What Could the UN Habitat in Towns Initiative mean for Southern Georgian Bay?

The Institute of Southern Georgian Bay > Blog > Newsletter > What Could the UN Habitat in Towns Initiative mean for Southern Georgian Bay?

By Sonya Skinner, P. Eng, CAO (Acting) for the Town of Collingwood

What Could the UN Habitat in Towns Initiative mean for Southern Georgian Bay?I could not be prouder to have hosted the inaugural Habitat in Towns: Collingwood World Summit on September 1st and 2nd. The summit focused on UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11: creating resilient and sustainable towns and communities. During a tumultuous time and with a global pandemic underway, the bringing together (virtually) of town leaders from all over the world was humbling and inspiring. I was thrilled with the opening provided by James Carpenter, First Nations Healer, and very grateful for the contributions of our local businesspeople, not-for-profit leaders, experts from a variety of fields and concerned citizens.

There is a saying that if what you are trying to do does not scare you a bit, then you may not have aimed high enough. For me, engaging with an entity like the United Nations has been a potent mix of trying to understand the world stage, and at the same time, having a deep satisfaction that we and our area DO have something to bring and deserve a place at the table.

The premise behind “Habitat in Towns” is that many important decisions are made at the local level, and that it may be the most effective level for achieving SDGs. In his introductory statement, Collingwood’s Mayor Brian Saunderson said, “Using Ontario as an example, we have 444 municipalities in the Province. 75% of Ontario’s population lives in less than 25% of those municipalities. That means that the remaining population is spread out over 333 municipalities that occupy approximately 75% of the land across the Province. These municipalities are the stewards of 75% of Ontario`s land mass and natural resources. They are the harvesters and suppliers of the natural resources that drive the Province`s economy. The sustainability and protection of the bulk of the Province’s natural resources are in the care and control of these municipal governments. It is in everyone`s best interests, that Provincial and Federal Governments make sure that these small urban and rural municipalities are sustainable with healthy, vibrant and stable futures.”

The conference was a launching point for connection; however, participation did not end with its closing. The group created the Habitat in Towns: Collingwood World Summit 2020 Resolution. The preamble recognizes “the broader Southern Georgian Bay area, including Collingwood, Meaford, Grey Highlands, Clearview, the town of The Blue Mountains, Wasaga Beach and the counties of Simcoe and Grey,” leading us to think of collaboration (and perhaps even initiative governance) across this geography. As staff, Shawn Everitt, CAO of the town of The Blue Mountains, and I have started a dialogue, and I expect other colleagues are open to conversations.

The resolution also recognizes that the town of Collingwood should identify 10 key collaborative projects upon which to seek national and international advice, expertise and investment, and thus, create practical and replicable local examples for sustainable urbanisation. While our local steering group and council, as well as the broader UN Habitat Steering Group will all contribute to this selection, I see opportunities in the resolution list that support Collingwood’s strategic vision and priorities such as:

  • Sustainable Affordable and Attainable Housing, including a plan to fast track delivery, a diversity of built forms and zero carbon or negative carbon footprints.
  • Information to assess how we are doing, such as using the Cities Prosperity Index.
  • Continuing to improve civic engagement, to bring together communities on complex local issues by encouraging participation through effective communication challenges and messages.
  • Expanding and enabling the role of business to help grow a caring community and to play their part in the sustainable development of towns, small cities and Indigenous communities.
  • Creating welcoming communities for all people regardless of income level, ability, gender identity, race, age, ethnicity, religion, or sexual identity.
  • Fostering our human resources, including through educational and entrepreneurship opportunities.
  • Establishing funding for social good, such as the creation of a community foundation.
  • Development of an international network for town and Indigenous community leaders who work toward achieving SDGs at the scale of towns.
  • Demonstration of proactive approaches to environmental challenges and climate mitigation and adaptation.
  • Using our Official Plan as a fundamental strategic document for the municipality, to codify the town’s intentions to be a smarter, more sustainable, and greener community.

Our local steering committee with members Mayor Brian Saunderson, Councilor Kathy Jeffery, businesspersons Mark Palmer and Larry Law, former CAO Fareed Amin and me, supported by Christa Carter, will report back to the Collingwood Council in the fall and recommend next steps on membership, governance, proposed pilot project work, and more.

I was refreshed by the web of knowledgeable and passionate people that literally extended from Collingwood around the globe. Please watch for opportunities to get involved and consider joining the dialogue at the 2021 Habitat in Towns World Summit.