What cities will look like after the pandemic

As part of a package of stories for Pivot magazine’s January/February issue I looked at some of the ways the pandemic and lockdowns have reshaped urban life.

  • Future cities – What we do: COVID-19 changed the way we experienced arts and culture. What does the future hold for the cultural industry?
  • Future cities – Where we work: Farewell to the workplace as we knew it. Welcome, the pandemic-inspired office space that will take its place
  • Future cities – Where we live: Will remote work and other factors speed up the flight to suburban regions—and beyond?
  • Future cities – How we moveLess public transit use and more cars. Automation and shifting priorities will shape the future city.

Can this company make Excel less excruciating?

In early 1979, a tiny text ad ran in the back pages of Byte magazine, a journal dedicated to the emerging world of personal computers: “VisiCalc, how did you ever do without it?” If readers were unsure what had apparently been missing from their lives, they soon found out. Forty years ago this October, VisiCalc, the first digital spreadsheet, debuted on the market and immediately became a global phenomenon. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once hailed it as the “explosion” that moved the computer industry forward, while others have described it as “the original killer app of the information age.” In time, VisiCalc lost the spreadsheet crown to Lotus 1-2-3, which was eventually usurped by today’s king of the spreadsheets: Microsoft Excel. Or, as countless frustrated business users have grumbled over the decades, ExHell.

For Excel’s most hardcore users—the legions of finance, accounting and administrative workers who have been toiling on it for decades—Microsoft’s workhorse spreadsheet software can be a godsend; it’s powerful, versatile and simple to use. Yet with those strengths come many headaches: broken links, input errors and the mayhem of managing conflicting versions of files. They’re frustrating and costly problems that Vena Solutions, one of Canada’s fastest-growing tech companies, has set out to fix. “As a canvas, you can use Excel to model pretty much any kind of data you want to plan, forecast and budget,” says Vena CEO Don Mal. “It just falls down when it’s used in a multi-user corporate environment.”

The Freshii boom: Have we hit peak lettuce?


As food fights go, it’s hard to imagine one healthier than the war underway near the bustling downtown Toronto intersection of King and Yonge. It’s a battle of the salad bowls, and the weapons of choice are kale and quinoa.

With all the salad spots packed into this area there are more leafy greens than a farmer’s field. To the north, a Fast Fresh Foods restaurant attempts to lure customers to one of its eight downtown locations with customizable spinach, quinoa and spring mix salads. To the east, B.Good, a Boston-based chain with five spots in the city, counters with its marinated kale, carrot and brussels sprouts power bowls. A nearby iQ Food Co., one of seven in Toronto, pitches a seasonal rotating salad menu to passersby. And if salad fans needed still more options, there’s a Flock Rotisserie + Greens, a Hopscotch, a Kupfert & Kim, a La Prep and a Salad Days, all vying for their healthy-minded dollars.

And it’s not the only front in the salad skirmish. In cities across Canada, healthful fast-casual chains and mom-and-pop shops are squaring off. In Calgary, restaurants like Dirtbelly, a homegrown chain known for its seasonal mix-and-match salads, and Fork and Salad are facing off against Seed N Salt and larger chains like the Chopped Leaf, which was founded in the Okanagan and has more than 30 locations, mostly in the west but in Ontario as well. Meanwhile, in downtown Vancouver, restaurant-goers on a kale quest have a multitude of options, with names like Chop and Toss, SaladLoop, Green Leaf, GreenDay, Leafy Box and Tractor Foods.

But in this avocado arms race, there’s a Goliath among the Davids. Back in Toronto, within a five-minute walk of King and Yonge, there are eight Freshii restaurants beckoning customers with limited-time kale Caesar salads and wraps. Just beyond those, there’s another ring of Freshii restaurants. And just past them. . .well, you get the picture.