CityTalk: Our Case for Place – Highlights from the Evergreen Conference

5 Key

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

1. Be a worm: the local-scale multi-solver

Jen Angel, CEO of Evergreen, calls for attendees of the Evergreen Conference to be a “worm”. A worm is a source of food, aerates and fertilizes soil, and prevents erosion. Great public spaces, thoughtful and intentional, “like the worm—a very simple thing—can solve for a lot of things.” We can leverage both public infrastructure and the public realm to solve big and complex challenges, from food security and social disconnection to stormwater management and environmental stewardship, all at the same time.

But according to Jen, arbitrary human-created barriers, or bureaucracy, form the biggest hurdles to building the public realm in ways that serve communities.

2. Take down the fences

Zita Cobb, founder and CEO of Shorefast, describes the overreach of laws and regulations in the management of small enterprise. These rules often go beyond minimum standards, related to pollution, health, and labour laws, to onerously dictate where and how establishments can operate.

Jen calls for the removal of bureaucratic barriers, better engagement with communities, and providing the permissions necessary for communities to use the land and shape the public realm in ways that serves them. This requires a fundamental rethink of government’s role, from relinquishing top-down control to enabling and incentivizing community participation and leadership in the making of place.

3. Community ownership and collective empathy

Zita states that communities are greatly undermined by over-professionalization in the management of built form and public space, with their desires often requiring consultants’ reports for government approval. Community agency exists where and if there’s ownership over the process. For Jen, community engagement is the foundation for building places where people can see themselves.

When asked by Mary Rowe what we can do about NIMBYism, Jen responds, “I think you have to walk toward it.” Better public realm decision-making comes from listening with authenticity, reflection, and incorporating multiple points of view, from locals and those from outside the immediate community. It requires the fostering of collective empathy and building trust.

4. Programming for social connection and wellbeing

Jen and Zita remind us that places consist of programming, and in many cases, more so than infrastructure. We’ve seen plenty of examples across the country of people, with a touch of creativity, transforming underutilized lots into vibrant gathering spaces. Zita says, “If the economy is working the way it should, it is social. And where we gather, whether we’re buying tomatoes or having coffees … that is all a part of public space.” There’s also an increasing body of research linking better public spaces to physical and mental wellbeing that practitioners should pay attention to.

5. Economy of place: an architecture for collaboration

Zita implores us to think of the economy as the foundation for enabling social cohesion. Reflecting on her work on Fogo Island in Newfoundland and Labrador, the framing that relaxed people the most was in consideration of the region as one economic community and eleven different cultural communities. People no longer had to defend their identities.

Closing the discussion, Zita calls on the audience to think about the economy of the place they are in. “I want them to think about every single dollar that they spend, and where they spend it, and where that goes.” Rather than spending on big box, multinational chains, we must think about how to tether money to a place in support of the local economy.

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software.  Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

Mary Rowe: [00:00:00] Hi, everybody. I’m Mary Rowe. Happy to have you. This is the graveyard shift, as they say. We’re standing between you and a beverage. So I know how difficult that is. But who could you have better to do that with than these two gals? And we also have an online audience coming in from across the country. And as we always do with CityTalk, we’re going to ask people to sign into the chat and tell people where you’re coming from. All of us here in Evergreen won’t be able to see that, but my producers will, and they’ll be glad to have a sense of who is tuning in. And also they’re going to send me your questions. So if you do have questions or comments, they’re going to come to me magically through the benefits of modern technology. Thanks to Zita Cobb’s early career, we can actually communicate this way. So … Just saying. Anyway, we’ve had a full day here and I just want to first of all acknowledge this, that what Evergreen has been and is becoming is a very exciting, important thing. It continues to be. And Jen, welcome to your new role. I was going to say that this is a session with three old broads, but you’re not as old as Zita and me are. You’re doing a fabulous job and it’s really been a great, great day. And part of our challenge now is going to see if we can weave together some kind of a something, something … I’m looking to see if I have a countdown clock. Otherwise we’re just going to stay here until you’re really desperate for a drink. Oh, I see – it’s down there. Okay, 42 minutes and counting. So the first thing I’m going to do is go out to you. Please, could you just quickly between you turn to your neighbor and come up with two words – no aphorisms, no platitudes, two words that describe what is unresolved for you. What did you not hear or what are you going to leave with, that you’re going to think about … Two words of challenge going forward. Talk to your neighbor for 30 seconds. Two words. Call out two words and I’m not giving you more than one chance. Call out two words. Somebody. Thank you. Equitable Access. Another two, please. How now? Brown cow? Is that what that was? Is that what you said? How now? Two words. Ability and access. You’re cheating, but we’ll take it. Okay. Two words. Say. Just a sec. Say it again. Funding. Oh, yeah, that … funding. Over here. Something wealth? Political. Oh, yes, important “Political will” – anybody else have two words? “Overcoming bureaucracy”. “Racial justice”. Two other words, anybody? It’s three words, but I’ll give it to you. Dismantling the system … Systems. Okay, So, you know, the thing about these days is that this is exactly the kind of a change that’s important for us to be having with one another. We can’t seal it all up in one session. And both Zita and Jen have professional lives that are about engaging on these questions. So with that context, ladies, I’m going to ask something of both of you, and for Zita for your benefit – Jen started this morning talking about the ecological services of a worm. And showed a picture of a worm. Right. And then talked about all the benefits of a worm. You Zita, in in your talk often show a picture of a chair. And say, how much can we expect of a chair? We need to expect a lot from a chair. So I’m going to start with you if I can. Jen, talk to us about what you see the challenges are … To be the worm. You kind of called us this morning – “Be a worm”. What are the challenges? [00:03:56][236.0]

