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Civic Impact

ELNstudio focuses on how to improve Toronto's public spaces

On Saturday November 7, over 200 emerging leaders, community builders, and public space enthusiasts gathered on the University of Toronto campus to discuss the future of the GTHA’s public spaces. As part of CivicAction’s ELNstudio event, Globe and Mail Focus Editor Hamutal Dotan moderated a panel discussion of a half-dozen local experts—including Denise Pinto, the global director of Jane’s Walk, and Ken Tanenbaum, who was instrumental in the construction of Toronto’s Pan Am Athlete’s Village—that asked participants to consider the unique challenges facing the region’s public spaces.

Over the past five years, the percentage of people in Toronto living in apartments jumped by 42%, which has placed an added onus on public spaces to be identifiable and accessible. Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of CivicAction, says that public space is just one of several key issues the organization is working on after this spring's Better City Bootcamp “This was the summit theme that was most interesting at the ELN,” she says. “The panel created the bookends of knowledge to allow the people in the room to have a shared understanding of the issues of public spaces today.”

After the panel discussion, participants broke out into groups to identify and work on challenges around public space use. At the end of the day, the event refocused and participants had a chance to present their discussions to the larger group. Some of the ideas that were shared included a youth-focused app that would allow young people to more easily identify public spaces, and a “New Canadians Cafe,” a mobile unit that would connect immigrants to much-needed resources.

For Palvetzian, this sharing was the first step towards action. “We’re CivicAction, and that action side is core to who we are. We want those projects that were catalyzed on saturday actually realized,” she explains. Some of these ideas will be the focus of the DiverseCity fellows, who may then bring their developed ideas to the ELN pitch showcase next spring.

Palvetzian also stressed the intangible benefits of events like the ELNstudio. “We provide awareness. We had great leaders who were able to reinforce how sometimes little it takes for there to be a big impact on the city,” she said. “City-building can run the gamut from complex issues with heavy lifting and lots of players, but it doesn’t have to. Having leaders who have had success on both sides of the spectrum raises awareness of how people can do what they want as city builders.”
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