Day 1 | Challenges and Opportunities for Anchor Institutions to Rebuild Downtowns: Churches

Day 1 | Challenges and Opportunities for Anchor Institutions to Rebuild Downtowns: Churches

The world’s greatest downtowns include iconic buildings and cultural attractions that appeal to locals and visitors. Throughout the pandemic, we have come to appreciate the vital importance of places and spaces that are accessible to everyone. What roles and opportunities are there for these institutions—including places traditionally affiliated with religious traditions, to restore vibrancy to downtowns and attracting residents and visitors?

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 W. Rowe [00:00:05] Hi, everybody, we’re two thirds of the way there today, which is great and appreciating all the different voices coming in from different time zones, different parts of the country. Also, we have on this session, as we have on sessions tomorrow as well. We have people joining us from south of the 49th, which is terrific. It’s very important for us to have an appreciation for what’s going on in our neighboring jurisdictions and in this case in the United States. So we’re very appreciative to have Donna joining us on this session with Graham Singh and Stephen and just a couple of things to remind people about all the sessions that are happening over yesterday and today all get recorded, the chat gets recorded, it will all be posted and it will be there in perpetuity. So as I was say on city talks, anything you put in the chat lives in the chat. It’s a bit like Vegas. It stays there on the chat. Everybody will see it. So please make use of that because a lot of people have a good conversations on there and it helps inform the sessions. But also people start forming relationships and start troubleshooting and problem solving in the chat. So we’re appreciative of people using it that way. And at the end of the session today, we have these two sessions on the role of anchor institutions. And then we’re going to have a begin the process of trying to tease out what are we really think the the emerging themes are and we’re grouping those as challenges, solutions and actions. And we encourage you to stay on with us before you end your day or continue your day, depending on what zone you’re in. And to help us start to build that is we’re going to do it iteratively. And then tomorrow morning we come tomorrow, midday eastern and morning in the west. We come back back at it to for another six hours of really specific conversations about a particular impacts of downtowns and on different aspects of downtown life, so particularly economics in the morning. So without further ado, let’s talk about the future of anchor institutions and in this case, faith institutions and churches and what role they can play in bringing back our downtowns and our main street. So I’m going to pass to my colleague Graham Singh, who’s in Montreal Sunny Montreal. I’m assuming where it’s always sunny and where he leaves the Trinity Center’s Foundation. So, Graham, thanks for joining us and for bringing some of your colleagues looking forward to the conversation over to you. 


