Creating vibrant main streets: What will it take?

In this session, we discussed the importance of main streets to support resilient communities, and the work ahead to restore them to be more inclusive and vibrant places.

5 Key

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

1. 3 Cs: Community, Culture and Commerce

According to Carol Bebelle, Executive Director of Ashé Cultural Arts Center, a good community cannot exist without the 3 Cs. Of the three, people (community) are the foundation for culture and commerce. Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard is a vibrant main street in New Orleans steeped in African-American civil rights history. But the celebration of this particular history was never meant to be exclusive to a particular group. Negotiating the differences between diverse groups is key to enabling people to band together and revitalize local commerce. The community development model in Oretha Castle Haley has been recognized nationally for best practice in the United States.

2. Rethinking community ownership over civic and communal spaces

Graham Singh, Executive Director of Trinity Centres Foundation, suggests churches and other faith properties should be at the disposition of main street communities. Churches play vital roles in communities that reach far beyond hosting congregations, such as providing a venue for youth sports and basement gatherings. This history of flexible use can be leveraged to revitalize main streets. Singh, as the pastor of St. Jax in Montréal, has opened up his church to a range of non-traditional users, including circus cabaret group Le Monastère, to reactivate and revive the surrounding neighbourhood. The ownership and use of these communal spaces will be important going forward to preserve civic uses and keep non-profits in the centres of Canadian cities.

3. “The pandemic is the ultimate pilot project”

According to Rino Bortolin, city councillor for the City of Windsor, in a matter of one week the City erased 40 years of policies to allow for patios and sidewalk animation. These ordinances were built up over the last few decades for the sake of managing risk, but he says they have ultimately held Canadian cities back. Bortolin calls for municipal governments to shift from risk management to allow for risk taking that better supports brave, innovative entrepreneurs. Singh identifies the loss of all local businesses as the real risk cities should be managing.

4. Tending to the local garden

Jess Zimbabwe, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for Main Street America, calls for the need to develop a better entrepreneurial ecosystem. Previously, communities pursued economic development by attracting businesses from other places. According to Zimbabwe, we should be “looking inward and doing that real gardening of the businesses you already have.” This approach leverages existing assets and strengthens community capacity. Bebelle further emphasizes that it is critical to invest in the voice of the community, enabling representative organizations to effectively bring their concerns to elected officials and developers.

5. Municipalities must go beyond just regulating

Councillor Bortolin calls on local governments to evolve into active partners as opposed to passive regulators. He suggests the municipality take a proactive approach to development based on the design and build model. Community capacity building and publicly guided development must be baked into policy for long term consistency between election cycles. This will ensure that the present community benefits from growth and investment. By working with private developers, in close collaboration with community organizations, municipalities can incentivize developers and secure the necessary community benefits. It is important to plan with people, not for them.


  1. Oretha Castle Haley Blvd: A community for all – video
  2. My Main Street is a 23.25 million investment to help drive business and restore vibrancy to local communities across southern Ontario in the aftermath of COVID-19.
  3. The SPACE Coalition (Saving Public Access to Community space Everywhere) is working to improve access to schools for nonprofit groups in Ontario.
  4. The National Main Street Center’s research on the impacts of COVID on small businesses across the U.S.
  5. The Nehemiah Initiative
  6. Updating the social contract around historic places of faith, by Graham Singh
  7. Hand over Canada’s white churches to the charities who need them, by Graham Singh

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.

Mary Rowe [00:00:09] Hi everybody, it’s Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute calling in today from Toronto. I’m actually, hey folks, I’m in our office. You’ll notice it’s an office behind me. Gradually step by step as we grow in our sense of trust, in our sense of public safety and with the right thing to do is we’re going to see if we can reemerge in a new way. Whatever the hybrid, virtual, in-person world has before us, but fortunately because of Zoom we can bring together today Windsor, Ontario, Montreal, Quebec, Seattle, Washington, and Carol who’s in New Orleans, Louisiana. And you just saw a bit of a video that is about the work that Carol has done for so many years around a particular boulevard that she’s going to talk about, Oretha Castle Haley. And I just want to thank my gang for coming on this call, and we have a couple hundred people that are going to join and listen to us. And so we ask you on the chat folks tell us where you’re listening from. That would be great. I happened to be in Toronto, which is the traditional territory of many First Nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Annishnabec, the Chippewa, the Haudenasaunee, and the Wendat peoples are now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. We have two treaties here. Part of Toronto was ceded to the treaty through Treaty 13, the Williams Treaty. But we are mindful that we continue to live with the legacy of exclusion, and I’m sure that each of our participants today are going to talk about that, about the way in which urban planning – One of them is an architect. She may talk about the way urban design has done this too – has reinforced patterns of exclusion. And what the heck are we going to do about that as we try to emerge in a way that creates better communities, more equitable communities, more inclusive communities? And each of these folks has a very particular experience that they’re going to share with you about how main streets have been really fundamental to that process. You know, as the sort of spines of communities. We happen to launch last week and early this week, you will have heard, My Main Street Canada. We are following in the footsteps of our colleagues, My Main Street America and one of our panelists is the vice chair of that board. And she’s going to talk to us a little bit about what they’ve learned about main streets and what they’re continuing to learn about main streets. Next week, we’re going to have sessions specifically on My Main Street, which at the moment is only being piloted in Southern Ontario. But gosh darn it, we are determined to see if we can persuade other sponsors and underwriters and governments to continue to help us make main streets across this country rebound, revive, reimagine themselves. And we’re going to hear that we’re going to hear a lot of stories about how that is possible. So without any other delay, I’m just going to encourage people to participate in the chat. Let us know where you are. Put your questions in there and your comments in there. Remember that we tape for posterity and people watch these programs again and again, and we appreciate that because we’re creating an archive, folks. We’re creating a learning path for ourselves about what through this extraordinary period of time, what have we learned? What do we still need to learn? And so welcome to CityTalk. Welcome to My Main Street. And Carol, I’m going to go first to you. This is Carol Bebelle, who is the co-founder and former ED of Ashe, and she is coming to us from New Orleans. Hi, Carol.

Carol Bebelle [00:04:04] Hey, Mary, how are you?

Mary Rowe [00:04:05] I’m so glad to have you on this program. So we’re looking forward to hear what you have to tell us.

