Issues continue to crop up with  urbanism chats and who does the talk, even among the well-recognized planning institutions in Canada.  A few years back at a Canadian Institute of Planners Conference the former United Nations Special Envoy Stephen Lewis took one look at the panel he was to sit on and declared that he made it a point never to speak on a stage that was all men, and did not recognize the diversity of place or the fact that women make up half the population and need to be talking about issues too. There was an audible hush in the room, and it was evident that the bashful organizers just had not done critical diversity based thinking.  If you accept that the leaders of planning thought are only from one ethnic background or one gender you don’t get diverse ideas or thoughts, and the perspectives  are certainly not reflective of everyone living in that place, and results in cities largely designed by men from a male perspective.
Another unfortunate hiccup burped all over twitter from the latest Canadian Urbanism Conference. A photo of an on-stage panel of three well-known and charming caucasian older planning males was tweeted out across Canada, with CanU organizers breathlessly labelling the session a conference “favourite”. Showing one more reason why she will be missed,  Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat as reported in Metro News called the panel what it was-with this lack of diversity it was  “shameful” and a display of “professional incompetence”.
As a result, the Council of Canadian Urbanism pledged to work harder on diversity. But here’s the thing-if planners are more than fifty per cent female, why are we not seeing those women promoted at planning  events that purportedly represent a diverse Canada? Should professional organizations and their conferences ensure that professionally qualified women are also represented in every  conference panel and every venue, and advance as men do in planning based organizations? Author Jay Pitter observes “Effective diversity isn’t just about representation but about ensuring various perspectives have the power they need. This, she added, needs to be a basic standard.”
The faux pas was again repeated at the otherwise excellent Calgary Walk21 Conference.  There was a very succinct presentation by  Rutgers Professor Charles Brown on the need for Complete Streets and Vision Zero to recognize cultural diversity in implementation. Professor Brown observed that these programs are not just about street redesign, but often threaten existing minority groups and single parent households by failing to recognize the history, culture and social context of places in and around the proposed street changes. He also pointed out how offensive those arty  presentation board drawings are when they do not include the ethnic groups of people who live in the area being planned for. It is almost as if they did not exist, or will vanish once the proposed project and assumed accompanying gentrification happens.
Immediately after this presentation Walk 21 Calgary had a surprising judgement lapse-they brought out three university researchers to expound on their ideas on how the university could shape the city. They were three well spoken guys, no women, no ethnic diversity. From a diversity point of view, and especially after the presentation on inclusion this gender gaffe was odd. But it points out that it is time to stand up for the young women and diverse voices to be heard on these platforms, and for us to champion the design of cities that are not just designed by men for men, but to include women and their issues too.The art of thinking independently together will create stronger placemaking and create policies truly reflective of a complete society. It’s time we start ensuring that young women and diverse voices are heard and recognized as planning leaders too, and represented on panels, and venues. The success of the  future of our places and our cities depends upon it.



  1. Without necessarily defending CanU, I can well imagine how a panel that featured eminent Canadian urbanists Larry Beasley and Ken Greenberg would be well-attended, as would one with two women with the stature of Keesmat and Sadik-Kahn if they were to be invited and interested. I’m sure the organizers got the message.

  2. Thank you for this post. The short answer is that there is utterly no reason why we should be seeing all male, all white, all necktied panels. None whatsoever. If we are it is a sign that the people running the event really, really should be replaced.
    Thirty or forty years ago you could almost excuse this as representing the overall culture of the time, but those days are long gone. There is no longer any valid excuse why a conference organiser wouldn’t look for balance and diversity on a panel.
    I mean, in all seriousness, it’s not like it’s even difficult to find non-white-male experts.

  3. How many non-white or females are in leadership positions or positions with a minimum of 20 years experience ? 10% ? 20% ? 5% ?
    What % of the audience is non-white and female ?
    Many real estate conferences I attend are maybe 10% female and maybe 10% non-white, more in BC than say AB .. so the speakers also have to reflect the audience I’d say !
    I bet conference organizers would love to have more competent experienced well-spoken non-white or female speakers .. but there are so few relatively speaking in the large pool of competence.
    On the other hand, you have governments now forcing 50% females and you more often than not get utter incompetence as the pool is so shallow in many cases. Is this the right approach ?

