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Building a City for All Means Everyone Building Together


Elan MacDonald

In 1961, Jane Jacobs wrote,“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Jacobs was a city-building visionary and highly critical of post-war urban renewal projects that were guided only by a narrow set of interests.

Six decades after Jacobs wrote those words, and following a once-in-a-century pandemic, it’s worth asking ourselves if we’re doing all we can to ensure our cities are places where everyone thrives — regardless of income, age, ethnicity and physical ability.

COVID-19 has rapidly changed our lifestyles — with some of the changes likely to be permanent. A Statistics Canada study last year indicated that 80 per cent of people who switched to working from home wanted to keep doing so at least half-time after the pandemic. Cities like Edmonton also face unprecedented challenges and opportunities that Jacobs may never have imagined, like climate change and advanced technologies like 5G and autonomous vehicles.

In order to address these shifts, I believe that Jacobs’ words are truer now than they have ever been. We need coordinated, collaborative approaches to build cities that consider the interests of all.

One way to meet this goal is to create tools and forums for everyone involved in city-building — investors, developers, builders, lenders, realtors, policymakers, architects, planners and engineers — to identify challenges and create solutions.

That’s the approach taken by the U of A’s Centre for Healthy Communities in the School of Public Health. Thanks to a grant from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, the centre has launched a website — — you can use today to guide your professional decisions, all informed by the latest research.

As business owners and leaders, you want to know how your company can harness the opportunities and adapt to the challenges facing cities. You shouldn’t have to go it alone. By partnering with academic experts, industry groups, funders and government, we can scale up solutions to assist hundreds of businesses.

Health restrictions shuttered storefronts by the thousands and shoppers flocked online. This was great news for large virtual retailers like Amazon, but bad news for many local companies that were unprepared for the digital shift. Thanks to grants from the Government of Canada and City of Edmonton, 11 U of A business students, working through the Alberta School of Business’ Centre for Cities and Communities, helped 700 small businesses in the Edmonton area create an online presence in just under a year.

Thanks to a $960,000 grant from the Government of Alberta and other partnerships, the program has since expanded into the Digital Economy Program, or DEP, and will digitize another 3,400 businesses in the Edmonton area. The program is free and you can sign up at

The DEP is particularly exciting because it will be executed primarily by students — the next generation of business and organizational leaders who will help to drive city-building in the future. With deep roots in the province, the University of Alberta will continue to act as a connector for city-building in the Edmonton region, Alberta and beyond.

By working together, we can make our cities and communities work for everyone — and make Jane Jacobs proud.

Elan MacDonald is past chair of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce and a founding director with Edmonton Global. She also sits on the boards of Covenant Health, Atlas Biotechnologies and Alberta Ballet. She is the vice-president (external relations) of the University of Alberta. Her column appears monthly in Business in Edmonton.