Context: Building Toronto’s first urban planning and unplanning design course for community designers
In a lot of our work doing community development we often get asked a very similar question: “how would I access the city planning system to get my idea/plan/project through?” While the answer for each individual case is different – the overarching theme is often the same – community leaders do not have easy, simple to understand access to the planning system and how they can take their ideas to the next level. To many, the planning system is a black box with no easy inputs.
About a year ago, we met Jennifer Chan, Founder of Exhibit Change – a consultancy that focuses on community facilitation using design thinking. We talked a lot about community planning and the barriers that prevent good community ideas from becoming reality. We recognized that we had a common interest in wanting to help communities understand more about the planning system and good community-based design. Together, we set out to create Designing Toronto.
After speaking with many planners and architects in the city (including Swerhun, Maximum City and People Plan Toronto) we realized that we were not alone in recognizing this need. Indeed, there is a whole community of community leaders and professionals eager to help out and it wasn’t long before we had an amazing advisory team and a long list of volunteers. Among our key supporters to date include Jennifer Keesmaat, the City’s Chief Planner, Mitch Kosny, Associate Director of the Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning and Giulio Cescato, who runs the City’s Planners in Public Spaces program. We’ve received emails from often frustrated planners who see the need to help break down these barriers for the communities they work with.
Designing Toronto has always been about using a design, learning and planning process to create a platform to educate communities about design, learning and city planning. Our core tenet is education and providing communities with the tools they need to get their ideas off the ground. We see these tools as: understanding how to navigate the planning system, how to engage with planning politics and how to co-design your ideas with your community. We are constantly evolving and learning from our shared experiences in order to create the best possible way to provide this education to communities.
Our focus to date is trying to figure out how best move forward with this. Over the last few months, we’ve held several design sessions with our advisory group and we’ve recently created working groups to focus on specific areas such as curriculum development, fundraising and logistics.
- Unplanning – Our article in Novae Res Urbis (October 25, 2013)
- Tweet from Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s Chief Planner, about #dezTO
- Designing Toronto Information Sheet