Jen Angel: [00:03:56] Hashtag be a worm. I mean, I think the reason for the worm – and the worm almost didn’t make the cut last night at 11:00, by the way, is that it’s actually pretty simple stuff. We’re trying to bring it to Earth, no pun intended. Like this is not rocket science that we’re talking about, but also like the worm, great public places, thoughtful, intentional public places … And it’s not harder to make them work harder. We know how to do all the things to bake all of those services into the public realm. We choose not to do it. But like the worm, a very simple thing can solve for a lot of things. And to me, that’s compelling or ought to be. [00:04:44][48.0]

Mary Rowe: [00:04:45] And it’s on the ground. And you have this wonderful set of things that a worm does it aerates … It … just list them off. Can you remember them? They were good. [00:04:52][8.0]

Jen Angel: [00:04:53] I mean, it’s food. It aerates. It breaks down the organics. It fertilizes … It prevents erosion and supports, you know, stormwater management in the soil like … That’s not the point. Public spaces can do all those things. In fact, we’re building school grounds that do it. The point is that with one tool in this case, public infrastructure, public realm, we can solve for a lot of the really big, complex challenges. And we spend a lot of time talking about really big, complex systems. And there are those. But we have a few things in our toolbox right now that we know how to use. The hardest part about building public realm are arbitrary … You know, human created barriers. Someone said bureaucracy or something. Navigating bureaucracy – It’s just as easy to say yes as to say no. We just keep saying no. There’s the well-worn path to who gets to build it, how you do it, the rules you need to follow. And they don’t serve us. So if we just remove some of those barriers and engage community in the places … doing the simple things. I was just talking to Lee Houston about this. Like it’s not big, complicated things. It’s little things attaching community and giving them permission to use the land the way it serves them, that’s not hard to do. But we keep preventing people from doing it. [00:06:21][88.6]

Mary Rowe: [00:06:21] Why do we make it so complicated. I hope Eva’s here to hear that – this is about multi solving and about … the worm is the ultimate multi solver at a local scale. And can we be satisfied with that? Zita, you started on a very local project. Couldn’t have been more local, really… And you talked for an hour and 5 minutes about the power of place and how we can, as you were saying, we can zoom out. So when Jen talks about obstacles or barriers, what do you see them to be? [00:06:56][34.4]

Zita Cobb: [00:06:57] Well, first of all, I want to say that you can also use a worm to catch fish. So we can extend the metaphor … [00:07:04][6.3]

Mary Rowe: [00:07:04] Well, you actually didn’t hear the end of Jen’s talk, which was that in the east, in the Maritimes, the worm is usually on the end of a hook. [Zita: Yes, exactly, and can do a lot of other things]. And so you were proposing that we were the hook. Right. This was the hook. Yeah. She did string that metaphor … She worked it … she did work it. [00:07:21][17.0]

Zita Cobb: [00:07:22] It’s hard. It’s hard to resist the fish metaphors, yes. [00:07:23][1.5]

Mary Rowe: [00:07:25] We’ve got two Maritimers here. It’s a bit dangerous, just saying. All right, so let’s go back to the obstacles and this notion of starting at the local, because I am a little concerned when I hear people saying we’ve got to dismantle the system or we’ve got to … It sounds big. It sounds distanced. Both of you are engaged in very tangible work, on the ground. [00:07:43][18.9]

Zita Cobb: [00:07:44] So it has been proposed by many, including someone I met with yesterday. And I think it’s a fascinating thing to think about. So if 88% of Canadians work for small to medium sized enterprises. That’s not counting the public sector, take that out … for the private sector, 88% work for small or medium sized enterprises. How would the world be different? How would our communities be different if we said okay for enterprises that have fewer than 50 employees, you can’t pollute the environment, you have to follow the labour laws, but otherwise, do whatever you like. Just do your thing. I think that … I mean, we run a little ice cream shop. You need to have a CPA to know how to run a frigging ice cream shop … [to be able to run the balance]. Yes. You know, to be able to fill out all the stuff that has to be filled out. So I think there are … Maybe it’s because we’re Canadian. You know, we’re also – we’re just too cautious. Like, let’s throw caution to the wind for all the small things. All caution. [00:08:55][71.1]

