units for society’s most vulnerable. 
Miyawaki Forest

To do this:

We need to engage and convince all the stakeholders in the value of our solutions. There is no easy path to success. This will mean a continuous stream of one-on-one conversations with foundations, service organizations, nature conservancies, developers, and affordable housing groups. Success means that we have to be selling our ideas all the time. Hard, grinding work!

We have started putting together a database of people with whom we need to build relationships. The call program has started even as we refine our message and our presentation materials.

What do I contribute? 

My partner has the brains, the technical abilities and she knows her way around the not-for-profit / foundation world and its satellites really well. So what do I bring to this collaboration?

  • The call program means sharpening up the message and tailoring it to each individual stakeholder. Plus, there has to be an anchoring strategy that reflects what we say in our presentations and meetings. I have done this successfully and consistently over my 55 working career.
  • I know a bit about real estate. I owe this to the people I have worked with – some brilliant colleagues and legal minds but even more to brilliant developers and property owners. 
  • Then there is my imagination that helps me tear down problems into their components and reassemble the pieces so that the problems disappear.
  • I can write and I have good communication skills. 
  • A focus on results

But Why?

I may a bit old to be starting this work. However, it would be enormously gratifying to save and, better yet, increase urban green space in Canada. To see thousands of residential units built for the homeless. And, how else am I meant to use my few talents? I don’t have any real hobbies other than work and writing – both serve me well with these initiatives that are critical to improving urban life. 

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