Neighborhood Planning for Resilient and Livable Cities, Part 2: Can ‘Nested’ Neighborhood Planning Lead to Urban Ecological Democracy?

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Jayne Engle, Montreal.  Nik Luka, Montreal.

This is the second blog post in a series on Neighborhood Planning for Resilient and Livable Cities. See here for Part 1. Originally written for The Nature of Cities on March 18, 2015, this is a condensed version by Sarah Bradley.

When we talk about citizen engagement and planning grounded in local communities, the question of the feasibility and value of neighbourhood planning often arises. This blog post centres on that very question: Is neighbourhood planning worth doing? Relatedly, does planning at the neighbourhood scale have the potential to improve community resilience? How can it be inclusive when by its very nature both its terrain and population are defined by physical boundaries?

Based on concerns about exclusionary aspects of working within neighbourhoods, the authors propose that neighborhood planning is worth doing if it can transcend boundaries to result in better outcomes for the city as a whole. This ‘nested’ neighborhood planning has four components: (1) social innovation, (2) community-development practice integrated with theory, often termed ‘praxis’, (3) neighborhoods without borders, and (4) a vision of ecological democracy. This normative framework is meant to outline what ought to be done, based on both academic literature and practical experience with neighbourhood-level activity. This framework is based on multiple modes of integration: across scales, domains, and value systems.

The four elements of ‘nested’ neighbourhood planning:

1. Social innovation

In the context of planning, social innovation generally refers to (i) action: connecting bottom-up planning initiatives to effect changes in governance and (ii) ideas: providing new meanings, so that it can play an active role in debates of politics and social science. A useful text to help us understand the dynamics of social innovation at the neighbourhood scale is a collection edited by Moulaert et al. (2010) titled Can Neighbourhoods Save the City? Community development and social innovation. By reviewing case studies from 10 European cities, the editors find that ‘socially innovative neighbourhood initiatives’ share three objectives:

  • to satisfy human needs which are unmet by the state and markets;
  • to provide access rights which enhance human capabilities and are empowering to people and social processes; and
  • to change social relations and power structures in order to make governance inclusive.

Across these examples, civil-society organisations (CSOs) that work both within and between neighbourhoods act as catalysts of socially innovative neighbourhood initiatives . In other words, they both strengthen neighbourhoods’ capacity to effect change and connect this locally-grounded work to the political realm in which larger decisions are made. This ‘glocal’ perspective may be the key to negotiating solutions across different spatial scales, which itself is a key to building resilient and livable cities.

In our own work, we have found another reason why socially innovative organizations are poised to contribute to resilient and livable cities through neighborhood-based planning: the expectations-motivation differentialThis refers to a dichotomy: it is often in the (rational) interest of City governments to keep the expectations of city residents low, whereas progressive civil-society organizations who carry out urban planning seek to ‘raise the bar’ by inspiring people to have higher expectations for their cities and bring about change at the local scale. When city residents feel empowered to plan for change and understand that ‘a different city is possible’, they are more likely to take part in collective action for social change, thereby contributing to creating a more resilient and livable city.

Photo1_city_mined (1)

City Mine(d) and its urban pop-up projects in Brussels, London, and Barcelona provide an example of ‘glocal’ action, as an international network of individuals and collectives involved with city and local action. (

2. The praxis of community development

The word praxis refers to the practical application of theory or knowledge. In the case of community development, praxis can be defined as thoughtfully designing, continually learning from, and creatively acting on processes of collective engagement associated with neighborhood planning. Related to the above notion of the expectations-motivation differential, engagement processes must be designed to foster continuous social leaning so that both government and citizens are implicated in an ongoing, cyclical practice. We draw on several bodies of literature including collaborative and participatory planning, community development, education and social science, particularly in the idea of ‘phronesis’ or ‘practice-based wisdom’, which informs the collective endeavor of making sense of the world and our own actions in order to transform it. When people are encouraged to use both broader theory and their own knowledge and lived experienced to mobilize their skills and work cooperatively to use community assets in new ways, they can not only act more effectively, but also contribute to theories of collaboration:

Those who engage in collaboration build their capacity and intuition about how to proceed, while at the same time building theory about when and how collaboration can work. (Innes & Booher, 2010, 89)

Thus, they can collectively work to shift balances in relationships of power in order to work toward social justice, empowerment, and liberation.


Playscapes are ‘natural playgrounds’ designed by kids and landscape architects at Groundwork UK. They provide great neighborhood spaces for creative urban explorations. (Groundwork UK Playscape project)

3. Neighbourhoods without borders

Neighbourhood planning has traditionally involved defining boundaries within which to work, using geographic features, human-made elements, or a combination of both. This definition has been used by planners to make neighborhoods ‘legible’ and to provide distinct, easily-recognized character – Clarence Perry’s classic (and infamous) ‘neighbourhood unit’ being an example. However, like any attempt to conceptualize space as disconnected from its surroundings, there are problems with assigning borders to space that is fluid by nature: what happens when we ignore the adjacencies and in-between spaces? Our proposition of ‘neighborhoods without borders’ challenges the conventional wisdom of neighborhood planning in North America and instead we argue that neighborhoods should be defined to encompass not only a range of activities, including housing, businesses, and community services, but also the public spaces of arterial and commercial streets often relegated to the margins. By conceiving of neighbourhoods as nested or overlapping, we can integrate planning for edge or liminal spaces that traverse neighbourhoods without being conceptualized as part of them, such as arterial roads.


The conventional 20th-century ‘superblock’ configuration should give way to a more integrated pattern of neighborhoods without boundaries. (Nik Luka)

We need to better understand how ‘in-between zones’ like arterials interact with more commonly understood parts of a neighbourhood, like dwellings and parks. Given that that the largest share of public space in cities is occupied by streets, and that as urban dwellers our daily movements often centre in these places, there is transformative potential in streets – showcased by recent efforts by cities across the world to activate streets through pop-up business, public art, ciclovías, and other tactical urbanism projects.


Streets in Letchworth Garden City have extra wide sidewalks and shared space for community events. (Jayne Engle)

4. A vision of holistic ecological democracy

Planning for resilient and livable cities must go beyond physical attributes: without mechanisms for the democratic engagement of citizens at the neighborhood scale to create better cities, no combination of good policies and planning will make a difference. For this reason, neighborhood plans should contain a practical utopian vision – with ambitious solutions to practical problems, such as traffic congestion and the lack of affordable housing - for the neighborhood that is rooted in the larger city. This vision is then translated into medium-term policies and programs but also actions that can be taken on a short-term time frame.

A holistic vision for a resilient and livable city is one of integral neighborhoods – neighbourhoods that represent microcosms of the city – within an ecological democracy (urban ecology that is integrated with participatory democracy). This combination of (i) building an understanding of natural processes and social relationships into decision-making about the urban environment and (ii) creating pathways for hands-on involvement in the democratic process enables an adaptive, flexible form of planning that allows for continuous reassessment of assets, values, and needs in a particular community.

“Ecological democracy can change the form that our cities take, creating a new urban ecology. In turn, the form of our cities, from the shape of regional watersheds to a bench at a post office, can help build ecological democracy.” (Hester, 2006, pp?)


Rather than being a traffic sewer, a major street can act as a seam with stacked functions and a mix of activities suitable for the neighborhoods through which it passes. (Nik Luka)

Going back to the matter of scale, how does neighbourhood planning facilitate this ecological democracy? It is in our micro-scale, everyday interactions – with people, places, and processes – that we become implicated in social change. Drawing on the work of Erik Olin Wright, who wrote Envisioning Real Utopias in 2010, we find that generally change starts with small transformations that contribute cumulatively to a shift in the logic and dynamics of larger social systems that transcend place boundaries. In the case of neighbourhood planning, these shifts occur in the space where civil society and the state intersect – where grassroots (bottom-up) and grasstops (top-down) actors have the opportunity to find common understandings and goals (or not!). The way in which this space can facilitate social transformation depends on context. However, establishing this engagement at the neighbourhood level is a starting point from which to co-define and therefore co-design the physical and social spaces that make the overlapping building blocks of cities.


Stay tuned for Part 3 of Neighborhood Planning for Resilient and Livable Cities on The Nature of Cities, in which the authors will explore the success of a Montréal civil-society organization that undertook neighborhood planning and what we can learn from this experience for making better cities around the world.

VIDEO: SIRC Webinar #3 on Vertical Resilience & Community Renewal

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On Tuesday, December 9, Cities for People and Social Innovation Generation (SiG) co-hosted the second webinar in our joint series, Social Innovation & Resilience in Cities with Graeme Stewart and John Brodhead, who presented their work on the Tower Renewal  project in Toronto. 

Tower Renewal is a program to drive broad environmental, social, economic, and cultural change by improving Toronto’s concrete apartment towers and the neighbourhoods that surround them. Their vision is to work with residents to reinvigorate these important neighbourhoods, making them more liveable and energy efficient, while bringing new community amenities to the sites.

Watch the recording here:

SIRC webinar #3: Vertical Resilience & Community Renewal from J.W. McConnell Family Foundation on Vimeo.

VIDEO: SIRC Webinar #2 on 100in1Day and Active Citizenship

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On Tuesday, October 28, 2014, Cities for People and Social Innovation Generation (SiG) co-hosted the second webinar in our joint series, Social Innovation & Resilience in Cities with Juan Carlos and Cédric Jamet, core organizers who launched the 100in1Day movement in Canada.

In this interactive webinar, our guests tell the story of the 100in1Day movement and invited participants to reflect on the question: "What do you want for your city?" At the heart of 100in1Day is active citizenship, which means going beyond voting and complaining to living consciously and embracing our own power as everyday urban citizens.

Join us in exploring the practice of active citizenship and finding your own personal connection to place and community. Dare to step out of your personal bubble and into the commons.

Watch the recording here:

SIRC webinar #2: 100in1Day and Active Citizenship from J.W. McConnell Family Foundation on Vimeo.


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An interview with Gina Badger, the final editor of FUSE Magazine (1976-2014)
by cheyanne turions

In death, rebirth. Or so the colloquial sentiment goes. Nutrient recycling. Recovery. Surrender. Ecologically, this process is known as succession and it can be thought of as a map of sorts, describing the four phases through which ecosystems pass: rapid growth, conservation, release, and reorganization. Trajectories unfurl at different paces for different scales, and the phases need not always be sequential, but what is sometimes termed “creative destruction” refers to the release phase of the cycle of succession, describing “the disturbances that periodically punctuate the adaptive cycle. It breaks down stability and predictability but releases resources for innovation and reorganization.”[1] A familiar example is the restorative function of forests fires—what looks to be destruction in one moment can actually create a fertile zone for life cycles to continue.

In the face of austerity politics and the ongoing concentrations of wealth that characterize late capitalism, ecological examples of resilience are popular. And yet, plant, animal, and environmental actors—like rain, phosphorus, or wind—are not quite the same as human actors, who are capable of reason and can act empathetically.

This summer, after nearly forty years of production, the Canadian art periodical FUSE Magazine ceased publication. In an ecology of publication in the country, the loss is significant. Its final editor was Gina Badger, an artist, writer, and editor deeply engaged in the intersection of art and politics. During the three years of her tenure, the sensitivity of her thinking and the fury of her resolve could be read in her work on the development of the States of Postcoloniality series, which was later re-considered as States of Coloniality; a redesign of the magazine that productively pushed at the aesthetic understandings of what a newsstand periodical looks like; and a constant re-imagining of how to run an intellectually rigorous and politically provocative magazine with fewer and fewer resources. The existence of FUSE, to me, has always been a happy miracle. I register its cessation of publication as a small tragedy, but perhaps the end of FUSE has the potential to focus people’s attention on what they found valuable about the magazine and to feel a responsibility for shepherding the spirit of that project into the future. Perhaps this is where the “creative” potential of the “destruction” comes into focus. Its demise displaces the energy of running the magazine onto the people who recognize the value of FUSE’s activities. This conversation with Badger is my own first step.

What was FUSE? How do you understand its cultural value?

FUSE changed significantly, filling many different roles over its 37 years. That’s what a resilient organization does; it’s agile. I think the heart of FUSE’s mandate has always been to serve as a movement-building tool, though this certainly wasn’t always explicit. From the beginning, its editors positioned the magazine between people invested in social change at a grassroots level and people who create culture. I say “culture” and not “art” deliberately because for the first couple of decades at least, the magazine’s emphasis was equally on the visual and performing arts (theatre, film, music). FUSE’s specialization in the expanded field of visual arts is relatively recent.

As far as the magazine’s leftist political orientation goes, that’s another thing that’s never been precisely defined; its content has consistently demonstrated a commitment to feminist, pro-labour, anti-racist, and anti-colonial politics. And it’s always been a venue for critical analysis of public policies and funding. That positioning between activism and cultural production is what made FUSE uniquely valuable on the Canadian art scene. I consider this to be an important niche because of historical and present-day tensions between front-line organizers and people working in the arts, who share concerns and motivations, but who can’t always speak the same language in terms of tactics and strategies. Making connections is a hard job, but when I look at a project like FUSE, that is the potential I see and the reason for the magazine to exist. At its best, that’s what happened.

The baseline of this was simply addressing both audiences [cultural workers and activists] with the magazine’s content and distribution, but there were also more interactive ways for it to play out. During my tenure at FUSE, there were opportunities for extended exchange between an explicitly political event and an art world publication—for instance, when we partnered with Israeli Apartheid Week and launched our “Palestine–Palestine” issue at their opening event. Eventually, a year and half after its publication, during the 2014 siege on Gaza, we were able to contribute to a Palestine House fundraiser to support Gazans by building a small campaign around that issue. Other times, it didn’t work at all, which was frustrating for everyone. I think the point is to keep trying to get there, because you always build relationships in the process.

Is there something about the form of the magazine that lent itself to accomplishing these goals?

Ideally, a magazine is good for that kind of bridge-building because it is a space, not-quite-virtual and not-quite-physical, that can be simultaneously inhabited by people who wouldn’t normally be in a room together or who might have a hard time working together. One of the things that I tried to do as an editor to facilitate cohabitation was through the redevelopment of the historical “Short FUSE” section of the magazine. In the 1990s, Short FUSEs were little political rants at the back of the magazine. When I reintroduced them in 2011, I curated a collection of three or four texts and placed them up front so that they could serve as an introduction linking the theme of the magazine to current events. Each short FUSE was a contained news report or response to a specific event, and I often commissioned folks from outside the art world. For instance, we had a series of short reports on the Occupy Movement, when it was first gaining speed, critically reflecting upon the relationship of the movement’s rhetoric to colonialism. The rest of magazine was full of artworks and writing by art historians and art critics. In terms of immediate audience, this ensured that the magazine would end up in the homes of diverse contributors, accessible to everyone around them. And this is the thing about a magazine that is particular: it is a thing—it lays around, it’s portable, it gets left in a place as mundane as a dentist’s office or someone’s bedroom, and people encounter it by chance. I like to imagine FUSE being in the bathroom of an organizer, whose roommate is grumpy about art but who picks up the magazine and reads it, and can see that there are interesting ideas bouncing back and forth between these different ways of working. We interact with a paper magazine differently than an online publication because the content all comes together. It’s a collection of visual materials and written words that appear as a unit. Putting those things together is a deliberate intervention.

In the end, what was it that led to the demise of FUSE? Was it purely a financial consideration? Given that so much of the fiscal support for FUSE came from arts councils, do you think there is something shifting in the peer review process that is disconnecting the value of the activities that FUSE undertook from the medium of the magazine?

It’s so hard for me to say whether the peer review process is shifting; I have not ever sat on a jury, and the process just isn’t that transparent. What I do know anecdotally and subjectively from my position in art publishing in Canada right now is that there are a number of publications that are suffering, not specifically because they have a political mandate, but because their staff are trying to think creatively about their medium so that they can survive frozen budgets, decreased staff hours, et cetera. This means that their outputs are changing so that they don’t necessarily fit within the established funding streams anymore.

There are definitely issues with self-censorship in moments of austerity, where organizations become afraid of producing risky content because they just can’t afford to take any chances with funding. And we’re not only talking about a political risk—like publishing an issue called “Palestine–Palestine”—we’re talking about design risks, such as producing a magazine that doesn’t look like a commercial magazine. This latter issue was the most problematic for FUSE recently. We were moderately experimental in terms of cover design and typography and it is outrageous to me that this is even a thing, but based on the comments that I’ve seen from juries, it is. As far as I can tell, there was not a fair or measured comparison of FUSE’s mandate to its output; success was rather measured in its ability to perform like a commercial magazine in all senses of the word: numbers of subscribers, newsstand sales, the way the cover of the magazine looked. The fact is that FUSE was process and community driven, and experimentation was a priority. And those are things that caused problems during my tenure.

