Group forms to promote Canadian Urbanism

Over the past five years a number of planners, urban designers, architects, landscape architects and developers/builders have joined forces to promote the idea that there is a genuine Canadian Urbanism emerging that express the country’s maturity and urban ideals.

The concept of “Canadian Urbanism” emerged from a few key observations:

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

In 2006, a number of professionals united by such observations and the desire to work together initiated the Council for Canadian Urbanism (CanU) at the World Urban Forum /World Planners Congress. CanU has been continuing and expanding the initial work of the CIP National Urban Design Interest Group (NUDIG), established in 2001.

The group has organized a number of events and presentations, many at the CIP Conferences, including an entire “Celebrating Canadian Urbanism” stream at the 2008 CIP Conference in Winnipeg.

As an organization CanU promotes a sustainable and authentic Canadian Urbanism through the following Principles:

  • The 4 pillars of sustainability: ecological, social, cultural and economic
  • 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 Defining the balance between the built and the natural environment
  • Place-Making, with an emphasis on high quality physical city-shaping and urban design.
  • Flexibility, resilience and designing for change
  • Integration: professional integration and silo-breaking
  • City leadership and community collaboration

CanU has established several objectives for its work:

  • To Advocate for Canadian Urbanism and its core principles
  • To Educate city-building professionals, political representatives, and the public at large about the importance of CanU, of urban design, and sustainable city-building.
  • To Communicate and partner with other professionals and organizations.
  • To Lead the movement toward a more sustainable future for our cities and urban areas
  • To Promote positive change within our cities and professions

For some time, the leaders of CanU referred to it as “a movement in search of an organization”. This has changed significantly in the last few months with the successful incorporation of CanU as a Federal Non-Share Capital Corporation, the establishment of the founding board-of-directors from across the country, and the official launch of the draft Charter. These were unveiled at the recent Symposium, dubbed “CanU 1”in the Fall of 2009 in Toronto.

The CanU1 event was an opportunity for existing and new group members to get together and discuss key issues for Canadian Urbanism as well as the organization and activities of the group. The event was attended by prominent urbanists – from Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and so on. The participation of well- established professionals from across the country indicated the significant interest in the idea of Canadian Urbanism. This further reinforced the need for an inter-disciplinary body to focus on activism, outreach, research, and communication.

The presentations and discussion also demonstrated that there is an established body of work and practice that emulates a defined history and tradition. This allows CanU to state that beyond planning, urban design, architecture, landscape architecture or engineering, what is emerging is an authentic, sustainable, healthy, and livable Canadian Urbanism. The discussion also indicated the strong belief that urbanism could be a “convenient solution” (from many others) to solving difficult global and local problems such as climate change, peak oil or public health issues.

Since the Symposium, the group’s work has continued with a letter to the Prime Minister, Premiers and Mayors of the major cities –urging them to take immediate action. This was timed and sent in connection with the COP 15 International Climate Change Summit, and the corresponding global Mayors Climate Summit, both held in Copenhagen in

December 2009.The letter was also forwarded to media and other professional organizations, and has received very positive feedback.

The dialogue with the other professional organizations is continuing through outreach and introductions, and through the submission of proposals for various professional conferences and events where the CanU ideas should be heard. While an interim Web page is posted with summary information (, the group is working diligently for a permanent page. Work has also started already on the main 2010 CanU event – the 2nd Symposium in Montreal (CanU 2) to take place later this year.

CanU strongly believes that the success or failure of Canada depends on the future of our cities and city-regions, and to a significant extent, the success of our cities and city- regions depends on the implementation of a successful Canadian Urbanism. We hope that an increased number of professionals will continue to be interested in our ideas and activities. We are also looking forward to our ongoing cooperation with the professional organizations and individuals across the country toward fulfilling our goals for better cities and communities across Canada.


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