‘Keeping it in the Community is our Strength”

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Informal Calgary network addresses core needs of new Canadian women

By: Michelle Strutzenberger

WomenSupportGroupCalgary1920x1280Noreen Mahmood was volunteering at a local nonprofit centre where she works with new Canadians when she caught a vision for the possibilities that an informal women’s group could open up.

Fairly new to Canada herself – she moved from Pakistan in the spring of last year – Noreen had been active at the centre in Calgary’s northeast, helping with translation services.

“I used to wear a headscarf, so women from areas like South Asia . . . used to come and stop by. I looked like them, so they came to me and asked about different things,” Noreen recalls.

“And what I realized is that while they were very skilled women, many had no information about the resources available in the community.”

Having felt it herself, Noreen understood the hesitancy that many of the women felt about approaching professionals such as settlement counsellors or employment counsellors with their questions. Both language and culture differences created anxiety.

With a background in community development, Noreen was also keenly aware of the importance of social capital – and could see that this was a lack.

“So I thought of this informal setting where women can come and benefit from networking and gathering information,” Noreen says.

In October of 2013, the group’s first meeting took place. Four were present.

This fall, the Women Support Group Calgary celebrated its first-year anniversary.

More than 30 women are now engaged with the group.

Looking back, Noreen is energized to see that what she had envisioned for the group has come to fruition in many ways.

“It’s working,” she says.

Women are exchanging contact information so they can connect outside of the group meetings.

The group has identified topics they wish to learn about and then hosted guest speakers. In some cases, those guests have been employment and settlement counsellors. This allows the women to be introduced in the informal group setting. They then feel more confident about following up with the counsellors later.

The group has organized several social gatherings – a picnic in summer and anniversary celebration in October, with families, food and fun included.

“Keeping this within the community is our strength,” Noreen says. “People feel more comfortable, that this is ‘our’ group and we are coming here to participate based on what we need and want.”

She is proud of the group’s inclusive spirit. “If we want to enjoy the diversity of Calgary, we should be collaborating,” she says.

As for the future of the group, Noreen is brimming with ideas and possibilities. She and the group want to have more of a presence in other parts of the city. Currently the network meets in the city’s northeast. A non-profit centre, 1,000 Voices, allows the group to use one of its rooms for free.

But the scenario is not always ideal as the women who live in other parts of the city can sometimes find transportation difficult because of weather conditions, whether or not they have to access to vehicles and the extra time required on public transit. Satellite groups in various neighbourhoods could help address these concerns.

Noreen and the group have also discussed becoming more intentional about blending their gifts and strengths for the greater good of their community. One issue of concern to them is the disturbingly high rate of domestic violence in the city – the highest in the country.

They’re also keen to explore collaborating more with other organized groups.

And if their first year is any indication, those possibilities are most likely to come to life in a great way.


New Scoop is a new Calgary news co-op, using generative journalism to explore and share stories of our thriving city. The pilot phase has received support from Cities for People.

This article was originally written for the New Scoop Calgary news co-op on 25 November 2014. We received permission to re-post.


Michelle Strutzenberger has more than 10 years of experience in Generative Journalism with Axiom News. Her areas of interest include deep community, social-mission business, education that strengthens a sense of hope and possibility, and journalism that helps society create its preferred future.


Click here to read about becoming a New Scoop member and supporter.

You can comment on this story below, or e-mail michelle(at)axiomnews.com.

Two Months, Twenty Cities, One Movement – The Blue Dot Tour

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The David Suzuki Foundation has announced the Blue Dot Tour - a cross-country celebration featuring David Suzuki and a star-studded line up of Canadian performers, artists and leaders.

They are doing this to  promote a simple idea: That all Canadians should have the legally recognized right to drink clean water, breathe fresh air and eat healthy food.

From September 24 to November 9, 2014, David Suzuki and the Blue Dot Tour will take this message on the road. With stops in 20 communities from St. Johns, Newfoundland to Vancouver, B.C., this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed.

As David makes his way across the country, he'll be joined by other Canadian icons who believe that by coming together to take action locally, we can guarantee all Canadians the right to a healthy environment no matter who they are, or where they live.

David says this is the most important thing he’s ever done.  Around the world, more than 110 nations already recognize their citizen's right to live in a healthy environment. Canada is not one of them. But by standing together, The David Suzuki Foundation believes we change that.

