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City Builder Glossary

The #CityGlossary will help guide you through the realm of city building. What does it mean when we talk about capacity building or smart cities? What even is a city builder? Find out!

Streetscape in Tokyo. Image: Chris Chan/Unsplash
Image: Chris Chan/Unsplash

In our work helping create flourishing cities across the country, we come across, and use, terms that would be considered jargon in everyday conversations. But this isn't always the best when we're trying to create city building that is inclusive for all. This glossary will help you to understand more about city building. Follow the conversation online with #CityGlossary. 

City Builder Terms:

Adaptive Reuse
//ədæptɪv rijus/ /

The process of finding a new purpose for an existing structure or site in a sustainable way. For example, a vacant office or industrial building may be turned into a residential building.  

Blue-Green Infrastructure
/blo͞o • ɡriːn • ˈinfrəˌstrək(t)SHər /

Environmental components and natural assets (such as a forest, river, green roofs or rain gardens) that are integrated into an urban landscape (buildings and public spaces) to create and promote more sustainable ecosystems.

Capacity Building
/kə-ˈpa-sə-tē bil-diŋ /

Providing the support and resources, such as workshops, mentorship and research, needed in order for people to make a positive impact on their cities, from residents and organizations to practitioners and city officials.

Carbon Offsetting
/ˌkärbən ˈôfsetiNG/

The counteracting of carbon dioxide emissions with an equivalent reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

City Builder
/ˈsitē ˈbildər/

A person who influences positive change to the cultural, social, environmental, physical and/or economic components of a city.

Civic Assets
/slv-ik As-ets/

Buildings, infrastructure and public spaces, that create the fabric of a city or community and enable people to participate in society. Examples: libraries, squares and parks.

Civic Commons
/ˈsivik ˈkämənz/

A network of public places and facilities that enable communities to learn, celebrate, express collective actions, collaborate and flourish, together. Can include libraries, parks, community centres, squares and more.

Civic Engagement
/ ˈsi-vik ‘in-ˈgāj-mənt/

A process and practice that seeks to include residents in the decision making around city building. This can be led by individuals or groups, by public or private organizations, or by the government.

Civic Incubator
/ˈsi-vik ˈiŋ-kyə-ˌbā-tər /

A program that nurtures city builders by providing them with skills training and education, and access to a network of resources.

Climate Ready
/klī-mət • ˈre-dē/

Places and people that are adapting more sustainable infrastructure and processes to prepare for and address climate change within their communities.

Commuity Hub
//kom-UUN-ih-t hub/ /

A public space where residents can connect with several activities, programs and services — such as health, social, educational, cultural and recreational — at once. Each hub is unique to the community it serves and meets local needs.

Community Benefit
//ke'mju:nIti 'benIfIt//

Improvements or additions to an area that benefit residents, a neighbourhood or community as a whole when impacted by a real estate or infrastructure development. These improvements could include investments in local employment or procurement, ecological restoration, access to public space and parks, procuring public art, building public housing, support for social programs and more. 

Community Resilience
/kəˈmyo͞onədē • rəˈzilyəns/

The connections created between groups of people, which enable them to mitigate the negative effects of and/or adapt to crisis and disruption. This often requires an ability to rapidly mobilize resources and support. 

Complete Streets
/kəmˈplēt strēts/

A way of designing roads so they are safe, comfortable and convenient for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, transit-users and drivers.

Data Governance
/dādə • ˈɡəvərnəns/

The process of managing the integrity, use, security and availability of data. Data governance can organize our complex and evolving relationship with data as a matter of public policy.

Digital Divide
/dIj-uh-tl duh-vIEd/

The gap experienced by residents of a region or demographic with access to information and communications technology — particularly reliable broadband Internet — and those that don't.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
/dye-VER-si-tee EK-wit-ee in-CLU-juh-un/

Diversity, equity and inclusion are three practices that must be present to create places, systems and processes that serve all, not just some, people. Diversity means ensuring the presence of different identities in a space; equity is the process of providing equal outcomes for each individual and inclusion is the work of making people feel that they belong in a space. All three concepts are essential to creating cities that are sustainable and equitable for all residents.

Ecological Footprint
//ˌiːkəˈlɒdʒɪkl̩ ˈfʊtprɪnt//

A method of gauging how much we consume in relation to our ecosystems’ capacity to support our needs. Our impact on the environment can be measured at an individual level, or at a community-level, based on how much natural resources are used collectively every day.

Ethical Smart City
/ˈeTHək(ə)l · smärt · ˈsidē /

A city whose diverse communities are celebrated and actively engaged in the consideration, creation and integration of technological or data-driven solutions, and where the needs of residents are represented in the community’s built and networked environment.

