Despite living in a world where digital technology has created a global network of interconnections that permeate into most cultures across the globe, our societies and cultures often operate in a disconnected landscape structured on the ideas that sculpted the societies and cultures of our recent past. In short, while globalization in its various forms has brought many positive advances to benefit the human condition (along with many negative ones), some cultures and societies have been better at adapting to (and managing) change than others. In places where the transition to new ways of living has been successful, a common theme is an appreciation by governments, planners, and the general public as to why change is needed, how it benefits the population, and what the outcomes will be.
While Canada has in the past been seen as a world leader in many respects, more recently our global credit for innovative approaches to common challenges (such as peacekeeping, environmental leadership, and democratic ideals) has been falling fast. From the inside looking out, those who are engaged in the cultural dialogues taking place across our country would agree that many of our political leaders (at all levels) are not doing much in the way of leading. Not to paint with too broad a brush, there are many exceptions to the rule (Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi for one), but more often than not, our political leaders have failed to live up to their end of the democratic bargain. In this respect, transportation planning is no different. Granted, we are fortunate enough to live in a geographically vast country with a relatively small population, and as such, our metropolitan regions have had no reason in the past to consider the incredible importance of functioning transportation systems in densely populated regions. More recently though, as population growth and urban sprawl have seen our cities expand horizontally rather than vertically, some Canadian cities—Vancouver, Calgary, and most recently Waterloo—have actually taken this issue quite seriously. Realizing that challenges such as gridlock and healthy urban living are tightly tied to the overall health of their region, leaders in these cities have engaged directly with the public to build systems that work to improve the quality of life for their citizens while also creating an environment where business, culture, and nature can all benefit. Incredibly inspiring, the choices made in these cities can serve as excellent examples for regions facing similar challenges. Continue reading