Visit www.bluedot.ca for dates, line-ups, and tickets.

For more information, contact the David Suzuki Foundation at 1-800-453-1533


Photo credit: Bluedot.ca

‘At the Centre of Our Moment in History’ – Highlights from the CommonBound Conference

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By: Michael Toye, Executive Director, CCDNET
Cross-Posted from the Canadian Community Economic Development Network blog

You may have seen from some of our 15th anniversary blog posts that the concept and practice of community economic development originated in the United States. 

Although the tools and strategies for creating inclusive and sustainable communities are constantly evolving differently in different places, the values and principles guiding those efforts remain remarkably perennial. 

Those tools and strategies are constantly evolving because CCEDNet members, being a pragmatic bunch, tend to be continually learning, innovating and building on what works to enhance their impact and improve community well being. 

But in recent years, we have increasingly realized that CED alone is not enough to create the inclusive and sustainable communities our members' seek.  We need to be part of a bigger framework for systems change, and a broader coalition to make that happen. 

So it perhaps shouldn't be surprising that when the mainly-US New Economy Coalition (NEC) formed last year, we immediately saw many similarities in vision and a parallel evolution of thinking.  We were pleased when they agreed to accept a Canadian member, and when their President, Bob Massie, came and gave a rousing talk at a reception for CCEDNet members during the Social Enterprise World Forum last fall.  The significance of this connection is reflected in our 2013 Annual Report.

With that background, hopes were high for NEC's first conference and Annual General Meeting that took place over the past weekend in Boston.  The ambitious program included two sessions we had proposed, one by Mike Lewis from the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal on scaling up community economic development to co-operative economic democracy and one by Béatrice Alain from the Chantier de l'économie sociale on the history and success of Québec's social economy.  But those were just 2 of 46 (!) remarkable workshops with something for just about everyone. 

The diversity of perspectives and insights in the plenary panels and workshops was outstanding.  To give just one example, in the opening plenary, Ed Whitfield of the Fund for Democratic Communities went beyond his powerful critique of the 'Teach a Man to Fish' parable to the illustrative 'Teach a Man to Ham Sandwich', drawing on the philosophy and social analysis of James Brown. I encourage you to skim through the program to see the titles of the other plenary sessions and workshops. 

Among the 650 participants, there were a good number of Canadians present, many of whom gathered on the grass outside the main plenary hall for our regional caucus on Saturday afternoon to share resources and ideas.

The opportunity to meet in person so many people I know only by name (and so many others I should) is one of the best parts of these events like this.  I was amazed when on the first day, Clare Goff of New Start Magazine in the UK happened to sit down at my table – after we had first met by phone just a month earlier for an interview

The New Economy Coalition is still in its early stages.  But if the people at this conference are any indication, Bob was exactly right when he described the NEC as a "vast and diverse force for transformation operating at the centre of our moment in history."  We are #CommonBound for a very promising future.

Congratulations especially to the extraordinary NEC staff team who pulled an amazing conference together, and the many others who helped make it happen. 

Our friends at The Extraenvironmentalist were livestreaming the conference, so at some point there should be more video available, but in the meantime check out some tweets for a sense of what happened.

(@NewEconomics, #CommonBound, @CCEDNet_RCDEC)

Why We Should Care About Zoning

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By: Jesse Darling, Evergreen CityWorks, Urban Project Designer

Canadians cities have been shaped by numerous influences. Natural assets such as waterfronts, canals and mountain ranges have always, and will continue, to play a role in molding the urban fabric. Infrastructure such as ports and railways opened up the door to economic development. But above all, zoning and land development has shaped the built form and morphology of Canadian cities.

While the patterns of land development vary throughout Canada, one unifying theme exists: planning has always been altruistic. Planning is an endless pursuit to preserve public good. The desire to improve economic prosperity, the health and quality of life of all city residents are the pillars of city building.

Planning emerged as a profession to combat urban challenges such as the quality of housing, congestion, urban design and zoning. Almost a hundred years later, these issues still resonate in city building conversations. Affordable housing, congestion and public space are the forefront of debate in municipalities across Canada.

