COVID Signpost 100 Days: Spotlight on Halifax

Hosted by Kourosh Rad, Rad Consulting, CUI Regional Lead, Halifax, NS. Welcome by Debbie Eisan, Community Planner, Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Friendship Centre. Featuring Cynthia Dorrington, President, Vale & Associates Human Resource Management & Consulting, Andy Fillmore, Member of Parliament for Halifax, and Elora Wilkinson, Urban Planner, Halifax Regional Municipality

5 Key

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

1. COVID can and should have a lasting impact on urban planning

In the realm of urban planning, there will be no ‘normal’ to revert to once COVID subsides. COVID can and should have a lasting impact on the way urban planners think about their work and how they engage in public consultation. Most significantly, COVID has forced urban planners and city builders across Canada to pause and take this opportunity to bring previously undervalued issues to the forefront of public debates.

2. Black Lives Matter presents an opportunity for self-reflection

The movement that began in the United States with the tragic death of a man named George Floyd has presented Canadians with an opportunity to reflect on our own history. For many Haligonians this has meant revisiting the history of ‘Africville,’ a community of Black Canadians that existed on the outskirts of the City of Halifax from the early 1800s until the 1960s, when the City condemned the area and evicted the residents from their homes. The legacy of Africville remains a stain on the City of Halifax and urban planners have an obligation to learn from this history.

3. We need to become more comfortable with uncertainty

Urban planners do not hold all the answers. In the last 100 days we have seen incredible innovation within Canadian cities, and urban planners, practitioners, and other leaders are bound to make mistakes. Cities need to have the confidence to pursue new ideas, the strength to admit when they have made a mistake and remember that city-building is a learning process. This is particularly true during COVID, when urban practitioners often have less access to information, less time to deliver projects, and reduced capacity to engage with communities.

4. The goal should be to build community partnerships

Community engagement is too often viewed as a checked box on the journey to delivering a new project. This approach to community engagement does not facilitate real and honest discussions with residents. Instead, urban planners should work towards building long-term partnerships within their communities. We must remember that the voices of those historically left out of these discussions are often those who are most impacted by the decisions we make.

5. Change will be a long, uphill battle

If urban planners wish to build strong partnerships within racialized and other equity-seeking communities, then they must be willing to genuinely and authentically listen to their concerns and priorities. No relationship can exist without trust and there will be many years of work ahead for those who seek to rebuild the trust that has been broken by our past actions. Urban planners need to remember the stories that they have been told over the past 100 days and apply the lessons that they have learned throughout their careers.


Reading &

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line. 

Stop #1: Spotlight on Halifax


Mary Rowe [00:00:29] Hi, good morning everybody. It’s mid-morning in Halifax and in the Atlantic region. It’s a little earlier in the Central Time zones and it’s very early in the Western time zone. So we appreciate people who are early risers coming across the country to join us for CityTalk, six of them across the country today to acknowledge a hundred days of COVID. We’re very appreciative of all our local moderators and hosts who have been working in partnership with CUI for the last. Is it I don’t know how many weeks one hundred days is, my math isn’t that good, but it’s 15 weeks I guess. It’s a really remarkable time in Canada and a particularly remarkable time for our urban environments and our cities. So I really, really appreciate that you’re all joining us. And I hope that you’ll continue to tune in every hour basically, or every 90 minutes for these sessions. And we’ll, as we always do, record them. You’re encouraged to participate in the chat. The moderators will be acknowledging people in the chat and trying to feed them into the conversations. And we particularly appreciate people who are taking time from their day to day and from their various lives to offer their reflections on where we are in day 100. The sponsors for COVID 100, including Municipal World, the Public Sector Digest and First Policy. We’re very appreciative of having their support and in many, many other partners that you’re going to meet over the next six sessions. So this one starts off now at ten thirty in the Atlantic. Then we go to Quebec for Stop #2. And that one starts at 11 o’clock local time. Then we’ll be in Ontario, in London, my hometown, just saying, at twelve thirty eastern. After that we go to the prairies in the north where we’ll be local time one o’clock, two o’clock Eastern and three o’clock Atlantic time. And then we’re in Alberta and then we’re finishing the day on the West Coast at 5:00 Eastern or two o’clock West Coast Pacific Time. So again, very, very appreciative of you joining us. Please go to You’ll see there a report that we’ve issued today called Signpost 100. It’s the first hundred days on what we think is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, on the recovery of urban Canada. Can we build ourselves back better? That report, Signpost 100, is at COVID100, as are really inspiring statements from one hundred people that have participated in one of these CityTalks over the last 12 or 14 weeks. So lots of food for thought at COVID100 And as I said, may I just thank again our participants, Atlantic Canada for helping us kick off a check in a whistle stop, a whistle stop 2020 style as we hear from urban Canada how the first hundred days have gone and what the next hundred days are going to be like. Thanks again. And over to you, Kourosh. Thank you so much.


Kourosh Rad [00:03:13] Thank you very much for that direction, Mary. I’d like to start by acknowledging that the land in which we gather is a traditional and unseeded treaty territory of the Mi’kmaq First Nations and we are going to hear from one of the Mi’kmaq elders from the Friendship Centre to play the flutes.


Debbie Eisan [00:03:38] Sorry, Kourosh, the screen has disappeared. I’m going to try and play it a little later sorry, can you keep going?


Kourosh Rad [00:03:44] Yeah, we have a prayer and a blessing from an elder that we’re going to get shortly here, but I’d like to start by thanking our panel participants very, very excited about the panel. First of all, my name is Kourosh. I’m an urban planner and as of February 1st this year, a restaurant owner in downtown Halifax. So it’s been a fun few weeks for me. We also have Cynthia Dorrington, H.R. Consultant with Vale & Associates. She’s also on board of African Museum in Halifax. Andy Fillmore, the only member of parliament who is a planner and, I was told yesterday, the only planner whose ever been elected to parliaments, which is very exciting. He is also the parliamentary secretary to the minister of infrastructure and communities. I am also very excited to have my friends, Elora with HRM. She’s an urban planner with a City of Halifax and Dartmouth and all the other communities in Halifax. Excited to get her input on this as well. Watch the video there. Yes. No. All right. Well, let’s start by talking about the last hundred days. Obviously, it’s been a challenge like no other before, we’ve seen before. It’s been challenging personally for all of us, I know. But today I’m interested to ask you all: how has it been for you professionally? How do you feel the last hundred days have changed your perspective and the way you’ve worked, the way you commute, the way that you conduct yourself? Maybe I start with Cynthia.


