Reimagining City Streets and the Public Realm: Towards a Green and Connected City

2021, The Future We Want The Change We Need, Cities

Vancouver benefits from an amazing natural backdrop, with the North Shore mountains, forests, and connection to water around the city. However, through its past colonial actions, the City of Vancouver has removed almost all of the pre-existing natural environment, along with the narratives of these lands’ Indigenous stewards, and we now rely on human-built systems to sustain ourselves.

Much of the city's public life, and how we collectively experience our own communities, occurs on streets, parks and plazas. This connection with public spaces has been recently and vividly highlighted by the pandemic, with inclusive access to these spaces becoming more important than ever before. Streets are a critical component of these public spaces, but the amount of space given to public life, sustainable transportation and rainwater management is limited, and our transportation networks remain centred around cars.

  • With over 30% of the city dedicated to streets and 11% of parks, how can we reimagine these lands to better serve our collective needs?
  • How can we rebalance our relationship to nature and retroactively re-shape the city based on ecological principles and acknowledging local First Nations values and traditional knowledge?
  • How can we transform “publicly controlled spaces and places” so they are centred on equity and in direct partnership with local Indigenous communities?
  • How do we restore the city’s natural systems, water cycle and biodiversity?
  • How do we create more opportunities for recreation and strengthening community cohesion?
  • How do we manage the effects of climate change, including more frequent and intense storms, sea level rise in low lying areas, drought and heat island effect, and threatened drinking water supply?

This was the fifth event of The Future We Want: The Change We Need series, we discussed the stewardship of Vancouver’s public realm, a major contributor to our identity. A panel of local and international thinkers offered their insights on the future of the streets, places and spaces that shape Vancouverites’ everyday experience of their city.

Thu, 04 Mar 2021

Online Event

The Future We Want: The Change We Need

The future we want will not be achieved by applying the solutions of yesterday to the challenges facing our city and communities today. In collaboration with Simon Fraser University, the City of Vancouver presented The Future We Want: The Change We Need — a free, online, interactive dialogue series that brings together new and varied perspectives and ideas to shape the transformative social, economic and physical changes we need.    

This series invited knowledge keepers, thought leaders, changemakers and community members to discuss, deliberate and share their thoughts on the future of the City of Vancouver.  These dialogues contributed to the Planning Vancouver Together planning process, informed by policy analysis, scenario development and public engagement, to create a new, long-term strategic citywide plan looking to 2050 and beyond. 

Each of the six conversations in this series addressed the biggest challenges standing in the way of achieving our goals; and new ideas – big and small – to help unlock our collective potential as a truly just, resilient, sustainable, affordable and culturally vibrant Vancouver.


Rosalind Campbell
Councillor, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nation

Rosalind is from xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) where she is an elected councillor. She is also a lawyer whose practice in the area of Aboriginal Law has included corporate, commercial and governance. Rosalind has volunteered as board director of several non-profit organizations that support Canada’s indigenous peoples in the areas of live performance, education and social services for indigenous women and children. Rosalind has also volunteered on committees of several provincial government entities to assist with their implementation of some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, UNDRIP principles and MMIWG2S Inquiry recommendations.

Zahra Ebrahim
Co-Founder, Monumental

Zahra is the CEO of Monumental, an organization dedicated to supporting an equitable recovery from COVID-19. She is a public interest designer and strategist who has led organizations in the social and private sector that design and deliver participatory and equity-centred approaches to policy, service, and infrastructure development. She is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto, the Chair of the Board of Park People, and the Vice-Chair of the Canadian Urban Institute.

Deborah Harford
Executive Director, ACT (Adaptation to Climate Change Team), Faculty of Environment, SFU

Deborah leads research into adaptation to a range of climate change impact areas, spanning water, food, health, biodiversity, energy, infrastructure, and population displacement. ACT's focus includes integrated climate solutions that advance low carbon resilience and co-benefits. Under Deborah's guidance, ACT works with climate researchers, NGOs, industry, all levels of government, and professional practitioners across sectors. Deborah is a member of the expert adaptation panel of the new Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.

Gil Penalosa
Founder and Chair, 8 80 Cities

Gil is the founder and chair of the internationally recognized Canadian non-profit organization 8 80 Cities. He is also first Ambassador of World Urban Parks and creator of the project Our Third Act. Gil is passionate about creating vibrant and healthy cities for all people. Because of his unique blend of experience, pragmatism and passion, he has been invited to work in over 350 different cities in all continents.

Alyssa Schwann
Co-Director, Atelier Anonymous

Alyssa Schwann co-directs a landscape architecture and public art practice undertaking research, design and advocacy in the areas of cultural landscapes, landscape conservation and ecological wisdom. Her professional experience includes practice in Canada, Britain and the Netherlands, with projects in North America, Europe, and North and South Africa. She is also a public policy researcher working with northern tribal and territorial governments. In 2013/2014, she was named an Action Canada Fellow. Alyssa is based in Vancouver, BC and Berkeley, CA, USA.

Tracy Tackett
GSI Expansion Infrastructure Initiative Manager, Seattle Public Utilities

Tracy is the Grow Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Initiative Manager for Seattle Public Utilities, with over 20 years of drainage and wastewater project experience. Throughout her career, she has worked to incorporate sustainability goals with other City goals. As the GSI Initiative Manager, Tracy provides strategic direction and program oversight programs, projects and policies influencing the Drainage and Wastewater portfolio ($1.5B 2020-2026), including projects for stormwater conveyance, sanitary sewer overflow reduction, CSO reduction, water quality improvement.

T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss
Multimedia Artist and Ethnobotanist

T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss' diverse heritage includes Skwxwu7mesh, Sto:lo, Irish-Métis, Hawaiian and Swiss. An artist, she has extensive experience producing various formats of media art for almost 30 years, and works as an ethnobotanist with traditional training by Indigenous elders.

Larissa Grant
Title & Rights Floor Manager, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nation


Lon LaClaire
General Manager of Engineering Services, City of Vancouver

Lon LaClaire is the General Manager of Engineering Services and has worked at the City for 23 years. With annual budgets totaling over $500 million and 2,200 staff, he is responsible for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of this world class city’s public works infrastructure. His department is also mandated with a variety of planning and regulatory functions and plays a central role in the day-to-day functioning of the city. As the largest city department, Engineering delivers a complex array of essential public services while implementing an ambitious policy agenda to become the greenest City in the world. 


Meg Holden
Professor and Director, SFU Urban Studies

Meg Holden is professor and director of the urban studies program and professor in the department of geography at SFU. Meg is an urban environmental pragmatist. Her engaged research program examines urban policy, planning and social aspects of sustainable development intentions and transitions in cities and communities, with foci in value-based measurement and indicators, community well-being and livability, neighbourhood housing, planning and experience, and local democracy and justice.

Andy Yan
Director, The City Program at Simon Fraser University

Andy Yan is the director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University. Born and raised in Vancouver, Andy Yan has extensively worked in the non-profit and private urban planning sectors with projects in the metropolitan regions of Vancouver, San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles and New Orleans. Andy is a registered professional planner with the Canadian Institute of Planners. He is also an adjunct professor in Urban Studies at SFU as well as an adjunct professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia.


The Future We Want: The Change We Need Events