Despite its profound role in shaping not only the physicality of a city, but also its character, zoning evades public interest. Zoning is an omnipresent force that holds political, economic, environmental and design-related implications. It is important for city residents to understand the power and influence zoning has on a wide range of municipal issues.

In the 19th century, zoning was predominately used as a tool to protect the economic interests of landowners. Consequently, comprehensive zoning was enforced to ensure neighbourhood stability and to protect land value from the threat of undesirable development. This resulted in entire parcels of land, whether vacant or pursuing development, to become pre-zoned. Cities remain constrained by these zones today. But, why does this matter?

While the intention of zoning is to take public safety, environmental preservation, community aesthetics and economic development into consideration, most of the time, zoning limits the potential of a place. One of the best examples of this is within Toronto's inner suburbs. Despite being neighbourhoods with high density and diversity, zoning bylaws have prohibited tower block apartment buildings from having farmer's markets, public health services or day care on site. These archaic laws have stunted the growth and potential of these communities.

Mixed-use development is an integral part to building sustainable, vibrant neighborhoods. Having healthy food options, public transit, parks and community centres within walking distance of residential areas are essential for the economic, environmental and social longevity of Canadian cities. While some cities have taken prudent steps to reform restrictive zoning, there is more work to be done.

By allowing different types of zoning to work simultaneously, it encourages strong development around transit routes, reduces reliance on the personal automobile and maintains the vibrancy and safety of communities. Strategic zoning can act as a source of municipal innovation and serve as a mechanism to introduce novel planning ideas to the city landscape. The challenges of our urban regions are interrelated and complex. Creating flexibility in the laws that determine their built form and character will create more creative, interesting and meaningful places.

Civic urbanity & Cities for People

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By Charles Landry

Ten themes shape the dilemmas, challenges and opportunities for the 21st century city. Each has relevance to how we live and shape our places. They provide an urban narrative I call civic urbanity that seeks to contain the explosive mix of centrifugal and centripetal forces we increasingly find in cities. It fits the spirit of the Cities for People initiative well.

Urbanity and being urbane has a proud history. It is important to rethink and recapture its best features for the 21st century. The tradition of urbanity is by origin European and it focuses both on ‘the right to the city’ and ‘responsibility for the city’.

Urbanity, as we understand it, first arose in the Italian city states, especially during the Renaissance, and it then marked the movement towards meritocracy and freeing individuals from the yoke of feudalism. The German phrase ‘Stadtluft macht frei’ (city air makes you free) encapsulates this idea. In time though the notion of urbanity degraded ending with the idea of the flâneur, someone who watches urban life go by, but uncommitted to the needs of the collective whole.

Ten interlinked concepts can reshape how we can rethink urbanity:

  1. Holistic thinking
  2. Planning and acting
  3. The shared commons
  4. Eco-consciousness
  5. Healthy urban planning
  6. Cultural literacy
  7. Inclusivity
  8. Inter-generational equity
  9. The aesthetic imperative
  10. Creative city making and an invigorated democracy.

Together they frame the modern idea of civic urbanity. This idea seeks to realign individual desires and self-interest within a collective consciousness focused as much on responsibilities for ‘us’ or ‘our joint world or city’ rather than choices that are only for ‘me’ and my more selfish needs.

Ten themes

The starting point is to think in an integrated and connected way. Only then can we discern the linkages and dependencies that help us understand the deeper dynamics of cities and how to make the most of our potential. This requires a changed mindset and is difficult to prescribe. Yet increasingly decision makers realize that silo thinking and strict departmentalism does not offer the complex solutions we need.

Next there is a demand for a reinvigorated public and shared commons. This ethos argues against our increasingly self-centred public culture. It fosters amongst other things spaces and places from parks to libraries that are free, non-commercial and public and where citizens can express themselves in creative ways as the Cities for People projects try to do. Places underpinned by this ethos can help retrofit conviviality and the habits of solidarity so helping to nurture our capacity to bond and build social capital.

All cities talk of sustainability. Every vision statement mentions combating the effect of climate change. Taking a helicopter view of cities worldwide there are many good initiatives. Yet few cities make the hard planning choices to counteract an economic dynamic, spatial configurations and physical forms that continue to make cities unsustainable. Canadian cities are trying to embed a sense of eco-consciousness. This means building in ‘cradle to cradle’ thinking and new smart technologies. This can become an economic development tool as it speeds up the move towards a clean, lean, green industrial revolution.


