Sean Meyer, Metroland Media
It might be difficult for people to get excited about words like infrastructure and connectivity, but when their taps run dry or roads are in disrepair, the importance becomes much clearer.
Those issues, and many others, are what Kadie Ward is hoping to bring to Canadians as she undertakes her Build Strong Cities Ride. The ride involves Ward and her multimedia team getting on a VIA Rail train in Halifax this past Tuesday (May 21) and undertaking an eight-day journey across Canada. She will stop in Stratford on Friday before continuing on.
An award-winning economic development expert with 10 years of experience, including the past four years at London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC), Ward is hoping to engage citizens and decision-makes alike in conversations around the future of Canada’s infrastructure needs.
“Infrastructure is a huge discussion; it is still a huge challenge connecting Canadians,” Ward said. “Confederation only happened because our government then promised to connect Canada through the railroad. That is why the rail is of significance because it was the first platform meant to connect our country.”
Ward and her team — videographer Manoj Kelath, photographer Jean-François Tremblay, and digital entrepreneur Josh Wright — are heading to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference in Vancouver, May 31-June 3. Ward, who left LEDC in February, started her own company, Build Strong Cities, in an effort to champion the importance of municipal infrastructure needs.
The goal of the ride, Ward said, is to engage people in the debate around infrastructure because it is such an important part of everyone’s daily lives — even if they don’t know it.
“When you get up and turn the tap on, that is infrastructure. When you drive your car to work, that is infrastructure. When you play in the park with your children, that is infrastructure,” Ward said. “Infrastructure is the platform that drives our lives, but we just don’t think about it that way. I hope through our videos and blogs and stories, we can explain what infrastructure is and how it affects all our lives.”
Ward said she originally planned to take the train to Vancouver to take part in the FCM discussions. The conference will involve discussions around the federal government’s plans — announced during the federal budget in March — to invest $14 billion in national infrastructure.
Ward said the federal government has announced it will invest in programs of “national significance” and so municipalities need to be prepared to advance projects that are going to make an impact in cities where the economic development happens.
“I want to continue the conversation because now decisions are being made as to how that money will be spent,” Ward said. “So as municipal leaders, as economic developers, as citizens, we need to keep talking about where that money is going to go.”
Although she was originally going to take the train from Toronto to Vancouver, Ward said after talking with friends, colleagues and other municipal leaders, the endeavour took on a more nationwide tone.
Ward said she is focusing on infrastructure that connects Canadians, such as transit, transportation systems and information communication technology. Ward and her team will travel through 67 cities during the eight-day trip, making 10 “whistle stops” along the way, including Halifax, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Stratford, London, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Jasper, Kamloops and Vancouver.
Ward has set up meetings in each of those cities with municipal leaders who share her concerns around infrastructure and connectivity. At each stop, and along the way, Ward and her team will be making videos, writing blogs and sharing the entire experience through social media.
Ironically, when trying to bring attention to the connectivity of the nation, Ward already knows she will be having her own troubles with that very subject.
“I have been warned by VIA Rail there isn’t Wi-Fi or even connectivity to cellular reception, for a huge part of the ride,” Ward said. “I am looking forward to documenting where I am actually disconnected. When technology and connectivity is such a huge part of our economy right now, what it means as you go across Canada and don’t have that connection.”
Another ironic part of Ward’s journey would include the VIA Rail itself. Ward said the “massive cuts” to the country’s rail system, and passenger rail in particular, make growing Canada’s economy and even bigger challenge.
“It is very difficult, especially in a place like southwestern Ontario, to grow your economy when the main transportation lines are being shut down.”
For more information, visit www.buildstrongcities.com or on Twitter use @StrongCities and the hashtag #BSCride.