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What makes a good city? How do we get there?

Increasing the common good of cities requires that all of the resources within and around them interact as effectively as possible. This includes social and institutional resources that range from the very local, where we spend most of our lives, to the regional, national and global contexts we are part of.

The complex network of relationships between people, institutions, and culture constitutes the social infrastructure of our cities. The term "infrastructure" reflects what is necesssary, common, and accessible—the essential structures we need to sustain life, cities, communities. Social Cities is exploring this social infrastructure in order to understand the how to sustain the common good we enjoy and foster its growth and development in the areas of our cities where it may be lacking.

Individual organizations and the wider networks of organizations that make up our society deeply influence us. These social structures are both persistent—they last over time—and dynamic—they can change over time. Drawing on insight from frontline, grassroots organizing to the latest academic research, Social Cities is explores this landscape and looks for promising areas of strength that we can learn from and gaps where new investments could be made.

Our cities and communities are expected to provide for our physical needs—clean water, safe bridges, effective transportation, and so on. But those provisions are not enough. We also need places that foster meaning, purpose and belonging. The relational networks we are part of powerfully shape these less tangible aspects of our lives. When we are isolated or don't feel that we belong, our well-being can dramatically decline. When we do feel we belong and are involved in meaningful work, family life and circles of friends, we do much better. The organizations, agencies, and businesses of our communities provide important settings for these relational dynamics.

Taking stock of the best ideas and practices in research and policy development thinking that focusses on these dynamics is a core function of Social Cities. We live in the tension of research, policy development and activism. Our reports, projects, pilots, case studies, and events are all intended to support ongoing investment in the common good.


Meet the Program Director

Core ideas that orient a significant amount of my work include the exploration of complexity science by means of various network approaches. Network dynamics are a persistent feature of our human interactions including the organizations, institutions and societies that Cardus is working to support and make sense of. Planners are also in constant interaction with these social structures at a wide variety of levels.

I am very interested in how organizations adapt to change (or fail to adapt) including the cities where most of the global population lives. Resilient enterprises at all scales invest energy in designing and nurturing intelligent processes that allow room for surprise, novelty and feedback.

I have served a three-year term as an elected municipal councillor and run in two other municipal campaigns (including a mayoral race) that did not lead to election.

Research development themes include a nearly completed Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo School of Planning that is focused on new ways to measure the social fabric of neighbourhoods, as well as participating in the Waterloo Institute on Complexity and Innovation (WICI) and the University of Waterloo Network Science reading group.

I have written a number of articles for Municipal World and serve on the Steering Committee of the Thriving Cities Project (Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture) at the University of Virginia.

Michelle and I have four children ages 14, 17, 20 and 22. We live in a three-story brick house in East Hamilton.

Key Themes

Complexity Science
Network Science
Urban Planning
Social Capital
Social Infrastructure

Recent Publications

Municipal World
The Unexamined City: Evaluation that Serves the Common Good.

Municipal World
Can Data Standards Improve Our Lives? ISO 37120 and Canadian Municipalities.

Municipal World
Social Infrastructure: Underpinning the Success of Cities.

Berkeley Planning Journal
Finding Your Fit: A Proposal for Emerging Planning Scholars.

Stanford Social Innovation Review
Saviors at City Hall? Review of Benjamin Barber's book "If Mayors Ruled the World."