​Over the past decade, cities and municipal governments have attempted to incorporate a customer focus in their service delivery systems. In some cases, this shift has left citizens relegated to feeling like a simple transaction or leading to poorer outcomes. This change in paradigm needs to recognize that citizens—individuals and businesses alike—have needs that exceed a discrete transaction, and that the municipal services system has a greater responsibility to deliver a societal benefit alongside individual supports.

City leaders have an opportunity to re-examine their approach and focus on long-term impact by adopting a "citizen-customer" model. The pandemic has provided city leaders with permission to discard the traditional "inside-out" approach that focuses on optimizing internal organizational processes and replace it with an "outside-in" mindset that prioritizes an experience-centric approach for everyone they serve: the people, businesses, and stakeholders in their communities. Key trends in this experience-first approach for Canadian cities include accessibility of services, sustainability initiatives, and the adoption of technology by all stakeholders.

Building cities where you can live, work, and play

The pandemic has accelerated the transformation of cities. As a result, urban planning in Canada must be flexible and adaptable. During the first months of the pandemic, Toronto and Montreal experienced record population losses as people migrated to nearby suburban municipalities: the population of Milton, Ontario grew by 4%; Brampton, Ontario by 3.4%; and Mirabel, Quebec by 3.6%. Data from 2021, however, shows that housing markets have rebounded strongly in all major metropolitan areas, and the significant growth for both resale activity and new construction suggests that city centres may be experiencing a revitalization.

With more Canadians working from home and prioritizing flexibility in their roles, and with more activities shifting to local communities and convenient online services, the future of Canadian cities lies in putting people at the centre of urban transformation. While the concept of a 15-minute city is an innovative aspiration for developing communities, it has limited potential for established megacities like Toronto, given the prohibitive cost of redesigning infrastructures in ways that will deliver these outcomes. To address these challenges, cities such as Sydney and Melbourne are evolving away from the traditional central business district model by adopting a modified 30-minute city concept, an approach that could also work well across Canada.

Building greener, more sustainable Canadian cities

As Canadian cities embrace sustainability, it's essential that they work in partnership with other stakeholders. In KPMG's 20 predictions for the next 20 years, it is anticipated that society, scientists and governments will be working together to entrench regulations that will make solving climate change truly actionable. Data collection is a fundamental part of finding solutions to sustainability issues, but cities on their own can never collect or own all the data they need. By working alongside universities, NGOs and the private sector, cities will gain access to the data they need to report on sustainable development goals and develop an understanding of the holistic experience of a citizen-customer within the city.

Faced with two significant sustainability challenges in recent history—climate change and the pandemic—cities are striving to identify and implement actions that will improve quality of life, now and in the future. To this end, in 2020 the City of Mississauga created the Sustainability Planning, Accounting, and Report Project to develop recommendations that would lead to enterprise-wide sustainability for enhanced communications and service provision. This steering committee and its sub-teams are currently gathering and analyzing sustainability information and will use it to develop ten actionable recommendations for future solutions.

Meeting fiscal challenges by accelerating technological growth

Canadian cities of the future will leverage technology to enable inclusion of every customer across all levels of society, and allow for greater integration of people, businesses and stakeholders. The CRTC's goal is for 90% of Canadian homes and businesses to have access to subscription speeds of at least 50 Mbps for downloads in an effort to provide universal access to high-speed, affordable connectivity, along with access to technology and training. The benefits of this engagement with technology are clearly seen in Ottawa: the city has launched a Smart City Strategy to enhance benefits and services for both citizens and businesses and tackle the challenges posed by the urban/rural divide. In addition to assessing the quality of broadband available to rural communities within municipal boundaries, Ottawa is also exploring how connectivity can power smart digital economies and provide a platform for social change.

Many Canadian cities, seeing how technology has led to increased productivity in certain sectors during the pandemic, are also using technology to accelerate change. Ottawa is building a strategic roadmap that will identify opportunities for the city as Canada enters the 5G era, and Brampton, Ontario is looking at how 5G and hyper-connectivity can drive economic growth and enable cross-sector innovation. Brampton is also enhancing elements of its smart city agenda, including municipal service management and information management, and expects that hyper-connected technologies will promote more equitable outcomes for all citizens, while also facilitating cross-industry collaboration by linking key economic contributors within the connectivity ecosystem.

Canadian cities are increasingly turning to mobility initiatives to drive their future growth. Municipalities such as Montreal are taking steps to accelerate the adoption of EVs by installing new charging stations across the city. Edmonton and Toronto are electrifying their transportation networks to provide enhanced services. This ingenuity is promoting economic development, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and ensuring that Canada will lead the way towards a net-zero emission future.

KPMG's Connected Enterprise

By cutting across traditional functional boundaries and silos, cities adopting all eight critical capabilities of the KPMG Connected Enterprise framework will be able to deliver experiences that exceed citizen-customer expectations, execute objectives centred on the citizen-customer, and bring disparate municipal processes and operations together into an integrated whole. Developing these capabilities will enable all stakeholders—citizen-customers, businesses and cities alike—to interact seamlessly through innovative services, while also enhancing the impact of transformation.

For an in depth look into how cities around the world are re-examining their approach, download KPMG International's report.

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