Eager A\J interns (and aspiring urban planners) attended Arriscraft Lecture Series at the School of Architecture at Waterloo along with students and other community members to listen to Toronto’s newly minted chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, discuss the best practices in city building and why urbanism truly matters.

Keesmaat has already established herself as someone who likes to colour outside the lines – fitting this year’s series theme, architecture outside the lines. She was quick to state, in a sea of future architects, that it’s the pedestrians that matter and not so much the buildings when it comes to planning cities. “The underpinning of great urbanism is walking,” she explained.

Conveying a sense of urgency, she stated that Canadian cities have largely failed at urbanism. This is shown by the excess of “anywhere streets”- nondescript urban spaces made for one use and one mode of transportation only.

This is at odds with the trend of Generation Y flocking to Toronto’s downtown core. People are willing to forfeit a two-car garage for active transportation options and close amenities. Keesmaat explained, “mowing the lawn on Sundays is out”, in reference to TD’s recent report, Toronto: A Return to the Core.

Keesmaat proceeded to lay out critical success factors when planning for great urbanism:

  • Sustain a dialogue with the community
  • Use tools that embrace the myriad of constituencies
  • Become communication savvy
  • Embrace complexity
  • Work with likely and unlikely bedfellows
  • Identify and nurture champions
  • Always consider the region
  • Plan for the neighbourhood

Her experience with developing the municipal strategic plan Our Future Mississauga shows that communities consider the environment paramount to liveability. As a result, greenbelts and preserving natural spaces are an essential part of viable urbanism.

It was inspiring to see the great orator in action. The most valuable insight of the evening was that our cities are not beyond repair; they are only incomplete. We can still fill these spaces with places that matter. We just need to decide what legacy we want to leave behind and find a way forward.

Watch the video of Keesmaat’s TEDxRegina talk on the importance of walking to school. You can also read her blog, Own Your City.

Julie is a full-time editorial intern at A\J. As a recent UW graduate with a double major in ERS and Geography & Environmental Management she is looking to promote active modes of transportation and other sustainable urban planning practices.

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Author Information

Julie Bélanger

Julie is A\J's Academic Coordinator. She is looking forward to learning more about sustainable transportation through her graduate work in urban planning at UW this fall.

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