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CanU 2020 - Step up conversation
Access to Daily Needs

Learn how communities can be designed, and re-designed, to help those who live and work there to more easily and equitably get those things they need every day

  Wednesday, October 21st 2020


Aftab Erfan


Robin Mazumder

Ryanne James

Andy Filmore

Clara Stewart

Wildly different perspectives come together in this truly unique conversation - an Urban Neuroscientist living in Edmonton, the new Chief Equity Officer for the City of Vancouver, the Federal Member of Parliament for Halifax, NS, the Manager of Community Development at the Community and Family Centre in Toronto’s Jane/Finch neighbourhood and an Indigenous community engagement and youth outreach specialist living in Vancouver’s False Creek.  What could these urbanists from different walks of life in different parts of Canada have in common?  They are all passionate about understanding how the design of their neighbourhood has played a role in people’s access to daily needs during the COVID-19 Pandemic – things like health care, social connection, food, employment, the feeling of belonging, space to physically separate and much more.  Join this amazing group as they explain their own perspectives and observations and explore the thoughts of their panel colleagues.

Access to Daily Needs Recording
Play Video

What we’ve heard


Communities that fared best during the Covid-19 pandemic have been intentionally designed to mix different types of housing, offer well-crafted public spaces that bring people of different socio-economic groups together, and offer a wide variety of daily needs within easy walking or cycling distance. Access to daily needs has a direct impact on individual and community health and wellbeing.


Access to daily needs is heavily influenced by safety – people will not use places and spaces that do not feel comfortable and safe. Access to goods, amenities, and services located in spaces or along routes that are unsafe is only “perceived access” and not true access at all.

“It makes me realize how important the urban
design professionals are part of the heath care team.
I can’t do anything as an occupational therapist,
a physiatrist can’t solve these problems at the individual level do an individual we need a collective and systemic solution to these issues.”

– Robin Mazunder.                                      

 (See 38:38 of Conversation Panel)


  • Ensure that people can access most of their needs quickly, easily, and safely.

  • Look deeper: establish a clear understanding of the residents’ actual needs.

  • Diversify everything. Include the broadest range of amenities, goods, and services in every neighbourhood.

  • Make the socio-economic mix intentional.




  • Develop capacity in communities so that they can advocate for the kinds of design interventions they need to support better access to their daily needs.

  • Advocate for government health agencies to become more involved in the design and re-design of neighbourhoods.

  • Prioritize investments in existing neighbourhoods over new ones.



Design differently

  • Create walkable neighborhoods, with 20-minute access to most daily needs.

  • Retrofit existing neighbourhoods to reduce car-dependency and ensure that daily needs are easily accessible within convenient walking and cycling distances. 

  • Eliminate the harmful segregation of uses and building types. Promote mixed use zoning and increased density to foster neighbourhoods as the ‘heart’ of cities. 

  • Preserve diverse main streets in post-war cities and introduce new ones where they are lacking. 

  • Intentionally design housing and public spaces that bring people of different socio-economic groups together.

  • Scale up food access. Support non-market alternatives. Encourage growing food in parks, squares, underutilized public spaces, former parking lots, etc.

  • Rethink the zoning of underutilized spaces such as parking lots, front yards, etc. Transform parking lots to public gathering places in high density communities.

  • Emphasize safety when designing the things that people use daily, such as safe routes to work and grocery stores, safe park and public space environments, and safe transportation options.

Case in point

See how two neighbourhoods fared differently during COVID-19

(Vancouver's Millenium Village by Ryanne James at 25'23-32'14 and Toronto's Jane Finch by Clara Stewart at 32'32-38'37)

From the Drawing Board


What do you think are the top 3 barriers to better city building and design in Canadian communities ?


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Anchor 1

The panel

Andy official headshot.jpg

Aftab Erfan - Moderator
Aftab Erfan is the new Chief Equity O"cer at the City of Vancouver. She previously served as an instructor at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning and was the Director of Dialogue and Conflict Engagement at the University of British Columbia. Aftab has worked in the areas of community engagement, conflict resolution, strategic planning, intercultural diversity and leadership development. She has a PhD in Planning from UBC and a Masters Degree in Urban Planning from McGill University.


Robin Mazumder is doctoral candidate in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, where he is studying the psychological impacts of urban design. His research is inspired by his passion for urbanism, his frontline experience working as an occupational therapist in mental health, and his interest in human-centred design.

He graduated with his Master’s in Occupational Therapy from the University of Toronto in 2011 and completed training in design thinking in 2015 with Stanford’s D School. Robin’s doctoral research is funded by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Canada’s most prestigious doctoral award.


Ryanne James is a community builder and public engagement specialist. She is the former President of the Athletes Village Housing Co-op in Vancouver’s False Creek and an active cooperative community member. She has made exceptional contributions to UBC through long-term and sustainable Indigenous community engagement and youth outreach and she serves as the Program Coordinator of Musqueam & UBC Bridge
Through Sports Program and manages the UBC Vancouver Indigenous Students’ Collegium. She has significant background in social justice, mental health and Aboriginal youth empowerment. Ryanne has a Master’s Degree from UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning.


Andy Fillmore is the Member of Parliament for Halifax and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. First elected in 2015, he previously served as Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage, as well as for Democratic Institutions, and served as Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous A!airs. Before politics, Andy spent twenty years as an urban planner and community builder in the private, public, and academic sectors, including as Halifax’s first-ever Manager of
Urban Design. He attended Acadia University and holds graduate degrees from Harvard University and Dalhousie University. Andy grew up in Halifax, and he is a proud, unrelenting champion for his hometown in Canada’s Parliament.

Clara Stewart is the Manager of Community Planning and Development for the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre. In this role, she engages and supports community to help them develop skills and capacity to act as advocates for their familie and community and take on the leadership of creating the change necessary to
strengthen their neighbourhoods. Clara worked as a Volunteer Designer at Exhibit Change – a design driven community engagement consultancy and think tank, encouraging impact through design thinking. Clara has a Bachelor of Community Design and Environmental Planning from Dalhousie University.

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