Cynthia Dorrington [00:05:19] I would say that it’s been an interesting time, unprecedented timeframe, uncharted waters, but from a professional perspective, I am doing well. I do realize that this will change how we work going forward. So it’s going to be a new way of working. So a massive change to business and businesses going forward. But ultimately right now, because we’re in our bubbles and we really haven’t opened the economy fully, I don’t think we’re seeing the fallout from COVID-19 from a business perspective until we get back to work. And I think ultimately we have done the technology to get us to where we need to be. But when we get back into the workplace, and as I will tell folks, fear drives behaviors. Right now we’re living in a world where we don’t have the fear because we’re in our bubbles, or perceived bubbles, but once you get back into the workplace, there is no such thing as your bubble. It is a business and business still has to go on. And we have to come up with the way on how business will continue. And I think we haven’t gotten around our heads around that yet. I think this is going to be a new way of doing business, but what that way looks like no one truly knows. But I think it’s going to take all of us to strategize on how to do it. There is no one bullet that’s going to be the best one. I think it’s going to be really engaging with your employees, understanding the fears and actually coming into a new culture, because that’s exactly what’s going to happen here. Every organization is going to be it’s a new way of doing work. It is a new culture on how you actually deliver and undertake work.


Kourosh Rad [00:07:11] Absolutely. There is there is no normal to go back to. There is a new normal. So, Elora, you’ve been busy. It’s been a busy few weeks for you and your team. I know it’s been a small, but mighty team, that you guys have changed a lot of things. Tell us a little bit about your world in the past hundred days.


Elora Wilkinson [00:07:28] Yeah, sure. So, like for everyone, it’s the last few months have been a lot. I think every one day is probably worth two days beforehand or maybe even totaled three days in terms of, you know, mental and emotional and physical work that’s been being done. So that’s both really impressive, but also really important for people to remember and to consider. I think, you know, in our world, professionally, it’s it’s been really exciting. It’s been really tiring. The stakes are high. There’s a lot of expectations and we’re doing new things quickly. But I think we’re also seeing the relationships that were kind of being fostered and new relationships growing really quickly, too, which is really exciting, and new partnerships and new conversations. So there’s, I think there is you know, there’s opportunity to be had and I think there’s a lot of hope for what our new cultures are going to be in terms of how we do work moving forward. But I think it’s been it’s it’s been a lot it’s it’s hard to make decisions with very little data and so quickly that you don’t you don’t have a strong understanding of what exactly needs to be done. And I think, you know, as a planner, that’s that’s hard to not have that assurance and and not have the time to go to the community to the lengths that we would and trying to to balance what we do and how we make changes in a world where things are just constantly changing and we don’t have the time and the information that we normally do. So I think that’s been both a little bit of a learning process and something that we’ve had to become comfortable in. But at the same time, it’s all temporary. So, you know, a big thing that for us has been the support from the government to do things and try things and change things in our teams and really going out and having the public support too and that understanding that things aren’t going to be perfect. Nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. And so we do what we can and we readjust and we move forward. So I think that’s been really, really important for everyone to kind of get comfortable with as we move things forward. But I think, you know, what to me has been the most interesting is how everyone’s had an opportunity to reflect on what our life is. And we’ve taken that pause or been forced to take that pause. And conversations that were happening in smaller groups have become so much more public, whether it’s mobility and what we need, whether it’s how we use public space, whether it’s housing affordability and income, all of those conversations have become front of mind for everyone, which is a huge opportunity for us as we move forward to have those conversations and really think properly about what we’re doing and how we’re rebuilding. So it’s there’s a challenge to that. But there’s also an amazing opportunity that we have to kind of build the society we want.


Kourosh Rad [00:10:19] We’re certainly trying to make the best for our communities, and I do want to talk to a lot more about that today. Andy and Mr. Downtownie how has it been for you?


Andy Fillmore [00:10:27] Downtownie, my Downtown Saint Johns t-shirt here. Look, it’s been it’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? 2020. It started with the loss of that Ukrainian airline. And we thought, wow, what a terrible way to start the year. And honestly, things kind of went downhill from there with the rise of COVID and then a couple of here in Nova Scotia, a couple of tragic events that resulted in loss of service members’ lives. And then, of course, the the rise of Black Lives Matter all around the world. And I think Kourosh we’re going to come back to to matters of equity and Black Lives Matter. So I guess what I’ll I’ll start with just looking through the planner lens for the moment and what I think to this this year is actually the opportunity this year as presented to those of us who ply the trade of of community building and urbanism. And what it means to people who live in communities, our Canadians and our citizens. I mean, I think the biggest thing is this is this has caused us to be able to take a giant leap forward in the way that we think about how communities use public space. With this need of safe physical distancing, we’re seeing our city and state level and federal governments around the world grabbing up public space, whether it’s an extra lane of traffic to turn into a bike lane or whether it’s a row of pylons to widen the sidewalk and whether it’s to grab sidewalk space to allow businesses and sidewalk patios and that kind of thing to flourish, outdoor markets to allow businesses to recover. We are having a really deep rethink, I believe, kind of cracking some of the the ossified thinking around how we use public space in our and our cities to allow more creative thinking. And it’s been because of necessity. So the federal government is responding in a number of ways in that regard, how we think about public space differently and we can maybe talk about that as the conversation goes on. But my I think my main point here is that planners and urbanists and community builders, many of whom are listening and are represented on the panel, whichever direction we come from, we have been fighting a fight for a long time to to be more generous with publicly owned land and to be more generous in our in our public realm. And if we’re looking for a silver linings of the cold pandemic, I think we’ve found one in it. So, yeah, that’s my my main point.


