CityTalk Leadership Lecture: From Making the City to Using the City

To mark CUI’s 30th anniversary, the Canadian Urban Institute and its Board of Directors are proud to have presented the first annual CityTalk Leadership Lecture featuring internationally renowned designer and urbanist Dan Hill for a provocative presentation on how cities can change, and a panel of Canada’s leading urbanists: Cynthia Dorrington and Zahra Ebrahim.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. “Technology is the answer. But what was the question?”

According to Dan Hill, throughout history the act and art of city-building has been to be quick to jump to technical solutions, often before we have asked more fundamental questions about the kind of city we collectively want. But this is the opposite of how we should approach city-building. Says Hill, “We don’t make cities for technology, buildings, and infrastructure. We make cities for culture, community, commerce, and conviviality, enabled by the infrastructures of everyday life.”

2. Locking in experimentation: getting past pop-up, pop-down

Hill argues that we need to get past the pop-up, pop-down model to revitalize our main streets and communities. He poses that policymakers need to institutionalize policymaking and regulatory frameworks that help us to lock in and adapt the creative interventions and experimentations that are naturally happening in our cities all the time.

3. Unlocking delight through public participation

According to Hill, “designers have to help people feel like they’re making a mark on their city. Delight gets unlocked when we work with participatory design processes.” Discussants Cynthia Dorrington and Zahra Ebrahim agreed that community engagement is critical in the process of planning for the future of our cities, towns, and communities. We have to interrogate who’s asking the questions. Says Ebrahim, “co-design is often a plot device to advance a conversation about power in the city and who has it.”

4. Rethinking the city design and delivery team

Hill argues that participatory city design is about more than consultation. It is also about rethinking the way we put together our city design and delivery teams. For example, can we include in our design and delivery teams, from the beginning of and throughout the process, voices such as a community liaison, a youth worker, a historian, an artist, or a healthcare worker? Argues Hill, “It’s not about drawing a picture of what we want the community to look like, but creating the condition for what we want to happen there.”

5. The infrastructure of everyday dignity

COVID-19 has presented us with an Overton window—an opportunity to centre a recovery on climate resilience, human and non-human health, and social justice. It is also a moment for us to narrow down on the hyper-local. Hill suggests that we should shift our mental model to “the one-minute city of the street, directly outside our front door, when we can talk about regeneration, conviviality, culture, shared ownership, participation, adaptation, and repair.”


Dan Hill’s lecture slides

Antionette D. Carrol

8 80 Cities

Participatory City

Video from Vancouver, 1907

Vancouver 1907 Trolley View

Field Guide: Equity-Centered Community Design


Carroll, A. (n.d.). Field Guide: Equity-Centered Community Design. St. Louis, MO: Creave Reacon Lab.

Dorling, D., & McClure, K. (2020). Slowdown: The end of the great acceleraon– and why its good for the planet, the economy, and our lives. New Haven: Yale University Press.