Carol Bebelle [00:04:11] Yeah, I’m really thankful to you for kind of keeping these kinds of conversations going on because where we are right now in the world, I won’t even say in our country but in the world, that we’re more and more being challenged to be able to to think and reimagine how it is that we might live together on this wonderful planet together. And so I guess I’ll start this story off by saying that Main Street was not what brought me to the boulevard. What brought me to the boulevard was the opportunity speaking of exclusion in a city where culture and particularly African and African-American culture is celebrated around the world, that there really wasn’t an institution, a land based venue where that could happen, that there were lots of organizations, but they were all in places where the access to the the facility or the services, et cetera, were not in the hands of the organizations. And and we got the opportunity to manage to create a community based cultural arts center. Our mission was about taking art and culture and our tools for community and human and cultural development and economic development. And so we weren’t an art for art’s sake place. That we were really about art and culture as a kind of a resource from which everything else thrived. And so you might call it art for life. And and so we got there and discovered that, first of all, that this was a corridor that was very intimate, was tucked between the interstate and a building that sat in the middle of the street, 12 blocks, and that it also had a really rich history that people continue to draw on in their memory and in their bones, almost in terms of remembrance, and that the community that surrounded here had shifted and that there was, you know, that there were there was a large population of low income people who also were imbibed with this history of what the street used to be. And so this history was a vibrant commercial district, and it was also very vibrantly involved in the civil rights movement. One of the cultural arms of the civil rights movement was on the street, and many of the artists who were involved in that along the street. So we had like this kind of melange of things to be able to work with. And and what we discovered was that our ability to be able to do anything in that one location was hooked to not just what we were going to be trying to do, but to the 12 blocks. That we were a little bit different than whatever else was going on because there were several churches. And I know we have a church representative here with us on the panel who would do reclamation ministries for sex workers and folks who were on drugs and folks who were were homeless. That we had a mission at the head of the street. And so we really had a hodgepodge to be able to kind of work with. But what the community wanted was the community wanted to revive the cultural vitality of this boulevard. And then that’s what they charged us with. And so our job was not just to build a solid institution, but to have that be a kind of a launching pad and a springboard for being able to help other things to manage to come. And that we were deviating a little bit from the usual main street because we weren’t just looking for stores or restaurants. We were also looking for places that could attend to the people who were there. And so this main street had nonprofits, and this main street started having, you know, restaurant. The restaurant that came along was a nonprofit. The first one, you know, and and it was from there, from us meeting every Monday morning for an hour and thinking about and dreaming about it, envisioning what we wanted to do that the rest of council, family, merchants and business association grew. And that main street, which became in Louisiana, also a culture for that. And it was our way of being able to kind of to be build in the what became the schematic for the accord and for the community, which was community, culture and commerce. That those were the three things that we would, we thought that a good community could not exist without those three things and negotiating the differences among and between communities that were in the community. And the same thing regarding the cultures that were present there and being able to have them work together to be able to help to revitalize the commerce that could be available in the community has been and continues to be the challenge for our main street. The main street that is right up right above the downtown development district and a stone’s throw away from the art district. And so we have a lot in terms of location that works for us. We are literally in the center of the city. And but there is a lot that we have to work. You have to work with and also things that we have to work because of. And so having a mission at the head of the street and never trying to get rid of it. Like not trying to push the mission away, but saying that, you know, you have people who are homeless in the community. And so we want to find a way to be able to take care of it and have that be a part of what makes us different and new. And so that has been the trajectory. And in 2017, I think we became a national model as a nontraditional main street. This is where the film that you saw in the beginning kind of comes from. And and we continue the task here. I step down from the the board and the organization last year, but we continue to grow. We’ve got additional young people who are coming and developing in that kind of thing. And so the challenge has always been to find like-minded developers. And we’ve been lucky in terms of having at least one that we got started with in the board and being able to find a way to have the community be a partner in the decision making about what manages to come to the to the boulevard. And the big thing is to just understand that the we-us thing, the all-us-we thing that your store, your institution, your house doesn’t exist in a vacuum. That is it’s connected to other things. And luckily, Central City understood that, and we not only had the motto, but we also had a manifesto. Which was our dream and our vision of what the community ought to be so that we could constantly have before us what we were looking to have: safety, to have commerce that was revitalized, to have a place where children and elders were safe, a place where the schools met the needs of the kids. And so the dream was was vested in the manifesto. But the the main street, this kind of backbone, this like center to the community is something that remains very important to the community.

Mary Rowe [00:11:34] Thanks, Carol. I can already see that people are responding on the chat and even on the panel here to the truth that you’re speaking. Something that’s interesting too about your about the boulevard is that it went it’s been it’s had different names. And that that is something that’s surfacing in other cities around the country around racial justice and racial reckoning. And if you want to speak a little bit about how that process took place.

Carol Bebelle [00:12:01] Sure, sure. Yeah. It was initially called Dryades Street and there’re many people who still remember it as Dryades Street. And then in the late 70s, 80s, it was renamed to Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard to celebrate the life and the legacy of a wonderful woman who, a shero of all of us, who was a high ranking and high performing member of the civil rights leadership in New Orleans and in the South. And so one of the things that was very interesting is that inside of the millennial kind of culture, this whole notion of using alphabets and abbreviated things, that people started talking about, we went away from Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard and we started talking about OCH. You know, and I would and I continue whenever it’s done to respectfully ask people to understand that there was a renaming that was done for a purpose and so that it is about being able to have these occasions to raise Oretha Castle Haley’s name. And so I would just respectfully ask people to say, it’s not going to take a few more seconds, to be able to say Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. And and so so that’s been the kind of direction with that. We also have Martin Luther King Boulevard here in Central City. And and it’s because there is a very large kind of imprints of African and African-Americaness that is here as there is of Jewishness. You know that these are all things that are present here and in celebrating culture it is not is not to be exclusive. It is to be inclusive. It is to bring into presence and on knowing the, you know, all of the various and sundry inputs, cultural influence that have been managed to put in. And that’s part of the work that Ashe has is attempted to do over the years that it’s been there and it’s now it’s twenty third year. I think it is.

Mary Rowe [00:14:10] it’s just a remarkable story. We’ll make sure that video is put up in the chat so people can look at and then you’re all going to Google Oretha Castle Haley and learn about it and learn more about Ashe Cultural Center and Carol’s work. I, when I was living in New Orleans after Katrina, that’s how I met Carrol. When I came down after the, uh, after the levees broke and she became a great teacher to me and we we had many, many, many rich conversations and but we also let a Jane’s Walk when I was living there and it was co-led by the African-American leadership and the Jewish leadership. And there’s a wonderful thing in New Orleans where in some of the major corridors. There is a strip of land, you know, the streetcar might run down the center or it’s a bunch of trees and they’re called medians. You know, engineers have this boring name, median for it. But in in New Orleans, it’s called the neutral ground. And for all sorts of interesting historical reasons, you can read up about it. But for me, it reinforces the potency of us meeting together on the street, and you’ve just highlighted all these elements, including faith institutions. So, Graham, I’m going to go to you next. There are a number of churches on Oretha Castle Haley, and they anchor neighborhoods all over the place, which is part of why we have embraced you, Graham and the ministry that you are now extending to try to encourage faith communities to reimagine themselves and their facilities in ways that can strengthen and do all the kinds of value-add that Carol’s just been describing a main street can afford to a community. So welcome Graham to CityTalk. And we look forward and you also have a little video. You can decide when you want to show it, but I love it for you to just tell people about the Trinity Foundation and what you’re trying to do. What you’re learning.