    1. A quick walk through any planning department of significance will reveal that women make up close to half of the professional staff, and do hold more positions ion management than they used to. Not so much engineering or other traditionally male-dominated professions. Unfortunately, women still occupy the majority of non-professional support staff positions and join immigrants, even those with post-secondary education and skilled labour experience, doing the jobs the rest of society doesn’t care to assume.
      The province of Quebec and nations with established full-service, affordable publicly-subsidized daycare programs experience a significant increase of women returning to the workforce in such numbers that the additional income tax covers the cost of the programs with plenty of change left over. BC and the feds need to get their act together sometime this century.

      1. Let’s not forget the simple fact that women have babies and not men.
        Insisting, by law, that 50% of anything MUST BE women (or men for that matter) is unhealthy, abnormal and unnecessary.
        I am glad for every woman (or man) that decides to stay home and tend to their kids as that makes for happier kids, families and societies. Dual role mothers (and a working dad) and kids in daycare for 7-9 h per day is not healthy at a young age.
        The missing thing is income splitting in Canada which would make for healthier families and allows a mom or a dad to stay home. It is excessive taxation i.e. lower net wages that forces both parents back to work in many cases ! Excessive taxation is caused by massive overstaffing of all 3 government levels and excessive payroll & benefits of this vast civil servants apparatus.

        1. Cool story bro. Loved how you managed to get in a dig at the overpaid civil servants on a totally unrelated topic.

        2. Children are of course happier in small groups such as you find at licensed daycares. For lots of reasons they end up better adjusted and more skilled at social interaction than children isolated with a parent for most of the day. Naturally, students of history will point out that the idea of a ‘creche’ is as old as civilization. The ‘natural’ way to raise children is collectively. It’s better for children and parents.

        3. Thomas, I used to believe what you do: that stay-at-home parents are better for kids. (I am glad you say parents including dads: I’ve been the one at home with my son.)
          Then we sent our son to the SFU daycare. He had a great time – and he learned amazing skills for playing well with others, handling conflicts, and so forth. When he started going to school and other programs, we had teachers remarking how well-adjusted he was. Some said they could tell that he had gone to that daycare.
          The fact is that parents are novices. We don’t know what the heck we are doing the first time around (which in our case is the only time around). It’s a crucial role, but not one we are taught for. When presented with a new problem, I find I almost always revert to remembering what my parents did. Our parents model parenting to us, we model it to our kids. Hopefully it’s a good model.
          The workers at my son’s daycare had the experience and skills we lacked. They supported us and they taught our son. My opinion has reversed 180 degrees. Chris Keam is right on the money. Good daycare is not inferior to stay-at-home parenting: it’s better.
          As for the suggestion that stay-at-home moms explain pay differentials, only 17% of families have stay-at-home moms. Subtract off the 5% with stay-at-home dads, and you simply don’t have the numbers to explain large gaps.

          Regardless, representation is key. The goal should not be to get the best person for the job: it should be to get the best group. Often top individuals do not make the best group (or even a good one). That means a group with diverse perspectives so that they can actually represent the people they serve. Maybe the numbers don’t need to be exactly 50-50, but that’s really irrelevant when we’re nowhere near that.
          (And yes, I agree that there should be more male teachers. I have seen comments online from men who say that the reason is they fear being accused of molestation. I think the hysteria around child predators has done a lot of harm: that evil is rare – and usually not by strangers, while cars crashes hurt a lot more kids.)

  4. This is a great article! We love this line, “Effective diversity isn’t just about representation but about ensuring various perspectives have the power they need. This… needs to be a basic standard.”
    We hope our online platform will help make urban planning equal and more diverse. Feel free to check out our blog!

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