Kourosh Rad [00:12:56] I think I think you’re spot on. I think also, I think you all alluded to it as well. The whole point around empathy has been really important over the past hundred days. I think all of the sudden a lot of we all have empathy for each other at all levels of government and businesses and individuals. But that’s been really wonderful to see, despite all the sad story and tragic things that have happened. With that, I wanted to start with Elora and ask about two words that don’t often go together, but they should probably, and that this creative bureauracy. We have seen a lot of creative things happening around the world. We’ve certainly seen it right here in Halifax. Tell us a little bit about the frontline. How has it been for you as an urban planner, making the changes that we’ve been wanting to see for years happening within days and weeks instead of years and decades? Tell us, what are the changes that have happened in Halifax over the past hundred days in terms of urban mobility? And what are the things that you would like to see continue to happen here?


Elora Wilkinson [00:13:55] Yeah, that’s a lot of questions, but I’ll do my best. But I think, you know, that idea of creative bureaucracy has been one that’s been becoming more and more common in discussions. But I think in the true bureaucracy way of doing things that in order to have creative bureaucracy, you need to put a process around it. So I think what’s allowed Halifax to have the success it has has been the work that we’ve been doing over the last few years to get us to a place where we were able to to respond quickly to try things that we haven’t done before. So with our integrated mobility plan and the coming together of different departments within a HRM to work on these projects that have been happening for the last few years, we’ve we’ve built those relationships. We’ve built those partnerships that we started having the hard conversations around: what is our right of way? Who uses it? How do we have those conversations and those decisions? And over the last year, I’ve been working with my colleagues to build a tactical urbanism program. So taking that even one step further in terms of the discussions about how do we build these things in a different way, how do we become comfortable with things that are a little bit less rigorously vetted in terms of going out to engagement and trying to respond quickly and trying to do a design process faster, but making sure that there’s still the safety aspect to that and making sure that we can understand what materials we can use. What review process we need. How are we maintaining these things, having those conversations up to this point so that when we need it to respond quickly, we could start from there and we could fast track those conversations and move on. And I think having the respect within the departments for each other and the work we do and that understanding is crucial. Being able to roll things out quickly and differently because, you know, the right of way is complicated. There are, you know, there’s reason things take time. There are discussions that need to be had to make sure that things are safe. But at the same time, we also can’t be afraid of trying things and doing things and widening our options. So I think for us, that’s been the biggest factor to our successes is the conversations we’ve been having up to this point. That’s really allowed us to maybe push things, you know, call in favors a little bit more and get them to help and for everyone to understand. And I think Andy’s point around empathy, or maybe it was Kourosh, about the empathy we have for each other has really become crucial to everything that we’re doing right now, because everything is just so chaotic and we need to rely on others in different ways and and we need to really push each other as well and hold each other accountable to to the decisions we’re making and how we’re doing things and making sure that we’re we’re using the right lenses for our decisions. I think for us, in terms of what we’ve been rolling out I guess, we’ve been doing slow streets, which are streets with just barrels and signage on roads that say local traffic only, which to start from we’ve been using map from our integrated mobility plan, the local street bikeways that have been planned. So a lot of consultation had gone into those routes already and there was some comfort in it. And they were also selected because they go places and they bring us to destinations and that focus has been really important. And so relying on those plans allowed us to roll out the slow streets a little bit faster. So we started with, I think it was 12 kilometers and we’re rolling out a whole bunch today as we speak. So we’re really excited about that. We’ve been looking at widening sidewalks and trying to understand where the need is for both queuing and space to move. Though Spring Garden Road, one of our biggest commercial streets, is another one. We have been doing work with the community over the last few years to work on a permanent streetscaping plan. And because we had those conversations, we were quite confident and understanding what the need of that street was and how we could respond in a way. So we widen the sidewalks there kind of to the nature of what we’ll be doing permanently, which is also an opportunity to test out what we’re looking to do permanently. So that’s been evolving and then also working really closely with all the business commissions in the area and getting calls from the businesses and really just trying to understand what they need as they reopen and what we can do. So we closed Argyle Street permanently a couple of weeks ago and it’s going to stay closed until September, which is a first. It’s never we’ve never done that before. But recognizing the need for more patio space, that’s something that we’re able to do. Also looking at how we can reallocate space in different roadways as well and whether it’s changing them to one ways or closing early or anything of that sort. Looking at how we can support businesses. So it’s been a lot of things. And I think in the next few weeks what we’re going to see is that as the needs for the businesses change, we’re going to have to start adapting some of the the methods we’ve used previously. We’re also starting to look at what else we need and trying to understand how we support public transit while ridership is low, and how do we kind of move out of the regional centre as well as things start to reopen. So there is, yeah, there’s a lot of different pieces. But it’s yeah, it’s really exciting and I think there’s been a lot of good response. We’re getting a lot of feedback; things to tweak, things to change. The slow straights that are being rolled out today are different from the first ones. So we’re really appreciative of the public also coming in and giving us that feedback. And now that we’ve had a little bit of time to kind of open up an online forum so that we can get some of that feedback, that is also going to inform how we move forward and start having some of those conversations with the community because we don’t have the data that we usually do to make those decisions. So we really need really need to rely on the community to tell us what they’re doing. How are they moving? What do they need right now? So that we can respond.


Kourosh Rad [00:19:50] I think last last week of May was a very exciting week for me as urban planner in Halifax and as a citizen too. Day after day the municipality came out with all kinds of announcements and slow streets and bike lanes and temporary. And hopefully, you know, you said you said Argyle is gonna be closed until end of the summer, but hopfully it’s going extend from there. So a lot of things happen and it all got announced in one week. So that was a very, very exciting week. And I know it’s been a long and hard hundred days for you, but we do appreciate everything that you guys have been doing. And it’s been wonderful to see young female planners making waves. So from that, I’d like to move to something a little more historic in our city. And that is over the past hundred days, we’ve seen the Black Lives Matter movements coming to bring into light again, once again the racial tensions that continue to exist to this day. Today is also Juneteenth, which is a celebration of the ending of slavery in the United States. What we’ve seen over the past hundred days has really, once again as a planner in Halifax, reminded me the work that we need to do to acknowledge the racism that is a systematic racism that exists in planning right here in our city and all cities across North America. Africville happened here in Halifax, Cynthia. And you would know it better than anyone else. What has the last hundred days meant to you? And how has the Black Lives Matter movement is important in planning and designing our cities, moving forward from here?