Graham Singh [00:15:58] Thank you so much, Mary, and thank you. Carol, I I often we often don’t get an opportunity to talk about some of the things on the other side of our lives that I just want to say. I’m a I’m a violinist and a jazz musician, and I just feel like there are so many themes that I would love to riff with those themes, Carol, that you’ve raised, you know? Mary, you’re bringing out those themes already. And yeah, I mean, I want to talk about three things with with with around the question of what are we going to do with those faith properties? A lot of them are church buildings. How do they fit into this narrative of Main Street? I am a minister in the Anglican Church, which is some of you call that the Episcopal Church. I was ordained at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the U.K., where I lived for 14 years. We saw a lot of urban renewal around there and saw the way in which, I mean, for heaven’s sake, these faith properties have built these cities and the cities are built around them. Here in North America and particularly in Canada, where I’m located we have a huge problem. To give you an idea, the scale of the problem, to find the problem and just point a couple of solutions as we hear from our other speakers here and we continue to riff on these themes. In Canada, we talk about $45 billion worth of land and asset value of the property of the Church. In the U.S., that number, we could refine that number, but we use a handy number of $500 billion. And in terms of the urbanistic value, of course, the value is very difficult to measure. But there is not, here’s my proposal. I don’t think there is a city center renewal project that any of you urbanists have been involved in that doesn’t have a steeple or two on the main plan, on the front page of that plan. And the question is, what do we do with those? There has been a product failure within the church. The idea of a single set of religious beliefs own a particular property and they manage it exclusively is a product failure. We could talk in another podcast, but I would argue that’s a biblically based product failure where the church is misunderstood that and it’s problematic. There’s been a governance failure and we are here, I’ll say with much seriousness. We are here on yet again another report that’s come out to do with the abuses that have been the atrocities that have happened under the governance of the Church. First Nations abuses the abuse of young people. The governance failure is not unnoticed, and I want to say that to those of you who are all of you serious urban thinkers when you hear a minister from the church having the audacity to be here when there is such a governance failure, I want to say it’s not gone unnoticed and we’re still left with the question of what the hell are we going to do with those buildings? But the governance failure is of the scale that we last saw in what’s known as the European Reformation 500 years ago, which keep in mind, was an urbanistic crisis, right? The Roman Catholic Church was controlling cities. The cities rebelled and they took over the Roman buildings. This is what became the Reformation. And a few years later, the “discovery”, I’ll say that in the awful parenthesis of what that means of the new world of the process of colonization then allowed the Reformation to explode. So you have a far worse case of reformation-itis in North America than you do in Europe, right? The overbuilding of these buildings. So these are some of the problems that we’re facing in a very real way. Talk about broken windows. Well, broken stained glass windows are sometimes even more difficult to deal with. So in terms of the solution, so that’s the bad news. The good news is you just heard it from Carol where those churches are doing the right thing and they are putting their properties at the disposition of these main street plans. And I want to give you a couple of tools on what we’re doing as the Trinity Centres Foundation, where we’ve gathered together people who are thinking in this way, some of whom do come from a faith background. Many do not or have left the church or left a faith institution. We are a secular organization, although we have many people of faith there. And I’ll just give you a little sample. And just to paint the picture, imagine downtown Montreal, our beautiful main street, St. Catherine Street. Everything is built around that artery, dead with COVID closed down. Tumbleweed. Right? Well, that kind of thing, like all of our main streets. And guess who got it started again? Carol’s already told you it’s the artists. I want to show you what this looked like with our circus, our resident circus company around with the oldest churches in Montreal bringing that city alive. It’s just 30 seconds here. [plays video].

Graham Singh [00:20:23] But Montreal, as you may know, is the home of Cirque du Soleil, and we’ve really pioneered not only a particular company, but really a genre of a modern expression of circus with 10,000 employees for Cirque du Soleil based out of Montreal, and and you know, the the story of that company. But how do we bring that form of art onto the main street exactly, as Carole said? How does it become economic development more than just art for art’s sake? A couple of things by way of solution, I want to throw into the discussion here. Carol already mentioned one of them. How do we underline as urban thinkers the importance of keeping not for profits and charities in the center of a city? There are very few categories of not for profits and charities who hold anything resembling a property asset. The biggest category are Christian churches. So for heaven’s sake, we have got to put those two problems together and you asurbanists can shout about that. We want charities and nonprofits in the center of where people are living. And it’s very difficult for them. Number two, we have to engage the tax and land use questions that come up from this. I’m encouraged. Mary has brought a lot of people in Canada around this. I’ve had a lot of follow up conversations. You know, I get messages from Mary saying, You and you need to talk, get together, talk, put it together. And I just do what Mary says, right? Which is, I’m sure what we all do, but we need to talk local tax and talk tax exemptions, and we need to get serious about it. It’s not actually that complicated. You as urbanists can call for this change publicly because we as the not for profits and we as those who are governing faith properties, we’re listening but we have other partners and we need your call. It makes a difference that you talk about this, right? And finally, you can help us connect those dots with what is evolving as a new social impact finance story. A lot of these projects are funded by grants. Grants are not meant to fund infrastructure, infrastructure needs, infrastructure, finance, social finance is coming up, but we need you to call for it. We are getting ready. What does it look like to see that happen? ESG is getting killed as an investment concept. Direct Social Impact Finance is coming up. Properties are essential for it. We need to talk on the finance side of it. And the final thing is to say, how can we actually see the system thinking on this and realize you all know many not for profits and charities are operating out of substandard, really poor quality physical premises as we pull them out in some of these class-A spaces we have. We can get excited with what we can do with those properties and see that happen. So my main message is faith properties, there are problems and reasons why you as urbanist often don’t want to touch this, you know, grasp this nettle and I’m saying, grasp it. We can help you. Let’s do this. Bring the faith properties into this conversation. Thank you very much.

Mary Rowe [00:23:21] Thanks, Graham. Just be happy to have your subdued, unenthusiastic, dull voice in the mix here. And also, you know, I think again, if you can, people may not appreciate that. Not only did you have a circus performing outside of your building, but the circus actually rehearses inside your building. I’ve seen it where they repurposed the interior, they repurposed the pews. You still have a faith community functioning there, but there are trapeze artists hanging from the rafters. It’s just the most remarkable thing. And you know, when I was a kid and I was raised in a faith community, but all my neighbors, many of whom were Jewish, we all went, we went to the synagogue and we went to the church to play floor hockey and do things like those buildings were used in a whole bunch of different community way. And you’ve got to continue – if those things get sold into private hands and they get turned into condos or God knows what, it’s a lose that we never get that civic purpose back. So we feel like the main street angle is what we’re trying to push.

Graham Singh [00:24:21] Go ahead and mayor one tiny one tiny shift on this. Those activities, the AA groups, the scouts groups, they often happen in the church basement. That’s the secondary tertiary architecture. The primary architecture’s the main sanctuary. Our projects, just to be clear, you have to take the pews out. Pews are not helpful. They weren’t helpful in the first place. They were a class divider. They need to come out because then we take all of what I just said and what we’re talking about here and you put it in the heart of that space. And that is a decolonizing act. It’s a deconsecrating act which actually helps the faith communities and for heaven’s sake, it helps the main street. But let’s we could get into. I tried to talk about everything outside the building, inside the building and got that thing. Get it open. Get the groups in there and the justice that flows from that. Oh, it’s a sweet thing.

Mary Rowe [00:25:09] Thanks, Graham. I’m going to go ahead, Carol.

Carol Bebelle [00:25:12] Yeah, I just want to mention this is very reminiscent of the community school movement of the 70s, when people woke up and said, Wow, we have got all these expensive buildings around here that they close at four o’clock in the evening and they’re closed all evening and they’re closed all weekend. We should have two or three different lives running in the schools, and I think that there are some lessons to learn from that. People started designing churches and redesigning, I’m sorry schools and redesigning schools so that they could have that kind of nimbleness.

Mary Rowe [00:25:40] Yeah, I think I think all these assets, these are community civic assets that we collectively own somehow and how can we actually leverage that, that property? Rino, I’m going to come to you next and then I’m going to have Jess do clean up because she’s thinking nationally and well locally and nationally, as I know she does. But Rino, we’ve just we spent a fabulous week in Windsor, Ontario, which for our American audience is right across the border from Detroit. And we learned a lot and we had lots of opportunity to get a sense of what Windsor is experimenting with and grappling with. You’re local city councilor. Love to hear your perspective on this piece about how do we actually really create the vibrancy on main streets and what’s your experience been in Windsor?

