by Mimi Ye, CFICE Volunteer
The Active Neighbourhoods Canada (ANC) Peterborough is a participatory planning project that seeks to find more meaningful ways to engage citizens in urban planning.
For Peterborough’s Stewart Street neighbourhood, the ANC Peterborough project empowers community residents and local organizations to collaboratively reimagine and advocate for a greener, healthier, more active neighbourhood space that is safe and accessible for all residents.
As the local coordinator of the ANC Peterborough project, GreenUP – an environmental charity in the city of Peterborough – acts as the intermediary between Stewart Street neighbourhood residents, the City of Peterborough, and other community partners. GreenUP takes an embedded approach to their work, frequently interacting, engaging, and supporting the residents and project participants directly. This approach has helped foster a greater atmosphere of trust between all project partners.
The second pilot project to take place in Ontario as part of a national project with 12 pilot projects taking place across three provinces and the first to be run in a community substantially smaller than the metro Toronto or Montréal Areas, the ANC Peterborough project faced certain challenges when it started.
Brianna Salmon, GreenUP’s Executive Director, indicated at the very beginning of the project, many of the partners were not sure how they fit in or how they could contribute.
As a city with a widespread population, a cohesive network of neighbourhood associations connecting city residents did not exist in Peterborough. Without an already-established network, it was more difficult for GreenUP to get residents to engage in the project.
But the challenge led to GreenUP developing their embedded approach, which started by meeting and connecting with residents through surveys, resident conversations, and face-to-face conversations at neighbourhood events.
The embedded approach was further developed through CFICE’s research and evaluation support. With funding provided through CFICE’s Environmental Sustainability hub, GreenUP hired Masters of Sustainability Studies student Tessa Nasca as the ANC Peterborough project Research Assistant.
As part of her research, Nasca helped the local ANC partnership evaluate the project by supporting citizen forums, gathering partner and resident feedback, and contributing to the development of tools like a Neighbourhood Plan for the Stewart Street neighbourhood.
According to Nasca, there are three major ways in which the partnership hopes the ANC Peterborough project will impact the neighborhood: increased citizen engagement; the development of more active public spaces; and, a neighbourhood design that allows for active transportation, including cycling, walking, and transit.
The Montréal Urban Ecology Centre (MUEC), with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, provides support for all 12 national pilot projects.MUEC is a non-profit organization that has successfully used the Active, Healthy, and Green Neighbourhood planning approach in several boroughs in Montreal. In Ontario, the four provincial pilot projects are supported by the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation. In each local community, there are local coordinating organizations like GreenUP.
Through pilot projects like ANC Peterborough, MUEC is hoping to expand and test this participatory planning approach in different community contexts across Canada.
Because of the participatory nature of the project, the ANC Peterborough project will continue to evolve. It’s not a project that specifically leads to an end, but rather a project about fostering a process that is important and meaningful in engaging people. With hope, this active citizen engagement will carry on long beyond the project in Peterborough’s Stewart Street neighbourhood.