Feds hoping to fund small community projects aimed at making public spaces COVID-friendly

Catherine McKenna is a former federal minister of environment and climate change. Ms. McKenna is CEO of Climate and Nature Solutions and chair of the United Nations Secretary-General’s expert group on net-zero emissions.

The federal government is looking to fund small, local projects aimed at building better community spaces in COVID-19 and beyond.

Federal infrastructure minister Catherine McKenna Tuesday announced $31 million in funding available under two intakes to local projects aimed at creating safe and vibrant public spaces, improving mobility options and digital solutions. The project is called the Health Communities Initiative. Its goal is to fund projects that can quickly help communities adapt to challenges created by or exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funds will be administered with support from Community Foundations of Canada.

McKenna, speaking to reporters and a large group of community leaders Tuesday, portrayed the program as allowing local organizations to respond quickly to local needs.

“I’m so excited about this announcement,” McKenna said.

“We have all been going through a very hard time. I said to (Parliamentary Secretary) Andy Fillmore, what can we do that would help lift spirits … enable communities across Canada to come up with ideas to live through COVID-19 and thrive through COVID-19, small projects that would make a difference. This initiative is about how we build better communities, through the leadership of folks in our communities. You really know best.”

Possible projects include more pedestrian-friendly walkways that allow for greater physical distancing, or community gardens to address food security, or mobile art galleries that liven up space in a COVID-friendly way.

WIFI hubs, curbside delivery for local markets and patio space for cafes were also among the ideas floated.

“It’s intended to focus on smaller, local projects that can have a big impact quickly,” McKenna said. “To help people survive and thrive through the pandemic.”

McKenna was joined by Fillmore, who is also the MP for Halifax and has a background in urban planning.

“The pandemic has been profoundly destructive to the way we live, the way we interact with family and friends, the way we work and the way we interact with our communities,” he said.

“When we support and care for our neighbours, we’re all better off. These spaces are vitally important to our communities, including in a pandemic. The opportunity that me and Minister McKenna saw … was to empower Canadians to come up with their own solutions to this, to bring joy back to our streets.”

Funding, in general, should be directed to create and adapt public spaces or improve them to meet public health guidance; to increase the range of transportation and mobility options or adaptations that permit physical distancing by increasing safe social connections, walkability, bikeability and access to public transit and digital solutions using technology, citizen engagement, open data, online platforms or physical devices for public benefit.

After speaking McKenna encouraged all participants in the digital event to share their ideas using the chat function. Hundreds flew by, each unique to its community and its challenges.

“The ideas showing up are exactly what we’re all hoping for,” said Andrea Dicks, president of Community Foundations of Canada.

“We will be working alongside community foundations … and other partners who have amazing expertise in building vibrant, equitable and livable public spaces.”

She called the project an “opportunity to create spaces and places Canada needs.”

Projects have to be put forward by a municipal, provincial or First Nations body or by a not-for-profit corporation and have to be accessible to the general public. Round one of applications closes on March 9 and will be announced by April 30, while round two runs from May 14 until June 24 and will be announced by August 13.

More information, including eligibility and application requirements, is available at healthycommunitiesinitiative.ca.