The Council for Canadian Urbanism, or CanU, has kept a fairly low profile since its founding two years ago. Last March, CanU issued a 10-point "call to action" to Canada's federal political parties during the national election campaign, but the manifesto didn't elicit much response.
Within the past week, however, the group held its third invitation-only summit—this one in Vancouver—and came out of it determined both to involve a broader range of professionals and to expand its focus from cities to regions.
The first two summits, in Toronto and Montreal, were led mostly by city planners, architects, and landscape architects—individuals who have been Canada's chief proponents of urban design. This year's summit, convened by CanU founding president and Vancouver planning director Brent Toderian, added progressive transportation engineers, transit specialists, and land developers.
The gathering focused on "urbanizing 'the whole region,'" Toderian told New Urban Network. It involved "key urbanist voices at the regional level and from suburban municipalities."
The organization decided to "develop a clear message that engages the public and media around a better urbanism," Toderian said. That message may be "analogous to the 'stop the gravy train' message used in the last Toronto election," he suggested.
"It was noted by many that given the subsidies and bankrupting costs associated with sprawl, 'stop the gravy train' could easily be co-opted by urbanists," Toderian elaborated. "We're considering an ideas competition to marshal the collective Canadian creativity around this message."
Among the things that CanU will be doing, according to Toderian:
• The organization will be taking positions and advocating on key issues at the federal, provincial and local levels.
• We'll be engaging more with the media, both mainstream and alternative, and the public this coming year before CanU 3 next year in Calgary.
• CanU will also be spending this year growing its membership, stabilizing new base funding, and expanding its strategic partnerships with bodies like CMHC [Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation], the Canadian Urban Institute and Spacing [a periodical on Canadian urban issues].
Toderian pointed out that "key CanU leaders were recently very vocal and influential around the proposed changes to the Toronto waterfront planning in recent weeks."
Brian Gould, a transportation planer and urbanist, summarized the Vancouver conference in an article posted on Spacing Vancouver. Gould identified a principal difficulty of CanU, as compared to the US-based Congress for New Urbanism: CanU is heavy on public employees and is "not in the same position to advocate politically" as CNU's founders, who came from the private sector.
"Among the obstacles it may face are a relatively disengaged population that don't know what the organization means by urbanism, let alone identify themselves with the cause," Gould added.
Nonetheless, CanU seems to be relishing the challenge of fighting against what Gould described as "decades of subsidies and development inertia." Said Gould: "The short-term plan they mapped out — including hiring the staff that could allow greater freedom in advocacy — can't come soon enough."
CanU's draft charter is available here.