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5 Inspiring Civic Commons Projects You Should Know About

Projects that support strong, connected communities, that you need to know  

Top image caption: A rendering of Wije’winen, the future home of the The Mi’Kmaw Friendship Society in Halifax

Published on May 09, 2021

Imagine your community for a moment. Is there a place where neighbours can gather to spend time together, celebrate important moments, collaborate on community projects, or access services like a walk-in clinic, or daycare? 

Maybe you’re imagining a community centre, a park, or a library — these are all examples of spaces that make up a Civic Commons, a network of public spaces in a community where residents can gather to engage with one another. 

A Civic Commons network is essential to creating an equitable community — spaces where people can freely gather to access services and connect with each other.  

It is essential that we continue to invest in vibrant public spaces. That’s why we’ve chosen five Civic Commons projects from across the country we think you should know about. These projects have revitalized spaces in their communities in innovative and inspiring ways. Let’s take a closer look. 

Wije’winen — The Mi’Kmaw Friendship Centre, Halifax 

The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre has a clear goal: To provide a space for Halifax’s urban Indigenous community to gather and find community and support. 

Estabished in 1973, the Centre offers a wide range of programming, from offering educational support to local students, to securing the funding to create a 30-bed shelter for the urban Indigenous community. 

Soon, the Centre will leave its current building and find a new home where the city’s old Canadian Red Cross building currently sits. The vacant building will be demolished and replaced with a beautiful 70,000 square-foot Wije’winen (“come with us”) Centre, which will continue to offer programs and services while acting as an anchor and a beacon for Indigenous people across the province. 

The Mount Community Centre, Peterborough 

Housed in a historic 10-acre former private residence, Peterborough’s Mount Community Centre is a hub for community services and support.  

Established in 2013 through the Peterborough Poverty network and local partners, the building has been transformed into a space that includes 63 affordable rental apartments — with five more currently under construction — and 10 community organizations, including the Victorian Order of Nurses, the Kawartha Land Trust and St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church. 

The Centre also includes a food centre, which is used for training and education programs, and the delivery of Meals on Wheels meals. 

Vivre Sanit-Michel en santé, Montreal 

Of course, Civic Commons don’t have to live in just one building — the idea is that they are a network of public spaces and services that support a community. Vivre Saint-Michel en santé is the perfect example of this definition in action. 

The Montreal-based organization works to improve the living conditions of residents in the Saint-Michel neighbourhood. It holds events to get residents involved in community-building projects, and organizes discussions about how to address neighbourhood issues like affordable housing, access to food and community safety. 

Their goal is to “revitalize” the neighbourhood, by offering spaces where residents can express themselves and determine their own future. Currently, they are working on a neighbourhood plan that focuses on four main areas: mobility, food, housing and educational success. 

BC Artscape Sun Wah, Vancouver 

Securing community space in Vancouver’s downtown is no small challenge, but that’s just what BC Artscape did when it created BC Artscape Sun Wah. 

The community cultural hub is located in Vancouver’s Chinatown, and has 50,000 square feet of renovated space on the formerly vacant floors of the area’s Sun Wah Centre. 

The space is now home to dozens of artistic, cultural and community organizations, who are able to rent affordable space to produce, rehearse, present and exhibit their work. The space is also home to a wide range of cultural events and programming, and is dedicated to supporting the Chinatown community. 

Hogan’s Alley Society, Vancouver 

Investing in Civic Commons projects can support communities that have been historically displaced and discriminated against in our cities. 

The Hogan’s Alley Society in Vancouver advocates for Black Vancouverites who were displaced from the city’s Strathcona neighbourhood when it was razed in the late 1960s to make way for viaducts. 

The Society’s mission is to build the capacity of racialized and marginalized communities to get involved in community and city building. 

That’s why it is working with the City to establish a new Cultural Centre in the neighbourhood, which will act as a focal point for the city’s Black community, with programming that supports community-building through food, education, empowerment and celebration. The Society is also in the process of developing the relationships needed to acquire and develop land for a community land trust.  

A Civic Commons Strategy led by Future Cities Canada 

As one of the founding partners of Future Cities Canada, we know Civic Commons are central to our mission of sparking transformative change in cities across the country. 

This year we are revitalizing our approach to our Civic Commons work. Now is the time to build a National Civic Commons Strategy for Canada. We will build a shared vision and work collaboratively to make the necessary reform to create strong Civic Commons across the country. Learn more about the foundation of our Civic Commons work