From the Ground Up: How is COVID-19 Driving Community Leadership in Urban Canada?

Join Abhilash Kantamneni from Local Insights, Leigh Stickle from Aryze Developments, Mansib Rahman from Radish, Christy Morin from Arts on the Ave, and CUI’s Kate Graham, as they explore examples of community innovation and leadership throughout the past year. 

COVID Signpost 365

This event marked the launch of COVID365, a seminal report that shares new findings drawn from the opinions of 180,000 Canadians about how COVID-19 hit Canada’s largest cities, and how people felt throughout a year unlike any other. Read the report here

5 Key

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

1. Coming together while staying apart.

CUI’s new COVID 365 Signpost report provides an insight into the ways the pandemic has impacted the lives of Canadians in the last year. Kate Graham, Senior Fellow of Municipal Leadership at CUI, discusses the data made available by Advanis, quantifying the COVID experience to navigate how the impacts have unequally affected the population, and where these inequalities continue to deepen. But at a time when people needed to stay apart, communities have come together—and the one-year mark is an important opportunity to commemorate and learn from those important examples of connection and mutual aid.

2. The importance of eliminating the “other”.

Christy Morin, Founder and Executive Director of Arts on the Ave, suggests the pandemic has presented opportunities for community connection—to eliminate the concept of the “other” and reinvigorate our shared commitment to our neighbours and community. She gives several examples of local initiatives in Edmonton that she has been involved with, such as the It Takes a Village project, delivering loaves of bread to families in need, and the Families Helping Families initiative, matching families in need with volunteer families to buy and deliver groceries twice a month.

3. Home is a habit and belonging is a practice.

According to Abhilash Kantamneni, Principal of Local Insights, it is important to take this massive outpouring of community intent to connect to people’s sense of belonging and hope—testing the hypothesis that “home is a habit and belonging is a practice.” Through the pandemic, he made participatory online maps to help community members develop a greater sense of responsibility, belonging, and home: for example, by mapping local restaurants offering takeout, or the households in Guelph that had put up Christmas light decorations for their city and community. Going forward, Abhi urges everyone to “listen actively, stay goofy, embrace failure.”

4. Hyperlocal solutions to food delivery.

According to Mansib Rahman, CEO of Radish, intermediary platforms such as UberEats and Doordash have changed the way restaurants are run, in that consumers no longer order directly from them, but from the platforms instead, diminishing the sense of connection between the restaurant and the customer. Radish seeks to intervene—by creating a hyperlocal space for all three parties—restaurants, drivers and consumers—using a coop model where profits are split between drivers, restaurants and consumers.

5. Building community through a physical lens

Leigh Stickle of Aryze Developments discusses his work creating transitional tiny homes using shipping containers for people living on the street in Victoria through the pandemic. The project, “Hey Neighbour,” was crowdfunded over three months. Says Stickle, “we need frameworks that allow people to participate and not feel as helpless [to the great need] in our cities.”

Additional Resources

No Second Chances podcast, Kate Graham:

COVID 365 Signpost report here:

“Hey Neighbour” Initiative:

Maps created by Abhilash Kantamneni :

Othering and Belong Institute at UC Berkeley: