We Are Cities Day: Highlights!

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Did you participate in a roundtable or online conversation during We Are Cities Day? Wondering what key priorities and narratives emerged? Evergreen CityWorks shared a few highlights from all you engaged Canadians had to say! Visit the We Are Cities website for detailed recaps of last spring and summer’s roundtables.

From Evergreen CityWorks:

Thank you, Canada! You heard the We Are Cities call to action and responded by standing up for your cities.

On October 8th we hosted We Are Cities Day with conversations taking place in over ten cities across the country: Calgary, Halifax, Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa, Saskatoon, St. John’s, Toronto and Trois Rivieres. The core question we were asking: did we hear you correctly?! Based on all of the content gathered to date – from dozens of roundtables, online and from key stakeholders – we designed a process for you to help us further define what our cities need.  Thanks to everyone who participated in WAC Day and our first set of roundtables, we’re distilling your feedback now and drafting the Cities Action Agenda.

In the meantime, we wanted to share a little of what we heard. Out of the 5 Big Opportunities that We Are Cities articulated, Power and Revenue seemed to resonate the most. From transforming community engagement, to increased Federal expenditures on transit, housing and public space, we got lots of great feedback. And it seems like not only did we hear you correctly but we’ve also sparked a different kind of conversation – a conversation now taking place nationally, city to city and of course locally.

On WAC Day in particular the conversations were not limited to local roundtables. We also connected coast to coast on Twitter. National Tweet-ups were hosted in both English and in French and in total the hashtag #WACDay had 765 Tweets and 190 contributors.

Here’s a sampling of what people had to say about the Big Opportunities:


About Local Challenges:




And testaments to the campaign:


The We Are Cities campaign was a great success. 75 roundtables were hosted in 33 cities and WAC engaged over 2,500 people. None of this would have been possible without the help of our partners, convenors, roundtable hosts and participants. So THANK YOU ALL! And stay tuned for the release of the We Are Cities Action Agenda in the coming months.


Urban Aboriginal Round Tables: Community engagement from an Indigenous perspective

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By Cities for People / We Are Cities’ Urban Aboriginal Convenor - Ted Norris

The role of Urban Aboriginal Convenor for the We Are Cities national movement has enabled me to continue the work that I have been doing for many years – and that is to connect people and ideas through a common vision. Although there were distinct differences among the participating cities, each round table host and every single one of the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal participants approached their engagement “in a good way and with a good mind and heart” as many Elders will proclaim during ceremony.

The tone of the four Urban Aboriginal round tables was one of overall optimism despite some thorny challenges and complex barriers that continue to hamper many Aboriginal people. Laughter and good natured teasing is an integral part of any gathering of Aboriginal people – whether sitting around a camp fire, celebrating family milestones or participating in talking circles.


We Are Cities Roundtable in Ottawa (Photo: Leah Snyder)

The overarching theme of these round tables was, not surprisingly, community engagement from an Indigenous lens. I want to delve into more detail about what this really means to the almost 60% of First Nation, Métis and Inuit who now live in urban areas.

First, a quick overview of some stats*:

  • The Aboriginal population was 1,400,685 in 2011, up from 1,172,790 in 2006 making it the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian population.
  • Amongst the Aboriginal population, 46% of individuals are under age 25, compared to 29% for the rest of the Canadian population.
  • Aboriginal peoples represent 2.8% of the Canadian population, but account for 18% of the federally incarcerated population**.

In 2017 the life expectancy for the total Canadian population is projected to be 79 years for men and 83 years for women. Among the Aboriginal population the Inuit have the lowest projected life expectancy in 2017, of 64 years for men and 73 years for women. The Métis and First Nations populations have similar life expectancies, at 73-74 years for men and 78-80 years for women.

*All stats from Statistics Canada
**From Correctional Services Canada

The “Idle No More” movement, the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women (see the Native Women’s Association of Canada), First Nations education on & off reserve, and the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), are a few recent and important examples that have focused country-wide attention on Aboriginal issues as never before. But, as indicated earlier, it is not all dire news.


Sisters In Spirit silent march for missing and murdered aboriginal women in Whitehorse, YKT (Photo: Yukon News)

“My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” Louis Riel – July 4, 1885

We have a burgeoning arts and culture scene – Indigenous writing, theatre, music, film and visual arts – being produced and recognized nationally and internationally. Aboriginal people are participating in local, regional and national politics in record numbers – and successfully advocating for change from within established European-based governance models. Our Aboriginal business leaders embody an entrepreneurial spirit that is countless generations old.