Rino Bortolin [00:26:22] Yeah, thank you. It’s great discussion so far. I mean, it’s great for Windsor to be included with Montreal, Seattle and New Orleans on this panel. So obviously, as a city councilor and calling coming from a policy perspective. I was a former business owner, restaurant owner or chef. So I also know the business side of it and I’m involved in all the BIA discussions, which is the business improvement areas. So one of one of the things we were able to do last year during the pandemic is focus on the importance and relevance of public space and not only a longer our parks, you know, riverfront parks that we’ve got a great ribbon of green space. But then also what it meant, what does public space mean on our main street? So the sidewalks, the alleys, those portions of public space that are not really maximized to their full potential. And slowly, what we found out is that, you know, as the BIA and the business owners wanted to push to, you know, for example, have endless patios and get outside and use the outside space for patios, we realize that slowly, over the last few decades, we’ve created so many policies and ordinances that that hold our cities back. And so the one thing you realize is that a lot of municipal policies centered around risk management and a lot of those, you know, you’ll see a lot of people in municipal government talk about how hard it is to get around risk management. And just by definition, risk management opposes what small business owners are. Entrepreneurs are are by definition, risk takers. And so there’s a lot that we can learn from that as a municipality in the sense of, you know, we need to go from risk management to risk taking and what we saw even last year. In a matter of one week, we are able to basically erase 40 years of odd policies and ordinances to allow for our sidewalks to be used for patios to thrive. And the BIA we worked in partnership with or multiple BIAs did a fantastic job at animating those spaces. And when you see people’s enthusiasm, downtown’s main streets have been suffering for a long time, obviously with suburbanization and, you know, the creation of mega malls and things like that. And one of the things that we’ve been able to to show is that these small, small businesses and unique businesses offer more to the cultural fabric of your community than anything that you’ll find at a mall. And I love what Carole said earlier about the community, culture and commerce. And I think, you know, if you have the community and the culture, the commerce comes along. And if you’ve got the culture and the commerce, the community comes along and it feels as if you’ve got two of three of those that it all naturally builds in. A perfect example of that is our our downtown BIA sponsors, our Downtown Farmers’ Market. It’s out on the streets again. We’re a much smaller city, so we don’t have a huge farmers’ market. But the farmers’ market open during COVID and so ran a completely successful season of 26 to 28 weeks, and nobody shied away in the span of that time. We set new attendance records, higher attendance than we’d ever had. And now we’re growing it into night markets, arts and crafts markets. And so people are realizing the importance of public space, but not public space in just your traditional view, insofar as parks and and big public squares. But just your sidewalks, your alleyways. You know, we’ve been focusing on projects in Windsor that incorporate art and graffiti art and murals and alleyways. And we’ve been able to actually actually activate a couple and we’ve got another project that is actually being installed tomorrow night during one of our night markets. And so it reimagines what those public spaces can be. And it gets people out into the community and looking at it in a different way. And so it from a municipal policy perspective, COVID, the pandemic has really sort of put into focus, you know, how much we need to actually strip back and allowed to go back to just setting some basic parameters. You know, people need to be able to enjoy public space. And you actually it allows for it to be more of a great equalizer. Some of the, you know, in the last year or more, you would actually think it was bad for small business and the BIA. And we’ve had over a dozen new businesses open in the BIA with as little as two closings. So, and those businesses are many of them are actually owned by minorities pushing a new, you know, the farmers’ market, for example, offers it to be allowed to be an incubator for new Canadians to come in Indian dishes, roti dishes. You know, these are, you know, Windsor is a great food city. And so we see the farmers’ market being able to be this fully accessible incubator that then leads to people wanting to open businesses in our main street areas. And so I’ll leave it at that because I, you know, I think I can go on and on and. People don’t want to hear politicians talk forever. But I think as a policy.

Mary Rowe [00:31:24] You didn’t sound too much like a politician, but you whenever a politician sounds like, but you did make the point that there are rules on the books and things. How do we actually square this risk management thing? Because, as you say, entrepreneurs are the people who actually take risk all the time, right? And suddenly there were things that municipalities were no no no we can’t allow that. And then suddenly what they did during COVID as they were compelled to right. So whether we can encourage our brothers and sisters in the policy world that risk-taking can sometimes be really worth it. Right?

Rino Bortolin [00:31:57] Well, the pandemic, I like to put it, the pandemic was the ultimate pilot project. And so it forced everybody to move quickly, do things differently. And we saw the results of those things. So it was really, really good for those reasons.

Mary Rowe [00:32:11] Well, I think I think you’re a brave man to suggest the fighting words that Windsor is a food city when you’ve got somebody for Montreal and somebody from New Orleans on the call, just saying, but let’s let’s, you know.

Rino Bortolin [00:32:21] Per capita, per capita.

Graham Singh [00:32:22] Hey, Mary, can I just throw in one quick one before we go to Jess.

Mary Rowe [00:32:24] I want to get to Jess, but yeah, go Graham.

Graham Singh [00:32:27] Just a quick one is that I think the risk management story is such an important one that Rino has brought up and the importance of saying the risk was managed you created a policy that did not take those other risks off the table. And by doing proper risk management, keep those risks on what happens if we lose all the local businesses. What happens if nobody comes out? What happens if suburban-rural-town breaks down even further? And when those risks are kept on the table the risks of those entrepreneurs Rino was talking about look a lot less crazy. And so it’s actually, in some cases, a poor risk managers. Don’t you understand what will happen, city administrator, if you don’t do this? “We dealt with those long time ago.” No, you didn’t. Put them back on the table. Those are real important risks.

Mary Rowe [00:33:07] Yeah, I mean, you had to try. These are all, cities are about risk. They’re about they’re about all sorts of things, but they’re part about risk. OK, Jess, good luck trying to step into this a little soft-spoken group of folks. But you you’ve had many lives and you’ve lived in a bunch of different places. And I’m interested your perspective now and also because you have a climate focus. And I think that that’s part of the conversation too about climate justice and how main streets can actually help us fulfill our international commitment, for instance, to the Paris Accord or whatever it is. So. And you’re on the Main Street America board.