Graham Singh [00:02:06]  Merci Mary. C’est un grand plaisir de travailler avec vous. A toutes et a tous. Bonjour de montreal. Je suis Graham Singh. Je suis pasteur dans l’eglise anglicane et le fondateur de la Fondation Des Centres Trinite. So for those of you who are just reaching for your English translation button, don’t worry, Mary, just ask me for a bit of a shout out from Montreal en francais. The rest of our session would primarily in English, but we bring to you the perspective from downtown Montreal where we’ve begun this work. We think we’re the capital of closed churches, the province of Quebec. We’re happy to take on anybody who disputes that one, but we’re also the kind of place where we partner with local organizations like XP Montreal and the City of Montreal and the Quartier de Spectacles, you name it, up and down la rue Sainte-Catherine, to look at faith properties and see how we can use them in all of the kind of wonderful ways that you’d expect. We want to use the, I’ll introduce my panelists in just a moment, but we want to give you a bit of a work up to this and we really want you to be engaged in the chat. As Mary talked about the chat, what goes on tour stays on. Well, whatever, Mary said, that’s the way we’ll stick with it. The chat is incredibly useful. We want to give you some questions to ask you, what our stories you have in your local community of faith property wins? Fantastic stories. Put your links, put your descriptions, will pull those out of the chat afterwards. Similarly, faith property disasters, everybody tried to figure it out. Humpty Dumpty tried to put it together again. All the king’s men, tried to put up Humpty together again, and it just didn’t happen. And you know, I think many of you will know those stories. We want to hear them. Second this is actually a preamble to a number of conversations that we have across a number of teams that we are either leading or related to within specific urban planning practice. Their conversations coming up, the American Association of Urban Planners, the Canadian Association of Urban Planners. We would like to hear from you. What’s missing out of this presentation that we can work on specifically in the urban planning lens in space? So please give us those ideas. And finally really asking what it is that you bring to the table. Do you have some tools for us in how to figure out what are we going to do with all of these church properties? So let’s get into this. First of all, how many churches have closed in Canada since the 1980s? It’s around 4000. There are a number of studies being done. Mike Woodley is one I want to highlight. Also, some great guys in Memorial University out East called the After Church Atlas. There are a number of studies being released and we have lots of connections with the Canadian Urban Institute. We’re also setting up a number of other pages on our Trinity Center’s website to keep you informed of those studies. If you use the number four thousand, you’re all going to be too far off and you’ll immediately ask the question What about the mosques? What about the synagogues? What about the gurdwaras? Well, there’s two things. We have a very small supply of those types of organizations in Canada compared to Christian organizations, and they don’t tend to hoard property the way the colonizing Christian Church has. We’re going to talk about this at the end on Indigenous owned and operated equity seeking groups owned and operated, it’s a huge question the colonizing Christian Church has more to answer for than any other faith group in Canada. By the year 2030, the number of 9000 churches closing has been thrown around. We’re now reducing and revising that number lower. But the bigger question becomes what happened to those closed churches because many good things might have happened. That’s the subject of our seminar today. One answer is that other faith groups buy them, other nonprofits buy them, municipalities buy them and the private sector does as well. Here in Quebec, Luke Nathan and his colleague Lyne Bernier at UQAM at University of Quebec. This is a very helpful study. We’d like to see this repeated across Canada. What you’ll see here is a summary of recent closures of churches. I think in the past 15 years, 692 churches in Quebec. Of those, how many have gone to other traditions? Twenty five percent, you can see right over in the far right. How many to commercial use, cultural use, community use, residential not known and there’s no function at all. This paints a better story than you might think, right? Because the story we often hear is private developers have got them all. They’re demolishing them all, turning them into condos. That is often the case. If you go to Main and Main or you go in front of a transit station or you go to a place where you would like to see affordable housing or some other kind of community mix city. So looking at this, there’s more research to be done. Next question Why are churches closing? Religiosity has declined. You can read about that everywhere, as has allegiance to traditional religious forms. The third issue, though, which is a huge one on here. Is sacred multi-use challenge. OK, so the I’m just wondering if we’ve got Donna probably on just a little bit too early on here. It’s going to mess up your screen sharing. But Donna has got a very sore hand. Thanks so much, guys. Here’s what I want to say. If you’re a person of a certain age and you have a cottage, the sitting empty, you might want to rent it out, but you’ll be OK with it eventually. If you’re under a certain age or you’re under a certain perspective, you’ll rent that cottage out. The minute you’re gone, you go on holiday for a week, you’ll rent out your house. When people see church is not used, it goes against a culture of multi-use. I don’t want to use the term short term rental, but you can see what I mean. The culture of empty churches has become anathema, and people have left churches for that reason as well. Can churches themselves come up with a new solution on their own? No, but many still think that they can. Why no? No, because they don’t have a vision for the kind of multi-use that we’re talking about. No, they don’t have the right kind of money. No, they’re unable to connect with other types of money. We’ve heard of many different types of funding. Many of them have been nonreligious restriction or religious restriction as it were, and therefore not accessible to these religious organizations. But most importantly churches have no legal financial structure to reorder their buildings in a particular city if there are 30 buildings in a city, those 30 churches that run them have no financial connection to each other. Even if there are three Anglican churches and three Presbyterian churches, those three don’t have connections to each other. So we immediately run into problems with the urbanist language. As an urbanist, you look at a particular community, particular region, a particular city, town, and you ask, How are we going to solve the system? The structure of church governance. So I’ll go back to the colonizing European churches have a major governance issue when it comes to citywide thinking. And if we’re not aware of that, we won’t realize that all of the different professionals who are hired by any one of those churches are often there to promote that one church’s interest. The number of times that we have seen an architect who said, Thank God, you’re here. I proposed to the city a while ago what we could do with the five churches of the downtown. But there was nobody to pay me and nobody to listen. Well, there’s a hint of where we’re going. Who could pay that architect to come up with the idea that they already have? Finally, how can we encourage churches to reinvest their property in the local community? We’ll talk about this churches who believe the properties are theirs technically, legally, in some cases they are, but morally and urbanistically if we can say, they belong to the community, they are a type of social purpose real estate. Yet we still need to figure out how we’re going to invest these properties or cause the board who runs them to invest in these local properties into the local community going forward. So what can you do about it? This is where we want to go. Donna and Stephen and I want to give you as urban thinkers, city managers, urban planners who want to give you some ideas and, you know, talk to churches, you might see a T-shirt like this. What would Jesus do? We hope churches are asking those kinds of questions, and you’ll maybe see where I’m going with the joke. This isn’t that much of a joke for urban thinkers, but pretty easily, what would Jane Jacobs do? Well, guess what? Most people don’t know what Jane Jacobs would do, and you need to tell them. The gospel, according to Jane, is something the churches need to hear. And of course, the idea even that there’s a difference between people of faith and urbanist is something that sometimes people of faith think. Of course, urbanist know there are many, many deeply spiritual people from Jacques Ellul all the way down. And you need to let people know about this. Here’s an example. Rick Reinhardt, who I’ll quote a couple of times major urban planner from the U.S., also work for an American bishop in the Episcopal, in the Methodist Church. He told me about sitting down for dinner once with Jane Jacobs, and it led to this conversation about today. And our question to you is what would happen if Jane Jacobs knew what you could do about seeing a transformation of church property you in your position of influence for Rick, he said right away. Jane Jacobs, she would say, animate those things with not one thing, but 25 things do the transformation with small players, not always the biggest player in the market. Don’t block new ideas but enable them. Think about things like food, playtime, small retail and you have to be really, really tough. And finally, make sure you’re thinking about a reasonable working hypothesis. Here’s what I have to say, folks. Most churches are unable to come up with a reasonable working hypothesis as to what to do with their church, and you, as urban thinkers, can help them. Second, don’t only inventory facilitate. Many cities have inventoried their faith properties and then done nothing after. Here’s a quote from Erik Hanson, a heritage planner at City of Peterborough. “Our city has seen seven church closures, one wrecking ball and a growing sense of frustration by the community at the loss of their neighborhood heritage. We need a multi-level policy solution and the planning crisis caused by widespread church failures across Canada.” Now, I said to Eric, “Eric, there’s no point complaining like this if you’re not going to convene people.” He said. I’m not sure I would know what to say. We said, well, we know what to say, but you need to use your power to convene at a city level to bring everybody together. We created a game called Gotham City, where Bruce Wayne agreed to pay for all the capital renovations in the city as long as the buildings were all turned over for some kind of community use. The game we created fictional churches, we had all the folks and the City of Guephf, and of course they began to rip each other to shreds until we changed the rules of the game. And we told them if they were, if they’re doing this from a common financial pot, what would happen and how could the city lean in to do this? This is the kind of thing that you as city managers can do. Third, develop a new zoning and tax strategies that encourage appropriate redevelopment. You may say, well, that’s a huge task. We’ve written about it in Municipal World. We will give you these resources. Here’s something from Rick Reinhardt in here. And here’s a practical example from the city of Westmount in Montreal above a practical new zoning structure that they came up for houses of worship. You can do this. We want to encourage you and finally encourage new social finance instruments. What I don’t mean is taking existing funding streams that you’re trying to use for other purposes. What I do mean is there are entirely new funding streams. We haven’t spoken enough today about the Federal Social Finance Fund. I was trying to get Mayor Amarjeet to talk a little bit about it. He was quite involved in and engaging that we happened to be involved with that fund in Edmonton. There are new instruments around and you, as an urban thinker, can do a lot to stir up those discussions around them. So there’s an overview of where we’re at and some of the things you can begin doing. And if we want to say this, I’m not quite sure what’s happening here, guys. There we go. And you might say last night, the deejay saved my life. We would like to say last year, the Urbanists saved that steeple. And what I’m going to do is ask Donna Schaper to come on board and Stephen Jackson, come on board. We’re going here for Donna first, and we’re going to hear from Stephen second if you guys want to come all into the panel here. And Donna, I’m going to introduce you first as the pastor, the leader up until very recently of the Judson Memorial Church in Judson Center for Faith Justice and the Arts. See some images here. Is everybody’s coming on board? And Stephen Jackson, founder of Anishnabeg Outreach an amazing example, as we’ll hear in a moment of a Lutheran church, turned into a First Nations owned and operated healing center. And what we’re really asking is going back to this question what have, what is it that an urbanists has done in the life and the story of Donna and Stephen that really made a difference and saw faith properties practically come forward. So, Donna also, we’ll talk about the amazing work that she’s led called Bricks and Mortals, which is something kind of similar to the Trinity Center’s foundation in New York City. And so with that introduction, Donna, we’re going to close down here and over to you. 