Jen Angel: [00:08:57] There’s an example that sticks in my mind of talking with a very senior official in Ottawa about removing chain link fences from schools, school grounds, reimagining school grounds as community public spaces and making them amazing. So people actually want to hang out there and play there. And, you know, perhaps rightly, they were concerned that if you take down the fences, people can get in and the kids are there. And to my mind, I mean, the people who want to get in to do bad things, they’re getting in around the fences anyway. What’s worse is that people aren’t getting in and community is not getting together. And so the kids are online rather than outside. And the communities live, you know, behind closed doors. So I think we just fundamentally have to challenge the things we think are the only way to do things – like the rules that have been set up, for some reason, they’re just not fit for purpose anymore. And we know the story that they they create. [00:10:02][65.0]

Mary Rowe: [00:10:04] Yeah. I mean, this idea of … We’re probably a risk sensitive culture, I think, it’s probably attached to colonialism. I suspect my colleagues who are more sophisticated in their understanding from the Indigenous Community than I would be, would probably say that – that colonialism has become a construct, planning, zoning … To control. And you’re saying, wait, there might be some tweaks we could make to remove some of those impediments. If you look at all the advocacy we all now do for creating complete neighborhoods, complete communities, a lot of it is. Why not? Why can’t we take the fences down? Right. [00:10:40][35.8]

Jen Angel: [00:10:41] Yeah, in big ways, too. I mean, again, I think we’re still building highways. [00:10:44][3.1]

Mary Rowe: [00:10:45] We’re still building highways. [00:10:46][0.6]

Jen Angel: [00:10:46] As a priority. [00:10:46][0.4]

Mary Rowe: [00:10:48] Mm hmm. Mm hmm. [00:10:49][0.7]

Zita Cobb: [00:10:50] But it’s also a little bit about back to that ice cream shop or any other small enterprise of any kind. We somehow make laws that tell us how to do it, as opposed to say, “okay, don’t pollute, don’t poison anyone and observe the labor laws”. But we don’t stop there. We tell you then and then we make you fill out forms so we make sure you’re doing all that. And so I think we’ve created a huge amount of rigor mortis. And I think that blunts people’s will after a while. It’s like that is really hard to do anything. I must tell you this funny story when I left Fogo Island in 1975, I finished high school … we all had animals. We had horses, we had chickens, we had pigs, we had goats. And then in the winter, the horses were for getting wood and then we’d let them go in the summer, because if you let the horses go, they will feed themselves. They will also get together – anyway … We had no town council. There was no official government. Sometime in the eighties, I think came a council. The first thing they did was to say, “Enough of this … animals going about, if you’re going to have horses, they have to be penned in the summer. Well, we have no horses anymore. Because – now you have to go out and get the food to bring to the horses who are inside the fences. So you kind of look at it go, well, maybe it’s not great that horses are swarming around the island, but we’ve got caribou that are still … we haven’t put them in fences yet, but I mean, I’m with you. Let’s take down the fences. [00:12:28][98.9]

Jen Angel: [00:12:30] Well, and when you have such complex rules, you end up with really well-intentioned, lovely, you know, municipal staff who’ve become regulators, rather than city builders, who are interpreting the code. [00:12:43][13.0]

Zita Cobb: [00:12:44] Because that’s their job and they’re supposed to do it. [00:12:46][2.3]

Jen Angel: [00:12:46] Catching you in the act. [00:12:47][0.2]

Mary Rowe: [00:12:48] There would be an assumption, I think, that, you know, the bigger you get, the more sophisticated you get, the more intense an environment becomes. You’re going to have to have these rules. But you’re saying, wait a minute, I’m talking about … a small place. And the tendency we have to try to move in and try to control things versus allowing some things to emerge and self-organize, which is the challenge. And I would challenge all of us here who are engaged in city building, you know, just be aware of our own controlling tendencies that can start to come out – where all of a sudden we’ve got the way, it has to look like this, it has to look like that. Yeah, it’s it’s a challenge, right? How do you keep the balance? [00:13:30][42.3]

Jen Angel: [00:13:31] Well, I think to really engage community and to me that’s foundational for building places where people actually see themselves. They need to be involved in the building. That is a relinquishing of control by definition. And so I think the same is true in government of building a place where people can see themselves and participate wholly. It means you have to be able to relinquish some of that sort of top down control, command and control style of leadership. And I’m actually seeing the exact opposite happening across the country. We’re seeing, like cities who are the closest order of government, I would contend, to the people. I think that’s pretty widely held view. The power is being taken from the cities and is being taken under this cover of “it’s a crisis. We need to go faster”. And what’s unfortunately happening is it’s cutting out community from the decisions around building our cities. [00:14:32][60.1]