Cynthia Dorrington [00:21:30] I think one of the most important things historically we have to understand how Halifax, and with the whole concept of urban renewal or in light of we want to expand. We have to make sure that we don’t dismiss everyone in the conversation. Over fifty years ago we saw that with Africville and how the city at the time. And people sitting on council made a decision around a community that destroyed a whole community. Not only destroyed them, it displaced them and split the community up. And that was humungous, but that wasn’t the first time it’s happened. But that was a stain on Halifax when you think about it, because that’s something that Halifax has to come to grips with. They made their apology around that. But ultimately, what steps have they taken? And as you’re making decisions now and knowing that decisions have to be made around streets, how we do that and making sure that voices are heard, don’t overlook the fact that as although you have already done work in the past to sort of fast track this, make sure we actually step back and have people at the table having those discussions now. Those discussions that were already done or had been done in the past couple of years, where they done with everybody in mind? Because, again, if you’re not if I’m not included in that discussion, it’s not about me. You can make the decision. But you haven’t asked me my thoughts or or my opinion because these are things that happen. We dismiss the people that are actually going to be using it and not all the people. But sometimes we don’t take those into account and don’t assume we know the best course of action. Things are being done fast. Right now, COIVD-19, on the fly things are being done. We’re seeing it from the federal perspective right down to the municipal perspective, but understand it impacts people, and all people, not just a small group. And this these impacts are going to be impacted for a long period of time. This is not a short windfall whereby it’s going to be done and within the next hundred days it’s going to be rolled back. These are things that will probably be more permanent in nature. And so we have to make sure that we are inclusive. And that word is a hard word to swallow. But we have to be inclusive. We have to listen. We have to understand. And when you don’t understand, ask more questions. Get more information. Go back to history because history can repeat itself very easily. And we don’t always think about it, because if you don’t have a historical context to understand what happened and why it happened, we will in essence repeat it again, it’s just the nature of the beast. We’re at Black Lives Matter. This is something that’s happened for hundreds of years. We still want it to happen. We’re at a tipping point. Halifax is at a tipping point. Nova Scotia is at a tipping point. Canada’s at a tipping point. We either go through it, under it or over it. Over it means we are actually being more inclusive, we are actually listening to people and we’re changing the way we do things to make it better for all, not just for some or the majority, but for all. And I think I would rather at this tipping point, this history has had many tipping points and we’ve had to navigate them, I would rather that we navigate this tipping point making sure that you’re including all voices in the conversation because ultimately it’s going to impact each and every one of us. And if my voice has not been included in that conversation or that discussion and the decision has been made, it’s again, the same thing happening from the past. And we can go back to that and we never want to go back to that. If anything, Black Lives Matters has brought up to the fact that we have had racial divide here for a long time and it’s been very systemic. And Africville is as essence that and we don’t want that to happen again. How do we make sure we have the right people at the table, we’re asking the right questions of them, or we’re listening to them? Beacuse sometimes it’s even the listening. Sometimes I’m not at the table. But sometimes even if they are, they’re not being listened to, they’re not being heard. And I think we have the opportunity now to create that conversation. That’s going to be a permanent conversation going forward and valued because we’re all in this together. This is not one group over another group. This is haligonians, all haligonians, working towards a better Halifax. And to me, that’s what we would like to do. But make sure as you’re planning, as you’re looking at what Halifax is gonna look like in the next 5, 10, 20 or 25 years, 50 years, that we all have a voice in what Halifax is going to look like going forward.


Kourosh Rad [00:26:23] That’s that’s really amazing. Thank you for that. I think as an urban planner I’m often, myself, guilty of using inclusion without actually meaning it. And I think it’s really important to go beyond, you know, checking a box and empowering people that are not around the table to find their voice. We’ve ignored their voices for so long that they’re often not encouraged to come to the table. So I think what I’m trying to challenge myself is to, not just ask for it, ask, hey, do you like this? Rather, start a conversation with getting to know each other and empowering the people that have not been empowered to speak out for so long. And you’re talking about planning the horizon as well. There is often this urgency in our urban planning decision making, and we always have to make a decision now, except that we are still grappling with the consequence of Africville that happened 60 years ago. So I think it’s really important for me, again, I’m taking this very personal as an urban planner, to think about those horizons, not the last hundred days and next hundred days, but rather next hundred years. I think that’s a really important issue.


Cynthia Dorrington [00:27:27] And I think another point, just to add on, we make the decision understand we’re not always 100 percent perfect in making decisions, not one of us. And that’s all right. But to revisit that decision, as you look at it and put it in place, when I work with organizations and we’re making changes to a culture, we’re making changes to an organization, it might not be the right change, sometimes coming back and just revisiting that in 60 days, 90 days or 120 days just to find out, hey, is this right? Do we have to tweak or modify? I think that’s when we really make sure that we’re really listening, because the decision we made we thought was the best decision, but it might not be. And that’s all right. If somebody’s coming back and making modifications or changing or revisiting that decision, to me, that’s to me that’s a person that I want on my staff because they’re not just doing the job and then moving on to the next thing. They’re really passionate about making sure that the decisions that they make are the best decisions going forward.


Kourosh Rad [00:28:28] Thank you for that. I got to ask Andy and Elora to weigh in here. What does the last hundred days have meant to you? I mean, I know you are very familiar with Africville and what has happened, but how has movements now changed your perspective as an urban planner and the way that you look at planning? Andy do you want to start?


