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Placemakers converge in Montreal

Over 40 individuals, zealous about community and people’s connection to place, spent a day together in Montreal to dream about the future of placemaking in Canada. It was an engaging, playful, and inspiring day of learning together. Participants included Fred Kent and Ethan Kent from Project for Public Spaces, Robert Plitt from CityWorks at Evergreen, Lorne Daniels from Placemaking Victoria Network, Jayne Engle and Lyndsay Daudier from The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Sophia Horwitz and Gregory Woolner from Co*Lab and Amy Schwartz from Engage Nova Scotia.

Until that day last week, I hadn’t fully made the deep connection between my passion for community/city making and placemaking. I often speak about the need for “citizen spaces” in cities – places where diverse people converge to play, share, work, and accidentally bump into friends or make new ones. Our cities need to encourage human connections through serendipitous interaction, which can’t be achieved through design austerity or theory. When cities choose to bring together key actors through creative, participatory, open, agile, and iterative processes, we can hope to co-create solutions to not only neighbourhood concerns, but challenging and complex social issues. People who live, work, and play in neighbourhoods not only have a deep understanding of the problems facing their communities, but the best solutions. And often, these neighbourhood issues are connected to large societal challenges ranging from transportation to food security to a sense of belonging.

We came together to answer the following key questions:

  • What can we do together to support the placemaking movement?
  • Where are the key leverage points that will deepen impact and scale innovation in placemaking in Canada?
  • What mechanisms, tools, resources would best serve placemakers?
  • What opportunities are there with the new federal government in place?


We shared placemaking projects we had been involved in and those we were inspired by. Véronique Fournier from Centre d’écologie urbaine shared their just-published guide to Participatory Urban Planning – a fantastic guide to practitioners, and ideas from which I’ll be reinforcing in some of our upcoming projects at Citizens Academy.

In small groups, we explored issues and ideas critically important to our work, like local governance and policy supports for placemaking, social justice, a national network of placemaking, a national placemaking agenda, and the role for placemaking in kids’ education. We were left confident that placemaking offers great hope for our cities, our communities, our citizens. It’s a way of building connection and shared meaning while increasing people’s sense of belonging. In a time where so many fear isolation, placemaking is a powerful tool to build social cohesion and community at a very local level. When placemaking involves everyone who is affected by, cares for, and intersects with the space, we unleash our collective potential in unanticipated ways.

Although there have been considerable inroads made around the globe in connecting placemaking to community resiliency, powerful questions remain:

  • How will placemaking contribute to systems change in Canadian cities?
  • What becomes possible when we cultivate our collective capacity to connect to and care for the spaces where we live?
  • How can formal and informal practices of citymaking be better enabled?
  • How can we disrupt/open up/democratize the civic structures that constrain placemaking?

I’m excited to report that this inaugural conversation is just the beginning. There will be more conversation and action to widen the placemaking movement in Canada. As Fred Kent said, to advance placemaking, we need to be “lighter, quicker, cheaper”. I definitely know how to get things done that way! I’m inspired and motivated to prototype some projects in Ottawa by bringing together key actors in neighbourhoods who have a readiness for participatory place-based community development. There’s no time like the present – if we don’t try, nothing will change.

Heartfelt thanks to Cities for People, an initiative of the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation, for hosting and supporting the PlaceMaking Lab. A shout out to the fabulous Samantha Slade from percolab and Greg and Sophia from Co*Lab for the elegant and thoughtful design process. We give thanks to T.J. McGuire for letting us share some of his fabulous pictures.

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