The explanation for FUSE’s demise is both complicated and banal. In these cases it’s never one thing or event, it’s a long process. Certainly, its closure was strongly foreshadowed by the policies of several granting bodies. One of FUSE’s major grants disappeared in 2010 when Heritage Canada changed its eligibility requirements for operating funding for periodicals; this represented a $30,000 loss. This happened just before I was hired and that’s the type of gap that very few organizations can successfully make up in a short amount of time. Instead, they just figure out how to make do with less. What happens to an organization that is chronically under-resourced is not unlike what happens to individuals who are personally under-resourced. It impacts their ability to make long-term strategic decisions because they are constantly in crisis management mode. It makes it really hard to do things that are otherwise normal for organizations to do, like have a healthy, regular fundraising program.

To be totally clear, the decision to cease publication of the magazine was directly related to a lack of financial resources.


At a certain point, it became clear that ceasing publication was the only option left. Cutbacks were no longer possible because so many expenses had already been eliminated over the years. FUSE had already given up its storage space. Staff had taken over for the cleaning service, bike-couriered our grant applications ourselves, and had arranged for another organization to share our office. FUSE had literally cut down every possible overhead expense, just short of not paying people. And because of the granting structure, it’s not possible for a publication to cut back on its production. In general, publications that are trying to be creative about what they produce and how they produce it are more than happy to change the paper they print on, or publish more content online, but they are hamstrung because that can result in a drastic reduction of funding.

What do you think is at stake for the Canadian arts community in a general sense considering the role that FUSE played in the country’s artistic discourse?

Cynically, I know that artists and writers will always do the work, whether we are going to be paid or not. We might produce less or it might be less flamboyant, but as long as artists are breathing, we will be doing our work. But someone is going to make money off of it and it’s usually not the artist. Truthfully, is Canada losing the only place where people can talk about art and politics in this way? Obviously not. But it is losing one of the only places where you can get paid to do that. Because of frozen budgets, the amount that one would get paid to write at FUSE was stuck at $0.12/word forever, which is, at most, 50% of publishing industry standard. It’s a miserable pay rate, but it is a paid writing gig, which is extremely uncommon these days. The public funding model is not functioning well. Are artists and their organizations the entities that should suffer? No. But that is the consequence. Those are the people whose livelihoods are directly affected by this problem. In this sense, losing FUSE is a symptom of the scarcity of good, paid work for artists and writers.

As far as these death and rebirth metaphors go, I definitely think it is dangerous to compare the economy to nature. I feel I need to disclaim that I am not a purist about nature; I do not think that humans are separate from nature. But they just don’t operate the same way, so I think that ecological metaphors are inappropriate for the changes we’re seeing in the publicly-funded arts sector. The fact that people are losing jobs right now and that living wages are scarce is not a feature of the natural environment. This situation is created by our governments’ conservative policies that redistribute wealth to the benefit of corporate CEOs, banks, and mining companies. Maybe these metaphors make us feel better, like it is inevitable for us to lose the institutions we’ve lovingly built over the years, or it’s inevitable that we’ll be forced to work for less, but I think it’s a little bit dangerous to justify it to ourselves in that way. It obscures the political reality, which is that in this economy we don’t matter unless we’re attracting tourists or enhancing the profile of corporations; we’re just a liability that someone’s waiting to de-fund.

I don’t think that waged labour is the best model for human life to work on, but that’s what we have. So we need it, waged labour. We cannot live without it in this reality.

This interview was conducted on 08 August 2014.

Gina Badger no longer works for FUSE Magazine and statements in this interview represent her individual opinions only, not those of FUSE, its former staff, or its board.

Lead image: Never Lose It (Part 5) from FUSE Magazine

[1] Brian Walker and David Salt, Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World (United States of America: Island Press), 75.

Voices of New Economies: Sean Geobey

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This blog is part of the 'Voices of New Economies' series within Cities for People - an experiment in advancing the movement toward urban resilience and livability through connecting innovation networks. This Voices series is collectively curated by One Earth and The Canadian CED Network. We are launching Voices of New Economies as part of New Economy Week 2014, hosted by the New Economy Coalition. Throughout this week, a series of 5 questions guide our exploration of what it would take to build the economy we need - one that works for people, place, and planet.

Today’s Voices story responds to the fifth and final question in the New Economy Week series: How can we support neighborhoods, cities, towns, and regions as the fertile ground for the kind of economy we need?

