SFU’s City Program not only offers some of the best programs and courses on developing an “understanding of the city and how we as citizens can participate in shaping its future” but also many free public lectures with renowned speakers from around the world. During my year in Vancouver, I had the opportunity to attend three excellent talks by Jeffrey Tumlin, Andreas Rohl and Mark Kingswell.
Last December, SFU’s annual Warren Gill Memorial Lecture Series featured a talk by Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat on the idea of owning your city – of transforming your cities into sustainable communities and places by participating in building broad and deep constituencies for progressive city building.
The central message of her talk was that achieving a sustainable urban future isn’t a design issue but depends on generating a shared consensus. The three critical, intertwined success factors for developing this shared vision and consensus are belief, understanding and engagement:
- The need to believe in a future better than the past, and the present: Belief (believing in what might be) is a prerequisite for acting boldly and we are rewarded for being optimistic.
- The need to cultivate deep understandings about drivers for change: People must become part of a narrative, of a story that we’re collectively writing, especially through public engagement sessions where we allow each other to learn from each other, where we use both our individual and collective intelligence to further advance our understanding.
- The need to engage to build broad and deep constituencies: We should recognize and build on the many different tools that are available to engage within one’s sphere of influence. Cities need us to engage and to sustain our engagement.
Owning your city requires both individual action and collective action. Because, in Jennifer Keesmaat’s words, “a city isn’t something that happens to you. You make choices every day that create your city. Everytime you make a choice about the way you will be in the city, you turn the city into something of your own choosing. But the biggest decisions that fundamentally shape our cities are made by us as a collective people.”
Enjoy Jennifer Keesmaat’s full talk – it’s really worth watching the full 53 minutes as it also includes insights into some best practices for citizen engagement and building understanding in transportation planning! And now I guess I’ll also watch SFU’s recent recordings of John Pucher’s and Charles Marohn’s talks. Have a great Sunday!