Flourishing City
/ˈflər-i-shiŋ sitē/

A city that is thriving, resilient and inclusive at its core, where all residents benefit from the thoughtful integration of the natural and built world.

//ˈfjuːʧə pruːf//

The practice of designing cities to be resilient through tomorrow’s challenges, to build a future where communities are equitable, regenerative and prosperous.

Healthy Housing Ecosystem
/ˈhelTHē ˈhouziNG ˈēkōˌsistəm/

A housing environment where there are housing options that are the right size, location and price for everyone. A healthy housing ecosystem includes a balanced mix of temporary shelters, housing with supports, home ownership, rental units and subsidized housing.

Housing Affordability
/ˈhaʊzɪŋ əˌfɔrdəˈbɪləti/

Housing that meets the needs of a household while costing less than 30% of its before-tax income. 

Inclusive City
/inˈklo͞osiv ˈsi-tē/

A city in which all residents are included in the decision making and development process, and where all feel they belong.

Inclusive Innovation
/in-ˈklü-siv ˌi-nə-ˈvā-shən/

People of diverse experiences and backgrounds working collectively to find new ways to solve complex urban challenges that make cities a better place for all.

Indigenizing Cities
//ɪnˈdɪdʒəˌnaɪzɪŋ- ˈsɪtiːz//

The process of reclaiming and re-imaging cities as places of Indigenous identity, community and resilience by honouring Indigenous treaties, land claims and inherent rights; actively decolonizing contemporary urban planning and city building approaches; and centering Indigenous models of placekeeping, land stewardship, and cultural revitalization.

Indigenous Design
//ɪnˈdɪʤɪnəs dɪˈzaɪn//

An Indigenous-led approach to design that is grounded in Indigenous design principles and community priorities as well as it is informed by contemporary design methodology. Indigenous design acknowledges the rich cultural history and innovation at the heart of Indigenous knowledges and practices, including ceremonies, designs, stories, land stewardship, creative productions, and technologies.


Adding homes, transportation, jobs, schools and other forms of density in already developed, urbanized areas.


An important object, structure or place that is easy to see and recognize. It can be part of the built environment, such as the CN Tower, or natural environment, such as Niagara Falls. Landmarks can serve as a guide, location identifier or strengthen one’s connection to place.

Laneway Suite
/lān-wā swēt/

A small dwelling at the rear of a residential lot that is detached from the primary home. 

//ˌlɪvəˈbɪləti/ /

The conditions for all residents of a community, city or region. It describes people’s physical and mental wellbeing within their community, and takes into account connection to people, built space and the natural environment.

Loose Parts Play
//lo͞os ‘pärts ‘plā//

Materials – such as wood, pine cones, stones and sticks – that can be moved, carried and redesigned to encourage children to interact with the natural world while experimenting with their physical and creative abilities.

Mass Timber Building
/mas tim-bər bil-diŋ/

A tall structure built using solid wood, a building material which can be regrown and holds the potential to offset the emissions of construction and use by sequestering carbon.

Mid-Sized Cities
/'mid sīzd 'sitēs/

Canadian cities with populations ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 residents. These cities have the potential to become leaders of sustainable and inclusive city-building initiatives across Canada.

Missing Middle
/ˈmɪsɪŋ ˈmɪdəl/

A range of housing types between single-detached houses and apartment buildings that have gone “missing” from many cities since the 1960s, including duplexes, triplexes, flourplexes, rowhouses and townhouses. The term was coined by architect Daniel Parolek to describe a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living.

  1. The ability to move all people safely and affordably between where they live, work and play. Includes walking, cycling, the use of wheelchairs, public transit, cars and more.
  2. The ability to transport goods in an efficient and sustainable manner for the benefit of all
Nature Play
/ˈnāCHər plā/

A child-led, unstructured play, occurring outside and using natural materials. This approach provides children with the freedom to be the architects of their environment, to invent and build using their own creativity and problem-solving skills, all the while developing an appreciation for the natural world.

Open Data
/ˈōpən ˈdadə/

Data that anyone can access, use and share. Any person, business, government or organization can use open data to bring about social, economic and environmental benefits.

Open Smart City
/ōpən 'smärt 'si-tē/

An Open Smart City is where all sectors and residents collaborate in mobilizing data and technologies to develop their communities through fair, ethical, and transparent governance that balances economic development, social progress, and environmental responsibility.

Outdoor Classroom
/OUt-daw klAHs-room/

An outdoor learning space designed to connect students and staff to the natural world, incorporating elements like trees, rocks and shade as well as features like chalkboards and seating, to create an immersive and engaging place for learning, play and discovery.

