6 City Builders You Should Know
Leaders whose inspiring work you’ll want to follow
Published on April 14, 2021
Our cities must be built with all residents in mind. This past year, COVID-19 has laid bare systemic inequalities baked into the fabric of our urban environments.
To move forward, we need to rethink the way we approach urban life, from food justice to equity in public space, community organizing to housing affordability.
The challenges to building equitable, sustainable and connected communities are not small, but there are many talented, dedicated people working and collaborating to address them.
We asked Evergreen leaders and our partners to share with us city builders who inspire them. Here are six who are advancing change in communities across the country.
Seeking to create better lives for families and children
For years, Diane Roussin has been a community leader who has worked in the pursuit of mino bimaadaziwin, which seeks to create better lives for families and children. A proud Anishinaabe Ikwe and member of the Skownan First Nation, she is currently the Project Director of the Winnipeg Boldness Project, a social innovation initiative that seeks to create large-scale systems of change for children and families in Winnipeg’s Point Douglas neighbourhood. The Project uses tools and processes from the practice of social innovation to develop community-driven solutions to create better outcomes for the neighbourhood's residents. She has also worked for many initiatives that promote Indigenous People’s values and ways of knowing and being.
In the past, she has been the Executive Director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, the Co-Director of the Community Education Development Association, and the Coordinator of The Centennial Neighbourhood Project. You can learn more about her work by following her at @dianeroussin007.
Bridging social justice, politics and policy
Melana Roberts is a community advocate and city-builder whose work bridges the worlds of social justice, politics and policy. She is the chair of FoodSecure Canada, an organization committed to building more equitable, just, sustainable and community-driven food systems across Canada. Formerly, working with the Broadbent Institute, she advanced community wealth-building initiatives that centred racialized communities, as the Project Manager for Power Lab — an innovation leadership lab aimed at building economic and democratic power within historically and persistently excluded communities. Currently working as a Policy Development Officer at the City of Toronto's Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, she is keen to develop municipal leadership in inclusive economic development strategies centered in a reparative economy approach, ensuring that policy is better positioned to address the distinct structural barriers Black communities face.
Melana is concerned with the question: how can we create conditions that increase community power and position low-income, Black, Indigenous and racialized communities to thrive? She spends her spare time reimaging community funding structures and governance models to build community capacity, serving on the Board of Directors of Carrot Cache, a non-profit which supports regional food systems through funding grassroots food projects, and has served as a member of the Toronto Food Policy Council, a subcommittee of the Toronto Board of Health aimed at improving municipal decision making and policy on food issues.
Recently, she was appointed as a member of the country's first Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council setting indicators to track food insecurity, and an Action Canada Policy Fellow. She was also selected as Canada's Delegate for the 53rd UN Commission on Population and Development, where she helped shape Canada's position on food security, championing the rights of low-income and racialized communities impacted by COVID-19. Learn more about her work by following her at @RobertsMelana.
Launching grassroots movements using digital tools
Alfred Burgesson is a community builder whose unique talents include convening leaders, and an ability to launch grassroots movements and coalitions while using digital tools and platforms. Alfred is currently a public engagement consultant for the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. He is also working with community activists who are demanding justice for the community of Africville. In 2019, Alfred was City Co-Lead for the YouthfulCities and Evergreen Future City Builders Social Innovation Lab in Halifax, a program that engaged over 500 youth in Halifax to ideate and present sustainable neighbourhood and housing solutions.
Alfred is Executive Director of Tribe Network; a new initiative building Canada's BIPOC Entrepreneurship & Innovation Hub, Curator of the Collective Action Movement, and a member of the Prime Minister's Youth Council. He is recognized as a UN Active Citizen and is an Order of Entrepreneurship recipient from Saint Mary's University. Learn more about his work by following him on Twitter @AlfredHFX or visiting his website.
Working to address Indigenous economic development, technology and reconciliation
Jarret Leaman is a member of Magnetawan First Nation, nationally recognized for his public speaking and work addressing Indigenous economic development, technology, reconciliation, the 2SLGBTQIA community and the building of leadership capacity within the Indigenous community. He is the co-founder of the Centre for Indigenous Innovation and Technology (CIIT), a non-profit working to increase the presence of Indigenous Peoples in the technology sector, while promoting innovation with an Indigenous lens and Akawe Technologies, a blockchain and software firm that creates customized technology solutions for organizations owned and led by Indigenous Peoples and other unique groups.
A recipient of the Sovereigns Medal of Honour, he was named one of the Huffington Posts Top 3 Indigenous Millennials in Canada, and Ten to Watch in 2020 by the Indigenoimic Institute. Jarret has completed fellowships with CivicAction and Future Cities Canada and participated in the Governor General's Leadership Conference. In addition to his work with the CIIT and Akawe Technologies, Jarret is a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors for OCAD University, Co-Chair of the Pearson Canada Reconciliation Advisory Circle, and a Community Council Member with Aboriginal Legal Services in the area of restorative justice. Find him on Twitter at @Jare_Jare.
Supporting the African Nova Scotian community and reducing poverty through a social innovation lens
In 2015, O.N.E. North End was founded by a group of Halifax community leaders dedicated to supporting the African Nova Scotian community in the city’s north-end neighborhood. One of those leaders was Rodney Small, the organization's Director. “We want to be sure that the community’s long-standing residents — many of whom are African Nova Scotians — are not displaced, as history has shown that Halifax has a long history of displacing Blackness,” says Small. Small and O.N.E. North End has been working with the community, provincial and federal governments to create strategies to reduce poverty in the area through a social innovation lens.
Through the African Nova Scotian Youth Employment Lab community, government, and business members have been brought together to address a shared goal: reducing the unemployment rate of African Nova Scotians between the ages of 18 and 35. The Lab recently published a report on its work and is currently working on a list of recommendations and implementation strategies. O.N.E. North End has also been working with JUNO Developments on the development of the St. Patrick Alexander School site, to create a Community Benefits Agreement that will lead to the inclusive redevelopment of the school to include arts, startup, and retail spaces for African Nova Scotians. To learn more about Small’s work, visit O.N.E. North End’s website.
Building affordable, equitable communities
Stephanie Allen is a housing development specialist focused on building affordable, equitable communities. Her research focused on the settlement and displacement of Black communities, documenting the work done to seek redress for the displacement of Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver. She has worked in the private, non-profit, and public sectors of real estate since 2002 and is a founding board member of Hogan’s Alley Society, and organization which advocates for Black Vancouverites who have endured the legacies of urban renewal and their erasure from the official historical narrative. The society’s work aims to build the capacity of racialized and marginalized communities to participate in city building.
She was awarded the 2020-2021 Western Association of Graduate Schools and ProQuest Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award in humanities, social sciences, education and business disciplines for her research. She is the Associate Vice President of Strategic Business Operations & Performance for BC Housing, serves on the City of Vancouver’s Poverty Action Advisory Committee, and is on the board the Community Impact Real Estate Society in Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter at @BuiltJustice.