There is reason for optimism and this positive attitude came out loud and clear in the We Are Cities urban Aboriginal round tables. For the most part, urban Aboriginal people have very similar concerns and needs as their non-Aboriginal neighbours – safe streets, access to efficient transportation choices and affordable housing options.

Some unique aspects of the urban Aboriginal round table discussions in Ottawa and Vancouver, for example, were around the recognition of sacred and cultural spaces in the urban environment. In the National Capital Region,    is situated in the Ottawa River between Gatineau and Ottawa and is an historical meeting and trading place for the Algonquin peoples of Ontario and Quebec. Efforts are underway to preserve the integrity of the space for future generations, despite pressures from real estate developers (you can read about ongoing discussions about development plans for Victoria Island, and criticisms that have arisen from both First Nations and non-First Nations communities, here, here, and here).

Victoria Island

Victoria Island on the Ottawa River, Traditional Algonquin Territory (Photo: Rob Huntley)

In Vancouver, the Salish Sea Village concept is being touted as a potential model for other developments across the country that wish to celebrate the historical past and the current contributions of Indigenous peoples. Education and awareness are key to cement an on-going connectedness between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal interests. Efforts to bridge cultural divides will have long term, lasting benefits on all sides.

The important role of Elders and other traditional knowledge keepers was highlighted in Brandon, MB, as well as the other round tables. An Elders Council at City Hall would go a long way toward increased understanding and acceptance of First Nation, Métis and Inuit cultures and traditions. The spiritual element also includes the need for traditional ceremony and this was discussed at length at the Brandon University round table. Participants want to see more tolerance towards smudging in hospitals, schools and other public buildings for ceremonial purposes.

Recently at a youth event in a Thunder Bay hotel, I was met with an incredulous “of course” when I inquired about the possibility of our elder burning sweetgrass and tobacco in the meeting room for a traditional smudging / cleansing ceremony. It is all about attitude, and a relaxing of non-smoking restrictions for certain ceremonial occasions.

Youth leadership was high on the list of discussions at the Winnipeg round table hosted by the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre. As posted by Ma Mawi,

“The round table provided youth with an opportunity to share their dreams for the future of Winnipeg and first steps towards this dream.”

It was gratifying to see, just within the relatively short time period of the round table session, a growing self-confidence from some of the youth who have already gone on to actively develop their leadership skills. There is no limit to what these youth can do! But, as they themselves spoke about, they require the educational supports, safe streets, increased sports and cultural opportunities and an end to poverty to help make their dreams a reality.

Ma Mawi roundtable

We Are Cities roundtable participants at the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg (Photo: Adesuwa Ero)

We are fortunate in Canada to have a number of existing program and institutional supports for the urban Aboriginal population. One of the prime examples is the National Aboriginal Friendship Centre movement (NAFC) which boasts 118 friendship centres across the country. The First Nations University in Regina and the Gabriel Dumont Institute are just two of a number of outstanding post-secondary educational institutions. Small and large businesses have a solid network through the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB). Their model is bolstered by the efforts of the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy partners.

The urban Aboriginal landscape is vast. The voices of Inuit, Métis and First Nations will be key in developing an Urban Agenda that truly works for all citizens. To that end, a coalition of like-minded partners should be convened and encouraged to continue the momentum started by the We Are Cities initiative.

Note: You can read more from Ted Norris on the We Are Cities website, where he shared thoughts on using cultural practices creatively to adapt the We Are Cities toolkit to generate new ideas.


Thinking Hats at the We Are Cities Roundtable in Ottawa (Photo: Ted Norris)

Calgary’s Re-localize Fair demonstrates possibilities for community-based economies

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We are pleased to share some of the exciting work being undertaken by the We Are Cities cross-Canada convenor network! In addition to hosting and supporting We Are Cities roundtables this past spring, several convenors have been working on demonstration projects in their communities that test new approaches to resilient and livable cities. These projects are meant to engage convenors’ networks while forging new connections to strengthen localized city-building efforts. Demonstration projects range from pop-up public citizen spaces to neighborhood fairs to public transit experiments.

In this blog, we adapted the reflections of Calgary convenor Gerald Wheatley, Manager at the Arusha Centre, on their demonstration project: the Re-localization Fair, held at Calgary’s Bridgeland Riverside Community Association on April 18, 2015, as part of the 2015 Down to Earth Week

relocalize fair logo.