Donna Schaper [00:14:59] Hi, everybody. I’m so glad to be in Canada this afternoon. It’s been a wonderful trip. Thank you, Graham, for this invitation. And forgive my paw, it’s broken. I have to lean over and everything is funny about me right now. I’ve slipped on the ice and fell. And maybe that’s a good an introduction as any to what happened to a lot of American churches. We slipped on the ice and fell. And I do think that Graham is right to call us the colonizers. There’s no question about that, but some of us have done some good for some time, and we are very much aware in New York City that our life cycle has ended. Twenty-four percent of the land in New York City, which is a land starved place, is owned by religious institutions, and most of them are empty, underutilized, falling apart with maybe a very small congregation if they’re lucky. Our life cycle of use is over, and we know that. And so what I am going to give like six maybe bullet points as to how urbanist can help us, help religious institutions. And I’ll just say it in a way of being hopeful that you’ll accept one of them. The first is respect us as elders who have lost our way. When you talk to us, don’t try to rip us off, don’t think we’re stupid. Understand that we’re in a certain cycle in our own grief about the movements that we led and that are gone. And just respect us. When the mayor comes to talk about zoning or the fact that we haven’t paid our water bill or whatever the mayor’s people can either be derisive or respectful, respect what we did and respect us on our way out. Secondly, if you take, if you come into a relationship with a church that wants to do what Graham was so eloquently talking about, which is adaptively become new. It would love to have a little corner in its own building. So give us a little corner. The most exciting project that I know of is one in Newport, Rhode Island, where they took the title of my new book. Yes, I’m advertising renews cues from your theology and from your building, so you can open it to adaptive reuse. So the seven people who are part of the remnant congregation can still worship there on an off time. Give them a closet, give them a space. Don’t throw out all of their religious artifacts. Keep a pew in the back. Remember them with respect. And our slogan in Bricks and Mortals is we’d like to live to pray another day, another way. So let us have a little piece of the property until we all die off. It’s just respectful. Third, think about what we could do as immigrants for each other. In New York City, 60 percent of the people are foreign born. That means they’re coming to New York City and they’re going to make new churches. Why don’t some of the old ones just give the new immigrant communities the building? I’ve seen it happen in Brooklyn. I’ve seen an old German Lutheran congregation of again seven white people give to a thriving congregation that was there worshiping in the three o’clock slot with hundred and fifty people. And the islanders had different music, but they sure could use the organ. They could use the boiler, they could use the space. Why not create positivity around transfer of ownership to other spiritual, religious, Indigenous or just communal practices? Our biggest fear in New York City is that, as Jane Jacobs would say, we’re going to lose the cultural density of New York City, and only rich people will be able to live there as they buy up churches and turn churches into mission inconsistent high-rise apartments, luxury apartments. Just prohibit that. Get the government to prohibit that, that you cannot have been getting the tax exemption all these years, which happens in the States and then sell out for seven billion dollars. So four people can live there three months a year. That just isn’t right. There’s a really great model of respect, inclusion. My points one and two, third point immigrant transition. Give the property away. That’s mission consistent. It’s a lot more mission consistent than selling it, even selling it for a good use. You know, give it away. Give somebody a head start. The two models that I’d like to show I’ve already mentioned one was to remove the pews. When you take out the pews, when you take out the pews, you immediately can set the room for seven people, one hundred and fifty people, maybe three hundred and fifty people, you can still have that solidity of furniture. That they’re all religious types liked. But you don’t have to only have that, you can have dance, you can have music, you can have harm reduction programs, you can counsel, give legal counsel to immigrants, you could get so many other things. Once the space is empty. And speaking as a believer I’m so excited about God’s next revelation I can’t state it. And I think when I see those empty pews, empty spaces, empty beautiful spaces, and I see the stained glass windows looking totally different. I get so excited about what God’s next revelations going to be. So two quick examples, and I’ll quit. One is from Danbury, Connecticut, where the town of Danbury bought a large sanctuary seats twelve hundred people at an education wing with 40 classrooms in it. Congregation under 100 hundred people, the congregation could not begin to afford the place. The town the city bought it for $1 and gave the congregation rights in perpetuity to worship there on Sunday mornings. Look at that, look at that image. And finally, on the more meta level in New York City, land is valuable. Corruption is the name of the entire place. It’s real estate and screw jobs for everybody all the time. That’s the name of the game. That’s what New York City is made of, and everybody who’s ever read a history of New York knows it. We started stealing the land, and we kept on doing it. What about different forms of economies that acknowledge that you are already given so much by the harm reduction programs, by the feeding programs, by the children’s programs, by the elderly programs, by the shelters, etc. All the normal things we do, monetize and measure them, because if the city had to buy and build a new place for those programs to happen, it would be ridiculously expensive. So act like and use the halo effect, you can find it, I’ll put it up to in the chat that partners with sacred places invented, monetize and value what we’re already doing. And my cat is about to jump in my lap, so I better stay


