Canada is a big country, a very big country. Its built environment is differentiated by vastly separated regions of unique geography, culture, climate, indigenous architectural styles, building materials and governance.

Our ability to learn from one another and to share best practices in community building has often been far easier through a north-south dialogue with our American neighbours, who are within a couple of hundred kilometers, than with our Canadian colleagues spread out across five time zones and 7,000 kilometres. As a result, we end up adapting planning and design solutions generated in the United States that may or may not fit our particular needs in the Canadian urban context.

While each region of Canada has its unique characteristics, it is also true that communities across the country share common approaches to the design and building of places. There is a unique Canadian protocol of how the planning and design process is managed, where growth should go, an understanding of inclusion, and what relationships and partnerships should exist between short- term private needs and longer term public needs. Despite geographical proximity, in many ways Canada has more in common with Australia than with the United States when it comes to managing growth and determining its final form and location.

The need to share information, to learn about exemplary urban design initiatives, and to understand the means and barriers determining what is built led a group of Canadian Planners and Designers to bring forward the idea of an emerging “Canadian Urbanism” and create a new organization called the Council of Canadian Urbanism (CanU).

Canadian Urbanism

The concept of “Canadian Urbanism” came to be from a few key observations:

  • Canada is increasingly an urban country.
  • There is a distinct Canadian Urbanism, a shared approach and perspective to cities and city-building that has evolved over time within our Canadian constitutional, political, social and cultural history.
  • Canadian cities and city-regions share challenges and opportunities unique to our Country. At the same time, Canadian Urbanism shares characteristics and challenges in common with progressive urbanist movements in other countries and global regions.
  • Canada’s cities and city-regions face significant challenges and urgently require a more progressive, creative form of urbanism, to become more sustainable, livable, healthy, and resilient.

CanU believes in a few principles for a sustainable and authentic Canadian Urbanism:

The 4 pillars of sustainability: ecological, social, cultural and economic sustainability

A new Canadian urban model: based on mixed-use, higher-density, complete, walkable neighbourhoods, supporting sustainable movement choices, with corresponding approaches and standards replacing the separated, low-density, car-oriented model of the past.

  • Regionalism, diversity and authentic sense of place
  • Place Making, with an emphasis on high quality physical city-shaping, urban.
  • Flexibility, resilience and designing for change
  • Integration: professional integration and silo-breaking
  • City leadership and community collaboration

CanU has established a few objectives for its work:

  • To Advocate for Canadian Urbanism and its core principles
  • To Educate city-building professionals, political representatives, the public at large about the importance of CanU, of urban design, the sustainable
  • To Communicate and partner with other professionals
  • To Lead the movement towards a more sustainable future

The Council for Canadian Urbanism is an incorporated not-for profit organization lead by a Board of Directors and has a Draft Charter launched at the CANU1 Symposium in Toronto in 2009.