Andy Fillmore [00:28:49] Sorry, Andy? Did you call on me? Yeah. OK. Well, you know, we started by talking about the use of the land that we all own collectively, public space, but as we determine as communities what to do with our resources, with our communities, with our parks, with our transit systems, with our social supports, our housing networks, we we have to acknowledge that city planning and urban design is not a neutral act. It either advances social equity and social justice or it doesn’t. And we have to we have to accept and live that responsibility. And I just want to say, if folks want to explore this notion of of of race and urbanism, I just watched a beautiful half hour interview. It was on TVO featuring two black urbanists, one from L.A., one from Toronto. They’re both women. And they had the most remarkable perspective. And I am sure we can figure out how to share the link, but it will be an easy Google and I would urge people to take a look at that. But to bring it back to Halifax. You know, the most egregious example of urban planning policy, perhaps in the country happened right here in Halifax, the most egregious example of inequitable planning was, of course, it was Africville, which we’ve which we’ve highlighted. That that led to very large public subsidized housing projects in which African Canadians and African Nova Scotians are disproportionately represented. That led to some of the challenges and and severe problems we see with policing such communities now. It’s resulted in intergenerational loss of access to justice, to economic opportunity, the social equity. So this this is a real thing. And I think, if anything, the the confluence of the importance of community planning with COVID and Black Lives Matter has created this incredible opportunity to do to do better. Cynthia made the really important point about making sure that her voice is included. Through through my career and I think through now through most modern planner’s careers, we live by that mob, by that creed, that if you’re going to be making decisions that impact people, those people have to be at the center of that decision making process. We can’t. None of us have the right to do that in a vacuum without them. So it’s really important that we bring racialized communities into our community planning processes. There’s this book. I just want to hold this up. This is a book that was written by an academic Ted Rutland. He’s a Prof at Concordia. It’s called “Displacing Blackness: Planning, Power and Race in Twentieth-Century Halifax”. He did his PHD dissertation on Halifax and interviewed me when he was doing that dissertation when back when I was a manager of urban design with the city for many years. And he parlayed that into this fantastic book. So this is this is required reading, I think. And I want to I want to give a little shout out to that. And finally, I just want to add that, you know, I. In my job as MP, I in this strange time of isolation, I do my work on the telephone and I talk to so many people day in and day out, individuals, businesses, organizations and people are struggling and really wondering how they can take action to support Black Lives Matter to to increase social justice, to do something is actually significant, rather them than tweeting something or celebrating a certain day of media black social media blackouts and so forth. Well, there is something called the National Black Caucus, and it’s led by my colleague in the House of Commons, a man named Greg Fergus. And I encourage you to go find his Twitter feed. Greg brought together the Black Caucus, it’s parliamentarians of all parties. It’s its governmental employees, its Parliament Hill staffers, it’s MPs who represent districts that have significant black communities like I do. And so I’m a member. We issued, under Greg’s leadership, a declaration last week. There are five concrete actions, areas of work. And I think that anyone watching this show today, there’s this this this broadcast can find something that they could grab onto. You can find that declaration in Greg Fergus’ Twitter feed, you can find it in my Twitter feed. It’s it’s it’s readily available and I encourage people who are looking for a way to find action in our communities to support Black Lives Matter and social justice that they take a look.


Kourosh Rad [00:33:23] How about for you Elora? I know you talked about the importance of public consultation and your work and your inability to do that due to the pandemic right now. But what are your prospectives personal as an urban planner in terms of the race relations and we can do better as planners?


Elora Wilkinson [00:33:39] Yeah. So I guess to start off with to build off a couple of things Cynthia said, the thing that terrifies me most when I hear planners talk is when they’re like this is one hundred percent what we should be doing. This is this is your answer. And it’s something that we hear often with, you know, what might be very good ideas, but I’m always just terrified of that of that confidence that, you know, I have never done anything where I was 100 percent sure this is the way to go. We’re making decisions that are going to have impacts 30 years down the road. We didn’t see 2020 coming. We don’t know what’s going to happen. I think, you know, we have to be OK with making decisions knowing they might not be right. And I think that’s been something that, as a profession, we need to spend some time with and get comfortable with because, you know, it’s OK that we’re not always right and it’s OK to keep learning. But that’s not something that I think we’re always used to to doing and to thinking. So I think that’s an important thing for the profession to think. I think in terms of engagement with the community and the point Cynthia made about, you know, who’s at the table and who’s talking and who’s listening are really important. And to say that, you know, these are new conversations because of the Black Lives Matters is, you know, it’s not true. We’ve been Halifax has been struggling with this for a really long time. And I think over the last few years there’s been a lot of good moves made, you know, in the city we now have a very good diversity inclusion office, which I know for at least planning development has been an amazing resource. To have staff who are dedicated to building relationships in these neighborhoods and having these conversations so that they can help us have real conversations so that our engagement doesn’t become a check point or a checklist, because to have these conversations about a specific project doesn’t work. These relationships go back years and it takes a lot of time to have these conversations and to build those relationships so you can’t expect to go into a community and say “I’m here to talk to you about this specific thing, tell me about what you want us to do for this?” That’s not what these conversations can be. And I think we as an organization have to step back a little bit and be OK that these conversations take time and recognize that we need to put the time into it. And I think over the last few years that I’ve been working for the City, I’ve seen public engagement shift a lot in how it looks. It used to be we hold a single meeting, people come, that’s are are engagment. I think what I’ve seen is a lot more going to communities and reaching out to the community groups within that community that we’re working to try to understand who we should be talking to, you know, doing community walks before we start planning a process, bringing staff into meetings that are already happening with the community and using those organizations that are built from the community to help us understand what we need to do. And that takes a lot of a lot more time. And I think that’s really important. And so when we’re planning our projects now, we need to think about that. So I think it’s great that we’ve got a little bit more of that kind of relationship building constantly happening in the background. But I think we also need to do better when it comes to planning are our timeline for engagement and our timeline for the work it’s going to take. You know, we want the minimum grade fast, we want to do it all, but to have a real conversation, we also need to have the time to have a real conversation. You don’t get both. You don’t get something built in a year and also have real conversations with the community. So I think that’s a little bit of a conflict between what we’re trying to do. We want to do both, but we have to figure out what that balance is so that we can have good conversations. And, you know, we’re just at the beginning. We’re still learning. We’re still building relationships. So I personally have a couple good relationships, but I don’t. Not enough that it’s something that even I’m even proud of. It’s a start. We’re learning. Even with some of the COVID mobility response, there’s some pieces that we thought might be a good idea, but we’ve waited a bit to have conversations with communities and building on some of those things. So it’s been a little bit of a balancing act for us to try to understand what’s happening. And then also, I think because of all the Black Lives Matter and all the other conversations going on, we also it’s about being respectful to who we can talk to and when is the space to have those converasations and understand, you know, is now the right time? For some maybe yes, for others maybe no. And I think that’s been also something that I’ve been trying to learn more about of how we have that. And it’s, you know, it’s it’s not this bubble of this month, is not a hundred days. It’s not. It’s, you know, we’ve been starting beforehand, which is good and important, but there’s no finish line and we’re not even close to even thinking about a finish line. So I think it’s how do we keep building those and building the relationships I think is really what’s important. So engagement goes from community engagement and checkpoint into a partnership to making this for a community.


