Expect more from public infrastructure investments: Colette Murphy’s Big Idea
What if . . .
. . . we expected — and got — more from public infrastructure investments?
Many cities are making substantial investments in themselves. Like Toronto, they’re making multi-million-dollar deals to extend transit systems, improve social housing stock, restore architectural treasures and build community facilities. Some are no longer satisfied, however, with the traditional contracting process. Los Angeles, Edinburgh, New York and others expect more — more for their money, more for residents, and more of themselves and their partners.
These far-sighted cities expect developers and civic coalitions to negotiate Community Benefit Agreements as a first step in the planning process. CBAs are legally binding contracts. They define the benefits residents will receive from the development, such as local hiring and training programs, living wage guarantees and affordable housing. They single out groups who are not already benefiting from the city’s growth — young workers, newcomers, foreign-trained professionals and low-income communities — and send opportunities their way.
How would your idea transform the city?
CBAs demand a disciplined process for finding common ground and strategizing to deliver the highest returns. They earn community support for development projects, diffuse opposition, and build the reserves of trust, skill and resolve needed to tackle other complex issues.
Toronto is becoming a city that expects more — and gets more — from urban redevelopment initiatives. Metrolinx and the Toronto Community Benefits Network, an alliance of residents, labour, and community groups, are currently negotiating a CBA for the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT. It’s leading to a smarter strategy for investing provincial dollars, creating apprenticeships and jobs for low-income communities, support for affected neighbourhoods and world-class infrastructure.
How much would your idea cost?
It’s not about new money. It’s about working differently with the resources already on the table, and building a broad base of supporters.
Unlike old-style backroom deal-making and shallow public consultations, this process empowers everyone who has a stake in the outcome and sets their sights higher. It counters the cynical view of development as serving only a select few with real evidence that it can serve us all. CBAs have the potential to help make Toronto more cohesive, more prosperous and more equitable at the same time.
Colette Murphy is the Executive Director of the Atkinson Foundation.