Mary Rowe: [00:14:32] So what do you … Let’s take that for a second, because it’s a lively conversation in many parts of the country. Don’t know how many of you see what has just happened in Nova Scotia. It’s happening in Ontario. It’s happening in British Columbia, where provincial governments are now imposing and saying, “you’re not meeting your housing targets. So we’re going to intrude”. Tell me what we do about when … And I’m sure, Zita, get us some thoughts on this … What do you do when a local community won’t change? What do you do about NIMBY? What do you do about people’s resistance to letting new people move in? How do you deal with it? [00:15:02][30.3]

Jen Angel: [00:15:03] I think you have to walk toward it like it’s not a … I mean, you talked about false choices earlier. It’s not a “either/or”. Like, we need the community engaged in the decisions. And so you have to … Going to community doesn’t mean doing what the community wants. The community doesn’t want with one idea, but it is about hearing like listening with authenticity and hearing the individual points of view, and then taking that information, hopefully with a bit of leadership and, you know, a broad take on it. So it’s not one person taking that and then deciding what they’re going to decide anyway. But you can reflect on the pieces that you hear and then hopefully it informs a better decision. But you still have to make a decision. You still are in a position of decision. [00:15:56][52.7]

Mary Rowe: [00:15:56] So share with people who may not know the story as well as we do, but share with people the story about Peggy’s Cove and how that went down. Just tell that story. [00:16:04][8.1]

Jen Angel: [00:16:06] Yeah. So there is a place in Nova Scotia called Peggy’s Cove. It’s among the most visited tourism destinations in the province, in the country maybe. It used to be a fishing community. It now is much smaller than it was before. It used to attract or does attract, many hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. So not uncommon to wake up and find someone drinking a cup of tea on your couch in the community. But it was indeed a living fishing community. We … I was working for a crown corporation responsible to steward some important infrastructure improvements there, related to climate adaptation, but also just helping improve the visitor experience and centering the community first, like a living, breathing community first. So not a tourism destination first. But there’s a variety, even among the very few people who live there, there’s a variety of opinions on what should and shouldn’t happen. And so, you know, our job was to start with community, work with community, hear community and build a plan with community. And when that plan began to be actioned, we got a whole lot of people who didn’t live in community telling us the ideas were wrong. And they also had good points of view because it is a place that many Nova Scotians feel they own … [it belongs to them] And that’s okay. And so I think the point was for us … It still needs to happen. Like it’s hard to do public engagement. I’ve heard that a few times over and over. It’s really hard to do it in a meaningful way that actually people feel is worthwhile for their participation, that they’ve been heard, that they see the results of their engagement in, you know, whatever the outcome is. And our responsibility in that case as an organization charged with stewarding the land is to engage with, again, with a sort of open mind and open heart and really try to ensure that we’re being responsive to and considering all of what we heard. [00:18:18][132.1]

Mary Rowe: [00:18:18] But tell the story, what happened? [00:18:19][1.0]

Jen Angel: [00:18:21] Yeah, the shit hit the fan and it was on the national news and there were placards and, you know, whatever … And then there’s a a local artist, Bruce McKinnon, in the local paper, who … And it was, a lot of was about this particular intervention, which was a viewing platform designed to provide access over the very difficult to access natural terrain, to people who use mobility aids who … And one of them, a very good person who was very patient with me over a period of time, who used a wheelchair, said to me he, hadn’t been out, on the rocks or near the rocks of Peggy’s Cove for ten years. When he had visitors who inevitably wanted to go there, he would wait in the car while they walked out over the rocks. So we were doing a deck one way or the other. The deck changed in its appearance. We had to make sure that we weren’t doing the deck in a way that conflicted with the sensitive natural environment there … There was a place that was very important to Indigenous folks. So there was there was stuff we learned along the way that actually directly changed the way it unfolded. But so Bruce McKinnon did this cartoon and it was a dude holding a sign that said, “Don’t change Peggy’s Cove” and a guy in a wheelchair trying to look past it at the view. And then the public … And we wrote a note, we wrote an editorial. The public conversation started to shift. And I think, I said to the team at the time, I remember, like – these are hard conversations, but you still have to have them. You still have to move through them. We don’t represent everybody. We’re not a proxy for community. Community is community. And they don’t all agree. Even within certain groups, within community, we don’t all agree. That’s what makes the thing interesting. But we do need to listen and we need to be open to change things in a way that’s responsive for the right reasons. And so that’s what we did. [00:20:37][136.0]

Mary Rowe: [00:20:37] So it feels to me when you tell that story, which I’ve heard you tell before, that there was a moment where somehow you were able to foster collective empathy. That there was a moment of recognition, and this is where … It’s dependent on trust. And then you can somehow move forward. This is going to work for you, and I’ll find a way for it to work for me. Zita, you you were in a community that had ten communities,. [00:21:02][24.5]

Zita Cobb: [00:21:04] 11 if you’re from … 11. [00:21:06][1.9]

Mary Rowe: [00:21:07] And you’ve told me the story before that ta community five kilometers away from your home, you did not venture to … Five kilometers … Till you were 12. [00:21:18][11.9]

Zita Cobb: [00:21:20] Exactly. And when we started this project in 2006, we had five town councils. Five mayors. And we went around and started with all of them and they all had very different reactions and what they wanted and didn’t want. [Mary: Did they trust you?] The community I grew up in probably trusted me more. But that one five kilometers away trusted me less. And I mean, this is about the hyperlocal. And I think whether you’re talking about Peggy’s Cove or you’re talking about Joe Batts Arm … it’s … I want to come back to the poem … It’s about holding on and reaching out. And I think any community that hasn’t thought about the reaching out part is doing a disservice to the people that are not here yet, in that place. [00:22:17][56.2]

Mary Rowe: [00:22:17] So we should talk about that for a minute. I’m sure that will resonate with lots of folks that, are we thinking about the next generation? Are we thinking about who is coming next [00:22:25][8.4]

Zita Cobb: [00:22:26] Are we thinking about the region? So there is there’s hyper local and then there’s local and then there’s regions. So like who should decide? Because we’re on the example of Peggy’s Cove, I don’t know how many people live there. 150 people. I don’t know. [00:22:38][11.5]

Jen Angel: [00:22:38] No, way fewer, I think there’s 30 … 30 or 40 [00:22:41][3.6]

Mary Rowe: [00:22:43] And why would those 30 or 40 people be the ones to have the ultimate say? [00:22:47][3.2]

Zita Cobb: [00:22:47] That’s the question. Should they, because they live there, decide for all Nova Scotians or all Canadians? And that’s a question that … I think it’s the right question. So how do we decide and who is it for and in what timeframe are we talking about? So whatever we do in Peggy’s Cove today is going to be done on Peggy’s Cove for a long time. And yet the consequences fall hardest on the people, good and bad, on the people who live there. So how do you find that balance? And so I’ll tell you one – Fogo Island, one of the most important sentences, because people in these 11 communities on the island, really attached to the specificity of their place. I mean, they’re different. Like Deep Bay and Tilting are very different places. With one sentence. And the sentence that sort of … Where people kind of relaxed and went “okay, now we can talk about this” is “we are one economic community and we are 11 different cultural communities”. And I think when people start to feel like, okay, so I don’t have to defend … then the economy can be an enabling thing that people then start to come together. We now have one town council. For the whole island. [00:24:03][76.4]

Mary Rowe: [00:24:06] So let’s talk about that, because you and your talk make it very clear that you’re about economy. You’re about an economy being the network. And it pretty much self-defines, based on – I know Jane Jacobs used to talk about regions, many people here would be familiar with her work on that. And she would often say “it goes as far as the money goes”. That’s how big the region is and if you follow the money … So when you think about the connection between place and money or assets and resources, people,… I’m going to try to remember that distinction you made. How do we make decisions then about ownership, tenancy, regulation? How do you decide who is the decider? [00:24:48][42.5]

Zita Cobb: [00:24:49] I don’t think we have built those architectures very well. The one that you will know because in our community economy’s pilot project were five communities, one of them was Victoria, and Victoria and region have come up with what I think is an admirable piece of architecture called the South Island Prosperity Partnership, which has sitting on it – business people, municipal leaders, Indigenous communities that are around Victoria … Not for profits. And they basically try and play a coordinating role in the economy. [00:25:25][35.3]

Mary Rowe: [00:25:25] And it’s an it’s ad hoc, it’s not formalized. It hasn’t been empowered by government. It’s collaborative. [00:25:30][4.7]

Zita Cobb: [00:25:31] I don’t I think it came up from the bubble … from the worms. I don’t I don’t exactly know how it started but … and it’s, I’m sure, they suffer and struggle, but they have an architecture. They talk to each other. And I mean, this is the same thing on Fogo Island, like we … No one wants to be told how to live, but we are not going to be successful as a community, if we can’t have an economy that works, and we’re not going to have an economy that works unless you do your bit. And if you need to change something and you need to change … [00:26:04][33.3]

Mary Rowe: [00:26:04] So the so the economy is the connective tissue, it’s the piece … it’s the foundation … [00:26:07][2.8]