Graham Singh [00:23:17] Donna, thank you so much. We’re going to go straight over to Stephen. Stephen it’s amazing work that you’ve done, the Lutherans are getting a good, good props today, I think. But tell us how your organization Anishnabeg Outreach. Tell us what’s happened and how we can dream. how urbanists can do more and see more Indigenous owned and operated former Christian places of faith. And what’s happened? Go ahead over you. 


Stephen Jackson [00:23:43] Sure, about three and a half years ago, we actually purchased a Lutheran church to begin really our first center of Indigenous healing really on the details of what is now in Canada reconciliation. Rent in our region, which is Kitchener- Waterloo region, is about, our building is seven thousand square feet, so rent is about $300,000 a year. However, buying a building is only about $75,000 a year, so there is a massive, I guess, return on investment. So a lot of money could be moved to programing dollars as opposed to just paying rent and rent has no real value for us. It was a church and there’s a lot of issues with churches in terms of Indigenous reconciliation. However, we transformed the church into a safe place by really bringing the outdoors in. So it’s kind of an architectural marvel also in that there is cedar everywhere. There’s wood there’s live edge table, so it’s quite beautiful. We spent about a year and a half doing the renovation. Over that course of time, we became the region’s top innovator. We do a lot of tech also. We’re also up for the region’s top, not for profit. This past year, there are fifty thousand indigenous people living in the region, but only 20,000 admit to being Indigenous for a lot of really good reasons, the negative consequences. And the negative consequences are things in relation to homelessness, addiction, suicides, prisons, all the rest of the things you’re all familiar with. Even under the shadow of the pandemic, we had 14,000 client visits, either in-person or virtual this past year. We’ve also delivered out more than 3,000 vaccinations because that’s what Donna was talking about flex space. We use our great room, which used to be the sanctuary for all kinds of programing now. And we’ve also had more than two hundred and fifty thousand, I guess, interactions on social media and you know many, many more. We’ve gone from two employees to 40 employees in a reality. We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish any of this without actually having that church space and that church space, for all intentsive purposes, has revitalized a community connection that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. We now deliver spirit bundles and spirit bundles, basically are clothing, food, sports equipment, tech, furniture, whatever’s required that gets donated to us. And since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve donated more than $1 million worth of stuff. And by the end of next year alone, we’re closer to $2 million worth of goods to families in need. It’s an alternative food bank that people simply won’t go to because it’s not safe for them. We’re able to create an online learning management system called the AO Nest and the AO Nest partners with these centers of healing actually. We’re now building a new way of healing people en masse that’s going to become self-directed. We have sports programs that teach people sports, but that also is partnerships with people like the Blue Jays, the NHL and more OHL type teams. We have a school and we have had dozens and dozens of partnerships. Again, none of it would have been possible without having the center of healing and in order to have a center of healing government needs to contribute. And so we couldn’t have done this without the support from our regional government who partnered to create a grant for us that enables do the renovation because the churches are generally old and that $500,000 helped us put cedar on the walls, wood flooring, new lights, new fixtures, all that type of things. In terms of also partnering with cities, you need to be flexible and the flexibility is in your processes. And I don’t want to say bending rules, but making exceptions to policies. For us, it’s fires. We use fire ceremonially and we pretty much had to put a fire permit for every day of the week. Eventually no, it was every day of the week for a full year or so, for two hundred applications. Eventually, they gave us this year an entire year with just one email because it goes to the fire department, whatever that process is. But removing the red tape. Another great example is a garage, and it’s about helping community organizations or not for profits, find the ability to achieve the outcomes and the outcomes are in relation to healing or helping people in need. And so from my perspective, whatever governments can do to remove that red tape or make it easier, and some of that might be buying a church at market value and lending it out or renting it out at below market value because it’s only the cost, it’s not the whole building itself. It’s things like removing the red tape for a shipping container instead of us having to build a garage, which would have been, you know, $50,000 dollars. But a shipping container was only $5000. I wish it was only $5000, I had other red tape afterwards, trying to get the thing approved by the variance committee and all the other stuff to do with engineering. But it’s an opportunity. It’s working with police, but it’s also leveraging all of your partnerships that you have with all of the other organizations and like your United Way, your foundations, your police, because each of these organizations actually and the school boards, of course, each of these organizations actually contributes towards creating something, and the outcome of creating this is absolutely incredible. 


Graham Singh [00:30:04] Amazing. 


Stephen Jackson [00:30:05] The outcome is, well, the outcome is it’s you can stop prison populations. 50 percent of our women in prison are Indigenous, 30 percent of men across the country are Indigenous. It’s all because they haven’t healed. If you would simply do the healing part and did that proactively look at what impact that would have on just to do just judicial system? It’s so, so we act on the health care system. 


Graham Singh [00:30:35] So we knew we put Stephen here because we want him to blow your mind. And we want you when you think about what are we going to do with all of these old churches? And then you think, what are we going to do about Indigenous reconciliation? And you put those in two separate boxes. We want to say that’s not the reality on the ground. I think Donna spoke very powerfully about the communities who are ready to let go, but they need your help. Stephen was very humble in talking about this fire issue. I asked him how much that cost him. It was tens of thousands of dollars to get through that issue of ceremonial fires with the municipality. That has to stop, folks. And what we want to say is this is a message of hope. It’s a message of expertize and a message and a hand of friendship out into the rest of the urbanistic community. And we’re so sorry to have to cut everybody, you can tell. For Donna, for Steven myself, this is our life work. We’re so glad to be with you. We’ve given you some ideas. They’ll be up on the links there. Mary, we’re going to hand over to you. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:31:27] Well, I know I don’t want you to go because I want to ask a few questions if you don’t mind. 


Graham Singh [00:31:29] You’re in charge. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:31:29] I am just while I’ve got you. And another thing. 


Stephen Jackson [00:31:34] Can I add one more thing? 


Mary W. Rowe [00:31:35] Yeah, go ahead, Steven. 


Stephen Jackson [00:31:37] So the model is building these things because of the incredible opportunity they create and that opportunity to heal people, bring people in and service issues. We’re now looking at a partnership in another neighboring community through a bunch of churches not to buy the church outright, but rather just to occupy the unused portion of the church using the exact same model. All the processes and all the tool sets. But once we do this with the second one, and what that means is partnering with government, partnering with all the foundations and all the other systems that are currently in the system to deliver out everything we do here. But the reality is it’s a process. It means we can actually do it for all churches. And as I think it was, Donna was suggesting leaving a small space. Well, in this case, we’re leaving half the building until the congregation ages out in five years. So it’s an opportunity, but that involves government partnering because at the end of the day, not for profits actually don’t have money. They supported it through foundations or governments to help do the renovations to help fund the core anchor programing that delivers everything else. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:32:54] Mm-Hmm. I mean, you know, the focus for these couple of days is just is specifically on downtowns and any great downtown anywhere you go around the world. You hit downtown and you inevitably see some kind of a faith placed you. Just historically, that’s part of what the gathering was. There was a market and there were various and there were various kinds of activities. There’s cultural amenities, probably downtown, and there are often faith places, and they’re often architecturally really, really appealing. And people may. Graham lives in a town where there are many, many Roman Catholic churches, but hardly any Roman Catholics to worship in them. We’re in that spot where you don’t want to lose the asset, and the building has historically had some social significance, and now as we’re evolving differently, how do we do that? I have I lived in New York, Donna, for several years and I went to Judson all the time and did all sorts of activities there. And I’m sure there are many people going in and out of those doors that had no idea that there was any faith connection to that place at all. And I think this is part of what we’re you can see on the chart here was that several hundred people here throwing in their ideas about how can we actually re-imagine these spaces? So Stephen just made an interesting point. The Canadian context? A bit different, Donna. We look for government to help us with this, to help invest. Do you have a response to that in terms of using public dollars or understanding different kinds of interventions government could do to support this? Is that in your experience? 


Donna Schaper [00:34:20] Yes. In fact, we’re very excited about our new mayor. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:34:22] Yes. 


