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Q&A with Evergreen’s new Chief Program Officer

Reimagining how to create flourishing spaces across Canada and at Evergreen Brick Works with Orit Sarfaty

People sit at a picnic table at Summer Wednesdays at Evergreen Brick Works.

Published on September 13, 2019

Since 1991, Evergreen has been hard at work making Canadian cities more livable, green and prosperous. Bringing people together has been at the core of helping make cities flourish. From revitalizing the historic Don Valley Brick Works factory into a dynamic award-winning community hub to accelerating innovation in cities through Future Cities Canada, Evergreen continues to deepen its impact to accelerate the transition to inclusive, low-carbon cities.

Headshot of Orit Sarfaty

This year, Evergreen welcomed Orit Sarfaty as Chief Program Officer to lead Evergreen’s programming across the country and at Evergreen Brick Works. Creating spaces where people can gather, share ideas and reimagine communities is vital in advancing how we build and shape thriving cities of tomorrow - together. 

Orit brings a wide breadth of experience to Evergreen’s city building work. She has led multiple year-long urban-focused cultural and capital projects that activated public spaces, campuses, parks, and main streets including Massey Hall, Design Exchange, AGO, MOCA, Millennium Park (Chicago), National Mall and Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC), Fort Worth Cultural Campus, downtown Edmonton, downtown, Oklahoma City, and Harvard University. Orit is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a Master’s of Urban Planning from the University of Washington.

With a deep knowledge of placemaking, her leadership will help develop the programs needed to further strengthen Evergreen as an internationally-recognized organization driving innovative and forward-thinking ideas that create sustainable cities.

Let’s start with placemaking. It’s a term that is becoming increasingly common and important in city building. What does it mean and what kind of programs best enhance a place?
Placemaking is the process of working together to shape and create public spaces. That can look like revitalizing an underused public place, engaging community leaders to create programming that ensures diverse audiences are welcome in a space, or incorporate participatory planning into decision-making. Creating a sense of belonging is at the heart of transforming a space into a great place.

One of Evergreen’s signature offerings is the Evergreen Brick Works site in Toronto. What was your first impressions of the site?I got to see this space through the eyes of my toddler years ago. The freedom to explore, the excitement to experiment – this is what Evergreen inspires. Interestingly, the same sort of discovery is what I get to see day in and day out from the grown ups and newcomers and tourists and school groups who use the site.

The Brick Works site has become a community hub and showcase for urban innovation - it celebrates 10 years next year. What kind of questions need to be asked as it enters its next decade?Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen how community has brought identity to the buildings. Evergreen is an organization ever evolving and we’ve just embarked on a unique master planning process aimed to reignite the public’s imagination about the Brick Works that will plot the roadmap for the future the site. This participatory planning and visioning process includes extensive public engagement, site analysis of built structures and public spaces, as well as prototyping and piloting ideas for change. We’re asking questions like how are our visitors using the space? How can we strengthen the accessibility to our site and connectivity to our neighbours?

What excites you most about Evergreen’s role in city building?Collaboration has been at the core of Evergreen’s work since its creation 28 years ago. We’ve seen the power of convening through our participatory city building work with municipal partners and community members to revamp public parks on the local level through our Neighbourhood Nature Program and the City of Toronto to activate city rinks throughout the winter.

On a national and global scale, our Future Cities Canada initiative has unlocked so many partnerships that strives to create urban futures that are equitable, regenerative and prosperous for all. I am particularly excited for this year’s edition of the Future Cities Summit this November. The premier city building conference brings together urban thought leaders and city builders to share ideas on how to solve challenges facing our cities. We know that it’s not just about urban centres, however, and I am looking forward to the hard work being done at the community level at the Summit through the Future Cities Canada’s recently launched Community Solutions Network program. Connecting city builders from communities of all sizes and all sectors sectors offers an enormous opportunity to tackle critical questions in new and innovative ways that will allow everyone to thrive.