Kourosh Rad [00:38:42] Absolutely. And if I can put my activist hat on for a second, the Cogswell Interchange discussion that’s been happening in Halifax for the past couple years. We are really encouraging the City to engage the particularly the Black Nova Scotians who were misplaced through the project. We are very hopeful that the city will take a second look at it. And with all the realities that are in focus now, I think there is no excuse at this point not to engage our most vulnerable people that have been displaced, once through Africville, and second time through gentrification of the North end. I think it’s extremely important for us to, not just look at this as a as a learning opportunity, but also a time in history that we can actually make a difference. So we are very hopeful that there will be a discussion coming up out of out of this whole thing. But removing my activist hat now. Going back to you, Andy. I’ve had a couple of questions here as well. What is the federal government’s programs going to look like? I know you are working on some some things with Minister McKenna. How much can you tell us? And what what are the things that are in the works right now that that you can share with our audience?


Andy Fillmore [00:39:52] Yeah, sure. OK. So we’re coming back to infrastructure and the public space discussion now. So just Cynthia. Thank you. And Kourosh, thank you for cracking open that that Black Lives Matter discussion and Elora, your contributions were fantastic. Let’s just keep on having those conversations and they’re going to lead to some really good action. OK. OK. So the federal government really the best way to describe our role in this, this urge to build more bike lanes and more active transportation lanes falls into two categories, short term and long term. So the long term stuff, those are the projects where you have to sort of engineer the results. We have to move curbs. There are big machines in the street, like some of the like what we’re seeing in downtown Halifax now and much of that and downtown Denver as well. Much of that was a result of a lot of hard work by municipal planners, but also this 25 million dollar announcement we did last summer for 30 kilometers of separated and protected bike lane in the urban core. So that kind of work is ongoing. It’s hard to do that work on the drop of at the drop of a hat. In response to COVID. So that brings you to the to the short term stuff. And we’re seeing other governments like New Zealand is always the really great example. Their program called “Innovating Streets for People” has been has been wonderful and cities around the world have followed it. And those are the, you know, what we might call cheap and cheerful projects, the tactical urbanism projects that where we can widen sidewalks, build bike lanes and expand the public use of public space for businesses through the use of paint and planters and jersey barriers and pylons. So these are these are really important things too. If this conversation was happening, happening a week from now, I would have a really good news to share with you about about a federal program that I’ve been working on for the last two months. But unfortunately, we’re just not quite there yet so I ask everyone’s forbearance. But it’s going to be super exciting and it is directly related to these themes of how we use public space better for mobility and for social exchange and social recovery as much as economic recovery. But if I could cross just to go back to the longer term piece, the kind of money, for example, we announced last summer. In Canada, I think probably most people on the call know that we are in the midst of a generational investment in community infrastructure. It really is sort of the scale of FDR’s New Deal from the nineteen thirties. This is one hundred and eighty billion dollars over twelve years. And within that, investing in candidate infrastructure plan or ICMP, there are there are four streams and that is the green infrastructure stream, the public transit stream, the social infrastructure or community infrastructure stream and the rural and northern stream. So in three of those four streams, communities have access to literally billions of dollars for active transportation. The green stream, the public transit stream and the rural and northern stream. So there is the way that communities get access to that money is by working with their local councilor, city councils, who then work with their provincial governments, and then it’s the province, the provinces and territories that then come to the federal government say, OK, we’ve done all of our consultation and these are the projects we’d like you to fund. And we say, great, let’s go do it. And that’s what we did last summer. So I just the point I’m trying to make there is that the federal government doesn’t have the privilege to reach down into communities and pick projects. We have to wait for it to come organically from the municipal level up through the province and then come as an application to us, because that’s the nature of the integrated bilateral agreements that are the conduit for the federal money to communities. So anybody in Halifax has any questions about that or would like to talk about that, I’m super easy to be in touch with and happy to have a conversation any time.


Kourosh Rad [00:43:42] I know you don’t see the feedback right now, but someone is asking if subsidizing e-bikes and cargo bikes are going to be part of the plan, but we have to wait a week for that to come out. Cynthia, we are talking about the future. What are, I mean, we have some. We talked about the programs that are getting announced through the federal government. What are your hopes for the next hundred days? Next hundred weeks? Next hundred years? What do you where do you think we should go from here when it comes to changing on city for the better?


