Jayne Engle, Cities for People Jayne Engle, Cities for People

In cities across Canada, people and organizations are finding ways to address complex challenges and creatively shape the future of their communities. They are greening neighbourhoods while producing local food, creating social enterprises to reduce poverty, mentoring immigrants and helping them integrate into their new communities, and using community arts and sports to mobilize and celebrate civic participation.

While so many innovative initiatives are cropping up on the local level, there are currently few platforms for sharing experiences and climbing the learning curve together. That’s where Cities for People comes in. This self-styled “experiment” in urban innovation, headquartered in Montréal, will promote community resilience across Canada by raising awareness about and building connections among promising initiatives. Jayne Engle is the national curator of Cities for People.

A\J: What is community resilience?
Jayne Engle: It means strengthening a community’s adaptive and transformative capacity so that it can respond more creatively and effectively to challenges such as growing social inequality, shifting demographics, climate instability, energy scarcity and anything else a rapidly changing planet can throw at it.

What is the main goal of Cities for People?
We’re looking to contribute to movements to build better cities through strengthening urban innovation networks and experimenting with new forms of collaboration. We’ll link up existing initiatives to see if they can add up to something greater than the sum of their parts. We’re approaching this in a decentralized way by building a network of ‘curators’ across the country, with each one responsible for organizing the discussion on a specific theme: new economies, civic engagement, art and society, and cityscapes.

How does this initiative fit into the existing ecosystem of community sustainability initiatives in Canada?
Leaders of local initiatives see the potential benefit of learning about and linking up with other groups and complementary causes – to reach across the silos, so to speak. Cities for People is providing an open platform for groups to learn about promising approaches piloted in Canadian cities and elsewhere and to test them in their own milieu.  

What kind of activities are involved? 
We carried out a four-city tour on the ‘collaborative economy’ to raise the profile and contribute to policy discussions around this growing sector. Through our website we invite people to connect with our curators and other groups by sharing stories about their projects, reading our blogs and getting involved. We’ll soon launch a video competition on how to make cities better and we’ll support pop-up urbanism projects during car-free day in September. We’ll also bring the urban resilience discussion to a higher level through conferences, workshops and other events. Finally, our curator organizations are supporting a range of demonstration projects on the ground.

Ray Tomalty is principal of Smart Cities Research, a Montréal consulting firm that specializes in issues related to urban sustainability. He is also an adjunct professor at the School of Urban Planning at McGill University, an A\J editorial board member and a regular contributor to the magazine.

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