About the Re-localization Fair

What is Re-localization? Put simply, it is a movement away from global dependences and towards building resilience through strong local economies. It’s about buying local, yes, but also involves capitalizing on each community’s unique capacities to share knowledge and resources to build autonomy. (See here for an explanation of Re-localization from Megan Quinn Bachman). from In that vein, the Fair was an afternoon gathering of workshops, a market, and keynote speech all about the local movement, featuring Re-localization expert and author Michael Shuman. The event featured local music, waste diversion, pedal powered demonstration, and family activities. All this took place in a community association building located in a Transit-oriented Development (TOD) community with a tool lending library, farmers market, grassroots granting program and rooftop garden. The Re-localize Fair attracted 450 attendees and 26 market vendors; many attendees participated in one of the eight workshops on topics central to the Re-localization movement (workshops are described in detail below).

The Fair had several positive impacts on surrounding communities. First of all, it demonstrated that there is popular interest in Re-ocalization, a concept that is emerging and includes important social justice and environmental sustainability principles which have not been widely embraced. The event had a synergistic buzz of excitement between attendees, vendors, and workshops engaged in food, economy, and livability.

Second, the spirit of sharing and learning that characterized the Fair is central to the development of new economies based on knowledge-transfer. The Fair had an atmosphere of popular education with many local resource people sharing with Calgary citizens and businesses. These interactions were linked to networks of community economic development such as THRIVE employment development and the Respect for Earth and All Peoples (REAP) triple bottom line business network.

relocalize fair 5

Showcasing Calgary dollars - a local currency!


One of the standout features of the Fair were a series of eight one-hour workshops covering topics from gardening and composting to social engagement and activism. Using social media and word-of-mouth advertising, the sessions each brought crowds from five to 40. Many attendees were vocally supportive of the hosts and the workshop format, as many were hearing of the organizations and topics for the first time. Sessions on SPIN farming and Viegages (a community model that provides affordable financing– the opposite of “mort”gage) provided an opportunity to learn about something new, while the We Are Cities Mobilization (in which roundtable participants discovered the power of funny hats!) and Bike Calgary sessions provided ways to be active in community-building in Calgary. The experience was an empowering one, as people were able to learn, display, and activate a depth of skills and interests in a socially conscious and intimate setting.

SPIN farming

SPIN (Small-Plot INtensive) farming: look at those beautiful greens!

The Fair also featured speaker Michael Shuman, who offered insights from his work with the Business Alliance for a Local Living Economy (BALLE). Michael is the author of “Small Mart Revolution” and “Local Dollars, Local Sense” and ensured that attendees understood the social and environmental benefits of localization. Building on the theme of strengthening local economies, the Fair accepted Calgary dollars (Calgary's complementary currency system, started by the Arusha Centre in 1995), as well as promoting egalitarian business models being used in Calgary and beyond, such as the Canadian Worker Coop and Grain Exchange Worker Owned Bakery.

Finally, on the creative side, Ecoliving Events showcased chairs made from shipping pallets, and renowned local artist Daniel J. Kirk unveiled “Relocalize the Box”, an interactive art piece that allows users to create a three dimensional art piece from wood pieces featuring different themes. The Kidzone offered do-it-yourself buttons, a scavenger hunt, pedal powered lights, and three live music performers.

relocalize fair 7

Artist Daniel J. Kirk demonstrates the interactive art piece “Relocalize the Box”

Given the success of the Re-localize Fair, many participants and vendors expressed interest in a similar event next year. We are excited to continue following the Arusha Centre and other participating organizations’ work, and find out what might be in store for 2016!

You can see more photos of the fair on Arusha’s Facebook page.


About the Arusha Centre

The Arusha Centre is a collectively run, member-supported organisation that provides resources and initiatives on social justice and environmental issues. We help Calgarians through community economic development and community resilience programs and offers varied practical resources, animating activities which educate, inspire and connect with and between people and projects. Click here to learn more about their mission and here to find out what they’re up to and who they’re collaborating with.

Arusha logo with Programs lowres

About We Are Cities

We Are Cities was launched by a number of organizations that believe that a prosperous future for Canada depends on thriving cities. For cities to succeed, citizens need to take an active role in identifying a path forward to achieve resilience, prosperity and inclusivity. Through community roundtables and an online idea forum, Canadians are helping to build a vision and action plan to make Canadian cities healthy and exciting places to live, work and play. We Are Cities is also connecting existing city-building work in order to strengthen and mobilize our collective efforts to enable the change we need. Stay tuned for details on We Are Cities Day, coming up September 15!


We Are Cities Roundtables

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We Are Cities is a new campaign to engage Canadians across the country to shape a vision and action plan for how we can build livable cities – exciting and healthy places to live, work and play.


Join the conversation about how to create more livable cities! 

We Are Cities roundtables are happening across the country this spring. Find your local roundtable - or if your city isn't represented, host your own!

You can also contribute to the conversation by submitting an idea to the online forum - as well as voting and commenting on ideas put forth by others.


Roundtables are coming up in the following cities: