Institute without Boundaries

Markham Meet COLAB: Why Does Markham Need COLAB?

Markham is recognized as a leader among Canadian municipalities for its progressive and visionary approach to planning. Time and time again, we have observed that Markham is a city that works. A culture of collaboration, respect and pragmatic problem solving is already alive and well in the halls of the Civic Centre. COLAB is a proposal that builds on this tradition. COLAB presents Markham with an opportunity to set a high bar for interdepartmental and multi-stakeholder collaboration.

At the heart of the COLAB vision is the simple idea that the solutions to Markham’s most pressing challenges are already at hand. As Canada’s high tech capital and one of the most diverse municipalities in the country, Markham is in the enviable position of having incredible assets in knowledge and creative capital among its citizens. Furthermore, the design processes that are at the heart of the COLAB working model– research, ideation, systems thinking, design development, prototyping, communication and foresighting– are already happening around Markham. What is not yet happening, however, is the interface between the potent mix of community, industry and municipal interests and the design-thinking process within a collaborative setting.

COLAB addresses this opportunity with a proposal for a design solutions unit within the municipality that is dedicated to building partnerships with community and the private sector and engaging them in creating innovative new ideas for Markham’s sustainable future. By drawing on the wisdom and perspectives of its citizens and complementing these insights with the knowledge of city staff and the dynamic energy of the private sector, design solutions can be generated that are tailor-made to meet Markham’s unique needs.

COLAB responds to the need for a strategic and integrated approach to achieving sustainability that is identified in Markham’s existing planning documents. Over the last decade, Markham has undertaken an impressive program of strategic planning and policy review. From the Integrated Leisure and Markham Diversity Action plans, to the Green Print Sustainability Plan, and more, the town has identified a number of progressive sustainability and economic development objectives. These objectives encompass a range of issues from environmental health, social and cultural well-being, and economic vitality. They include recommendations for promoting greater levels of resident involvement in community stewardship; increasing the viability of local commercial food growing and processing; promoting green business development; creating a culture of walking, cycling and transit usage; and planning high performance new neighbourhoods.

The Green Print Sustainability Plan sets out a number of strategies to ensure the successful implementation of these objectives. The proposed recommendations include:

  • Coordinating project management of cross-departmental initiatives
  • Embracing pilot projects
  • Leveraging partnerships with the private sector
  • Establishing stakeholder working groups
  • Emphasizing the role of community engagement

These strategies are at the heart of the COLAB model. As Markham moves forward, the city requires an approach to sustainable planning that is interdepartmental, multi-stakeholder and collaborative. COLAB is the design solutions unit that can facilitate communication and consensus-building between community, the private sector and municipal departments, to help Markham achieve its economic, sustainability and community development objectives.

This is an article from COLAB, the final project of students from the 2011/2012 academic year. To see all the posts related to the project go here. To see a summary of the project go here.
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The Institute without Boundaries is a Toronto-based studio that works towards collaborative design action and seeks to achieve social, ecological and economic innovation. To learn more click here.

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