Community Planning

Mapping the Shift to “Local Government 3.0″

Changes underway at City Hall are the biggest in decades

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Local government in Canada is in its most significant period of change since the post-war years.

The shift has the potential to be so transformative that some, including longtime Western Canadian city manager Ron Mattiussi, are calling it “Local Government 3.0.”

The change includes new forms and expectations of citizen engagement, and more open and transparent communication.

More than that, it begins with a recognition that professional engineers and planners have not found — and will not find — the answers to neighbourhood problems or to creating thriving communities by working in their traditional silos.

The emerging new shape of City Hall is partly driven by provincial downloading. “It’s pervasive, and it plays a very significant role,” says Ron.

But it’s also being influenced by new technology, and more flexible and holistic ways of thinking.

“Local Government 1.0” was the creation of the local public service — the formalization, at the turn of the 20th century, of municipal governments as separate from their provincial parents.

This first wave “was all about a small group of people exercising power on council. Generally speaking they didn’t have professional staff — or didn’t have a lot if they did,” Ron says.

The issues were basic: mainly engineering and sanitation.

The second wave, “Local Government 2.0,” was the rapid professionalization of this public service — the arrival of accounting systems, professional engineers and planners in the years after the Second World War.

Along with this came a systems approach to managing cities, sometimes called the “rational comprehensive” model.

Ron looks back on this approach as “the post-war notion that everything could be engineered. That everything was just this massive collection of systems, and you just had to figure it out.”

This model, still strongly in place in most communities, has solved many technical problems, but its limits have also become clear.

“What we did there is, we thought we had the answer,” Ron says. “We thought the best way to plan the city is through professionals.”

“I think we lost sight of the fact that cities are made up of people, and therefore very organic. That it’s a very complex system we’re dealing with. I think we were somewhat foolish to think a systematic approach would make it easy to deal with.”

Now, he says cities are about to transform again.

Ron brings a career’s worth of perspective to the subject. He has been city manager of the City of Kelowna, an innovative community, since 2006. Before that he was director of planning and development services for eleven years.

Prior to coming to Kelowna, he was executive director of the Edmonton Metropolitan Regional Planning Commission, and worked in the private sector.

The emerging change will be visible and important because of the large role local communities, and services, play in people’s daily lives, he says.

“We’re kind of the last level of government that does things directly for people any more. More and more of the direct service delivery is done by cities.”

“I think we’re owning the transition phase today. I think local government is going to transform incredibly over the next ten years. As even more serious downloading occurs.”

This article is the first in a series about the changing role of municipal government in Canada — the factors influencing the change and the creative opportunities it offers.

Next: a new role for public participation.

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