On December 19, 1914, the Mayor of Toronto, Horatio Hocken, gave a speech at the Canadian Club of Ottawa about recent developments in Canadian municipal policy. “I want to speak for a few minutes,” Hocken said, “about the new spirit in municipal government.” Until recently, Hocken explained, municipal government was mostly a matter of construction and maintenance, “the construction of sewers and sidewalks and that kind of thing.” But in recent years, all that had changed. These days, the problems that municipalities were dealing with “are problems affecting human welfare, problems of prevention, the problems looking to the betterment of the people of cities.” Hocken went on to describe the vast array of public policy issues — from housing to public health, recreation to food safety, social welfare to unemployment — in which the City of Toronto had become involved. Canadian city governments, once the domain of sidewalks and sewers and street paving, had quickly become leading actors in many of the most vital policy issues of the day.
Our goal for this blog is to embody the “New Spirit” that Mayor Hocken described to his audience in Ottawa more than a century ago. You will find plenty of research here on the bread and butter issues of municipal policy — roads and bridges, planning and development, parks and recreation, property taxes — all of which are as important as ever in Canadian cities. But like Mayor Hocken, we embrace an expansive view of urban policy, and our discussions here will also extend to the many policy debates — like climate change, economic development, and immigration — in which cities are increasingly making their voices and interests heard. We believe that the structure and operation of urban democracy and governance, from voting rights to ethics commissioners to “ABCs”, are vital questions for urban policy researchers. And we will argue that the boundaries between urban policy researchers and the larger disciplinary communities of political scientists, economists, sociologists, and geographers to which they often belong can and should be porous; we have much to learn from, and a great deal to teach, our colleagues whose research is not focused primarily on urban policy issues.
We hope that “The New Spirit” will become a valuable venue for urban policy researchers to highlight the work that they are doing in cities across Canada. If you’d like us to help spread the word about a paper you’ve written, an event you’ve planned, or a new dataset you’ve built, we would be happy to help. And if you’re an urban policy researcher who would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you. This is an exciting moment in the history of urban policy research in Canada, a moment when new data sources, a critical mass of researchers, and growing public interest make it possible for Canadian urban policy scholars to do important and interesting new work of the very highest quality. We hope that this site will play a role in promoting and stimulating such research — research that embodies the “new spirit in municipal government.”