[00:34:25] Not on all counts, may I say. But he has pioneered work in Brooklyn, helping. He ran basically town meetings for three hours once a month. And you have all the staff of the Brooklyn borough in the room on call, and he’d invite all the religious leaders from Brooklyn to come. And a couple hundred would come every time. And they would say we didn’t know we had to pay the water bill and they’re turning our water off. Our pastor just took $10,000 ten thousand from a developer. And we think he sold the land, you know? And so Eric Adams put together a basically a good housekeeping group of legitimate developers don’t talk to and don’t talk to these people who do that. And there was such proactivity to help religious institutions with small things. So we just did. We just realized through the Muslim Community Association that a lot of them were not getting taxe exemptions. There are very, very few white churches who are not not getting tax exemptions because we know the rules. We know that. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:35:41] Right, right. 


Donna Schaper [00:35:42] There are a lot of immigrant communities who do not know the rules. We also translated into Urdu, Spanish, French and a couple of other languages so that the forms that the city would use to get our material would be available to immigrant congregation. 


Graham Singh [00:36:01] Here’s here’s another piece on there, Mary. When it comes to funding of this kind of housing, funding is amazing. We’ve had CMHC on here. It’s amazing. We wanted to see more affordable housing. It’s awesome. Many of the sites we’re talking about are not good housing developments, affordable, social supportive or otherwise. They’re amazing community sites. When you look at the provisions that are made, if you try to put a piece of property up for housing, you get the municipality bending over backwards. We don’t see that kind of treatment with existing social purpose real estate trying to retain social purposes. So Stephen, having to spend $20,000 to get permits for fires is actually unacceptable, right? And when you look at a developer who’s giving $10,000 to that church, maybe it’s just for evaluation so that he can put a proper offer in the amount of money that’s there for pre-development work that could be there could be more support for that. To see this happen, this is within the realm of many, many different urban plans. And to see those faith properties when you were just going on seeing what we see downtown, we see a faith property. I thought you were going to go right off what Stephen was talking about a prison population. It ties back to what we were talking about earlier. Steve Teekens, I think, spoke very powerfully earlier in the conference today when he was saying, Look at the issue of homelessness, look at the other Tim who spoke about it’s the awkward high school dance nobody wants to go forward. Well, here we go, folks. Let’s have the dance in the faith properties. We are trying to have this conversation and you’ve got to come out and dance in this place, right? Because in a downtown, if we could address homelessness and we could address issues of indigenous First Nations poverty in our Canadian cities through using faith properties. Not by the way, this is what Steve’s point was, Steve Teekens’, right? He said. Don’t stop fixing up the heritage of these colonial, same colonial people who we’ve got all these problems with. For heaven’s sake, allow indigenous Canadians, black Canadians, LGBTQ, two spirit led consortia to cut those buildings, find some good architects who know how to cut them the right way and present a new architectural vision for these places that speak about these equity seeking groups. This is not a small change. We’re talking about bringing together. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:38:07] I’m sure you just got the attention of all the urban planners and designers are on the call who are saying, Yes, yes, pick me. 


Graham Singh [00:38:13] Come on. We want to see. Be more bold. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:38:14] I mean, part of what we’re doing is, Stephen, I’m interested. Your experience, you were able to see see the potential. You were able to see the potential right? And then you got there and somehow you convinced people to work with you.


Stephen Jackson [00:38:28] Well, through partnership ranks right now, everything is through partnership and through a relationship that is the reality of it. And you need to partner with all levels of government and all funders and foundations and community groups in order to create that web. I could talk about braid like if you think about a hair braid or a rope braid, a rope braid is way stronger when it’s all braided together, as opposed to all the separate strands. Same concept. If you brave together that web, you can actually create a web of support for everyone. 


Mary W. Rowe [00:39:00] Oh, it’s wonderful. I think I’ll finish with that image because that’s what I think downtowns have to be. They have to be that that braid, that web braid than it’s been. It’s been frayed, that braid through COVID and now we have to weave it back together. So thank you, Stephen, for joining us. Donna, a great to see you. Graham, always great to see you. And I can see people reacting in the chat, thinking, thinking, thinking about the real magnitude of this, the volume of these spaces and places, and how are we going to leverage them to bring our downtowns in our neighborhoods back? So thank you so much for being part of us and joining us. We’re taking now 20 minutes. Let’s listen to some more music. See some more images. And we’re coming back to talk about the other half of the anchor institution equation, which is libraries. So be back with us in 20 minutes. Looking forward to seeing you all back. Thanks, everybody. Thanks again for joining us, folks. 


Graham Singh [00:39:48] Thank you so much, Mary. 


Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact with “Chat Comments” in the subject lin

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

04:58:16 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. 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. 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.

04:59:54 Canadian Urban Institute: What are stories you have of faith property wins in your community?

04:59:59 Canadian Urban Institute: What are the fails?

05:00:23 paul mackinnon: In Halifax we have been fortunate that most of our historic downtown churches are still viable, with congregations. However, they are on very valuable land, and they are expending their uses (ie, residential development adjacent, private concerts, alternate programming, etc.)

05:00:35 Chris Sones: I sat on the steering committee for a project in Winnipeg which ended up with a development called West Broadway Commons

05:00:37 Canadian Urban Institute: What’s missing in this conversation? Do you have tools for us?