Jess Zimbabwe [00:33:40] Yeah. Thanks for having me, Mary. And that’s so great to be here with all of you today. My name is Jess. I’m an architect and city planner and executive director of Environmental Works, which is a nonprofit community design centre. Joining you here today from the traditional land of the Duwamish and Coast Salish people in what we now call Seattle, where we operate, and also, as Mary mentioned, vice chair of the board of directors of the National Main Street Center and Main Street America. And the National Main Street Center leads a network that helps communities through preservation-based economic development, specifically in historic and older downtowns and in commercial neighborhood streets. So Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard is one of the member communities of that network. And I think received one of our national awards a couple of years ago. So that’s a great example of the kind of communities to work with. And National Main Street Center has been doing, the staff there have been working unbelievably hard during COVID to stay connected with all of our member communities and the staff of those member communities and the volunteers on the ground have had like unparalleled creativity to respond to this situation and try to have invent new activities, new ways to support businesses, new ways to support community, new ways to include people during the pandemic. So I really love that analogy, councillor. This is the ultimate pilot project. I think we’ve seen that just in thousands of communities across the country and on the ground. And so the Main Street Center is working hard to connect all of those good ideas and get people sharing ideas and supported feeling like they’re not out there alone. They are a part of a bigger ecosystem. And we’ve also been doing research connecting a lot of survey research specifically of small businesses during the pandemic because they’ve, of course, suffered a lot. And, you know, I think we saw record number of business closures last year in 2020 and specifically a lot of business closures in Black and Latino communities. And so trying to figure out what we can do to support and rebuild back with a better entrepreneurial ecosystem so that we’re not reverting back to the old ways that communities did economic development, which we’re very much focused on trying to attract businesses from other places like, Oh, let’s just go out and try and attract an employer to come here and give them tax incentives or whatever they need to get them to locate here. But in fact, looking inward and doing that real gardening of the businesses that you already have. How can you invest in the places in the communities and the people that are already a part of your community, and especially those that have taken risks and tried to start new businesses and invented new models during this period of dramatic change? So there’s a lot of advocacy, the Main Street Center around that kind of work and happy to share some links to some of that research and work. I also want to just bring it back, loop back to something Graham talked about. Our organization, Environmental Works, is a nonprofit and thus the story about nonprofit ownership in central cities rings really true to us because we own the historic fire station that we operate out of. And we own it because the early founders of Environmental Works, who were University of Washington architecture students and graduates, recent graduates squatted in it when it was vacant and when they started an Earth Day 1970 to stop it from being raised for an expansion of the parking lot next door. And so eventually we got the city to sell it to us, and now we own the property. And during that, though, to bring it all full circle during the pandemic, that grocery store, which is a QFC which is a part of the Kroger chain nationally, closed that location. I would say in retaliation to the Seattle City Council for passing an emergency pay upgrade for essential workers. So they closed it so they could no longer meet the cost of business. So I take a small bit of pleasure that we outlasted the bastards. We’re still there. They closed. But it’s a it’s a real, I mean, I feel like it’s a it’s a real sacred responsibility. You know, that kind of property ownership and that role within the, we’re on the 15th Avenue corridor in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. So glad to hear that.

Mary Rowe [00:37:37] Let’s riff off that because I think this question of who owns what. We have a partnership with Shorefast and Zita Cobb, the founder of of that charity, which is focused on community economics and her question always is, “it matters who owns what,” and and how do we have the community own these resources so that artists and social work and all the different kinds of things that we know need to be part of main streets. How do we do that? Carol, I know you went through a struggle and you actually bought your building, right?

Carol Bebelle [00:38:04] Yeah, we have. Yeah, we we were able to buy our building, but we we had a major property. In fact, the property that helped to drive the development on the boulevard was a school, which was a full block. And the vision the community had for that was to make it the state’s civil rights museum. And and the school board who own, and we had that vision before the school closed then the school closed, and we spent a long time convincing people who became interested that they could always find another building to do what they wanted to do. But it was going to be harder to find a place that was so perfect for something like a civil rights museum, you know? And then we got to the point where another developer, you know, ostensibly a socially conscious developer, saw it as an opportunity to to be able to help entrepreneurs, et cetera, et cetera. And the school board had held on to it as long as they could for an empty building because their insurance costs are going up and all of that. And so development was created and operated for about five years, and the problem was it did not work inside of the business. It saw a vision that may be further down the road, but it definitely wasn’t the one that was present at that point in time. And so a grocery store showed up in a, you know, in a place where we needed grocery stores, except that it looked like a foodie place. And of course, the people who lived in the community didn’t see it as a place that was for them because it didn’t look or have the things that or made it easy for them to find the things that they wanted. And so this kind of went on for a while, they finally realized the error of their ways and then tried to change. But it was it was really too late. And so the whole notion of really having, you know, finding a way to be able to essentially have developers kind of work inside of something other than the issue of how much profit is going to be, is really a hardship and it really rests in how much social cohesion there is in a community. How much effort has been been put into mobilizing the community and having the community be able to show up in the places where policy and decision making is going on. And so at that point in time, we we did well for a long time and then we didn’t, you know. I mean, in this got to be really testy because the developer that got the property, we then went to another developer who agreed to buy the property because they went to the auction to get the property and hold it for two or three years, while we continued to try to find the money to do the civil rights museum. And they are with them. And so the one last got with us agreed that they would go and get the property, but they weren’t going to spend more money for it. They were not going to give this other developer a profit on that, on the exchange. And in the end, they got to keep the property. So it is it really takes a lot that’s that has to be done in mobilizing and community organizers. And that’s why community is the first part of that. That C3: community, culture and commerce.

Graham Singh [00:41:19] I mean. Carol, I just love where you’re going again on this. Been throwing a couple of ideas on ownership, particularly faith properties, but I think it extends to other types of social purpose real estate and they’re all things that we know. But we’ve thought a lot about this. I wrote an article called Updating the Social Contract Around Canada’s Places of Faith in Municipal World. And that was when I kind of began my journey down the road to urbanism, and I published two pieces for Municipal World, which I count as a great privilege. But this needs a lot of thinking, right? Three areas. One, how did the land get there first? What was the grant of land? Second, the municipal tax and its exemption. What’s the value of that. Third, how do you go back and look at restricted funds in terms of the charitable operation? So the grant of land. Think about a new development where somebody is building two thousand houses and they create a little strip mall and the Kroger, the Loblaws, it’s there because the developer had to put it there and it’s discounted rent because they needed to have a grocery store and a drugstore and that was the deal, and a bank machine. You know, a small bank teller kind of thing. The amenities were there. Right? A guy like John Galt, interesting developer in southwestern Ontario, where I come from. Yeah, absolutely. The kind of developer that gave land to the Scottish Presbyterians. So the Scottish people would move their houses there. He gave land to the Anglicans so the English people would move there. The church buildings were a grant of land or at significantly below market rate in order to be an amenity to bring those national groups there. So this was by definition, a colonizing act.

Mary Rowe [00:42:42] And they want to know where you’re going in this because I guess the point you’re making is that you can use this argument to go back to a faith institution and say, Hey, boys and girls, you’ve derived an enormous benefit that at the time through the public purse. So I want to go to Rino and ask him, Rino, based on what Carroll was suggesting: are there ways in which municipal governments could create other kinds of vehicles? Can you buy up these properties? Can you make your municipal properties available? Can you create land trusts and maybe Jess can talk to us about how do we advocate with other levels of government to be able to create new vehicles to ensure that a community owns these places? Rino first and then Jess?

Rino Bortolin [00:43:21] Yeah, I think you’re you’re hitting an underscoring some of the problems that are across a lot of cities across the world where it’s passive planning. So developers come in and dictate what ends up happening. And a lot of these neighborhoods, and I think one of the tools and I think we need to start looking at them is is sort of pre-planning or planning for the future and what we want to see there. And I think community land trusts are one option where you work with the community that’s there. The community land trust, the land stays within that group governed by a board, and that board dictates not just, you know, whether it’s affordable housing or certain types of businesses, but also cultural things that are that are available there. And so if you look at that and then other municipal tools in Ontario, tax incremental financing, you know how we change the that we currently will put out work and just, you know, hope a developer picks a property and develop something we want, but they’re profit driven and they have their own motor motivations. As a city, we can plan ahead and actually do a design and build and say on this corner, this is the type of development we want and then go out for requests for tenders on that property, right? And so I think we need to be proactive. And you could there are a lot of municipal tools, but rarely are we using them. And so we need to change the way we think about, do we do that for cities?

Mary Rowe [00:44:42] How do we do that? I mean, Jess, the work of the Main Street America, you guys have been. I mean, I just want to flag. First of all, mainstream America is decades old, so they’re old hands at this, which is great. But the other thing is, when I’m so appreciative of the concept of Main Street, it works at every scale of communities. So there’s Graham, very sophisticated, cosmopolitan, large city. It also works in southern Ontario. It works in southern Alberta. It makes smaller communities. So have you looked at how you can encourage municipal officials to be more risk taking and find new tools to get things.

