Tag Archives: Community Development

When Crazy Gets Creative

Crazy Dames Share their Innovative Approach to Community Engagement and Design Development

Inspired by the work of Jane Jacobs and a desire to use the artist’s studio as a site for fostering creative engagement, Jennie Suddick, and Sara Udow founded Crazy Dames. Their focus is on enhancing the user experience of urban spaces, empowering communities to drive the change they desire through ‘tactical and collaborative approaches’ to city-building. Crazy Dames utilize unconventional, yet playful methods from which innovative ideas evolve.

Their portfolio includes activities as diverse as building a blanket fort as part of a residency at the Gardiner Museum, entitled ‘We Built This City’. There they programmed events over the course of two weeks in the summer of 2016, including workshops, artist-led ‘walkshop’ walking tours, a collaborative art project, and closing event and panel discussion. The pair have also found attentive audiences through public engagement projects at the Yellowknife Artist Run Community Centre, and Create Your Path initiative.

In each case, they strive to create an experience that will bring broad communities together, break down barriers, and ignite their imaginations to ultimately express their thoughts/feelings about the city they live in, generating ideas for change. At the end of the day, it’s about talking to people, listening to divergent perspectives, and encouraging long-term community involvement and ownership.

Fast forward to August 2018, Jennie and Sara have been invited to participate in a residency in Valletta, Malta, European Capital of Culture. They have also recently been chosen as Varley Art Gallery’s inaugural Community Artists in Residence. This residency will run in 2018 in Markham, ON.

ERA was delighted to host them for an interactive presentation on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018, when they shared an informative slide presentation. Not wanting to rest solely on traditional methods however, they invited staff to get out of their seats, split into two groups and create a 3D drawing using balls of black yarn. The objective of the exercise was to define the space we were in, how it’s used and how it has evolved. The teams discussed various perspectives before creating two intricate webs. The communication and designs that resulted made for an interesting collaborative experience.

For more information visit: http://www.crazydames.com/
U of T News article: https://www.utoronto.ca/news/these-crazy-dames-want-us-rethink-way-we-engage-city

All photographs courtesy of Crazy Dames.

Nothing is Impossible: NXT City defines its strategies for city-building through an inspirational presentation at ERA

On December 13th, NXT City visited ERA to engage staff as part of our Wednesday Morning Forum ‘Spark Sessions’, a series of talks presented at ERA’s office by people and organizations who are at the forefront of their respective practices, and pushing the boundaries of design, policy and development in our city.

NXT City is a not-for-profit organization that unites the desire of emerging leaders to make a difference with city builders looking for innovative ideas to program and develop public space. It was established in 2013 by founders Christine Caruso, Mackenzie Keast and Justin Leclair, who have since garnered much attention for their exciting initiatives, such as an annual NXT City Prize, public space symposium, quarterly talks and secret warehouse parties.

In the early days, the team identified a gap in opportunities for Toronto’s current and future city-builders to assemble, in order to network, strengthen partnerships, and synergize ideas. As a result, they devised a strategy to connect various stakeholders whom they admire (Jennifer Keesmat was an early supporter), programming approachable, exciting events that draw people together to brainstorm on methods of reshaping the city in delightful, unexpected ways.

The various platforms compliment and reinforce their objective: the NXT City Prize was initiated as an opportunity to encourage and reward thought leadership on relevant topics. Teams are invited to submit proposals for jury review based solely on the quality of the idea. The NXT City Symposium promotes itself as ‘public space on a global stage’, offering up discussions on civic innovation and ideas by industry leaders challenging the boundaries and limitations of public space. The mix of speakers is a potential tension-builder, arranged as a counter-point to create a more meaningful dialogue. The NXT City Talks are small-scale panels with a ‘how to’ approach to project development. The secret warehouse parties offer an opportunity for the community at large to connect and celebrate all that is exciting and ground-breaking in the Toronto region and beyond.

To gain more insight on NXT City visit: https://nxtcity.ca/

Photos courtesy of Nicky Brunn-Meyer

Construction and river valley tour, East Scarborough

Photos: Holly Pagnacco

Progress on the East Scarborough Storefront’s (ESS) soon-to-be grapevine pergola is running on time. We have just completed some 50 trellis modules which will form the roof structure for the grapevines to grow on. The youth spent weeks building these modules and have become confident measuring and cutting wood, along with many other skills.

As part of this ongoing learning process, our youth landscapers recently presented on the transformations the community could expect at ESS, including the pergola and deck, which the team has been working on since early July. Participants were surprised and inspired to see the impressive projects community youth are working on.

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Construction begins at the Storefront

Over the past couple of years, ERA has been working with The East Scarborough Storefront (ESS) on the Community Design Initiative (CDI), where Scarborough youth are educated in architecture and design by mentors from ERA, Sustainable.TO, and ArchiTEXT. In the current phase, we are working to bring more shade and plant life to the site. This will include several garden and landscape features, a pergola structure for grapevines, and a green-roof pavilion known as the Sky-o-swale.

Beginning earlier in July, five youth from the Kingston-Galloway-Orton Park community, who have cumulatively dedicated hundreds of hours to the CDI program, were hired by the ESS for a five-week period to physically build an exterior deck for public use (located under the Sky-o-swale), as well as 50 trellis modules that will form the roof structure for the grapevine pergola.

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Oleleshwa Primary School, Ewaso Ngiro, Kenya

This week’s Wednesday Design Forum looked at a project being developed outside of the office. Alec Ring, an assistant architect here at ERA, and his colleague Karl Sarkis presented a design they have been developing for Oleleshua Primary School in Ewaso Ngiro, Kenya. The funding to build the school is through Harambee 4 Humanity a small not for profit organization set up in the town of Gravenhurst, Ontario in order to finance this project.


Traditional Maasai Enkaji (house) near the school grounds.


Some of the students who will attend the new primary school.

The presentation looked at the culture of the Maasai people, their traditionally nomadic way of life, their architecture, and a proposal for the new school and school grounds. Feedback on the design portion of the presentation focused on two key areas of the project, the first being the constructability of the proposed classrooms, and the second being how to respectfully integrate the new site plan and building into the existing and lost cultural heritage of the Maasai people.


Site terrain.


The primary school project is to be realized over several phases and is to include four classrooms, a kitchen, an administration building, a library, 6 pit latrines, and teacher housing. The site itself is a seven acre parcel of land which will also include areas for agricultural and physical education. The first phase will include the two classrooms, two pit latrines and conversion of an existing building into a kitchen.


Preliminary proposal for cluster of classrooms.