City Builder glossary

In our work helping create flourishing cities across the country, we come across, and use, terms that would be considered jargon in everyday conversations. But this isn’t always the best when we’re trying to create city building that is inclusive for all. This glossary will help you to understand more about city building.

Mostly empty street in Montreal with balloons and flags up celebrating Pride month

City Builder terms:

Active Mobility
Definition: All human-powered modes of transport, such as cycling, walking and rollerblading. Active transportation, along with motorized modes that have a low environmental impact such as public transport, aim to reduce the negative impacts of cars and trucks. Human-powered transportation encourages physical activity in daily life and provides healthy city solutions to traffic and air pollution.
Adaptive Reuse
The process of finding a new purpose for an existing structure or site in a sustainable way. For example, a vacant office or industrial building may be turned into a residential building.  
Blue-Green Infrastructure
Environmental components and natural assets (such as a forest, river, green roofs or rain gardens) that are integrated into an urban landscape (buildings and public spaces) to create and promote more sustainable ecosystems.
Built Environment
Human-made spaces where people live, work and play. It can refer to a single street or an entire city, and includes neighbourhoods, buildings, parks and infrastructure. These environments provide many of the basic necessities that people need, and therefore must be inclusive, healthy and functional for everyone.
Capacity Building
Providing the support and resources, such as workshops, mentorship and research, needed in order for people to make a positive impact on their cities, from residents and organizations to practitioners and city officials.
Carbon Offsetting
The counteracting of carbon dioxide emissions with an equivalent reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
City Builder
A person who influences positive change to the cultural, social, environmental, physical and/or economic components of a city.
Civic Assets
Buildings, infrastructure and public spaces, that create the fabric of a city or community and enable people to participate in society. Examples: libraries, squares and parks.
Civic Commons
A network of public places and facilities that enable communities to learn, celebrate, express collective actions, collaborate and flourish, together. Can include libraries, parks, community centres, squares and more.
Civic Incubator
A program that nurtures city builders by providing them with skills training and education, and access to a network of resources.
Climate Adaptation
Solutions that respond to the current and future impacts of climate change. Climate adaptation can take on many forms including designing public spaces to reduce the urban heat island effect or implementing infrastructure to prevent flooding. 
Climate Ready
Places and people that are adapting more sustainable infrastructure and processes to prepare for and address climate change within their communities.
Commuity Hub
A public space where residents can connect with several activities, programs and services — such as health, social, educational, cultural and recreational — at once. Each hub is unique to the community it serves and meets local needs.
Community Art
Artistic expression that emphasizes community engagement and participation in the artistic process. This collaboration between artists and community members helps reflect the community's identity, values and experiences. These artworks are often placed in public spaces, making them accessible to a wider audience and contributing to the cultural and social vibrancy of the area. They can emerge organically from within the community or be initiated by local governments or community groups.
Community Benefit
Improvements or additions to an area that benefit residents, a neighbourhood or community as a whole when impacted by a real estate or infrastructure development. These improvements could include investments in local employment or procurement, ecological restoration, access to public space and parks, procuring public art, building public housing, support for social programs and more.
Community Engagement
A community participation process that seeks to include a range of diverse voices working together around city building. The process allows individuals and communities to engage in assessing, planning and evaluating initiatives that will impact them. It can be led by individuals or groups, by public or private organizations, or by the government. The goal is to ensure that a community’s aspirations, concerns and needs are incorporated into all stages of decision-making.
Community Resilience
The connections created between groups of people, which enable them to mitigate the negative effects of and/or adapt to crisis and disruption. This often requires an ability to rapidly mobilize resources and support.
Complete Streets
A way of designing roads so they are safe, comfortable and convenient for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, transit-users and drivers.
Data Governance
The process of managing the integrity, use, security and availability of data. Data governance can organize our complex and evolving relationship with data as a matter of public policy.
Digital Divide
The gap experienced by residents of a region or demographic with access to information and communications technology — particularly reliable broadband Internet — and those that don't.
Digital Placemaking
Ecological Footprint
A method of gauging how much we consume in relation to our ecosystems’ capacity to support our needs. Our impact on the environment can be measured at an individual level, or at a community-level, based on how much natural resources are used collectively every day.
Ethical Smart City
A city whose diverse communities are celebrated and actively engaged in the consideration, creation and integration of technological or data-driven solutions, and where the needs of residents are represented in the community’s built and networked environment.
Flourishing City
A city that is thriving, resilient and inclusive at its core, where all residents benefit from the thoughtful integration of the natural and built world.
The practice of designing cities to be resilient through tomorrow’s challenges, to build a future where communities are equitable, regenerative and prosperous.
Healthy Housing Ecosystem
A housing environment where there are housing options that are the right size, location and price for everyone. A healthy housing ecosystem includes a balanced mix of temporary shelters, housing with supports, home ownership, rental units and subsidized housing.
Housing Affordability
Housing that meets the needs of a household while costing less than 30% of its before-tax income.
Inclusive City
A city in which all residents are included in the decision making and development process, and where all feel they belong.
Inclusive Innovation
People of diverse experiences and backgrounds working collectively to find new ways to solve complex urban challenges that make cities a better place for all.
Indigenizing Cities
The process of reclaiming and re-imaging cities as places of Indigenous identity, community and resilience by honouring Indigenous treaties, land claims and inherent rights; actively decolonizing contemporary urban planning and city building approaches; and centering Indigenous models of placekeeping, land stewardship, and cultural revitalization.
Indigenous Design
An Indigenous-led approach to design that is grounded in Indigenous design principles and community priorities as well as it is informed by contemporary design methodology. Indigenous design acknowledges the rich cultural history and innovation at the heart of Indigenous knowledges and practices, including ceremonies, designs, stories, land stewardship, creative productions, and technologies.
Adding homes, transportation, jobs, schools and other forms of density in already developed, urbanized areas.
An important object, structure or place that is easy to see and recognize. It can be part of the built environment, such as the CN Tower, or natural environment, such as Niagara Falls. Landmarks can serve as a guide, location identifier or strengthen one’s connection to place.
Laneway Suite
A small dwelling at the rear of a residential lot that is detached from the primary home.
The conditions for all residents of a community, city or region. It describes people’s physical and mental wellbeing within their community, and takes into account connection to people, built space and the natural environment.
Loose Parts Play
Materials – such as wood, pine cones, stones and sticks – that can be moved, carried and redesigned to encourage children to interact with the natural world while experimenting with their physical and creative abilities.
Market Cities
Mass Timber Building
A tall structure built using solid wood, a building material which can be regrown and holds the potential to offset the emissions of construction and use by sequestering carbon.
Micro-Connection: The small connections that happen in everyday life. These interactions, such as a quick conversation with your local barista, may seem inconsequential on their own, but collectively contribute to a greater sense of community and belonging. Studies even show that having just three daily social connections not only boosts our mood but also makes us more resilient.
Mid-Sized Cities
Canadian cities with populations ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 residents. These cities have the potential to become leaders of sustainable and inclusive city-building initiatives across Canada.
Missing Middle
A range of housing types between single-detached houses and apartment buildings that have gone “missing” from many cities since the 1960s, including duplexes, triplexes, flourplexes, rowhouses and townhouses. The term was coined by architect Daniel Parolek to describe a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living.
1. The ability to move all people safely and affordably between where they live, work and play. Includes walking, cycling, the use of wheelchairs, public transit, cars and more. 2. The ability to transport goods in an efficient and sustainable manner for the benefit of all
Nature Play
A child-led, unstructured play, occurring outside and using natural materials. This approach provides children with the freedom to be the architects of their environment, to invent and build using their own creativity and problem-solving skills, all the while developing an appreciation for the natural world.
Nature-Based Education
A learning approach that engages children with nature and its elements through nature-based activities. It places a strong emphasis on using natural settings, including forests, ravines, parks, and gardens, as a primary setting for educational experiences. Key characteristics include ecological awareness and stewardship, connection to place and experiential learning.
Nature Connections
Open Data
Data that anyone can access, use and share. Any person, business, government or organization can use open data to bring about social, economic and environmental benefits.
Open Smart City
An Open Smart City is where all sectors and residents collaborate in mobilizing data and technologies to develop their communities through fair, ethical, and transparent governance that balances economic development, social progress, and environmental responsibility.
Outdoor Classroom
An outdoor learning space designed to connect students and staff to the natural world, incorporating elements like trees, rocks and shade as well as features like chalkboards and seating, to create an immersive and engaging place for learning, play and discovery.
Participatory Planning
The process by which plans and decisions are made with the full participation of the communities they will impact - in a way that is accessible, collaborative and meaningful.
A form of engagement that prioritizes ecological, historical and cultural relationships to and the care of ‘place’; and unsettles shared public spaces to bring the presence of Indigenous histories and futures into focus.
The process of working together to shape and create public spaces. Placemaking brings together diverse people to plan, design, manage and program shared-use spaces.
Public Space
An area or place that is open and accessible to all people, including streets, public squares, parks, beaches and civic spaces. Successful public spaces are designed with all residents in mind and allow people to interact with these spaces in different ways. Great spaces enhance livable cities by supporting a sense of connection, individual and social wellbeing, and community expression, identity and diversity.
Regenerative City
A city designed to eliminate negative environmental impact and help restore balance with natural systems. Regenerative cities are low-carbon and rely on renewable energies, not fossil fuels.
Regenerative Landscapes
Landscapes that restore the ecological integrity of an area, encourage biodiversity and contribute to the sustainability of the land itself.
The capacity of individuals, communities, and institutions to design and implement solutions that allow them to adapt, grow and innovate in the face of future disruption and systemic change.
The process of modifying a building after it has been built, by changing existing systems or structures to improve its quality; in some cases, to increase its resilience to the effects of climate change.
The ability of an organization, system, project or process to adapt, evolve or implement resources to expand its impact
Smart City
A resilient, inclusive and collaboratively-built city that uses technology and data to better the quality of life for all people.
Smart Infrastructure
The integration of data and tech into the fundamental facilities and systems serving a community, city, country, or other area, including the services and facilities necessary for its economy to function.
Social Infrastructure
Sponge Cities
A term used to describe urban areas that are designed to absorb rain and mitigate flooding. As communities adapt to a changing climate, areas such as school grounds and city parks with permeable surfaces and abundant natural areas can act as a sponge to allow water to infiltrate into the ground and drain safely.
The ethical and responsible care of environmental resources, information, property or public space.
Strategic Foresight
The practice of exploring and planning for possible futures by identifying unexpected changes that can create a range of potential outcomes. This may help inform city building strategies in present day to bring us forward to our preferred futures.
Street Furniture
The various objects and amenities that are strategically placed along streets with the purpose of benefiting the community. It encompasses a wide range of elements, including benches, streetlamps, bus stops, fountains, sculptures, trash cans and more. These items serve a crucial role in communities by enhancing the functionality, convenience, aesthetics and social interaction within public spaces.
Sustainable Tourism
Systems Change
The process and/or outcome of generating shifts within layered, interconnected structures to address complex problems. Advancing systems change often challenges the status quo in order to create positive results.
Tactical Urbanism
Low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment of public spaces, such as bike lanes or sidewalk patios, intended to immediately improve the lives of residents, and act as a demonstration for possible permanent changes.
Third Place
A Third Place is a social setting, separate from a person's home (
Tower Renewal
The act of retrofitting aging concrete apartment towers into vibrant, socially inclusive, and economically viable communities. This process of transformation reduces carbon emissions while adhering to standards of equity, comfort, health and safety for residents.
Transit-Supportive Development
A type of urban growth that is concentrated around areas well served by a range of mobility options.
Unexpected Solutions
The surprising and inspiring outcomes that result when people from across sectors and with differing perspectives convene to propel forward new visions, spark partnerships and catalyze change.
Universal Design
The design of environments, products and services to be accessed, understood and used by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
Urban Intervention
A project that alters a city or neighbourhood to make it more enjoyable. These projects are often temporary, low-cost and run by the community.
Urban Resilience
The capacity of a city, its businesses, institutions, residents and communities, to survive, adapt and grow despite whatever stresses and shocks they experience.

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