05:00:37 Toby GREENBAUM: from Ottawa:

05:00:51 Betsy Hogan: Yes, Paul!

05:01:57 paul mackinnon: St David’s, Brunswick St, Halifax removed their ‘hall’ and built residential apartments in its place. A success story, but it obviously impacted the church’s programming.

05:02:48 paul mackinnon: Rev Betsy Hogan, St Matthew’s (Halifax) is on the chat!

05:02:55 Alia Abbas: Is there any alignment with change in faith resulting in closures of these faith based places?

05:03:02 Erwin Dreessen: Too bad, Graham’s slide was not readable (out of focus).

05:03:24 throy ross: nope…in Toronto …all condo not even non profits or community centres

05:03:26 Betsy Hogan: Most closures of churches are by attrition.

05:03:34 Jennifer Findlay: My CrossFit gym was a Church and it also houses a yoga studio and an art studio as well as another small business.  It has basically become a small business incubator

05:03:40 Alysson Storey: “The colonizing Christian church has more to answer for than any other religious organization in Canada”. WOW. Could not agree more. Thank you for saying this so directly and clearly Graham. It also links very closely to what Steve Teekens said earlier in his presentation on homelessness. Very much looking forward to this discussion.

05:03:46 Toby GREENBAUM: All Saints Ottawa, is a neighbourhood events space, with bar and restaurant.

05:03:52 Canadian Urban Institute: Hi everyone, we will post Graham’s presentation along with the recording of the session on our website next week.

05:04:38 Betsy Hogan: Point of personal privilege: it’s NOT lack of desire for good partnerships.

05:06:24 Canadian Urban Institute: Hi everyone, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” or to “everyone” so that all can see your comments.

05:06:48 Voncelle Volté: Thank you, for having this conversation CUI.  


Go, Graham. Go.



05:07:02 Betsy Hogan: We ARE asking these kinds of questions. If you have a brilliant idea, for goodness sake’ please tell us.

05:07:35 Stephanie Beausoleil: Yes indeed 🙂

05:07:39 Deborah Ballinger-Mills: Transformed United Church on the main street.

05:08:01 Betsy Hogan: We have ideas. We do not have money. We have land. We do not have money.

05:09:11 James Tischler: Your land has value working in P3 partnerships with the development community…

05:09:21 paul mackinnon: Historic churches especially have great acoustics. Unfortunately, live music venues, theatres, etc are also struggling. Maybe post-pandemic, we’ll see a revival of arts, culture. Maybe even a revival in church attendance.

05:09:39 Betsy Hogan: Yes, zoning is an issue.

05:10:30 Canadian Urban Institute: The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, formerly at Coral Gables Congregational Church in Miami and before that at Yale University, is Senior Minister for Judson Memorial Church on the corner of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, New York City. She is passionately concerned about leaving the next generation well-prepared for all they have to face.

05:10:38 Philip Brown: Just tried this site and said Page Not Found:

05:10:48 Philip Brown:

05:10:50 Canadian Urban Institute: Stephen Jackson is the CEO of Anishnabeg Outreach. Anishnabeg Outreach (AO) was a small Employment Ontario organization that helped people in need find work. AO now is a rapidly expanding centre for Indigenous innovation. In the first three months of 2018 AO quadrupled in size. AO is now setting up an Indigenous child and family drop-in centre and will also be providing elder counselling and traditional healing. They also are starting to set up a national Indigenous charity and an integrated set of Indigenous for-profit companies and consulting services to build Indigenous capacity and fund Indigenous scholarships and new programs.

05:11:07 paul mackinnon: Wolfville NS, converted church to a brew pub called “Church Beer”.

05:11:18 Richard Reinhard:

05:11:51 James Tischler:

05:12:03 Richard Reinhard:

05:12:39 Tim Rissesco: A church in Downtown Dartmouth has been bought by a developer that wants to turn it into a non profit/creative hub and performance space

05:12:43 Philip Brown: I believe it was Deborah who posted this elink and Page not found:

05:12:44 Betsy Hogan: Zoning is an issue where my church is: we are zoned parkland AND the property is registered heritage property. Our church building is used fully by community groups, but it’s not financially sustainable as is.

05:12:52 Philip Brown:

05:13:18 Kristen Shima: I would suggest inviting the amazing practitioners of the emerging practice of Cultural Planning & Development to the table for discussion. As a forth pillar of sustainability, I continually see it as in important piece/perspective/knowledge to build together. Lots of discussion on urban planning (environment), economic and social…

05:13:56 James Tischler:

05:13:59 Betsy Hogan: Yes, a little corner would be grand.

05:14:21 Graham Singh:

05:14:37 Elizabeth McAllister: Respect precedes trust. Trust is the foundation of society civil society. Very important message

05:15:01 Betsy Hogan: Yes!

05:16:16 Deborah Ballinger-Mills: Philip Brown, I don’t understand; I’ve just opened it from your post.

05:16:18 Betsy Hogan: Absolutely right on, Donna Schaper.

05:17:11 throy ross: Forgot about the tax exemptions and subsidies they’ve been getting

05:17:31 paul mackinnon: In downtowns, the land is valuable and the building under threat. Do many cities have transfer of development rights, which would protect the building?

