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Captured Futures of Climate Politics


We are thrilled to be copresenting our friend Maarten Hajer’s return visit to Vancouver on January 26, 2022. Maarten is a distinguished professor of Urban Futures at Utrecht University, member of the International Resources Panel, and will speak on ‘The Captured Futures of Climate Politics.’

With the pandemic, Maarten’s return visit will be virtual, and is a highlight of a new series we are helping produce with Voor Urban Labs’ client CAANS, the Dutch cultural organisation for BC.  Titled ‘Dutch Perspectives on Tackling the Climate Crisis,’ the series of public talks runs November 2021 to March 2022, with acclaimed Dutch experts and local actors on the climate crisis and perspectives on solutions. Hajer will provide an inspiring and provocative talk followed by Respondent Dr. Sybil Seitzinger, Executive Director, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. There will be lots of opportunity for audience dialogue. Pick up a ticket and join us.

January’s event is produced by CAANS Vancouver and presented by One Earth, Voor Urban Labs, and Wild Bird Trust of BC, and sponsored by the Netherlands Consulate in Vancouver.

Professor Dr. Maarten Hajer is familiar with Vancouver, and was keynote for our Munch! Event in partnership with RayCam Cooperative Centre back in October 2019. That conversation addressed how neighbourhoods can collaborate on their solutions.  Having agency and equal partnerships between residents, social innovators,  academic and government partners means cocreating urban futures that are more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive.  

Maarten is director of the Urban Futures Studio and was a professor of Public Policy at the University of Amsterdam, Director of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, and Chief Curator of the 7th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam.

City Planning for Redress and Repair


Place-based planning is the key to how we as urban advocates prioritize how we can build our cities to be centred on the economic prosperity of local communities skewed towards inclusivity, ensure environmental sustainability, and create safe, vibrant, and liveable places.

Recently, Voor Urban Labs was invited by Human Studio – a Vancouver-based architecture and urban design firm – to collaborate as strategic partners to align our mutual passion for how we engage with communities to create meaningful places that connect people. Our first project together as co-proponents was to conceptualize, prepare, and submit a joint proposal to create a people-first community hub and safe haven for one of the city’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods with a prominent provincial government housing agency.

As committed experts in community engagement, multi-stakeholder ownership, and capacity building – as well as our authentic relationships and connections to Indigenous Peoples – the Voor team brought its breadth and depth of competencies and capabilities to the relationship with Human Studio to make our joint submission a stronger, more rigorous proposal for a more inclusive community hub.

Together, our team has practical experience decolonizing urban planning by following the Seven Generations philosophy: building for the present, as well as three generations past and three generations in the future. Our goal for the joint proposal was to facilitate a process that makes it easy for people to exchange ideas, solve problems, and build resilient communities.

We believe city planning must move past reconciliation and embrace the critical work of redress and repair. Combined, Human Studio and Voor have a Canada-wide track record in partnering with Indigenous communities, addressing the challenges and opportunities of the urban Indigenous population. Our approach integrates urban Indigenous engagement with community hub architecture that is so essential to success. We stand for inclusive co-design, co-create, and co-build – no exceptions. Everyone is included in our process – structurally, politically, and systematically.

We accomplish this foundational inclusivity through programming – green healing spaces, sacred spaces, and integrated communities – and by assembling adaptive teams to build capacity for social enterprise and procurement. Through Voor’s executive advisory capacity and input from Indigenous team members, we deliver insights and recommendations for politics, change management, terminology and language, landscape and space programming, housing guides, and community engagement best practices.

Both Voor and Human Studio are passionate about community-building for everyone, including Indigenous populations. We want to support the richness of local communities to become stronger and more diverse, and to influence governments and cities to understand their local places and invest in place-based planning that delivers equity in livability and enhances human connectivity to their places.

Urban Indigenous Governance


For many Indigenous populations, storytelling is governance. Storytelling communicates values, community priorities, and important histories that are part of identity, power, and self-determination. And for so long, the voices and stories of urban Indigenous Peoples in Canada have been unheard or ignored. 

In 2019, a number of individual urban Indigenous coalitions in cities across Canada recognized the need to federate in order to generate a common voice for the hundreds of community-facing organizations and municipal urban Indigenous advisory councils. 

When coalitions in each city come together in their regions, provinces, and federally, Indigenous populations can share their experiences and successes, and an urban Indigenous national strategy can be defined by the community itself. 

