The New Normal with Maydianne Andrade (Ep. 15): President Meric Gertler on cities

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COVID-19 has disrupted and changed our lives – and our ideas about how we want to live. When the pandemic ends, what changes will we want to keep? What kind of cities will we build?

In episode 15 of her podcast, The New Normal, Professor Maydianne Andrade explores these and other questions with Professor Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto.

“We are used to thinking of cities as static, solid entities and yet they aren't,” says Andrade, Canada Research Chair in Integrative Behavioural Ecology. “They contract, they grow and they evolve.”

A professor of geography and planning and a renowned expert on cities, President Gertler notes the pandemic has sparked some innovations that improve the quality of life – from the appropriation of car lanes for bicycles to adding express buses in neighbourhoods where people must travel to work every day.

“The quality and the frequency of public transit service [in those communities] was just way below standard and was forcing people to get onto overcrowded buses, which imperiled their health,” President Gertler says. “We've seen the rollout of these kinds of pretty low-tech innovations that have challenged the status quo really quickly.”

Those are the kinds of changes “we’ll want to hang on to,” President Gertler says.

But the pandemic has also “accelerated and accentuated” income inequality and the vulnerability of racialized communities and neighbourhoods, he says.

How then, Andrade asks, “do we solve the entrenched challenges of equity in our city?”

“We have a role to play in documenting these inequalities, these trends, analyzing them, understanding them and helping policymakers and the lay public understand the existence of these problems and their roots, but also to help devise policy tools to address these challenges,” President Gertler says.

The episode is the latest in a series of instalments that feature Andrade in conversation with university leaders. In episode 14, she interviewed Professor Wisdom Tettey, vice-president and principal of U of T Scarborough. In episode 16, she will speak with Professor Alexandra Gillespie, vice-president and principal of U of T Mississauga.

The New Normal is created in collaboration with a University of Toronto Communications team led by Lisa Lightbourn. You can listen to the podcast on Spotify or listen on SoundCloud. You can also find it on Apple or listen on Google.


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