Cynthia Dorrington [00:44:11] I think most importantly, you talked about relationships and we relationships are what we’re founded on as a society and having those relationships and making sure that we are inclusive as we move forward. There has been inclusion, but I don’t think people understand that historically there has not been inclusion and understand segregation was very evident in Nova Scotia right up until the 1960s. So for the last 50 so years, we have had a voice that we say that we don’t have segregation, but we really don’t have a voice, because as you saw about 50 years ago what happened with Africville. Ultimately, I think we have to really understand that this is nothing that it that we can’t work towards. And I do believe we can work towards a relationship, but there’s been a lot of broken trust and relationship is built on trust. Relationship is built on listening. Relationship is built on historical context, understanding what happened, because when the trust is broken, the relationship is harder to repair. So you can’t say, oh, we well we included you so we have a relationship. It’s going to take a long time to build relationships because this did not happen 20 years ago or 30 years ago and it just popped in. This is 300 plus years ago of historical context that cannot be wiped away with the fact that, guess what, at the end of the day, you’re part of the discussion. You still have to build that relationship and that relationship is going to take a long time to build. And it is having those discussions; one on one, group discussions, listening. And if you’re not aware or understand, please ask questions. The worst thing we’re doing is we’re walking away, assuming we know what we’ve heard, but you might not have. Because the way we talk is different as we’re using various lens. My lens as an African Nova Scotian born and raised here is totally different than the lens that you guys would have as a result of my experiences from the time I started school to now being in the workplace. We’ve seen this and it’s very evident. How do we move forward? We actually have to be at the table. We have to be in the boardrooms. We have to be at the senior leadership tables and having discussions. We have to make sure that we’re representated in our federal, provincial and municipal politics. One seat doesn’t do it. We have to really understand that. We do have a voice. We are Canadians, we’re Nova Scotians, we’re haligonians. But ultimately we’re in this all together. And if we do not look at society as a family, then we’re a divided family. And I think we have the opportunity here with this particular tipping point in our history. We have the opportunity to make a change and make our society here in Halifax a better society. But we have to reach out. It’s not comfortable. It’s not comfortable articulating that we have a lot of anti-Black racism and a lot of anti-Aboriginal racism that’s entrenched in our institutions. And we have to acknowledge that. And then we have to say, how do we get them out? If it is going to be a massive change, it’s going to be a massive impact. This is not going to happen in the next hundred days. It might not even happen in the next 50 years. Like we really have to work hard. This did not happen overnight and it’s not going to be fixed overnight. And if people think that, I am sorry to say that it’s not going to work. We you have to really listen to the pain and acknowledge the pain, because there are a lot of people. We talk about post traumatic stress syndrome and, having those discussions, there is a lot of pain that comes with this this. I can sit here and tell you the different types of impacts that I’ve had since I was five years old starting school and the discrimination that was taking place not only with my peers in school, but with teachers. And that’s what my lived experience was. The fact that the fact that I’m an African Nova Scotian, they didn’t think I was gonna be successful. People make that choice for me. I didn’t make that choice for me. And I overcame that because that was not my choice and it wasn’t their choice to make. But we have to make sure that we’re open, we’re opening our arms, we’re opening our doors. We’re having those discussions. And it’s going to be a hard discussion and it’s going to take a lot to build that relationship, but ultimately I think we can. You have to do it one person at a time. And because there’s lots of us, you have to do it one person at a time. But most importantly, I think it’s the trust. It’s a you can’t have the relationship without the trust. And if you’re saying you want the relationship, you have to start rebuilding that trust. And it’s going to take a little while to do. But it’s by action. Words are one thing.


Kourosh Rad [00:49:17] Cynthia.


Elora Wilkinson [00:49:21] I think she froze.


Kourosh Rad [00:49:23] Yeah. We lost you for a second there. We lost the last 30 seconds of your talk there.


Cynthia Dorrington [00:49:32] Oh. What I was saying in the last 30 seconds is action is the words are one thing, but you need to see the actions and we as people need to see the actions. So saying the words are one thing, actioning the words are most important because that means that you want to do something with us. So I think we can be a better society if we come together, we listen, we talk, we come together to what that plan looks like and action it together.


Kourosh Rad [00:50:00] To your point, I think I’ve seen I’ve seen a lot of the statements that are being issued and a lot of people are saying that they’re listening. But I really think if you’re in position of power, you have to move beyond from listening. You have to take action. And I think that would be that would that is going to be the decision for me whether or not the people in power have listened or not. So that’s that’s good. Andy, I saw you flipping the book there, did you did you want to.


Andy Fillmore [00:50:24] Oh, I was just taking a look at some of the some of our storied history in Halifax. Nothing I wanted to raise in particular. But I would I would just want to say Kourosh, before we finish, I mentioned that I’m doing today’s call from my telephone, from my from my iPhone, which means I don’t have access to the comments. I just flipped over for a second and I did notice there were a few questions that are directed to me. I just wanted to say to folks, since I can’t see your questions in the conversation today, please email me. My email address and super easy to find and I’ll get back to whatever questions you might have.


Kourosh Rad [00:50:58] I would point out that someone was asking how how can they make comments and there are some answers to the questions already in the feed there. With that, Elora, I do want to go to you as well and to ask you last hundred days, again, as an urban planner, exciting times to see things, great times to learn things and to listen and to take action. What are your hopes and aspirations for the next hundred days? Hundred weeks? Hundred years? However you want to frame it. What are your hopeful hopeful thoughts?


Elora Wilkinson [00:51:26] I think I am, I guess, hopeful, but also a little bit fearful that we won’t do it. And I guess what I’ve been trying to figure out ways to keep top of mind is, is the stories that are being told right now and making sure we don’t forget. And I think if we can do that and if we can can remember our experiences here and remember that, you know, what we turn to in times of crisis and what became most important, how how do we keep that top of mind as we move forward with these decisions and these discussions. And I think, you know, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next hundred days. I’m hoping it’s not a hurricane because I’ve got a lot of temporary barrels around the city. So that’s kind of a Halifax unique problem, I think, with this most temporary measures. So that’s something that we’re going to have to evolve over the next little while as we get closer to hurricane season. But I think moving forward to these long term plans and kind of adding on to what Andy was saying about funding. Like, you know, a big part of what we could do now was because we had budget for it and we had the funding allocated to tactical programs and active transportation and all of that. So I think making sure that we continue to have conversations around budget and funding is really important. And then I think there’s a really unique place and I’m really excited, I’m a little biased about the tactical urbanism program that we’ve been building because I think it starts to help us have to bridge these worlds around inclusivity and engagment and making changes to the right of way and starting to bridge that kind of conflict between needing a lot of time to have these conversations, but also needing to do things and make changes and, you know, not wait 50 years to to make things better. So I think the tactical urbanism program in the and the fact that we’ve gone been able to accelerate it through the mobility response and start to get it up and running is an exciting place where we can start having conversations, get initial ideas, try something. But, you know, even things we’ve just put on hold street are precast curves. Like they’re not the permanent infrastructure. They’re not, you know, poured concrete, raised bikeway. So I think as we start to see some of these technical pieces, there’s a really great opportunity that we can then go into the community and having chances to experience things, to fine tune these things, to make it better and to evolve it in so that we can still try to make things incrementally better while still leaving space for these conversations. And the acknowledgment that, you know, a city is always changing. We are what we do is it might look permanent, but it also is very, very easy to adapt and and to make changes as well. It just everything costs money and everything takes time. So it’s having those those pieces together. So I think that’s what I’m really excited about, is this new program that might allow us to try things differently and as a community come together around it to have conversations and to be more adaptable in what we do and to learn new things because of it.