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) acknowledged the need for a consultative table for the urban Indigenous communities self-organizing in 32 Canadian cities. Why? Because 73% to 84% of Indigenous Peoples who live off-reserve reside in Canadian cities and urban centres.

Formed in response to ISC’s call to action, the National Urban Indigenous Coalitions Council (NUICC) mandate is to steadily advance the work of impacting federal urban Indigenous policy development and action. Supporting policy development that is built from the best available data and research can help individual coalitions in municipalities, as well as regionally, provincially and federally.      

NUICC approached Voor Urban Labs to support its communications and policy amplification needs to inform changes to federal action plans directly impacting urban Indigenous populations.

Voor has deep experience working alongside urban Indigenous community members in Vancouver’s inner-city, what is often considered the urban rez, where the Indigenous community members face homelessness, a two-decades-long national public health crisis, and premature death. Economic justice, housing justice, and safety for women and children are solutions we have worked for across Coast Salish lands. The Voor team is grateful this track record of community experience positions us to be tapped for this cross-Canada work.     

We look forward to supporting communications and production work for conferences and gatherings, council and committee meetings. We anticipate helping animate the stories from each of the 32 Canadian cities organizing urban Indigenous coalitions and sharing them across the country to inspire and bring change. Voor will help amplify NUICC voices in multiple formats including policy proposals, community-engaged research, podcasts, videos, website, social media, virtual events. 

We are excited and deeply honored to be of service to NUICC as we believe in the power of collaboration, of mutuality, and amplifying innovative community solutions. 


Placemaking and Cultural Literacy

Placemaking and Cultural Literacy

Why governments need to educate their communities on differences in lifestyles, customs, and heritage

When the Fab Five launched the hit Netflix makeover series Queer Eye in 2018, they did so with a singular goal in mind: to normalize themselves to a broad swath of people in Georgia — a US state struggling with contentious issues around race, religion, and gay rights. 

This goal was a profound shift from the original series in the early 2000s, which despite being in New York City contended with even less-friendly attitudes towards LGBTQ+ lifestyles. Tan France, the sartorial envoy for the reboot, stated, “The original show was fighting for tolerance. Our fight is for acceptance.”

In 1987, Educator E.D. Hirsch proposed the term ‘cultural literacy’ for the ability to understand a particular group of people’s traditions — especially differences in lifestyles, customs, and heritage. In the case of Queer Eye, being culturally fluent with the Fab Five’s idiosyncrasies and vocabulary is a big part of the entertainment factor for the show.

More importantly, episodes focus on people who need a not-so-gentle nudge to transform themselves into the person they had hidden from themselves and the communities in which they live. Even Ted Terry, the Millennial Mayor of Clarkston, Georgia, received a much-needed makeover to tailor his leadership style to ‘the most diverse square mile in America’.

Acceptance asserts that people inherently want to accept others for who they are. It means that mere ‘tolerance’ is unacceptable, and that bias, bigotry, and bullheadedness are all cultural constructs designed to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’. The expression ‘good fences make good neighbors’ implies that differences are best tolerated with hard boundaries in place.

Borders begin with governments. At the highest level, countries are the largest artificial constructs between humans — and largely insensitive to the fuzzy, overlapping boundaries recognized by Indigenous Peoples, religion, and ethnic histories. But countries are anything but static. As a budding philatelist (postage stamp collector) in the 1960s and 70s, I can attest to the time it took to organize each new independent African nation in my albums.

Today, I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in the electoral district of Vancouver-False Creek, in an enclave known as ‘South False Creek’. I also acknowledge the rights of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations on whose ancestral and unceded territory my home is located. I accept all these overlapping jurisdictions as one, and they easily co-exist, as there is little conflict between them. 

What does this all have to do with placemaking? Stay with me — I’ll get there!

In October 2020, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a bold immigration plan as part of the government’s economic strategy. The plan calls for more than 1.2 million immigrants to be welcomed into the country over the next three years. Pandemic lock-downs aside, an immigration policy targeted at a global population will lead to larger, more diverse mash-ups of culture in our communities.

What does this mean for cities and municipalities? How do provinces and territories (and states, for that matter) declare their support for such an initiative and compete for the improved economics of hosting new immigrant residents? How could they market their regions as the best place to live, work, and play?

What if city governments practiced Destination Management — a discipline used by tourism agencies to generate interest in an area — to attract new immigrant residents? How would they ‘sell the place’? On what amenities and community benefits would they focus?