Jess Zimbabwe [00:45:16] That’s a lot of the resource and government advocacy work that happens in Main Street America and as another example. But I think it takes that on ground organizing because the example that I’ve been thinking about when Graham have talked about the faith-based owned properties is a project here in Seattle called the Nehemiah Initiative, which is working with the leadership of black churches in the Central District, the historic black neighborhood of Seattle, to help them develop housing specifically on church owned land because it would make the church continuing to stay there financially sustainable. But also it adds more housing in a neighborhood that dramatically needs it. You know, in the black churches in particular are institutions that have hung on despite essentially a century of public policies that we’re working to actively exclude them or at best, treat them as disposable, right? So. So this is in the face of a long, you know, decades of decades of policy trying to come up with. And so ownership there is everything that these churches will retain an ownership position and decide what happens to that land. So the city is working to make more flexible zoning to allow additional housing in that capacity. But the ownership is a non-negotiable in that, right? Because of that history of exclusion.

Mary Rowe [00:46:24] Yeah, I mean, in some ways, what Carol is describing the saga working with those developers around that school, and I know that story, is that the risk that we have that as main streets recover they will gentrify and we will suddenly find a situation where the local community, it’s not their main street anymore. So any ideas from any of you about how do you actually combat that, that it doesn’t just become a main street of and you know, the pressure to put housing on main streets is extraordinary and those developments go in. And then the smaller mom and pops can’t afford the rent, and before you know it all you got is chains. So thoughts on how we prevent the gentrification, Carol.

Carol Bebelle [00:47:05] You know, the gentrification without, you know, displacement is the is the thing.

Mary Rowe [00:47:12] It’s the challenge.

Carol Bebelle [00:47:14] The the notion of improving the neighborhood is not the problem. The problem is to improve the neighborhood at the disadvantagement of the folks who have lived there and struggle to be there.

Mary Rowe [00:47:26] Maybe it’s public buildings critical. I mean, you know, or public use buildings. I mean, in other words, can you prevent the gentrification if you take all the public land, you take all the institutionally held land, which is a lot like churches, various places, libraries and schools, and you find a way to have housing into those? Is that one way to anchor..

Jess Zimbabwe [00:47:46] It’s not enough.

Mary Rowe [00:47:47] Not enough.

Carol Bebelle [00:47:48] For the way. Again, you know, the work has to be done at mobilizing communities. The things that have interrupted things that big developers have wanted to have happen have been when folks have showed up and made the folks who are elected understand that they were going to have dues to pay if they didn’t go the direction that they wanted. We can’t miss that step. Mobilize and creating social cohesion. Having people be involved in their own deliberation and decision making about what is going to what’s going to happen is something that can’t, you know, we can’t defer to the elected official, to the leader and to the scholar and to the planner. There has to be a way in which they are forced to listen to the community and the community therefore has to be there with a voice being able to inform their listening.

Mary Rowe [00:48:39] And we’re going to have a way to empower the community so that their decision actually is THE decision.

Jess Zimbabwe [00:48:50] I think as much as it’s difficult for us to have spent our careers making places better and investing, you know, advocating reinvesting in places to say we have to invest in people along with the place that you know. So yeah.

Rino Bortolin [00:49:03] Yeah. And one of the one of the things I think needs to happen is way to bake it in.

Mary Rowe [00:49:08] Say, Sorry, sorry, just Carol had something quick and then to you Rino.

Carol Bebelle [00:49:11] It’s placemaking. But it’s also placekeeping.

Mary Rowe [00:49:14] That’s right. That’s right. Go ahead, Rino.

Rino Bortolin [00:49:17] So in part of this, we need to bake in these things into policy. So as to Carol’s point, you know, yes, the there has to be a surge of people, you know, bringing it to their elected officials. But you know, every four years you get a new crop of elected officials, so you don’t want to have to do this constantly and then and then lose one big section of a street. So it needs to be baked into policy and zoning and things like that so that we can, you know, form based code is something that needs to be overhauled across North America so that the form of that main street needs to be retained. A lot of these small ordinances that have come come up over the years, it’s what’s actually destroying these main streets because if a building goes down on main street, you can’t actually replace it with a building that looks exactly like the old one. And so unless you bake it into policy and then and then use the tools, the tips, the community land trusts and those types of things to actually ensure that the community that’s there today is the one that’s going to benefit from the development and from the growth and from the investments that come and without without making it into actual policy, you’re not going to see it consistent. You will see ad hoc projects do it and good developers do it, but you won’t see it across the community on your main streets that like it should across North America.

Mary Rowe [00:50:33] With the time that’s left, let’s talk about what you’ve just said about what should we? There’s a question in the technical chat here about what are the tools, how do we measure success? Can you, folks, as you make your sort of final comments around the corner here. Are there particular tools, policy changes that we should be advocating for? And I’ll just put the context in here that the Biden administration and the Trudeau administration, we don’t call it that here, but the federal government and Canada are about to spend a gazillion dollars rebuilding their countries after COVID, and they’re going to spend lots of that dough on what they define as infrastructure. Graham, I’m going to start with you. You said, “Hey, we’ve got different forms of infrastructure.” So so how do we want to steer the money? And what are the policy and tools that we can put in people’s hands to advocate? Well, Graham, you first.

Graham Singh [00:51:22] Yeah. Thanks, Mary. So the institutional finance question is the question that I’m looking at when you ask that. Municipal finance is one thing. We can deal with local tax, especially where there tax exempt properties already. We can deal with charities investments or come to that in a second. But institutional finance folks, these are our pension funds. These are not other people. It’s not some crazy developer. We are all involved in this. When they touch a development in main street, they’re expecting for every year you touch their money at least a 10 percent return unless. We reduce their expectation of return in favor for this gentrification without dislocation. We will not solve the problem. I’m excited in Canada and I can tell you I support the Liberal government on this point. I have my concerns with other couple of things. The social finance fund from the federal Liberals is exciting. I’m starting a new course at Oxford looking at impact finance. And if we can reduce that and we use federal funds to reduce that expectation of return, we can actually create the space to do so. We have a church in a small city in Florida that reached out to us where the church saved up. They bought up an entire city block. They’re now looking at this and they want to do what’s right. I’m so excited for that, and I said to them, find a way to put those rent discounts in for charities and nonprofits. Your foundation will have to expect a lesser return. So to me, social finance is the answer.

Mary Rowe [00:52:41] Social finance advocating for public support of social finance. But you’re also saying, Hey folks, everybody out there that’s got a retirement fund or has got it. Think about this in terms of the money, your expectation of ridiculous returns. Scale that back and understand that we need to put the money back into our community. Talk to your fund if you have one. Talk to them. Jess, what would you say?

Jess Zimbabwe [00:53:05] Yeah, I think this community organizing is essential, though, because you both you need the community organizing to have a voice that makes government listen, but also to get that sort of broad enough collective voice, right? So it’s not any one property owner. It’s not just, it’s the broader collective voice. I think that organizing and that’s organizing it happens through main streets, through neighborhood organizing, through, you know, projects like the Nehemiah Initiative, all these other examples of the faith based communities, but that broader community organizing to combat what’s coming up in some of the comments, people who are really disengaged. A lot of people have checked out. Think local government doesn’t represent them, isn’t working towards them. And so I think it’s really important to invest in those community organizations who help build that collective voice and make people feel like government is something that actually matters in their lives and they can make a difference.

