Civic Commons Learning Journey: Toronto

One of the best ways to learn is to see things in person and talk with the instigators who are bringing about change in their communities. Last week, 8 80 Cities hosted the #CivicCommonsUS Learning Journey in Toronto. A collaboration of national foundations and a network of local partners in the U.S., Reimagining the Civic Commons is working towards four primary goals: civic engagement, socioeconomic mixing, environmental sustainability and value creation. 30 city-builders attended the study tour, bringing together leaders from Akron, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis and Philadelphia. We planned the journey in a way for the participants to experience active, accessible and vibrant public spaces and neighbourhoods that bring civic engagement and socioeconomic mixing to life.

The first day of the tour started with an insightful opening session with Jennifer Keesmaat, CEO of Creative Housing, former Chief Planner of Toronto, and now Toronto Mayoral Candidate, as she discussed Toronto’s evolution and future. After that, we visited Dufferin Grove Park and Scadding Court Community Center, where we learnt about public places that involve residents and give them a platform to develop resident-centred recreation and businesses. Then, we continued our journey by visiting Regent Park and 401 Richmond – home of 8 80 Cities!

Jennifer Keesmaat presentation

Jennifer Keesmaat presenting to the group

Jutta Mason sharing Dufferin Grove Park story

Jutta Mason sharing the story and success of Dufferin Grove Park

The second day began with a tour of Thorncliffe Park, highlighting how residents can collectively come together and support economic activity. Later that day, we visited The Bentway where we saw how re-purposed and well-programmed sites can help to forge connections between public spaces, followed by a visit to Fort York National Historic Site. We couldn’t end the day without stopping by Sidewalk Labs Toronto, where we understood how to use technology as a tool for effective and inclusive city building.

Ken Greenberg introduces The Bentway to the participants

The final day of the journey started with a 9km group bike ride through the historic Distillery District, Corktown Common and the Lower Don River Trail to Evergreen Brickworks.  Guided by the CEO of Evergreen Canada, participants toured the historic space, learning how Evergreen has leveraged various sustainable revenue models to support social enterprise and build cherished public spaces.  Following this tour, participants had the opportunity to learn from public servants and advocates from across Toronto and the province of Ontario working towards similar goals in the Canadian civic commons.  The discussion was wide-ranging and passionate.  Ideas centred on system level arrangements that act as building blocks for sustainable city design.

The group biking to Evergreen Brickworks

Geoff Cape, founder and CEO of Evergreen guiding the tour

Geoff Cape, founder and CEO of Evergreen guiding the tour of the space

Discussion with public servants and advocates from across Toronto and the province of Ontario

Along with active touring, we also encouraged participants to reflect and share how their experiences could influence their work at home especially concerning revitalizing and connecting civic assets. We had a wonderful time learning together and would like to thank everyone who was a part of this study tour.

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