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CanU 1 Toronto (2009)


The first CanU Symposium was organized by the Council for Canadian Urbanism as the first formal event lead entirely by the group and was held in Toronto, 3-4 October 2009. This was an excellent opportunity for existing and new participants to get together, discuss key issues for Canadian Urbanism, the organization and activities of the group.

The Symposium started with a reception held Saturday, Oct 3rd evening at the Daniels Presentation Centre for the Regent Park redevelopment. Over 30 participants were greeted by the host, Mitchell Cohen, president of Daniels Group and key builder in Regent Park in coordination with the Toronto Housing Corporation.

Opening remarks were given by the members of the newly formed Board of Directors of the Council: Brent Toderian (President), Robert Freedman (Chair), Alex Taranu (Secretary). The draft of the new CanU Charter was unveiled and presented by Brent Toderian. Mark Guslits spoke about the remarkable Regent Park project, one of the landmark projects demonstrating what Canadian Urbanism is about.

The second day was held at the Fermenting Cellar of the Distillery District on Sunday, Nov 4th with over 40 participants.

The event was structured in four sessions based on the provisions of the draft Charter including very brief presentations by the Board members followed by ample discussions.

The first session was focused on the history and tradition of Canadian Urbanism and was led by David Gordon, Professor and Director of the Planning School at Queen’s University in Kingston. David (who’s also co-author of the most well known and reputable book on urban planning in Canada) presented a series of case studies across the country highlighting the specific aspect related to local tradition and practice of urbanism. Rick Merill, partner with The Planning Partnership in Toronto (and also one of the key organizers of the event) presented one of the less known but great examples of the golden era of urbanism of the 20s – Westdale neighbourhood in Hamilton.

The second module of the day was led by Brent Toderian and Robert Freedman and presented an overview of various aspect of regional incarnations of what is thought to be Canadian Urbanism. The modules were presented by Andy Fillmore, Manager of Urban Design in Halifax, Nancy Shoiry, Director of Urban Design in Ville-Marie, Montreal, Eric Turcotte, Senior Associate, Urban Strategies, Robert Freedman, Director of Urban Design in Toronto, Jean Trottier, professor of Urban Design in Winnipeg, Jeremy Sturgess, Principal of Sturgess Architecture in Calgary and Brent Toderian, Director of Planning in Vancouver.

These brief modules brought a new look to what was for the group the signature presentation in the first years of activity – the “Canadian Urbanism from Coast to Coast” and were followed by ample debate.

The third module was led by Dan Leeming and Alex Taranu and was focused on the key issue of sustainable and healthy development in Canadian Urbanism including brief.

presentations by Robert Freedman (Toronto’s Green Development Guidelines), Mark Guslits (Regent Park project) and Brent Toderian (Vancouver’s Eco-Density).

At lunch time the participants attention was captured by Ken Greenberg’s enlighting presentation appropriately titled “City-Building: A Prime Role for Canadian Urbanism”

To conclude, the final discussion was focused on the group’s mandate, priorities and activities. The new Board of Directors of the recently formalized Council for Canadian Urbanism was introduced. The Board members represent a balance of various regions of the country and a mix of municipal, consulting and academic urbanists with leading roles in the profession.

A few key ideas emerged in a discussion that we’re confident it will continue for quite a while:

  • One of the priorities should be to draft an appeal to the Prime Minister about the importance of urbanism to deal with Climate Change, having in mind the upcoming Copenhagen Conference

  • Finalizing the Charter was also considered to be a high priority

  • A number of working potential groups emerged including one dealing with the “remaking of suburbia” (considered by many participants to be the main challenge for Canadian Urbanists)

  • The idea to have the next major group event (Symposium or even Conference) in Montreal was reiterated.

  • Albeit limited in time this event showed the reaching of age of the movement which is not anymore “in search of an organization”*

  • The event was attended by well known urbanists from across the country – from Halifax to Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg to Vancouver – planners, urban designers, architects, landscape architects, developers in government, academic and consulting practice.

  • The participation of prominent professionals from across the country indicated the interest that the idea of Canadian Urbanism has triggered and the need for such an inter-disciplinary body to focus on activism, outreach, research, communication.

  • The presentations and discussion also showed clearly that there is a body of work and practice, a defined history and tradition that clearly allow us to state that beyond planning, urban design, architecture, landscape architecture or engineering what is emerging is an authentic, sustainable, healthy, livable and beautiful Canadian Urbanism.

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