We know about unhealthy urban planning. Rigid ‘land use zoning’, which separates functions and gets rid of mixed uses which blend living, working, retail and entertainment. ‘Comprehensive development’ that does initiatives in one big hit often losing out on providing fine grain, diversity and variety is another.  They are joined by ‘economies of scale’ thinking with its tendency to think that only the big is efficient  and lastly the ‘inevitability of the car’ which can lead us to plan as if the car were king and people a mere nuisance.

Mixed uses are coming back forcefully as living, working and playing in the same place becomes the norm again. Seamless connectivity will be key as will walkable cities which give you time and space to experience the city and become healthy by going about your day-to-day business.

Canadian cities are melting pots and seen as a model for addressing diversity, which helps economic growth in the longer term, but absorbing differences will continue to create stresses. Cultural literacy, an understanding of others, helps us negotiate difference, understand better the sources of agreement and dissent. Seeing the world through the eyes of others gives us greater competence in navigating today’s urban world.

Being intercultural and focusing on what we share rather than what divides us will be key as will avoiding housing ghettoes and gated communities. But market pressures will continue to push cities in the wrong direction.

Magnetic cities are increasingly unequal with the divides between rich and poor growing. This creates tension, resentment and leads to unfulfilled potential and even urban rioting. Places with haves and have-nots do not harness the collective imagination and intelligence of citizens nor capture their energy and aspirations. To avoid the negative consequences clever cities will demand greater equality and inclusiveness. It makes both social and economic sense.

The demographic time bomb hangs over everything cities do. There will be pressure to isolate the ageing population into retirement zones with housing adapted to their needs. More innovative places will seek to think through city making from an inter-generational perspective and develop adaptable housing forms that can be transformed through the lifecycle.

The aesthetic imperative reminds us that the city is a 360° immersive experience and it communicates through every fibre of its being; its built structures, its natural forms, its activities and overall atmosphere. Its aesthetics engender an emotional response with psychological impacts. Thus old fashioned words like beauty and ugliness will re-enter the planning debate.

The escalating complexities cities face cannot be solved by a business as usual approach. Imagination and creativity are the pre-conditions to solve the future intractable urban problems and to create interesting opportunities. Unleashing the creativity of citizens, organizations and the city is an empowering process. It harnesses potential and is a new form of capital and a currency. This approach lies at the core of what Cities for People seeks to do.

This reminds us finally that most things have been reinvented - how we do business or how we entertain ourselves. Technology has moved in gigantic leaps. Yet our forms of representative democracy, organization and management have remained largely the same for hundreds of years. This is why civic engagement has atrophied. The future cities will need to reignite the civic spirit by exploring new ways of communicating with citizens, by rethinking the regulations and incentives regime and by empowering civil servants to give of their best.

Yet this requires a new type of administration –a creative bureaucracy. This will be radically different from the target driven, efficiency and effectiveness paradigm associated with the late 20th century and being resourceful, strategically agile, responsive and imaginative will lie at its core.

Charles Landry has written many books about cities including The Creative City: A toolkit for urban innovators and The Art of City Making. See www.charleslandry.com

The democracy of livability and resilience

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By Mary W. Rowe

The challenge to building urban livability and resilience is truly a global one. By 2050, 7 out of 10 people around the world will live in cities, reaching 6.4 billion, double what it was only four years ago. Of that, more than half will reside in cities of more than 10 million people. In many parts of the world livability is seriously challenged: by the absence of good planning, the inadequate provision of basic amenities, and resource constraints. In order to generate the economic and social innovations that drive the global economy, sustain modern civilization and the planet, the world’s most intense and dynamic cities must become simultaneously more resilient and more livable.

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) is a century-old advocacy organization concerned with the role of the physical city, specifically how it is planned, designed and managed –– in ensuring a livable city for all New Yorkers. In 2010 MAS began integrating resilience outcomes with this long-time focus on livability.

We observed that urban advocacy, much like municipal government departments, had become strictly siloed, isolating resilience to the purviews of engineers and scientists, and livability to advocates for culture and economic development. The need for shared approaches that benefit both has become an imperative for 21st century city-building, a movement that increasingly includes urbanists from every profession and walk of life who are engaged in place- making and problem-solving right outside their workplaces and front doors.

