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  • Writer's pictureChristoph Jalkotzy

There is always a first time

Thoughts on the passing of 2020

I generally do not mark the passing of time; it is just a thing for me.

But this year is vastly different. I have been fortunate not to be involved in a war, subjected to poverty, had a serious illness, affected by mental or physical challenges in my 68 + years. I am fortunate to be blessed with an amazing partner, a strong family, interesting and engaging work, and knowledge on how we can make things better.

For the last year, I have had the privilege of helping care for Sylvia’s mom. As I write this she is having her shower on her own and then she will cook her own breakfast. She is now 100+ years old and seen much. Last night, when I brought her the hot water bottle for her bed and set the TV on Family Feud (she loves it). We spoke and I said, “see you in the morning” and she said, with a grin on her face “only if I’m alive”, well another day for her in our lives. thx

While the pandemic has not been a challenge for me, or even most of the people I know, it has clearly shown the weaknesses in our societies. In the past year, some people have reached out to me to help make change along the lines that I have been advocating for over the past five years. In 2021, I am asking all of us to redouble our efforts since we know where we are failing as a society. Not just here in Canada, but around the world.

How are we failing?

We just need to look at a few trends. The actual statistics don’t matter.

- Percentage of people over 65 years old is growing

- Cost of caring for a person over 65 in institutional settings is unsustainable

- Income inequity is increasing

- The cost of supporting people with challenges; mental, physical and addiction in institutional structures is unstainable

- People’s sense of control of their circumstance has declined, their sense of hopelessness has increased

- Confidence in public institutions has decreased

- The planet’s ability to absorb mankind’s current style of living is decreasing

Many of these issues have become more evident due to the pandemic.

- The circumstances in long term care and seniors’ residences

- The inequities between front-line workers, those on lockdown, marginalized communities, and the state of our financial institutions

- While many Political and Non-Governmental Institutions have stepped up their efforts gallantly, their efforts cannot be sustained over the long term.

- There are sharp divisions of public trust in political institutions, science, and the media.

How can we succeed?

We will succeed when we start to lead our planning of institutions, governance, and physical environments with social sustainability first and foremost. We need not worry about financial and environmental sustainability; they will come naturally from the success of achieving social sustainability. It sounds simple and it is. We must de-institutionalize and de-stigmatize our systems.

The hard part is, where do we start? What can I do? There is no need to try to change our current political and non-governmental institutions first. Everything I propose can be done within our current social and governance structures. As a community we just need to show them how to readapt or, if they do not, just simply drive them out of business.

Together we can try to live like we are all in a village instead of like a herd of lemmings running over a cliff (not that I think they really do that…).

Here is a short list actions we can take:

a) If you are an entrepreneur (this includes artists, product and service entrepreneurs, and the entertainment investors):

- Invest in yourself

- Invest in people, enhance their ability to grow themselves as well as your investment

- Invest in “real” short- and long-term rewards, not fake ones where your investment is at the cost of others, societal, environmental, and financial

- Think about the kind of returns you want for yourself, such as societal benefits including the environment and financial benefits

- Ask yourself what a “good life is” and adjust your financial return needs to reflect that.

b) If you are Developer (designer, planner, builder):

- See above plus the following (this is expanded as I work in this field)

- Listen to traditional knowledge in the community, it may not be as scientific as your training, but it will trigger you into thinking about ideas and solutions that you would never have dreamt of by yourself

- Think small lots and distributed buildings

- Invest in long-term financial returns especially when it comes to energy use

- Reduce the complexity of both public and building infrastructure

- Understand that your buildings and infrastructure will need to adapt to cycles of change, do not overbuild

- Think about the way the people using the buildings and infrastructure will manage it and the governance method they can use to help them manage. This will require a new hierarchy.

a. There are 3 groups of people involved in any building or infrastructure,

i. the people that use it,

ii. the people that maintain it and

iii. the people that own it

b. The old hierarchy is one where the people who own any building or infrastructure tell the people who maintain it what the people who use it need. There is consultation between the owners and users.

c. The new hierarchy can one where the users of the any building or infrastructure tell the people who maintain it how to run it and that will result in the owner benefiting, whether it is public or private ownership.

c) If you are a societal support person (doctor, nurse, government worker, NGO, front line support, politician, etc.):

- Be deferential and compassionate

- Enjoy what you do because your job can be one of the most rewarding, you are helping others

- Avoid being paternalistic

d) Anybody else, that does not feel they are included above (retired, living off the land, supported by society, etc.)

- Seek help when you need it

- Help where you can, your closest neighbours and acquaintances

- Do not mire yourself in guilt for your lot in life or the notion that the world owes you a living

- Respect the ideas and thoughts of others, use the 3 principles of meaningful conversation

a. Listen without prejudice

b. Listen without thinking about your possible response

c. When you talk, tell a story

So finally, what can this look like:

Check out, CityVillages, it is just one of the ways, I’m sure if you try, you can come up with many others. If you feel the urge to talk, email me at, maybe I can help.

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