Voices of New Economies - An Interview with Sean Geobey

By Nabeel Ahmed

When Sean Geobey was in university, he helped start up a community capacity building nonprofit. It introduced him to the challenges of how social service organizations financed their work, a question Voices_Sean Goebey_Piche has grappled with in his doctoral research at the University of Waterloo and the Waterloo Institute of Social Innovation and Resilience. His work on social finance looks at alternative funding models and how they can transform the social sector, private markets, and governments that encourage more inclusive, democratic, and real-wealth creating activities.

For Sean, real wealth comes from the things that allow us to better express ourselves; things that allow for individual talents and interests to flourish in a way that doesn't harm other people's capacity to do the same. That wealth, he says, comes from our capacity to invest materially, socially, and and intellectually in the creation of institutions and infrastructure that support collective efforts to try and make the world a better place.

What are some key elements of new economies?

"It's important, here, to take stock of the new economies we are drifting into and guide them towards the new economies we desire (which may have elements of the 'old' economies as well).

Increasingly, real wealth is being diminished by the commodification of human inputs and creativity. This is a world of increased automation, designed more by bits and data rather than the creation of actual goods and services. It is a globalized world, not just economically but also socially and culturally. There has been a troubling shift towards institutions that are fundamentally unaccountable to the general public and community; corporate actors that act with impunity across borders present a real challenge for the remaining democratic institutions to channel productive capacity towards broader positive impacts rather than just shareholders.

Despite the discontents, more flexibility does hold an incredible amount of promise, and technological advances can increase material well-being and creative potential.

Ultimately, new, resilient economies that better serve people will require a revitalization of democratic people-controlled institutions, from governments, to finance, to worker organizations, to company ownership and control. It means a better understanding of local environments and the increasing variety of people in them, learning from past institutions while creating new ones, in ways that can leverage advances in technology."

How can we support neighborhoods, cities, towns, and regions as the fertile ground for the kind of economy we need?

"At the local level, we have a real opportunity to revive and modernize this idea of a mutual aid driven society that was prevalent in the late 19th century.This includes the credit union sector, cooperatives, and craft unions, creating opportunities for people to support each other's work around the world. Such organizations can maintain autonomy while working together at a global scale, which large multinational corporations and the financial sector do quite well, but older models of mutual aid have historically struggled with.

This is where social finance comes in. Just as the prevalence of sophisticated, globalized financial tools has helped the modern economy develop, a more human-oriented way of social, economic, and ecological prosperity can come from getting regular people engaged with finance to help develop their own communities and support the work of like-minded people wherever they may be.

The credit union sector, for example, has been pushing for innovation in local economic development through various means, including the creation of community bonds. These are small investments created by nonprofits and social sector organizations, mostly administered by credit unions, that allow organizations without traditional access to debt financing to convert erstwhile donors into more substantial supporters in the form of a loan. This allows social sector organizations with real capital and assets to leverage value in a way they have not been able to do so previously.

Crowdfunding is the most obvious technology-driven social finance innovation, emerging in the last decade to allow an unprecedented global flow of capital from ordinary people. It has been particularly transformative in turning retail consumers into financiers; in the entertainment, music, film and video game industries, the pre-purchase model has allowed new people to produce interesting ideas and tell new stories that were impossible a few decades ago. As a pre-purchaser, you effectively give a loan to a producer, which completely changes the relationship between consumers and producers."

Through tapping into both local and global social finance tools, individuals can transform institutions to be more inclusive of people's creativity and fundamental dignity.


New Economy Week 2014

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What would it take to build the economy we need, one that works for people, place, and planet?

New Economy Week is a public exploration of creative resistance – an opportunity to shine a light on the thousands upon thousands of efforts that everyday people are making right now to build a new kind of economy. 

From October 13-19, the New Economy Coalition (NEC) will be hosting live keynote panels, publishing powerful essays, and spotlighting member events (open-houses, info-sessions, film screenings, panel discussions, pot-lucks, etc.) from across the US and Canada — with the goal of raising the profile of those doing this work and diving into some of the questions that stand between us and a New Economy.

NEC has partnered with YES! Magazine online to share some of the best responses to their 'questions of the day':

1. How can we honor and learn from the rich histories of communities building New Economy institutions on the frontlines of fights for racial, economic, and environmental justice?

2. How can we catalyze public conversation about the need for systemic change and the viability of economic alternatives that put people and the planet first?

3. How can we connect and learn from successful experiments, pilot projects, and campaigns to build broad-based power and effect deep transformation at scale?

4. How do we transition to a renewable economy without leaving the workers, young people, and communities most impacted by extractive industries behind?