Further, granular hyper-local efforts to make urban neighbourhoods more livable and resilient are often over- looked by public bureaucrats and institutional investors looking for simple, one-size-fits-all solutions. But large-scale, unitary approaches are costly, very slow to approve, and are not fool- proof. And in fact, they may often crowd out more modest but equally effective hyper-local approaches that can be designed and adjusted quickly, easily adapted to local conditions, engage local communities directly, spawn spin-off innovations and generate a myriad of local economic, social and environmental benefits.

Truly livable and resilient cities are a mix of large-scale systems, which enable the city to function ‘at scale’, and granular innovations, that underpin those systems and ensure the city continues to adapt and thrive. Whether in cities where systems are intact, or in those where an absence of planning or investment has obstructed the creation of systems, the most effective and imaginative livability and resilience approaches emerge from ‘the local’.

People who live and work in neighbourhoods ultimately know best the opportunities and constraints that are present there. And while government, institutions and the private sector may seek and promote large-scale solutions, often local artists, entrepreneurs and activists are better equipped to respond nimbly and imaginatively, developing innovations quickly that can later be ‘scaled up’.

Democratizing the urban innovation process is one of the fundamental shifts taking place globally, shaping contemporary urban life everywhere. Tech entrepreneurs, street vendors, public health practitioners, urban farmers: urban innovators are emerging from all sectors of city life to create products, services and approaches that make our lives safer, more productive and enjoyable.

Engagement between government and a robust sector of civil society participants – drawn from the community, local businesses, artists and creative entrepreneurs, academia and other local institutions – is required to ensure that local responses to pressing challenges can be developed and applied. This is as true for the artisanal food producer working in Harlem, as it is for the technology entrepreneur in Mumbai: their global cities provide them with the opportunities to develop, test, market and apply their innovative product or process.

By increasing community capacity and providing a forum for the proliferation of ideas and innovations, cities can begin to build resilience and livability from the ground up.

Mary W. Rowe is the Director of Urban Resilience and Livability at The Municipal Art Society of New York. Connect with her on Twitter @Rowemw

Canada Sharing Economy Roadshow: April Rinne in Toronto

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April Rinne recently participated in a cross-country tour of Canada promoting Shareable Cities, speaking in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. The tour was co-hosted by Social Innovation Generation (SIG) and Cities for People, a new innovation platform that aims to create more resilient and livable cities, with support from The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

photo-2-300x300A key theme throughout the tour was “connecting the dots,” specifically, how cities connect the expertise, resources and assets between government, citizens, entrepreneurs and companies to create a shareable city.

At April’s Toronto pitstop on February 11, she started the day with a workshop attended by city leaders in municipal government, economic and social development and urban planning. Municipal support is crucial for taxation, insurance and other regulatory policy reform which can help sharing systems flourish.

In the afternoon, April attended an ideation session with entrepreneurs, key leaders and enthusiasts in the Toronto sharing economy. Attendees included the Toronto Tool Library, Trade School Toronto, Etsy Canada, and Repair Café Toronto. The goal of this session was to discuss next steps for an expanding Toronto network, one that aims to raise awareness about collaborative consumption to everyday Torontonians.

April’s evening presentation to the public focused on defining the collaborative economy, highlighting examples of cross-sector collaboration and reiterating the importance of connecting the dots. April charismatically described a pair of goggles that would allow us to see idle assets in a city, whether they exist in government, a household or in a company’s supply chain. It’s important that cities unlock the wealth in these assets, which create an abundance of resources that can provide lots of public benefit to citizens.

At one point in April’s lecture, she mentions that Mayor Park Won-Soon of Seoul, South Korea sees a city as a laboratory to hatch ideas and incubate projects, which is the perfect way to describe the task at hand for cities now. Cities need to determine what platforms resonate with the needs of their citizens and create pilot programs and start taking action. In doing so, they can create an enabling environment to make sharing more mainstream and transform their local communities.

Read about the Vancouver public event here.

Read the blog post "The Sharing Economy: it's more than we think" here

Watch April Rinne’s full presentation:

Video credit: The Collaborative Economy: How sharing is powering a sustainable future – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Credit: Collaborative Lab; posted in Perspectives Videos on by Lucy Gao, Global Curator Team, Canada - twitter