Zita Cobb: [00:26:08] It’s the foundation … Yes, it’s the connective tissue, how you belong to the broader economy and regionally and provincially and nationally. But it’s the foundation. That’s what we need to build together. [00:26:19][10.9]

Mary Rowe: [00:26:20] It’s interesting because if you look at public spaces, Jen, and I’m sure in the work that Evergreen will continue to pursue across the country, you’re going to have examples of fabulous public spaces. And it won’t be clear that there’s only one owner, right? Or there certainly won’t only be one stakeholder. So I guess could we look at … There’s a whole body of work called place governance, which is not about governments. And I’m wondering if there’s opportunities for you to partner with the private sector. And, you know … [00:26:49][29.4]

Jen Angel: [00:26:50] Yeah, I mean, I feel like first of all, if anybody’s the owner, it isn’t any of us. Right? And I think the the idea that somebody has to own and decide, is the thing we should be talking about. Like we can set up constructs that don’t just remove barriers for community participation and agency and decision authority, but actually enable and incentivize it. And one of the things I’ve certainly learned in my time working in sort of asset-based community development is, community can do a whole lot of things with not that much. And we spend a whole lot of stuff on things that don’t have a lot of impact or don’t have the right impacts. So I think there’s just a fundamental rethinking of where government has a role or how government might be able to activate other sectors, including community at large, in areas, you know, that is beneficial for community to lead. Included among those better public spaces. [00:27:55][65.3]

Mary Rowe: [00:27:57] I mean, is this word … Land trusts? [00:27:58][0.9]

Jen Angel: [00:27:59] I even think it’s like simple stuff, like health. We spend a pile of money on health … The system can’t keep up with all the sick people. [00:28:07][7.6]

Mary Rowe: [00:28:07] So you want to somehow … What’s the mechanism to get us to upstream investment so that we spend less on health when you’re sick and more on the kinds of things that keep you healthy? Right? [00:28:15][7.8]

Jen Angel: [00:28:15] Yeah. Like where are … the team’s been chatting with Kate Mulligan, for example, whose Institute for Social Prescribing … So this stuff is emergent. There’s huge research, an increasing body of research around the mental and general health benefits of better public spaces and time and nature and all the things. Again, I think it’s not the way we think it all works. [00:28:37][21.5]

Mary Rowe: [00:28:37] It may also be that government will be, with all due respect to my colleagues from government who are here. Government may not be the first in on that. They may need other kinds of money to go first to demonstrate and the government maybe will follow. [00:28:50][12.2]

Jen Angel: [00:28:50] Yeah, I mean, I think that’s one of the things I’ve found to be pretty exciting about this sector that I now find myself involved in, like the ability to leverage private investment, sort of community minded, you know, corporations and also individuals who are willing to invest a little in the public realm, that is attractive to government because then their scarce public dollars will go further. [00:29:17][26.8]

Mary Rowe: [00:29:18] And the risk is distributed. They’re not having to carry the risk. [00:29:20][2.3]

Jen Angel: [00:29:21] I mean, if it’s great, they can they can own it. And if it falls apart, I’m happy to take it. [00:29:26][5.1]

Mary Rowe: [00:29:26] And then you’ll take the hit … And Zita, Rajan’s work on the three pillars was also about that, about how do you actually get an equal stake and that we’re not waiting for only one sector to fix something. [00:29:38][11.7]

Zita Cobb: [00:29:40] You know, I think in the in the community pillar, as Rajan calls it. I think it’s been undermined a little bit, I mean, a lot, by the over-professionalization of things. And it starts with – if you want to do something and let’s say we want to collaborate with the other pillar, let’s say the government pillar “oh well, we have to get a consultant to give us a report before we can do that”. It’s like, okay, well we all got together and said, this is what we’d like to do. But no, now we have to get it blessed or validated. And then what happens is all that knowledge that comes out of that becomes something that consultants are trading in, that is actually not in the public domain. And it’s like we … again, we’ve become sort of stunted somehow in our ability to … But I also think, I know Mary always gets mad when I say this, one of the biggest challenges, and maybe this is only in small communities, is we’re not particularly coherent. So I really feel for a government agency or a company that comes into a place and with all good intentions is like, how do you talk to a community? How do you work with the community? It’s like trying to work with a porcupine because we are self- cancelling. You sort of started this, our conversation with this, like how do you deal with NIMBYism and so on,. [00:30:59][78.8]

Mary Rowe: [00:30:59] I’m so interested. I mean, how did Peggy’s Cove happen? How do you … I mean, you built an Inn, for crying out loud, an extraordinary modern architecture Inn, in a part of the country that isn’t exactly known for modern architecture. So somehow you were able to cobble together … And I’m assuming it’s based on trust and on some kind of … They started to feel a collective, they were willing to take a collective risk. [00:31:22][22.4]

