The COVID-19 pandemic brings into focus a long-standing need to establish a Canadian Urban Policy Observatory (CUPO), a focal point for comprehensive, comparable, and actionable information on the state of Canada’s cities and city-regions.
Part repository, aggregator, clearing house, and knowledge broker, the observatory would collect, standardize, analyze, and publish qualitative and quantitative data on Canadian cities and, crucially, the political systems and policy frameworks that govern them.
Most importantly, the observatory would serve as a building block toward greater intergovernmental dialogue on urban priorities, bringing local challenges to the attention of upper-level governments, and highlighting opportunities for shared problem solving.
UPL director Gabriel Eidelman and Prof. Neil Bradford (Huron University College at Western) partnered with the Canadian Urban Institute to produce The Case for a Canadian Urban Policy Observatory, a discussion paper outlining the observatory’s potential mandate and functions, how it could add value to existing practices, as well as institutional models governments could follow to realize these aims.
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By Gabriel Eidelman and Neil Bradford
Published by the Canadian Urban Institute
Why CUPO Now?
Canada lacks an institutional locus where social scientists, policy makers, local practitioners, and citizen activists might come together in dialogue, accessing the best available information to tackle urban policy challenges.
Several jurisdictions, such as the European Union, benefit from urban policy observatories that help align national policy objectives with local conditions on the ground. These focal points for interdisciplinary research and policy learning create the knowledge infrastructure necessary to power collective action and respond to complex policy problems facing cities.
Canada is not yet equipped for such concerted urban policy making. But the right conditions are now in place to correct this shortcoming.
Homegrown research capacity is growing
Canadian researchers have produced a significant body of policy-relevant knowledge
Canadian cities are experimenting
Cities are rich sites of experimentation in public problem-solving and multi-level governance
A new city-regionalism is emerging
Regional development is becoming an important vehicle for urban policy making
COVID-19 demands learning from the local
The current public health crisis requires cities to test ideas, share knowledge, and scale innovations
What Would CUPO Do?
As the country’s definitive source for comprehensive, comparable, and actionable urban data and analysis, a national urban policy observatory would serve five related functions and objectives.
Compiling these foundational components of Canada’s urban policy landscape under "one roof" would help researchers, practitioners, and decision makers better understand the institutional gaps in our system, and inform a more productive dialogue between governments in areas of shared jurisdiction and mutual interest.
Construct consistent definitions
Standardize administrative classifications, which vary from province to province
Produce an atlas of local government
Catalogue how city governments operate, what policies area they are responsible for, and how they deliver local services
Aggregate urban indicator and benchmarking programs
Enable apples-to-apples comparisons across service areas and local/metropolitan geographies
Develop a repository of urban policy frameworks
Monitor intergovernmental transfers programs and agreements related to cities
Set the stage for a national dialogue
Facilitate regular dialogue between governments about the health of Canada’s cities
How Would CUPO Work?
How could a national urban policy observatory be designed to make existing data accessible and actionable for multiple audiences, while also gathering new data to fill apparent knowledge gaps? We offer at least four institutional design models as a starting point for constructive discussion.
Each approach brings its own potential benefits and drawbacks, as well as trade-offs that require thoughtful consideration. Any new organization would require: a degree of independence, so that it would not depend on, nor be directly influenced by, one government or another; technical capacity, meaning core staff capable of collecting, analyzing, and translating available data for policy purposes; and, naturally, sufficient financial resources to ensure its long-term sustainability.
As a Statistics Canada initiative
By expanding the agency’s existing research programs or creating a new research centre
As a government research network
Comprised of representatives from federal, provincial, and municipal governments
As a network of academic researchers
Linking major universities, research institutes, and academic centres across the country
As an independent non-profit organization
With financial support and oversight from governments at all levels