Published on November 2, 2023
A bold new focus: Public places as a solution to some of the most pressing challenges cities and communities face.
Evergreen Brick Works showcased its full potential on October 16 as hundreds of people from across sectors and across North America came together for the Evergreen Conference.
This year, the annual conference returned with a bold new focus — to Make the Case for Place as a solution to some of the most pressing challenges cities and communities face, including climate change, housing affordability and access to nature.
Diverse voices from Indigenous leaders, educators, elected officials, city builders and community advocates echoed a common thread: public places are the epicentres of community well-being. Words from Wyandot Elder Catherine Tammaro as well as a sacred perfromance by Afro-Indigenous singer and activist Nenookaasi Ochrym helped us open the conference in a good way.
Jen Angel set the tone for the day with her impassioned vision for Canadian cities. “We can design places that nurture biodiversity and cool our cities, manage stormwater and sequester carbon,” she said. “Together, we can build places that break this crisis of disconnection, by connecting us with nature and each other.”
Photo by Al Yoshiki
The site was buzzing as over 400 visitors experienced the beauty of Evergreen Brick Works. In the heart of the Don Valley, the once abandoned brick factory served as a living demonstration of how underutilized public spaces can be transformed into community hubs bursting with life.
Between sessions, attendees shared their favourite public spaces on a larger-than-life chalkboard, highlighting beloved places like Ontario Place and Halifax Commons. Indigenous youth led by Ryan Besito painted the Two Worlds Walking art installation, a depiction of the Indigenous experiences in an urban context. Conference-goers experienced firsthand the power of Evergreen’s AI for Resilient City tool and had the opportunity to embark on self-guided audio tours of the site. The warm glow of campfires in Koerner Gardens created an idyllic atmosphere to gather and have meaningful conversations about the power of public space.
For those who weren’t able to make it to the conference, here’s everything you need to know.
Zita Cobb’s inspiring keynote session transported us to the enchanting Fogo Island, Newfoundland, where she co-founded the charity Shorefast and the award-winning Fogo Island Inn.
Key takeaways included:
Facilitated and gathered by Laura McPhie, this closed sharing circle offered a space for urban Indigenous community organizers to share the needs and challenges they face making meaningful urban spaces for Indigenous people.
Leaders from the Infrastructure Institute and University of Toronto’s School of Cities showcased how creative mixed-use projects convey the future of collaborative and intentional city building, focusing on the potential of creative development in public places and technologies that support social infrastructure and climate resilience.
Key takeaway: Successful mixed-use projects depend on mutually-beneficial partnerships, and public lands offer the greatest potential for these types of projects.
Landscape architect Birgit Teichmann was joined by leaders from Evergreen, Arup and Halton District Schoolboard to discuss the challenges, collaborative relationships and ideas that brought the Climate Ready Schools vision to life at Irma Coulson Public School.
Key takeaway: Evergreen helped transform the Irma Coulson Public School grounds into a climate-responsive community hub with spaces for outdoor learning and multi-sensory play, using a participatory design process including ‘fire-side chats’ and embracing ‘beneficial risk’ for children’s development.
Interdisciplinary partners, practitioners, and community leaders with unique perspectives on the future of city-making in Canada came together for this collaborative workshop led by Matthew Claudel, founder of Field States.
Key takeaway: It’s crucial to emphasize the significance of culturally appropriate spaces in cities, such as those for smudging, to honour Indigenous placekeeping and land stewardship.
Leaders from Evergreen, Park People, Sustainability Studio and Davis Pier presented various ways of approaching the impact measurement of public spaces to tell the stories of outcomes related to well-being, climate resilience, and sustainability.
Key takeaway: ‘Collective sensemaking,’ the practice of interpreting data as a group or community, can gather a more comprehensive and nuanced view of how a public space affects people’s lives.
Paula Gallo and Annie Vandenberg from Recreate Place led this outdoor experience at the Brick Works, exploring how to integrate participatory, child friendly and nature-based approaches into the design of public spaces.
Key takeaway: While working with children in a consultative context may be unfamiliar territory for some designers and placemakers, incorporating children’s perspectives throughout all phases of a project is fundamental to the project’s success. Art supplies can help children creatively express their ideas about the kinds of places they want and need.
7GenCities Co-Holders Tanya Chung-Tiam-Fook and Jayne Engle led this imaginative session, weaving in Afro-futurity perspectives and methodologies, decolonial and Truth & Reconciliation principles and actions, and land-based perspectives.
Key takeaway: It is imperative to focus on collective imagination, relationships with the Earth and each other, and empowering individuals to build inclusive cities and communities for future generations.
Representatives from Evergreen, Waterfront Toronto, LDM and the mayor of Lachine, Quebec, Maja Vodanovic, offered examples of affordable and mixed-income housing that also contribute to healthy, liveable, and inclusive communities.
Key takeaway: The West Don Lands Revitalization in Toronto is a showcase of how to transform under-utilized public lands to increase affordable housing, expand public transit and create meaningful parks and public spaces.
Gabrielle Fayant-Lewis, Pam Glode Desrochers, Ryan Besito and Nenookaasi Ochrym helped guide the audience into thoughtful conversations around supporting urban Indigenous inclusion in public places.
Key takeaway: The experiences of urban Indigenous young people are vast and deeply varied. Letting Indigenous people lead projects for the community is essential.
Irma Coulson Public School’s Principal Cheryl Hayles sat down with Evergreen’s Executive Lead Cam Collyer for an in-depth conversation about how the Climate Ready School’s Pilot has impacted her students, staff and community.
Key takeaway: The Irma Coulson school ground redesign received some pushback from parents over concerns of ‘risk,’ but teachers and families have stepped up to safely manage the risky play needed for child development.
Evergreen’s Zoya Sodhi, Senior Program Manager, and Joshua Welch, Program Officer, walked participants through AI for the Resilient City: a scalable analytics and data visualization platform for extreme heat and urban heat island effect.
Key takeaway: Evergreen’s AI for the Resilient City tool, the data visualization and analytics platform designed to assist municipalities in planning for and mitigating the impacts of climate change, has primarily been employed by municipalities for urban heat island mapping. the tool’s future expansion into other data points, such as energy use, will be informed by community needs.
Koroush Rad, Evergreen’s Director of Planning and Development as well as architects and landscape architects from top Toronto firms LGA and DTAH led this active, “walk & talk” style workshop, touring the Brick Works and discussing the plans to transform and maintain the place according to community needs.
Key takeaway: Evergreen is working with architects to make capital improvements to Evergreen Brick Works, including upgrades to the Welcome Centre, a new amphitheatre in the Children’s Garden, upgraded spaces in Tiffany Commons, and an Indigenous-led process to improve functionality of Building 1. This process includes comprehensive consultation with staff, Indigenous partners and the public.
Zita Cobb, Jen Angel and Canadian Urban Institute’s Chief City Talker Mary W. Rowe sat down for an entertaining chat highlighting the key points from the day’s discussion and inspiring listeners to leave with a collective purpose in Making the Case for Place. “With one tool — public infrastructure, we can solve for a lot of really complex challenges,” said Jen.
After a fruitful day of workshops and panel discussions, conference attendees reconvened to unwind and connect under the twinkling lights of the TD Future Cities Centre.
We hope that everyone who joined us for this year’s Evergreen Conference left with renewed confidence and determination to create the kinds of public spaces that we need to make our cities flourish. To everyone who attended, spoke, or had a hand in organizing the conference, we extend a heartfelt thank you. Whether in-person or virtually, we look forward to seeing you next year!