Zita Cobb: [00:31:24] Yeah, I think it helped that I grew up there. As one man said, I’m sure you didn’t come home to make things worse. But I think the … but the other thing was about ownership. I think that’s where the trust came from, because I don’t know that Inn. Right. And I think if it was, you know, some corporation #850 that’s going to put up an Inn on Fogo Island, I think they’d be finding the pointy part of people’s elbows pretty quickly. So I think … Not that it couldn’t be done, but then it comes down to the process, it comes back to this ownership thing. I think that’s the – where community have agency is where there’s ownership. [00:32:02][38.0]

Jen Angel: [00:32:02] Yeah, I think setting expectations that this is not about satisfying everybody in the room, but it is about listening. And if you can be authentic and listening, and feedback what you’ve heard, and then talk about how the decisions that were made reflect what you heard – that it’s in and why, and that it’s out and why. Like, that does build a bit of trust and … [00:32:26][23.3]

Mary Rowe: [00:32:26] Transparency. [00:32:26][0.0]

Jen Angel: [00:32:27] Transparency, but also authenticity. Like having worked in government, there are lots of public open houses that people were excited when no one showed up. [00:32:34][6.8]

Mary Rowe: [00:32:34] Yeah, exactly. We’ve all been to those. I’ve gone to those. Yeah. So let’s just go back then to this idea of accessible space, we heard accessible here, and public space or civic space. This idea that a physical manifestation matters, a place matters. And I know that both of you are championing that. And I’m curious for you, Jen, and then for you, Zita, in terms of how do we shift the way we invest, how do we shift the way we regulate, how do we shift the way we do policy to make place the primary consideration? [00:33:10][35.7]

Jen Angel: [00:33:13] That’s a hard question. I mean, I think to me fundamentally … So there’s already lots of value inherent in the public realm, for example, that can be leveraged to make the improvements that need to be made. [00:33:30][17.4]

Mary Rowe: [00:33:30] Like streets, for instance, we own those … [00:33:32][1.8]

Jen Angel: [00:33:33] I mean, even just in my experience working on a waterfront, it was a brownfield site where nobody would build. Now there’s literally hundreds of millions of dollars invested there of private capital, because it’s a place everybody wants to be. You know, the High Line is a perfect example of that in New York City, where the development lift all around it was significant. How can we extract some of that, for example? But I think fundamentally, the more powerful and compelling possibility of public realm is that if people actually see themselves in it, if they feel welcome to participate, if they … Especially folks who haven’t seen themselves in the public realm before, haven’t felt welcome to participate before and as a result of that, community can come together, different people from different, you know, spaces and places can all come together and meet each other and buy tomatoes or, you know … [00:34:32][59.2]

Mary Rowe: [00:34:33] Some kind of exchange. So there’s a programing piece, there’s an animated piece. I mean, back to description this morning, this afternoon, which was so important, is that you started with art. So you started in essence, with programing. You felt it was important to visually attach place to an expression. [00:34:53][20.2]

Zita Cobb: [00:34:54] And conversation around that? It’s about the conversation that art … [00:35:00][6.1]

Mary Rowe: [00:35:01] So it’s not just a static place, it’s actually an engagement. [00:35:04][3.3]

Zita Cobb: [00:35:06] Yeah. And if the economy is working the way it should, it is social. And where we gather, whether we’re buying tomatoes or having coffees and whatever, that’s … that is all a part of public space. [00:35:17][11.4]

Mary Rowe: [00:35:18] You know, and our version of that is main streets. And we’ve got data now to suggest that, you know, 70% of the Canadian population lives within 600 meters of a main street, and that’s where they exchange, talk, purchase. But it’s the economy that started it. [00:35:33][15.2]

Mary Rowe: [00:35:34] That’s it. I mean, that is the sticky parts that bring us together. And so if you look at a place like Fogo Island, very different from Toronto. We would gather in churches and church halls and then we don’t. Right. And now we have all these churches and church halls. [00:35:52][17.8]

Mary Rowe: [00:35:53] Isn’t that an asset? Is a church an asset? [00:35:54][1.5]

Zita Cobb: [00:35:55] Well, it depends on what you have … Right. Because we don’t want Fogo Island … [00:35:58][2.7]

Mary Rowe: [00:35:58] I think communities across the country … [00:35:59][1.0]

Zita Cobb: [00:35:59] What are we going to do with all these churches? I mean, Shorefast, we have six or seven, and we are struggling to repurpose them and we’re like … It’s … how do you make it a bit … the Evergreen – I mean, you’ve figured out so many things here. How do you create a space that is engaging, that is a part of programing … Like why would you come here? Because it’s a pleasant place to be, there’s something to do, there’s something to buy or something … somebody to see. But you need to grow that. [00:36:27][28.0]