Participatory Planning
/pärˈtisəpəˌtôrē - ˈplaniNG/

The process by which plans and decisions are made with the full participation of the communities they will impact - in a way that is accessible, collaborative and meaningful.

/plās · ˈkē-piNG/

A form of engagement that prioritizes ecological, historical and cultural relationships to and the care of ‘place’; and unsettles shared public spaces to bring the presence of Indigenous histories and futures into focus. 

/plās ˈmākiNG/

The process of working together to shape and create public spaces. Placemaking brings together diverse people to plan, design, manage and program shared-use spaces.

Public Space
/ˈpəblik spās/

An area or place that is open and accessible to all people, including streets, public squares, parks, beaches and civic spaces. Successful public spaces are designed with all residents in mind and allow people to interact with these spaces in different ways. Great spaces enhance livable cities by supporting a sense of connection, individual and social wellbeing, and community expression, identity and diversity.

Regenerative City
/ri-ˈje-nə-ˌrā-tiv, ˈsi-tē/

A city designed to eliminate negative environmental impact and help restore balance with natural systems. Regenerative cities are low-carbon and rely on renewable energies, not fossil fuels.

Regenerative Landscapes

Landscapes that restore the ecological integrity of an area, encourage biodiversity and contribute to the sustainability of the land itself. 


The capacity of individuals, communities, and institutions to design and implement solutions that allow them to adapt, grow and innovate in the face of future disruption and systemic change.


The process of modifying a building after it has been built, by changing existing systems or structures to improve its quality; in some cases, to increase its resilience to the effects of climate change.


The ability of an organization, system, project or process to adapt, evolve or implement resources to expand its impact

Smart City
/'smärt 'si-tē/

A resilient, inclusive and collaboratively-built city that uses technology and data to better the quality of life for all people.

Smart Infrastructure
/ /smɑːt ˈɪnfrəˌstrʌkʧə/ /

The integration of data and tech into the fundamental facilities and systems serving a community, city, country, or other area, including the services and facilities necessary for its economy to function. 

Sponge Cities
//spəndʒ sɪtiz//

A term used to describe urban areas that are designed to absorb rain and mitigate flooding. As communities adapt to a changing climate, areas such as school grounds and city parks with permeable surfaces and abundant natural areas can act as a sponge to allow water to infiltrate into the ground and drain safely.

/ ˈstü-ərd-ship/

The ethical and responsible care of environmental resources, information, property or public space.

Strategic Foresight
/strəˈtējik • ˈfôrˌsītˈ/

The practice of exploring and planning for possible futures by identifying unexpected changes that can create a range of potential outcomes. This may help inform city building strategies in present day to bring us forward to our preferred futures.

Systems Change
/ˈsi-stəms • ˈchānj/

The process and/or outcome of generating shifts within layered, interconnected structures to address complex problems. Advancing systems change often challenges the status quo in order to create positive results. 

Tactical Urbanism
/ˈtæktɪkəl ˈɜrbənɪzm/

Low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment of public spaces, such as bike lanes or sidewalk patios, intended to immediately improve the lives of residents, and act as a demonstration for possible permanent changes.

Third Place
/ /third playss//

A Third Place is a social setting, separate from a person's home ("First Place"), or work ("Second Place"), which is essential to civic engagement and well-being. Examples of Third Places can include public parks, squares, libraries, religious spaces, restaurants, stores and transit — anywhere a person might spend time between home and work.

Tower Renewal
/tou-err ri-nu-all/

The act of retrofitting aging concrete apartment towers into vibrant, socially inclusive, and economically viable communities. This process of transformation reduces carbon emissions while adhering to standards of equity, comfort, health and safety for residents.

Transit-Supportive Development
/ˈtranzət səˈpôrdiv dəˈveləpmənt/

A type of urban growth that is concentrated around areas well served by a range of mobility options.

Unexpected Solutions
/ˌənəkˈspektəd • səˈluːʃ(ə)nz/

The surprising and inspiring outcomes that result when people from across sectors and with differing perspectives convene to propel forward new visions, spark partnerships and catalyze change.

Universal Design
/ˌjunəˈvɜrsəl dɪˈzaɪn/

The design of environments, products and services to be accessed, understood and used by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. 

Urban Intervention
/ˈər-bən in-tər-ˈven(t)-shən/

A project that alters a city or neighbourhood to make it more enjoyable. These projects are often temporary, low-cost and run by the community.

Urban Resilience
/ˈərbən rəˈzilyəns/

The capacity of a city, its businesses, institutions, residents and communities, to survive, adapt and grow despite whatever stresses and shocks they experience.