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

Want to help develop the observatory?

contact the authors