05:17:33 Philip Brown: I did navigate the elink and the library looks great and very welcoming ( Thanks and well done!

05:17:41 Betsy Hogan: All non-profits in

05:17:50 Betsy Hogan: Canada are exempt from property tax.

05:18:13 Karen Dar Woon: St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church recently renovated (seismic upgrade, new roof), and removed the pews! The sanctuary space has already been used for many musical performance. But having flexibility of seating is amazing.

05:19:13 Richard Reinhard: Many congregations are quite old.  Any hints for dealing with elderly congregations?

05:19:24 Karen Dar Woon: In downtown Vancouver, land is valuable. Part of the St.AW UC land was redeveloped for apartments. and offices.

05:19:39 Andre C: 👍

05:19:41 Betsy Hogan: Start by not assuming that elderly congregations are rigid and hoarding.

05:20:04 Betsy Hogan: They are remarkably creative and open and wanting to leave a faithful legacy.

05:20:45 Alysson Storey: The Kent 1874 is an event centre I was involved with in the historic centre of Chatham, the former Chatham Baptist Church.

05:20:53 Karen Dar Woon: Thank you @Donna Schaper

05:21:29 Alysson Storey: The Kent 1874 was a thoughtful and gorgeous restoration of the former church – now under new ownership and struggling due to the pandemic. Hoping it can survive.

05:21:42 Mike Wood Daly: Many churches are trapped in a cycle of seeing only their active social value and not their potential.  Even their vision of potential value is diminished by the assumptions they make about social need.  Urbanists can help congregations re-imagine and realize their potential value by informing, resourcing, networking and challenging them.

05:22:12 Betsy Hogan: Agree, Mike.

05:23:32 Kay Matthews: You are all so inspiring.  Thank you Graham, Donna and Stephen.

05:25:23 Stephanie Beausoleil: Yes Stephen 🙂

05:25:29 Betsy Hogan: So right on, Stephen.

05:25:51 paul mackinnon: Active churches are also an important part of the ecosystem of support for people experiencing homelessness.

05:27:03 Alysson Storey: Right on Stephen!!

05:27:54 Jennifer Findlay: Thanks so much!  GREAT session

05:28:27 Betsy Hogan: We are so ready to make these buildings what they can be for the community, but YES we do need help!

05:30:18 Mike Wood Daly: Part of the reconciliation is learning to use faith buildings in the way Stephen has been describing – not just for First Nations healing but the healing of Settler Canadian Christians.

05:31:21 Stephen Jackson: It is for everyone. It will restore faith in religion.

05:32:10 Mike Wood Daly: Totally agree Stephen!

05:33:01 Richard Reinhard: The District of Columbia government recently issues a Request for Proposal to construct a pilot program to assist houses of worship to develop affordable housing.

05:33:49 Doug Snyder: Doug Snyder a member of the Building Management Board at Trinity St. Paul’s United Church, Toronto for Faith Justice and the Arts.  A story of success willing to discuss

05:34:48 Kiran Chhiba: the potential is so powerful. I know we see it but statistically the volume is shocking! Thank you for sharing

05:35:26 Doug Snyder: As long as we hand off to developers, it will always be about money, not community.  Great and enlightened presentation.  Thank you all.

05:35:43 Betsy Hogan: So appreciated, all your wisdom shared.

05:35:47 James Tischler: Mixed-use commercial condominium P3 projects that are TIFed and return modified faith space for the property as equity.

05:35:56 Clint Wensley: Thanks all

05:35:58 Mike Wood Daly: Donna was talking about the percentage of land in NYC that is owned by religious buildings. In Canada, religious institutions are collectively the second largest landholder in the country.

Canadian Urban Institute: COMING UP:  Challenges and Opportunities for Anchor Institutions to Rebuild Downtowns: Libraries (5:00pm – 5:30pm ET) with Åsa Kachan, CEO and Chief Librarian, Halifax Public Libraries, and Sarah Meilleur, Chief Executive Officer, Calgary Public Library

05:36:07 Stephen Watt: thank you.

05:36:38 Canadian Urban Institute: Thank you Graham, Reverend Schaper, and Stephen.

05:36:39 Judith Cox: Excellent presentation and good information, thank you!!!

05:36:49 Alysson Storey: Wow Mike!! I did not know that statistic. Second largest in Canada? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised but to see it in black and white is something.

05:36:51 Kerry LeBlanc: it will be -43 here tonight. I wish churches would open there doors for the homeless. simplistic I know.

05:37:05 Alysson Storey: This was a wonderful panel. Really excellent. Thank you all.

05:37:13 Ally Ladak: Great conversations

05:37:57 Kerry LeBlanc: Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada

05:38:13 Mary W Rowe, she/her, Canada’s Urban Institute/IUC: @mike is government largest landowner?

05:39:06 Doug Snyder: Doug Snyder, member of the Building Management Board at Trinity St. Paul’s United Church, Toronto, for Faith Justice and the Arts.  A story of success – willing to discuss

05:40:01 Marco Zanetti: Who remembers Petula Clark’s version of this great tune?!

05:40:34 Kerry LeBlanc: Doug do you allow the homeless into your facility at night?

05:51:32 Kay Matthews: Pet Clarke did a beautiful version of “Downtown”.