Mary Rowe [00:53:50] And so I wonder right now as we start to recover in some form at the local level, getting people onto the main street to have a positive experience again. Not only about commerce, but as Carol said, community and culture too, that they come in to a main street and have some. Can we get them to reattach to a sense that we’re in it together? Rino.

Rino Bortolin [00:54:13] Well, yeah, I’ll take it one step further. All those investments from the federal government, they all get enacted at the municipal level, and unless we actually focus on the ordinances and policies and and things that are happening at the municipal level, you’re not going to actually see the type of city that you want. And so the municipality has to become and start thinking like a developer working with community groups where the community groups are also part developer. And so if you engage that same community, Mary, that you just mentioned in the design of your main street, the design of your neighborhood, the design of of a certain area of your block and then you build that up with with the specs to then go out to tender where the city or the potentially the not for profits are actually part of that process. And acting as the developer in this case, you actually develop the community you want to see and you’re not just beholden to the, you know, ultra rich developers coming in and doing doing what they see for profit and you’re going to see more and more control because as you see mega developers becoming international, so to speak, they’re landing in small cities like Windsor. And so to protect against that, the City has to act as a partner in the development in creating the city that we want to see. And unless we do that, we’re just going to be sitting back hoping for the best.

Mary Rowe [00:55:37] I mean, is there a role that you could play, Rino, as a local councilor in that your and the council could play too? Because what I’m hearing, I’m hearing folks say we got to work with the development community, got to work with the folks that where the money is in the system, right? Is there a way for you guys to provide some leadership and say, if you do this developer, madam developer, here’s what here are the here are the benefits to you to do it this way because I’m I don’t want to write this whole sector off as a bunch of avaricious jerks that only build monstrous things. I just can’t. We build, can’t we cultivate some really great developers who want to work?

Rino Bortolin [00:56:13] I absolutely can, and I don’t want to paint all developers as bad either, but you don’t often get exactly what we want. So to get exactly what we want, we have to partner with them. And by partnering with them, we can use TIFs, tax incremental financing. So we’re giving them the incentives to say you need to build your building with a zero carbon footprint. You need to build your building with a mixed use residential where there’s retail on the main floor, hidden parking, no parking minimums and you need to do it in these ways. It’ll add X amount of cost to your investment, but we’re also going to grant that incentive back with you in taxes. And so the municipality now becomes an active partner as opposed to a passive regulator, so to speak. So as soon as the municipality takes an active role, it helps guide the projects. And and to your point, a lot of developers are looking to do a lot of great projects, but they don’t actually have necessarily the input of the general public in the people. And as the municipality, by definition, that’s our role. So for us to meet with the local neighborhood, would meet with the residents and see what they want out of this development and then work with that private developer to make it an A-plus result. That’s the key here, and we need to see ourselves as a partner in development, not just the regulator.

Jess Zimbabwe [00:57:30] I think that’s exactly right that in addition to the planning and visioning and the regulatory functions, that deal making function of local government is essential to set the expectation that these community benefits will be baked into new development.

Mary Rowe [00:57:43] I mean, we can go ahead, Carol, I’m going to come to you last. What do you want to say?

Carol Bebelle [00:57:47] You know, and I’m I’m going to go on to the other side. Part of what doesn’t work is the fact that we tried to change and to improve on the developers, the policymakers, the elected officials. The problem is that at the core, the best circumstance is the one that is of by and for the people. We’re not making the same kind of investment in terms of making sure that people have a seat at the table, that they are learning in a way that they can be informed when they’re sitting at the table, that there is a way in which the folks who have to work with them are incentived to work with them. I don’t know what happened, but when I started working in the 70s, something had happened so that you had to plan with people. Instead of planning for them. Something more happened, and so everybody was scurrying around trying to get community advisory committees, et cetera, et cetera. We’ve got to change the formula and we’ve got to work as hard on being able to get the people involved and up to snuff so that they are able to manage to represent their voice. And those are the things that are going to help us with these other things that we’re trying to do. As long as we’re trying to work on being able to have present people who are of the mindset and the heart set to be able to be doing the right thing for the right reason. We’re going to continually fall short because the check and the balance is not in place. And so it is critical to get the to get us working again on ensuring that we are investing in the voice, like we’re investing in the elected official, the politician and the developer. All of them get paid to do their jobs. We expect that people will live in the community to just do this in addition to running their lives and working and all of that kind of stuff. You know, we’ve got to find a way to be able to look at that role as as critical as some of these other roles are and to make investment in it. We speak to that. The rhetoric speaks about that, you know, but we’re really we’re we’re nowhere close

Mary Rowe [00:59:52]  So we need to be investing in people. You’ve got your vote and you’ve just made the point that it’s about place, but it’s about people. So thanks everybody for joining us for yet another really interesting, and I think in this case, very moving conversation about the meaning of the street and the meaning of the people who actually make the street and shape the street and then live in the street. We’re at a remarkable point. I think where because of COVID, I mean, Carol, you went through, you’ve gone through a number of challenges in New Orleans, but the one that I shared with you was going through Katrina. And out of that came a remarkable commitment to resilience and all sorts of things. And let’s hope that through COVID globally will have a new kind of collective experience to build ourselves back in a different way, particularly around our main streets, which people are starting to pay attention to. So thank you very much for joining us. I want to thank Carol coming in from New Orleans. Graham from Montreal. Rino from Windsor, mighty Windsor, the food capital and Jess from Seattle. Always great to see you here. And next week we have another a detailed session for people that want to apply to My Main Street in that it’s a pilot and in this case, a real pilot in southern Ontario. We hope you’ll join us. That’s on the 13th. People that are on CityTalk know that when we’re finished a little quick survey goes up. We hope you’ll do that. The panelists do not have to stay and listen to this to watch the survey, but it will come up in a second and two weeks from now.CUI is going local again and listening because it’s about listening to people. We will be in Victoria doing a CUI x Local similar to what we were doing in Windsor. So thanks guys for joining us. Really, really wonderful to be together on such an important conversation.


