Today at the SHIFT: Connect conference we had fantastic panels on what libraries have done to keep communities engaged during COVID, how education and workplaces are changing, and engaging youth in planning an design efforts. For more information on our speakers, click here: https://shiftplanningconference.webnode.com/portfolio/
Our libraries panel (12-1pm) featured Åsa Kachan (Halifax Public Library), Danielle McDonald (Ottawa Public Library) and Julie Iannacone (Vancouver Public Libraries). Danielle mentioned that in 2020, Ottawa Public Library doubled their e-book listings, introduced virtual events and new initiatives (better software to communicate more quickly, in-house booking system to pick up holds, virtual staff meetings, partnerships with school boards, the US Embassy, and others). They provided 200 Chromebooks and 25 wi-fi hotspots, and permanently waived late fees (this one initiative cost them $1 million but helped 11,000 vulnerable people continue to use the libraries). Danielle also spoke about needing to develop a plan without knowing all the information, by staying agile and working with Ottawa Public Health, which allows people and groups in the community to articulate what they need in library spaces. Julie spoke about working with the real estate development department on facilities, which has been difficult since the libraries don’t have a lot of internal expertise on planning and development. But Vancouver Public Libraries now has a facilities master plan and an internal planner who works on these projects. Because of Vancouver’s high population density, their branches are very close together (some within 2km of each other)–most branches are quite tiny and they might be better served by fewer larger branches. However there has been public resistance to closing any of the neighbourhood branches. They also quickly pivoted to digital services including programs reaching out to the community using Facebook Live and children’s storytimes using small-group Zoom meetings which allowed people to meet. For Åsa, Halifax Public Library were sharing information using their phone lines, even encouraging seniors to reach out if they were feeling lonely. Halifax also removed their late fines which allowed 35,000 people in the city to use the library again. Instead of providing free coffee and snacks for people in the community pre-COVID, they packed snack packs for people. Åsa spoke about the importance of helping people stave off loneliness and reconnect during the pandemic, and how much libraries have adapted to be critical public infrastructure in complete communities.
Our changing education and workplaces discussion (1-2pm) included Neil Lovitt (Turner Drake and Partners Ltd.) and Jacob Ritchie (Halifax Regional Centre for Education), with Tracey Wade (Chair of the Atlantic Planners Institute) moderating. Jacob talked about HRCE’s pandemic response which has been in place since H1N1, which helped keep schools safe during COVID-19 with the addition of disinfectants that kill viruses. Developing scenarios (A had cohorts with limited numbers, extended cleaning, and teachers circulating rather than students; B had elementary students continuing to go to school why high school students stay home–their spaces could be used to spatially distance elementary students; and C included online education for everyone) required coordination with public health. Luckily Scenario B never happened in NS and Scenario C wasn’t necessary post-lockdown. Neil discussed industries that bore the brunt of the disruption from the pandemic: transportation and warehousing; management of companies and administrative support services; information, culture, and recreation; accommodation and food services; and other services. Other industries like agriculture, utilities, manufacturing were easier to adapt to social distancing. Industries like finance, insurance, and real estate; educational services; and public administration did quite well by adopting new technologies and employees working from home. He speculates that many industries will be able to go back to the way they worked pre-COVID, but services that don’t require human interaction might become automated (e.g. take-out fast food vs. sit-down restaurants) and services associated with business travel. for office work, fully remote workers will be the exception, as offices will shift back to in-person work to allow for collaboration, but remote working will likely be part of the compensation package.
At 6-8 pm, we saw a presentation by the young experts from Urban Minds (Jane Law, Nathan Wener, Jaskiran Gill, and Adriana Ceric) on youth engagement. I saw them speak at the Canadian Institute of Planners conference in 2019 and their work in Toronto with school age children is truly inspiring. Adriana (a Gr. 12 student in Waterloo) helps raise awareness about engineering and planning careers among young people, Nathan (in his last year of undergrad at U of T) runs urban history tours on Instagram (and socially distanced for a small number of kids), and Jaskiran (Toronto Youth Cabinet) does outreach across the city on a number of issues such as employment and safety to give youth a voice. All spoke about the way COVID has changed the way they experience their cities, in terms of changing the commute to daily walks, biking, and connecting with communities. Adriana mentioned how a number of local businesses she regularly frequented had closed, while Nathan missed playing live music at venues that have now closed.
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