Published on November 11, 2022
Jen Angel makes the case for place as Evergreen’s newest leader.
You’ve heard us say it before: Evergreen’s work is all about connections.
Connection is at the heart of building vibrant and sustainable communities. It’s no wonder then that Evergreen’s new CEO is renowned for her ability to bring people together to develop vibrant and inclusive places. These are places where people can come together in unexpected ways and build new relationships with community.
Jen Angel hails from the East Coast, from Halifax, where she was most recently CEO of Develop Nova Scotia. She is most often found there on or in or by the sea — at the beach or on a boat with her husband and her dogs. She loves to cook and is inspired by bountiful fresh seafood as well as seasonal and fresh produce at the markets.
We asked Jen Angel about her first moments at Evergreen, the importance of connecting with community and more.
What excites you most about Evergreen?
I’ve discovered that the people here are amazing. I was attracted to Evergreen’s work because it is connected to my life’s work. Building spaces to influence change, environmental regeneration, economic development, and community building. I think we have a solid foundation of community and corporate partners, private sector influencers and government interests working with us to drive innovation. I think we’ve got all the right people and skills to really push the envelope on trying new things in this space.
Working in this space requires a lot of connecting. How do you connect to people?
I genuinely care about people, so I want them to feel that. I want them to feel comfortable. I’m usually the person in my family that hosts all the dinners — there’s no greater joy than spending time around the island or table with good people and good food! I think it’s so important to welcome people in and spend time together.
What are some unique perspectives you bring to this role?
Being a woman, and having experienced, at least on some level exclusion and barriers to participation, I can see where some of those barriers exist. I look for them and work to actively address them. As a society, we have groups of people working in team environments that don’t feel seen or heard or understood. They’re not feeling that they belong. There’s a lot we can do as leaders to create the conditions for individuals to belong. And it’s not just the right thing to do, it can, in really meaningful ways, make better teams and create greater impact. So, I think that’s one of the things I can help to unlock.
You’ve spent time in Toronto before, but how do you try to discover a new city or community?
The way to discover any new place is to go to the local coffee shop, go to the yoga class down the street, go to the local market; get to know the local shopkeepers and just get out on the sidewalk. It’s just having conversations with different people. I like to head to the main street of a city or town because they tend to be the most accessible, with small businesses and good public spaces. Main streets are also a centre for diverse expression and the energy of community.
How do our civic commons help build connection in communities?
The best public spaces are places that attract and bring different people together to meet and to discover and to learn things they might otherwise have not. So, the basics are important, like clean, safe, green, places to sit. And we need to create the conditions for people to see themselves in the landscape, but it’s not just the built environment. These spaces need to support and be welcoming to a diverse mix of people through programming, as well. Urbanist WIlliam H. Whyte has said, “what attracts people most it would appear, is other people.”
Why is it even so important to bring people together?
Public space is the platform to bring people together — it’s the magnet. But wellbeing is the point; to be joyful, healthy and thriving. Studies have shown well maintained public spaces have a meaningful impact on community resilience. It’s where people know their neighbours and create those connections.
What role can Evergreen play in leading sustainable public spaces?
It’s enormous! There’s this idea that it takes social infrastructure has to be a massive intervention to be meaningful in the way that attracts and engages and contributes to health and wellbeing. Small acts done by many also matter and I think one thing we can do is show how it’s done. Lots of people are thinking and talking about it — few also have the opportunity to actually build it in a way that’s accessible to the public. Evergreen does that.
So, it’s that and it’s influencing the conversation. It’s making the case for place.