As part of its Investing in Canada plan, the federal government has committed to invest $180 billion between 2016 and 2028 to fund infrastructure needs, ranging from public transit to community services. Let's ensure those investments create more inclusive infrastructure.
Investments in public infrastructure in Canada have long been viewed as investments in future prosperity, yet public infrastructure represents far more than a means of economic growth. Water filtration plants and sewage systems are examples of upstream public infrastructure investments that contribute to public health. Investments in social housing contribute to belonging and personal safety—safe and affordable housing is a core social determinant of health. Investments in affordable public transit contribute to social connectedness and engagement, enabling people to get to work, go shopping, and participate in community activities.
The opposite is true, too. Prioritizing investments in roads and highways over complete streets makes communities less accessible and more exclusionary. Failure to resolve long-standing contaminated water issues in Indigenous communities compromises public health and reinforces inequities that were baked into colonialism. Turning infrastructure investments in health care, long-term care, child care, and other care services into public-private partnerships (P3s) prioritizes profits over public good. Our physical world, our built environment, can either promote public health and well-being or negate it. Ownership models can either promote an inclusive economy or thwart it.
At the centre of a healthy built environment is one core value: inclusion. You cannot achieve resilience, sustainability, nor growth without addressing inclusion. As Pickett and Wilkinson have documented, societies that tolerate high levels of income inequality suffer in myriad ways: there is less trust in public institutions and in each other, there are worse mental and physical health outcomes, there is less social cohesion and higher crime rates.
Yet, in the context of infrastructure planning, inclusion is often ignored or it takes a back seat to growth.
We've published two papers that offer conceptual frameworks for governments to consider when pursuing new infrastructure projects—frameworks that centre inclusion.
The Missing Link: Inclusive infrastructure is key to resiliency and sustainable growth—co-authored by Trish Hennessy, Lindsay McLaren and Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood—examines three conceptual frameworks that can centre inclusion: (1) The social and ecological determinants of health; (2) Well-being economics; and (3) Just transition strategies to address the climate crisis.
Together, these frameworks help connect the dots between the values of inclusion, resilience, sustainability, and growth—something many governments tend to overlook.
Inclusion By Design: Understanding inclusive infrastructure investment in Canada—written by Sonja Macdonald and Paul Shaker—explores how the lens of inclusion is currently applied in Canadian infrastructure spending.
It draws on real-life examples in Canadian communities, such as a participatory budgeting process in Hamilton to embed inclusion into the design process and community benefits initiatives in B.C., Toronto and Windsor.
Both reports are available to download below.