5. How can we support neighborhoods, cities, towns, and regions as the fertile ground for the kind of economy we need?

Get Involved!

We invite you to join these conversations online and to host some conversations of your own in your community.

VIDEO: SIRC Webinar #1 with Chiara Camponeschi

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On Tuesday, September 30, Cities for People and Social Innovation Generation (SiG) launched a new online series, Social Innovation & Resilience in Cities with Chiara Camponeschi, author of of Enabling City.

Enhancing Creative Community Resilience

What is the connection between resilience and civic imagination? What role do local culture and creativity play in processes of social innovation? And how can participatory practices turn cities into co-creators of ‘enabling’ frameworks?

In this webinar, Chiara Camponeschi draws on insights shared in her latest book, Enabling City Volume 2, to explore movements of collective creation that provide society with the ideas, identities, and even ideals to collectively explore – and enhance – narratives of socially innovative resilience.

Watch the recording here:

SIRC Webinar 1 Community Resilience with Chiara Camponeschi from Cities for People on Vimeo.

The Walrus Talks Resilience

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How cities and communities build themselves to thrive through difficult times

Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St. W, Toronto
Wednesday, October 8, 2014, 6:30 P.M.

Tickets: Members $17 | Public $20 | Students $12
Purchase tickets here

Are you interested in ideas about how cities can not only grow and develop but also flourish? Are you invested in building a more resilient, collaborative, and innovative community?

Cities for People invites you to an upcoming Talks event produced by the Walrus Foundation. The Walrus Talks Resilience will feature eighty minutes of lively, thought-provoking ideas about how cities and communities can become more resilient in the face of numerous challenges. Eight speakers with diverse backgrounds and interests—from the arts to indigenous rights, entrepreneurship to the environment to technological innovation—will offer new ways of thinking about how our cities can thrive. Speakers will have seven minutes each to discuss their ideas and challenge the audience to see the future of our communities in new ways. While each speaker will reflect on a range of experiences and viewpoints, they all have one thing in common: the desire for real conversation about the issues that affect the future of Canada. The Talks event will be followed by a spirited reception with attendees and participants.

Poet Mustafa Ahmed
University of Guelph’s Ajay Heble
Cisco Canada’s Rick Huijbregts
People for Education’s Annie Kidder
Cisco Canada’s David Miller
Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada’s Gabrielle Scrimshaw
SiG@Waterloo’s Frances Westley

6 p.m. doors open
6:30 p.m. The Walrus Talks
Reception following

(416) 971-5004, ext. 242












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 for dates, line-ups, and tickets.

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


Photo credit:

Resilience Theory, From the Sciences to the Arts

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by cheyanne turions


While resilience is a quality that can be ascribed to the toughest amongst us, resilience theory is slightly different, an idea that comes from the sciences to describe a system’s capacity to respond to change while maintaining core functions. Unsurprisingly, the character trait and the systems model share something in common—that ability to withstand forces and emerge recognizable on the other side of things. An elastic band is resilient to the extent that it can assume its original shape after being coiled and pulled taught. A person is resilient in their capacity to love again after heartbreak. And the woods are resilient to the extent that they can recuperate from forest fires.

In the parlance of ecology, a basin is stable state defined by a unique set of processes and structures. The ability to absorb disturbances, man made or otherwise, describes the system’s thresholds, those limits beyond which a previously stable state collapses and a new order asserts itself. While this kind of paradigm shift may seem exciting from the perspective of personal or intellectual development, in the case of ecology, these regime shifts can have profound impacts on human populations that have developed infrastructures that depend upon reliable inputs and outputs from the environment. This is to be blatantly anthropocentric; these regime shifts affect all living beings alike, bacteria, bugs, birds and babies. When an ecological system is able to “absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks,” it is said to be resilient [1]. The thing about basins, is that they can be more or less agreeable in supporting certain kinds of life cycles and life forms, human life included. So, from an ecological perspective, sustainability has come to mean environmental management practices that maintain ecosystems in states agreeable to human needs and desires.

It takes little imagination to understand that our demands are enormous: not only is the quality of life exceptional for many people living today, but the human population continues to increase at a nearly exponential rate. While quality of life and population size have been served by ecological practices designed to return maximum yields (think  of the use of fertilizers to increase crop harvest or the drainage of wetlands to repurpose rich soils for agricultural uses), the carrying capacity of our planet can accommodate only so much. And ecological systems are complex beyond our capacity to manage them completely. Thresholds loom. If the basins we know now are to remain feasible, something’s got to give. Either our relationship to the environment has to change, or the environment itself will change, reaching local and global thresholds that will redefine the ecological basins we exist in.

