City of Vaughan, one of Canada’s fastest-growing municipalities, is seizing opportunities post COVID-19

Maurizio Bevilacqua - Vaughnan Major

If there is perhaps one sentiment that can be universally agreed upon, it is that COVID-19 has changed everyday life in cities and countries around the world. And while daily life may look different, it still goes on.

On March 17, 2020, Vaughan became the first city in Ontario, Canada to declare a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 virus. We have taken a disciplined, responsible and measured approach to closing, and gradually reopening City facilities and amenities because our number one priority is the health and safety of all residents.

Since the onset of the pandemic, we have moved quickly, strategically and effectively to adjust our day-to-day operations, including how services are offered and delivered. I am proud of the way our City has responded to the needs of our citizens and the business community, and I am equally proud of our residents, who continue to demonstrate outstanding personal responsibility by doing their part to keep themselves, their loved ones and their neighbours safe. Our battle is not over, and individual actions will remain crucial, particularly until a treatment or vaccine becomes available.

As COVID-19 persists, city-building in Vaughan continues. Since March, the City of Vaughan has developed more than 125 innovations and process improvements to allow programs and services to be delivered virtually. From launching an online building permit portal and being the first in Ontario to offer a library curbside pick-up program, to running virtual Council meetings and public hearings – we continue seeking new ways to improve services and make them more accessible. The pandemic experience has taught us that by being flexible, innovative and focused, success can be achieved.

To help maintain Vaughan’s economy, the City’s Development Engineering department implemented a new online portal tool that accepts, reviews and approves development applications electronically. The portal allows users to apply and pay for grading and pool permits, including posting securities online. In total, more than 1,000 permits valued at $327 million were issued from Jan. 1 to May 31, 2020, and nearly 20,000 inspections have also taken place, well exceeding the number of inspections for 2019, 2018 and 2017 during that same period.

The continuation of critical infrastructure development projects is a vital part of our post-pandemic reality. These will one day be the spaces where the community will gather, live, work and play long after the virus has passed. The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) is our emerging downtown core, which continues to attract significant investment opportunities. Nearly 50,400 residents in over 25,000 residential units are moving into the VMC. This far exceeds targets for residential units and population growth targets identified for the 2031 planning horizon. We are working on 22 active development files, including three that are in the pre-application consultation phase, which represents an additional 7,011 units. Based on the approved and proposed residential developments to-date, the total number of new residential units currently occupied in the VMC is 2,137 with another 4,383 new residential units currently under construction.

Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital is Canada’s first smart hospital located in the city of Vaughan. Slated to open in 2021, it will feature fully integrated smart technology systems and medical devices. Furthermore, the lands surrounding the hospital are being primed to serve as a breeding ground for education and innovation - called the Vaughan Healthcare Centre Precinct. It is a first-of-its-kind initiative that will bring medical services, modernization and jobs to our growing community. Last October, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Mackenzie Health, York University and ventureLAB to identify transformational opportunities to maximize the best use of lands surrounding the hospital through a feasibility study. The high-tech institution will support other applications, including medical offices, labs and research spaces, incubators, and education and conference rooms. It will be a place for thought leaders and subject matter experts to come together to advance a shared vision of healthcare innovation.

As we look toward the future, we will remain unwavering in our efforts to build a safe, welcoming and engaged city where all people have every opportunity possible to live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. From improving infrastructure and roads to recreation and healthcare, taking a Smart City approach in a post-pandemic world is fundamental to building efficient, reliable and genuinely innovative cities.

Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua is the Mayor of Vaughan, Ontario and a former Parliamentarian who has served in many roles in the Canadian Government including Minister of State for Finance and Minister of State for Science, Research and Development.
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