Roundtable 14: Where and How We Work


Cities are economic centres and a flourishing economy with a diverse array of opportunities is a critical component of A City for All. Workers and professionals often have to commute from more affordable housing in Metro. Changes in the nature of work and how we work, open different opportunities for working and/or collaborating using new technologies, that in turn influence the nature of our vulnerabilities and resiliency.

  • How can we develop a more inclusive and diverse economy, attracting new businesses, and nurturing social entrepreneurs, artists, craftspeople, those that work from home and small businesses?
  • Given global and regional influences, how can a strong local economy be made more resilient to global shocks and stresses?
  • How can economic development goals be aligned with other prioritise such as climate change, mitigation and adaptation, or diversity and accessibility?
  • What strategies have been used successfully in Vancouver and elsewhere and where do barriers still exist?

Roundtable Discussion

The table had 11 participants in addition to the table lead Landon Hoyt and note-taker Robert Matas. The participants were from organizations with an interest in economic development such as BIAs and Tourism Vancouver, a seniors’ representative, a researcher, someone who was unemployed, and professionals with a perspective on the impact of the economy and jobs on the built environment. The participants felt the table was relatively homogeneous and wanted the report to note it.

Urban design is not about setbacks but about what is delivered, in terms of social good on the property.

Gerben van Straaten

The discussion was rich, focusing on how to nurture and expand a diverse and inclusive economy, strengthen social enterprises, and increase affordability while emphasizing the need to think long term. They described strategies that have been used in Vancouver and elsewhere to achieve these goals.

The table heard different and sometimes conflicting perspectives of entrepreneurs and wage-earners. Participants grappled with the opportunities and the risks of changes in the workplace, reinforcing the necessity of considering the effect of economic development on both winners and losers.

City of Vancouver photo

Participants discussed the interests of seniors, young people, the unemployed, and the historically marginalized groups, reinforcing a city for all, where no one is left behind. They urged a quick response to the crippling problem of small businesses to find employees, noting that businesses and organizations were losing staff because staff could not afford to live in Vancouver.

Key Findings

  • Flexibility is required in use of space, partnerships, and city regulations.
  • Connecting local business with social-enterprise businesses and non-profits should not be left to volunteers. A person with the knowledge and ability to do the work should be hired for the job. This recognizes the role of hubs in connecting, brokering, and bridging between sectors.
  • Support for local businesses creates jobs for people who live in the neighbourhood and more stability for the community.
  • Employment should provide a living wage. Creating minimum wage jobs is not sufficient. Employment lands/ zoning reviews should look at the type of jobs, not just the number of jobs supported by the land-use regulations.
  • Public libraries and co-ops provide models that could be scaled up to provide skills training, extend social services, and offer a foundation for a shared economy in a live-work environment.
  • Tighten the link (and reduce travel times and transportation costs) between housing, affordability, income generation, and work space.
  • The city should stop destroying its older commercial and industrial buildings. Buildings with lower rents are the playground for start-ups, artists, and cultural groups, and are important to create the new economy.



  • Re-plan planning. Urban planning remains too focused on land use. City plans should integrate live, work, and play. Access to services, such as childcare, seniors’ facilities, and medical centres should be integrated into city plans.
  • New city plan should be grounded in values, including (a) sustainability in the face of climate change, (b) integrating City for All principles while respecting diversity, (c) adaptability as part of all plans, policies and regulations to accommodate change, (d) equitable access to employment with a living wage, benefits and training for historically marginalized populations.
  • City plans, policies and regulations should allow for more flexibility as innovation, the gig economy and market pressures require changes in use of spaces.


  • The City should collaborate more with BIA, SFU innovation hubs, libraries, co-ops, and community groups.
  • Policies should be developed to allow small businesses to thrive in high rent districts. Developer-financed amenities, government incentives, and zoning regulations are some alternative approaches that could be considered.
  • Cultural spaces should be supported to encourage creativity in the community and cultural transfer between and among communities.


  • Broaden the definition of work to cover traditional employment, volunteering, post-employment activities and work in the shared economy. Government policies on procurement and job creation should promote a living wage for all workers.

Related Initiatives

Hastings Crossing BIA supports the health and resilience of the local economy in the DTES, working with businesses to provide jobs for DTES residents with barriers to employment. Experience Hastings Crossing brings businesses together with local social enterprise or non-profit in the Downtown Eastside to offer promotions that will help fundraise and promote their partners’ work.

Tourism Vancouver’s mission is to attract more visitors to Vancouver and promote local businesses. Projects leverage corporate capacity of large conventions to benefit local communities, schools, and stores, such as connecting 1,500 volunteers at a tech cybersecurity conference with two local schools for a micro-curriculum on cybersecurity.

Our vision is for Strathcona BIA members to thrive in a mixed-use, inclusive, resilient, and prosperous local economy. We focus on a community-oriented economic development approach, for example through offering innovative programming in partnership with local social enterprises.

Walas Concepts is an urban (re)development company with projects such as one in Holland that turned 500,000 square feet in a former coal mine into a mixed-use area with mostly local business, long term leases for big tenants and jobs designated for people with disabilities, the unemployed, and seniors.

Downtown BIA – Proposal to have more mixed-use zoning in the city in order to permit more light-industrial, commercial, residential, and co-work spaces. Examples cited included Seattle, Yaletown, Strathcona, and Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, Texas.

411 Seniors Centre Society is a peer support organization that runs a social meeting hub where people meet, socialize, and organize around issues important to seniors. One of their focuses raised here is on the fight for a living wage.
Vancouver Strategic + Integrated Resources is a management consultancy. One initiative is a proposal in response to CMHC’s call for ideas on the redevelopment of Granville Island to create spaces for learning and creativity interchanges dedicated to education, forecasting and planning for alternative futures.

RADIUS is a social innovation hub at Simon Fraser University. RADIUS envisions a transformed economy that is dynamic, just, sustainable, and resilient. In order to get there, we collaboratively build the capacity, networks, and solutions needed to respond to complex social and economic challenges. Current programs focus on refugee social and economic integration, sustainable economic growth and diversification in Indigenous communities, health promotion, and a more equitable future of work.

Green Building Certification Inc. (Canada) supports educational projects on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for “green” buildings.

Gastown Business Improvement Society focuses on little projects with the potential to spark big change, such as using a parkade in the evening for drive-in movies.

Return to Roundtable Report List