As a scientific study, resilience theory is intimately connected to the idea of sustainability. The goal is to shift extraction and consumption practices in a way that fosters resilient ecosystems so that environmental disturbances can be absorbed and basic human needs met while, in the long-term, continuing to operate within desirable basins. When thresholds are acknowledged, the hope is that action can be taken to avoid regime shifts, thus maintaining quality of life for future generations.

Ecologist C. S. Holling began theorizing resilience in the early 1970s, and since his articulation was first offered, the idea has slowly been percolating from the sciences through to the social sciences, “expanding beyond ecology to reflect systems of thinking in fields such as economics and political science. And, as more and more people move into densely populated cities, using massive amounts of water, energy, and other resources, the need to combine these disciplines to consider the resilience of urban ecosystems and cities is of paramount importance” [2]. The four themes of Cities for People—arts, governance, economy and the built environment—examine interrelated aspects of civic life, seeking out opportunities to develop resilience for the ecological and cultural well-being of the diverse and intimately situated populations of cities today.

Resilience theory is applicable to the arts to the extent that artists and audience are part of an ecosystem, drawing on its resources, re-writing its shape, eager to define its behaviour. These interactions operate in mutually defining directions.

The practices of artists can be shaped by concerns for resilience, such as when the materials used in the mounting of exhibitions are recycled into the raw materials of object-making. Think of all that wood used to build false walls repurposed as used lumber instead of waste. New York City’s Materials for the Arts  is a effective example of this.

The practices of artists can shape the means of living resiliently, such as when ecological concerns or pubic interest motivate creativity. For instance, in 2010 Emily Carr University launched an electric vehicle project that focused on “sustainable regional design” in the development of a prototype that addresses the desire for private transportation and a slightly lighter ecological footprint than traditional gas-powered cars [3]. Operating within the arts, the project had little concern for patents or market return, and instead championed new models of design and collaboration [4].

Resilience theory can also be used as a way of describing the arts. What defines the basins we are currently in? What thresholds loom? What might a regime change entail? One might consider the current situation of government support for culture in Canada as one basin the arts currently occupies, and the threat of austerity politics as a seemingly inevitable threshold. Regime change could mean many things: an art world more closely tied to market forces, or perhaps an abundance of public-private partnerships, or maybe even an older style of patronage.

In my role as part of Cities for People, I will be thinking through the practices of artists to consider what they can tell us about resilience theory. In tandem, I will consider what resilience theory can tell us about art. My investigations will depart from a core series of projects organized by Musagetes, curators of the Art and Society arm of Cities for People, but I will be listening for resonances elsewhere too, from speaking with others concerned with culture and livability to studying exhibitions.

In constructing a claim that the works of revolutionary artists have foreshadowed major discoveries in science, surgeon and author Leonard Shlain delineates and weaves between art and physics: “The artist employs image and metaphor; the physicist uses number and equation. Art encompasses an imaginative realm of aesthetic qualities; physics exists in a world of crisply circumscribed mathematical relationships between quantifiable properties. Traditionally, art has created illusions meant to elicit emotion; physics has been an exact science that made sense...While their methods differ radically, artists and physicists share the desire to investigate the ways the interlocking pieces of reality fit together” [5]. If I take Shlain seriously, then it is through the careful analysis of the practices of artists that insights into the science of resilience will be gained. Let’s see what happens.


[1] Walker, Brian, C. S. Holling, Stephen R. Carpenter, and Ann Kinzig. “Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Social-ecological Systems.” Ecology and Society 9, no. 2. (2004),

[2] Kateman, Brian. “Ecological and Urban Resilience.” state of the planet, (2011),

[3] Wadsworth, Rebecca. “Emily Carr University Students Launch Electric Vehicle Project.” Media release, (2008),

[4] Vancouver Courier. “Emily Carr students fuse talents for electric car.”, (2009), Here, project lead Bartosz Bos speaks about the desire to have the ideas further developed by others, evincing a concern for collaboration and a lack of concern for patents and other restrictive market measures.

[5] Shlain, Leonard, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light ( New York: Perennial, 2001), pages15-16.