Building Magazine


U of T launches the Global Cities Institute

Although an auspicious date for other reasons, September 11 saw the launch of the University of Toronto’s new Global Cities Institute (GCI) at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, where a global network of individuals, organizations, foundations, and industry innovators will be assembled to “secure a better future for cities.”

According to the University, the Global Cities Institute “will drive innovation across traditional silos of scholarly and professional activity associated with cities and city building, and play a combined role as a custodian of knowledge; a fair broker of information and creative, evidence-based solutions; and a catalyst between industry, government, and the academy.” The new Institute will expand on the work of the Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF), which has developed an unprecedented system to collect globally standardized data from cities around the world. GCIF will be the anchor program in the new Institute.

Cities worldwide are driving the prosperity of nations and are central to global sustainable development. Today, there are 3.7 billion people living in cities, or 53 per cent of the world’s population. By 2050, 6.3 billion people will be living in cities, or 70 percent of the total world population. 

Across the world, the health of cities is tied to the health of economies, the environment, and the social development of nations. As a result, local governments now find themselves playing a larger role in global affairs.

“GCIF is building a platform of standardized metrics that allow cities to learn from each other, by talking to each other using comparable data. The model that we’ve adopted doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” says Professor Patricia McCarney, the founding Director of GCI. “The Global Cities Institute will convene a conversation that is unparalleled, drawing on collaborative, cross-disciplinary research that builds on GCIF’s important metrics, bridging the fields of urban governance, planning, design, technology, and economics.” Already, the Institute has welcomed two Senior Fellows: sociology Professor Saskia Sassen from Columbia University and Chief of the Global Urban Observatory at the United Nations Gora Mboup.

When it was created in 2009, GCIF was working with nine cities to build data on infrastructure, transportation, ageing, governance, finance, education, and safety, among other indicators of a city’s health. Today, a total of 252 cities across 80 countries are now GCIF members. The ability to collect and meaningfully compare information is a boon to researchers and policy makers, whose capacity to analyze data from different cities was previously limited due to different standards, definitions, and methods used to track and measure data throughout the world.

GCI will be able to build on the work of GCIF, by connecting the results of its research to urban thought leaders and academics at the University of Toronto and beyond. The data will form the basis for more in depth analysis culminating in reports, working papers, and speaker series. The Institute will also work with development agencies, governments, and businesses world-wide to share and discuss findings. Papers and reports — such as the forthcoming Child City Friendly Index, and a policy snapshot on Cities and Ageing, which will also launch in September — will be published on GCI’s new website:

Space for GCI will be incorporated into the Daniels Faculty’s new complex at One Spadina Crescent, which will include a “Model Cities Theatre and Laboratory.” Model Cities at GCI will bring together data from the GCIF with emerging 3D/parametric technologies and other visualization techniques to create complex city models, explore experimental, evidence-based modes of urban design, and develop scenarios for alternative urban futures. The Theatre and Lab at GCI will undertake needed research on designing cities holistically, creating a public forum that will engage new constituencies and instigate new decision frameworks, design options, policy alternatives, and industry solutions.

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