Public spaces are a good place to start. If a local government wishes to create inclusive ‘public realms’, and they commit to an open and collaborative process, the outcome is a collection of shared public spaces throughout the city that strengthen connections between people. This is called ‘placemaking’.

Placemaking — a term that originated 50 years ago with Jane Jacobs and Holly Whyte — is the idea that destinations are strongest when they are discussed, developed, and designed with people in mind. Placemaking belongs to everyone. 

In Vancouver, there is no better place to show this than on the Seawall — the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path (28 km / 17 mi) — that runs from downtown Vancouver’s Convention Centre, around Stanley Park and through False Creek, to Spanish Banks Park at the base of the University of British Columbia Endowment Lands.

At any given time, at any section of the Seawall, there are hundreds of people that speak a multitude of languages — from Tagalog and Turkish to Trini English — and wear distinctive fashions — from scarves and dastars to toques and baller hats. However, the most important characteristic of the people on the Seawall isn’t dialect or dress — it’s that such a diversity of global citizenship feels comfortable in who they are, and that they have the freedom to express their culture in the city they call their home.

The Seawall is a microcosm of what ‘Cultural Literacy and Placemaking’ represents. The Seawall is a great equalizer, and brings out the best qualities of people in one walk-worthy destination. While you may not know the difference between a hijab and a dupatta, if you see the person, and not the costume, you don’t need to.

Ownership over self-expression is the real point here, and it is why cultural literacy is so important in today’s complex societal fabric. Nationalism isn’t one way of being — it is an identity made up of countless distinct cultures squished together to make something new. Diversity is strength. Justin Trudeau knows this, and now must convince others.

But what are cities doing to prepare themselves and their residents for an influx of immigration? How will governments fine-tune and improve cultural literacy programs to mitigate racism and fear of the unknown? How will cities direct real estate developers to ensure they create truly public spaces as part of their projects?

Cities and municipalities must have a vision for what they want their communities to become. This envisioning process cannot be left to real estate developers and landholders — it must come from our elected leadership teams and comprehensive public consultation.

Governments must conduct inclusive research, engage with all residents, and advance an agenda of continuous cultural learning with their populations. A good first step is to ensure there are enough public spaces, parks, and plazas to go around.

The City of Vancouver, while not perfect, has led the way to acceptance with reasonably good governance, multilingual communication efforts, and the inclusion of cultural education and programming in statutory holiday celebrations. Ultimately, acceptance wins the day.While I’m not sure what Tan France would say, my guess is that we won’t see an episode of Queer Eye filmed in Vancouver. This is too bad, because there are some of us who could use a good cultural literacy makeover.

Build Social Research project to launch in January 2021

Build Social Research project to launch in January 2021

Voor Urban Labs conducting first-ever Canadian study to measure social value, productivity and community impacts from the construction industry employing workers who face barriers.

We are thrilled will be launched in January 2021 to measure the benefits of social procurement in the Canadian construction industry. Build Social is a platform and research study which has received approval from Simon Fraser University Research Ethics Board.

The $170 billion Canadian construction industry employs some 1.4 million people across Canada, but on the horizon is an increasing labour shortage of tens of thousands of workers. This research examines the Canadian construction industry employing workers who face barriers to employment.  Commencing January 2021, Voor Urban Labs will launch three quantitative and qualitative research phases and take place on construction sites in different Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Halifax, and elsewhere. Voor Urban Labs has been contracted by Buy Social Canada to conduct the research with a projected one thousand submissions. 

Build Social examines the productivity and work readiness of various temporary construction workers brought on job sites from market and non-market labour suppliers. It examines worker evaluation, training and supports, as well as broader ‘social value’ to workers and their communities. It also explores the experience of workers who face barriers as they are hired through private and community-based temp worker agencies. Workers are often brought into the industry through social enterprise labour agencies that hope to improve the lives of workers who face barriers to landing well-paid secure work. 

The research will determine if labour from socially-procured suppliers is perceived to deliver comparable productivity standards to other workers on similar construction acts on the same construction site. In addition to worker productivity comparisons provided by supervisors, we will learn about the social value benefits of social procurement in the construction industry and in the communities where it builds public infrastructure. As the sector faces a major shortage of skilled workers, and moderately continues through this Covid19 economics disruption, the research will  provide timely data and analysis as precarious workers are especially vulnerable and impacted.  The research site at communicates to the construction industry as well as the research community participants regarding the study, communicates the benefits and provides access to participants. Follow along and read blog updates on the Build Social website.