Mary Rowe: [00:36:28] But the case for place that you each are building in your own ways is not an empty place. It’s a place for people. [00:36:33][5.5]

Jen Angel: [00:36:34] No, I mean in places, not just infrastructure. It’s equally program. And in many cases it’s more about program because I’ve seen great examples of, you know, shitty pocket parks that have no no grass and whatever, that turn into these amazing, you know, pop up markets. All you need are people and a little bit of creativity. [00:36:55][21.2]

Mary Rowe: [00:36:56] I’d just like to acknowledge that program that Jen has been the one offering profanity here. It’s not been me and apparently not Zita, although we’ve got 4 minutes left so Zita and I can get a curse word in before the end. Go ahead. [00:37:09][13.0]

Jen Angel: [00:37:10] Thanks for pointing that out. [00:37:10][0.8]

Zita Cobb: [00:37:11] But no, I want to say this about the programing, because what did the churches give us? Programing. [00:37:15][3.4]

Mary Rowe: [00:37:18] And those places still … that’s part of the evolution of all these places. We just came out with a big report on libraries and they’re all about the program. They’re all about people gathering. So going forward, we’ve got to wrap … [00:37:29][11.5]

Jen Angel: [00:37:29] But it’s hard to get permission to do that. [00:37:31][1.7]

Mary Rowe: [00:37:31] Say it again? [00:37:32][0.2]

Jen Angel: [00:37:32] It’s hard to get permission to do that. Sometimes you have to pay for the police to be there, like hosting a festival during COVID, in the beginning, in Halifax, you needed to provide an indemnity to the city. So if someone got COVID at your event … [00:37:49][16.5]

Zita Cobb: [00:37:50] You surely can’t bring your horse … [00:37:50][0.2]

Jen Angel: [00:37:52] Or you can’t bring a horse either. [00:37:53][0.9]

Mary Rowe: [00:37:53] Okay, so we’re coming back, circling to how do we combat our own risk aversion, whether it’s in the bureaucracy, whether it’s in ourselves, whether it’s in our neighbors. So as we round out this session, you think about the Evergreen Conference, what do we want to send people away thinking about? It’s the power of place. What else? [00:38:10][17.1]

Jen Angel: [00:38:11] Yeah, place is multi solving … [Mary: and multi-solving] With the scale and complexity of the issues before us. We should be paying pretty close attention to things that have the capacity to solve for multiple of those issues at the same time. And place can do that and it’s not that hard to build it if we just remove the barriers – which aren’t really serving … [00:38:31][19.8]

Mary Rowe: [00:38:31] So let’s start thinking about pulling the barriers back – Zita, what about you? What do you think? Do you believe? What do you want them thinking about? [00:38:36][5.2]

Zita Cobb: [00:38:37] I want them to think about the economy of the place they’re in. I want them to think about every single dollar that they spend and where they spend it and where that goes. For every thing you buy, when you go into the shop and I hope you’re going into shops, not giving Jeff Bezos more money. Ask to see the economic nutrition label. And of course, they’re not going to have it yet because they haven’t rolled it out. But then you can show them, this is an economic nutrition label. And I just think we have to bring the money home. [00:39:07][30.4]

Mary Rowe: [00:39:09] And so you want to tether money to place. [00:39:12][3.1]

Zita Cobb: [00:39:14] Yes, I want them to get … come to a place and move around and stay in the place. [00:39:17][3.6]

Mary Rowe: [00:39:18] And stay there. And Jen is creating spaces where we can drop a bit of dough and start to have that kind of engagement with the economy and with the place and with the people in it. [00:39:26][8.0]

Jen Angel: [00:39:26] Yeah, I want people to get together in public spaces, to get to know each other again. I think we have a crisis of disconnection and it’s undermining our ability to solve for all the other ones. [00:39:36][9.6]

Mary Rowe: [00:39:37] Mm hmm. Mm hmm. [00:39:38][1.2]

Zita Cobb: [00:39:38] Then we can plot the overthrow of the fences … [00:39:41][2.6]

Jen Angel: [00:39:43] With our tomatoes … [00:39:44][0.1]

Mary Rowe: [00:39:46] On that happy note, thank you very much for joining with these two. Thanks for coming to the Evergreen Conference. Congratulations, Jen. This is your first one under your belt. Are you doing a close or is anybody saying goodbye or am I just sending people off to get their beverage … [00:40:01][15.1]

Jen Angel: [00:40:01] I think you’re sending people off, and then I think we have something else happening. [00:40:04][3.2]

Mary Rowe: [00:40:05] Is there any other housekeeping or can we go? I just want you to notice it’s 18 seconds to the break… Thanks, everybody, for joining us. See you next year. [00:40:05][0.0]

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