Kourosh Rad [00:54:30] I’m reminded of what the city manager said four weeks ago. Halifax city manager, Jacques Dube, said, we are going to take these measures and we are going to make mistakes and we are going to fix things and that’s OK. And I think that’s part of the learning process that will have to go through to be okay with failure and to be OK to try things. If you don’t try, you will never know. We will continue building our cities. So I must say I’m encouraged every single day by the work you, Elora, your team is doing in Halifax. The fact that you are here representing the work that’s being done. As you know, probably one of the younger members of your team, I’m really encouraged to that I see a lot of positive changes in our city and last hundred days have been extremely difficult for many people. We are still a very city in Canada. But that doesn’t minimize the hardship that we are all gone through. So the small moments that we have to celebrate. And Elora, you’ve been you’ve been a part of that so I want to thank you and your team for all the work you’re doing. Andy, I’d like to extend that thank you to you or your team as well. I know you guys have been extremely busy and you’re bringing a lot of programs to you funds. You and I have been talking on a regular basis about the government programs that are coming down, not just in our cities, but in the business centres and different things. So I appreciate the work that you’re doing as well. And Cynthia, I know the last hundred days would have been even more difficult for you, seeing the billions that you’ve seen from the states and the difficult moments that we are living through. But hopefully this is a time that we can reengage the African Nova Scotians and add that richness to our city and celebrate it along with everything else that we’re proud of in our city. With that, I’d like to just say a couple more things. The next session starts in half an hour in Montreal. It’s in French. But the translation will be available after the session. There is also I would highly encourage you to tune in for the last event of today, which I can. And I don’t know exactly what time it would be, but it’s in Vancouver, from B.C. Alison, my colleague will be hosting that session and they are going to talk about hundreds of COVID and its impact on the dual emergencies of those experiencing homelessness and overdose death. I’m very encouraged to see the diversity that exists in dicussions from coast to coast to coast. We have talking about Africville here, talking about overdose and prevention in East Coast and everything in between. So very exciting day. And I’d like to close by thanking the people behind the sessions. Many people have been involved in discussions, and I’d like to thank my panel as well. Thank you very much. We hope you all have a wonderful day.


Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

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From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

00:20:31 Canadian Urban Institute: Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
00:20:52 Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at
00:21:33 Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #covid100 @canurb
00:21:56 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please check out for more details on today’s cross-country panels.
00:22:44 Ryan St-Jean: thank you
00:24:35 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Today’s panel:

Kourosh Rad –
Cynthia Dorrington –
Andy Fillmore –
Elora Wilkinson –
00:36:38 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: A reminder to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
00:36:56 zahra Williams: Thanks for the reminder !
00:37:27 Ryan St-Jean: car jacking a Tesla might become a thing, but self-driving would allow for removal of red-lights
00:37:58 Ryan St-Jean: I meant a driver-free Tesla
00:39:39 Ryan St-Jean: Montreal-Maine Hyperloop
00:41:07 zahra Williams: How do we reconcile with a city that apparently can mobilize quickly to “open” and “adapt” spaces in response to a pandemic. Yet, we can’t seem to identify and address issues of urban inequity that systemically impact BBIPOCs in Halifax?
00:41:55 Ryan St-Jean: use the suburb next doors that’s incorporated differently for some reason
00:43:15 Ryan St-Jean: AGMs are banned in some places
00:43:42 Canadian Urban Institute: yes!!!
00:46:27 Ryan St-Jean: FordFest vs 36Chambers
00:47:44 Canadian Urban Institute: be prepared to take risks to take action, but listen, collect data and then adjust. Be prepared to accept mistakes
00:49:11 Ryan St-Jean:
00:51:10 J. Scott: is this it ?
00:51:23 Emily Wall, CUI Staff:
00:51:55 TJ Maguire:
00:52:08 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please also take a moment to read “A Call to Courage”, written by CUI Senior Fellow Jay Pitter:
00:57:48 Ryan St-Jean: All the hockey players want to be Senators
00:58:12 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: If you haven’t already, please check out our previous CityTalk session on confronting anti-Black racism in urban planning:
00:58:23 Gary Offenberger: Great point Elora. What COVID has really brought to light — as we all drop in from all over — is that engagement benefits from remote inclusion. In-person engagement is important, but it does exclude people (disabled, working people with kids, people who don’t have easy access to transportation, etc.). You miss hearing key voices. Municipalities shouldn’t rely on in-person “town hall” meetings going forward. They should always include remote meetings.
00:58:31 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: And stay tuned for part two of that discussion, coming up this Tuesday, June 23 @ 11:30 EDT.
01:02:47 Canadian Urban Institute: Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
01:03:09 Yanling Lin: Andy, where can we find information on the project that you just mentioned later when the information can be shared publicly?
01:04:12 Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #covid100 @canurb
01:04:19 Ryan St-Jean: I told my friend to call Ruckify for a sponsorship, but he might owe them 2k in carpet replacement
01:04:34 Ryan St-Jean: depends on how relaxed the board is about it
01:05:11 J. Scott: You can make submissions on what you want to see in our recovery to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on the CANADIAN RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC up until 11:59 pm EDT tonight
01:05:35 Ryan St-Jean: can I just tweet the parliamentary assistant?
01:06:23 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: We’ve compiled 100 Actions pulled from our CityTalk series – check them out on
01:07:22 Ryan St-Jean: WinWin homesharing owes me 2k, I sense a collaboration
01:07:57 Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at
01:08:44 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short survey –
01:10:52 Emily Wall, CUI Staff: To contact Andy Fillmore: ANDY.FILLMORE@PARL.GC.CA
01:11:54 Ryan St-Jean: used barrels are great for planters
01:12:06 Ryan St-Jean: galvanized steel panels are great too
01:13:22 Sean Gadon: Great panel! Thank you for everyone for your commitment to change that both the pandemic and the brutal death of George Floyd has forced us collectively to confront.
01:16:37 Dante Samson: Thank you for the awesome panel!
01:16:44 J. Scott: Thank you everyone!