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00:18:12 Stefan Fediuk: Windsor, Ontario
00:18:17 Deidre Nelson: Hello from the Marpole neighbourhood of Vancouver, traditional territory of the Musqueam People, grateful to be here!
00:18:22 Canadian Urban Institute: HOUSEKEEPING: A friendly zoom reminder, you can see and hear us but we can’t see or hear you. We have closed captioning enabled for today’s session. If you would like to turn it off, please click on the button at the bottom of your screen and disable. We are recording today’s session and will share it online at We hope this session is as interactive as possible, so please feel free to share comments, references, links or questions in the chat.
00:19:00 Canadian Urban Institute: My Main Street is a 23.25 million investment to help drive business and restore vibrancy to local communities across southern Ontario in the aftermath of COVID-19. Learn more at
00:19:52 Canadian Urban Institute: New Orleans native, Co-founder and Executive Director of Ashé Cultural Arts Center, Bebelle is a constant voice and advocate for the primal role of culture in establishing equity, justice and compassion in American society. This learning and insight was derived from her first career in human service planning that spanned two decades. Her day-to-day laboratory for this work for 21 years has been the Ashé Cultural Arts Center where the day to day was created by the intersection of culture, community and art. Her new platform is AKUA Productions NOLA where her artist self is more present in her efforts.
00:23:52 Canadian Urban Institute: Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “everyone” so everyone can see your comments. Thanks!
00:25:07 Deidre Nelson: Wow!!! I am so inspired already and it has only been five minutes!! We need this boulevard here.
00:27:07 Deidre Nelson: here, I mean the Marpole neighbourhood of Vancouver.
00:29:32 Heather Currie: I’m not seeing it above – can you type out the name of the Boulevard please? (apologies if it’s above)
00:30:51 Canadian Urban Institute: You can watch the video here:
00:31:42 Canadian Urban Institute: Graham Singh is Founder and Executive Director of the Trinity Centres Foundation, a new Canadian charity established to transform 100 historic city centre church buildings into community hubs. TCF’s team of 50+ advisors from the social innovation, property finance, urbanism and faith sectors are currently developing what may become one of Canada’s most significant social purpose real estate investment offerings. Over the past 12 years, Graham has led four historic building and community renewal projects in the United Kingdom and Canada, including in his current role as Rector of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal’ recent church plant, St Jax Montreal.
00:32:02 Canadian Urban Institute: Graham also acts as a consultant in the area of social impact investing, in the private wealth management sector. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics, Cambridge University (Ridley Hall / St Mellitus College), the University of Western Ontario and Asbury Theological Seminary. He is currently enrolled in Oxford University’s Saïd Business School Impact Innovations Programme.
00:33:35 Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI: Oretha Castle Haley
00:33:54 Heather Currie: Thank you. 🙂
00:37:45 Mary Chevreau: We all do what Mary says 🙂
00:37:59 Laurel Davies Snyder: 🙂
00:38:24 Ralph Cipolla: hello from Orillia Ontario
00:38:41 Deidre Nelson: This is wonderful, what an amazing way of thinking about possible solutions.
00:40:48 Ted Emond: St. Paul”s Centre in Orillia is an example. check it out
00:42:45 Susan Fletcher: Sadly, too many schools are still empty evenings and weekends. The SPACE Coalition (Saving Public Access to Community space Everywhere) is working to improve access to schools for nonprofit groups in Ontario.
00:42:54 Canadian Urban Institute: Born in Windsor, Rino Bortolin is a city councillor for Ward 3 and a culinary talent. Rino is the co-owner/operator, with his wife Anastasia Adams, of Rino’s Kitchen & Ale House. As a participant and supporter of the Downtown Windsor Farmers’ market, Rino understands the importance of attracting local businesses and tourism to our area. Rino feels his experience in business and the community makes him the right fit for the Council seat. He is a strong advocate of small business and believes that taxpayer money should be spent with respect to the taxpayer. He believes stronger regional ties with the county only serve to benefit Windsor businesses. He is committed to greater emphasis on creating neighbourhood identities that foster pride and engagement. He also lists as priorities items that affect our neighbourhoods such as increased cleanliness in streets, parks and urban blight, and continued rejuvenation of the Downtown core.
00:43:05 Arlene Gould: \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\
00:45:04 Deidre Nelson: “Culture, community and commerce”, yes!!
00:47:46 Mary Chevreau: Has policy changed, or exceptions made during COVID?
00:47:51 Winki Tam: Such a great way to summarize the underlying problem (risk management), thank you.
00:48:05 Carrie Stalder: All cities are food cities!
00:49:15 Canadian Urban Institute: Jess Zimbabwe (she/her) became Environmental Works’s Executive Director in 2021. Previously, she founded a consulting practice, Plot Strategies, and served for ten years as the founding Director of the Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership—a partnership of the National League of Cities and the Urban Land Institute. The Center’s flagship programs were the Daniel Rose Fellowship in Land Use and the Equitable Economic Development Fellowship. Before that, Jess was the Director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and Vice President for Programs at the American Architectural Foundation. She has also served as the Community Design Director at Urban Ecology, providing pro bono community planning and design assistance to low-income neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area.
00:49:31 Canadian Urban Institute: Jess is a member of the urban design and planning faculty at the University of Washington, and previously taught at Georgetown University and the University of Texas, Austin. Jess was an Urban and Regional Policy Fellow at the German Marshall Fund and a Fellow of the Women’s Policy Institute. She serves on the boards of Next City, the National Main Street Center, and Colloqate. She has held a mayoral appointment to the DC Green Building Advisory Council.
00:57:01 Jess Zimbabwe: Here is a link to the National Main Street Center’s research on the impacts of COVID on small businesses across the U.S.:
00:57:09 Canadian Urban Institute: We love your comments and questions in the chat! Share them with everyone by changing your chat settings to “everyone”. Thanks!
01:00:04 Mona Moreau: What about the “church community” that sells their church to a developer. That’s what happened in Toronto on St. Clair Ave West just east of Avenue Road.
01:00:43 Canadian Urban Institute: Here’s Graham’s article “Updating the social contract around historic places of faith”:
01:00:57 Laurel Davies Snyder: Before we develop / tweak municipal vehicles/tools, what are the questions we should be asking to determine “measures of success” (How do we organize tools & systems so that the community/nonprofits, etc. own resources so they are part of main streets/downtowns?)
01:01:04 Heather Currie: ours chose to level the abandoned catholic school beside the church for a parking lot rather than convert to affordable housing. There was even a hunger strike around it but they did not budge
01:02:41 Jess Zimbabwe: more on The Nehemiah Initiative:
01:03:31 Canadian Urban Institute: Here is Graham’s other piece “Hand over Canada’s white churches to the charities who need them”:
01:03:35 Carrie Stalder: Longer term thinking is the key.
01:05:09 Mona Moreau: How do we motivate communities to get engaged? So many people feel they don’t have a voice.
01:05:12 Deidre Nelson: Absolutely, because the NIMBY’s are organized and very vocal, even if they are not representative of the whole neighbourhood.
01:06:04 Laurel Davies Snyder: Engagement processes, structures, etc. need to be critically examined in the planning process
01:06:25 Deidre Nelson: Yes Mona, good question, because people are also very busy and don’t have tons of time to think about community building.
01:06:57 Jess Zimbabwe: (That’s a photo of our historic fire station in Capitol Hill, Seattle.)
01:07:08 Shuraine Otto-Olak: This is such an important discussion. Community voices are essential in creating policies
01:07:18 Carrie Stalder: YES, Carol! Raising community voices
01:11:17 Jess Zimbabwe: Crowd funding models hold a lot of promise for small-scale development projects and also early-phase community development activities.
01:13:51 Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #citytalk @canurb You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our sessions at CUI extends a big thank you to TD for their support on CityTalk.
01:14:00 Mary Chevreau: great conversation — thank you all
01:14:49 Canadian Urban Institute: COMING UP: Join us on October 13 to learn more about My Main Street and how to apply. We’ll share examples of projects that are eligible, walk you through the application process and answer any questions you have. To register: From October 18-20, 2021, we will be in Victoria, British Columbia, meeting with a cross-section of individuals and organizations on the challenges the city is facing, and how they’re responding to them. Visit for more information.
01:15:07 Charles Cooper: Planning ‘with people’, not ‘to people’.
01:15:10 Laurel Davies Snyder: Thank you everyone. Fantastic discussion!
01:15:13 Catherine Soplet: Great panel – I will share this with MIRANET Council – the Mississauga Ratepayers/Residents Assosciations Network @Soplet
01:15:36 Deidre Nelson: Amazing and inspiring!!! Thank you all so much.
01:15:52 Leandro Santos: Thanks to all the panellists for this fruitful discussion!
01:16:03 Caroline Taylor: Thank you. Very inspiring.
01:16:15 Stacy Holland: Thank you
01:16:18 Tom Pischel: Thank you everyone.
01:16:20 Robin McPherson: Fantastic. Thank you
01:16:25 Shuraine Otto-Olak: Thank you very much for this!
01:17:02 Graham Wilson: Thank you!