What is a Learning City?

I discovered the Learning City idea when I first heard about the 2nd International Conference on Learning Cities in Mexico City.

To me, a Learning City is both a proclamation and a strategy to map and support all of a cities’ lifelong learning initiatives. Once an initial network is built, a Learning City usually tries to figure out what kind of learning should be prioritized, for whom and by whom.

That’s my best definition, here’s another:

The Beijing Declaration on Building Learning Cities defines a learning city as one which effectively mobilises its resources to:

  • promote inclusive learning from basic to higher education;
  • re-vitalise learning in families and communities; 
  • facilitate learning for and in the workplace; 
  • extend the use of modern learning technologies; 
  • enhance quality and excellence in learning; and
  • nurture a culture of learning throughout life.

UNESCO’s Global Network of Learning Cities outlines the key features of a Learning City (in the shape of UNESCO’s logo – well done! )

That’s a lot of learning!

I like the idea that a Learning City can create a network between learning initiatives from “cradle to grave”. Consider all the agencies, staff, volunteers, events, programs, and spaces that go into lifelong learning initiatives like schools, libraries, cultural learning programs. A network that agrees to a collective learning strategy has a much stronger capacity to guide and support them all.

If you’re ready for a bigger read (166 pages), take a look at the latest report Unlocking the Potential of Urban Communities: Case Studies of Twelve Learning Cities, which shares some best practices and a variety of approaches to the Learning City concept including cases from Bahir Dar (Ethiopia), Amman (Jordan), and Namyangju (South Korea).

Although Canada is not featured in the report, Canadians have certainly contributed plenty to the idea of the Learning City. Major strategies and programs have been well-documented and continue to thrive in cities such as Vancouver, Edmonton, and Sudbury.

In the next couple months, look forward to a short summary of my favourite initiatives from the Case Studies of  Twelve Learning Cities report.  Sneak peak! Learning Lighthouses (South Korea), Flexible Places for Learning  and Renewal Learning (Finland), Lifelong Learning Festival (Ireland).

Re-Inventing The Walking Tour

Jane’s Walk is back for its 9th festival weekend this May 1st, 2nd and 3rd! Free walking tours that are led by anyone and everyone. You just show up where the walk starts. That’s it! Awesome eh?

Jane’s Walk started in Toronto, but has now active in more than 130+ cities, from Tokyo to Vienna to Jerusalem to Córdoba, Spain.  This year in Toronto, there are more than 160 free public walks! That’s a lot!

As I work for Jane’s Walk, I often get asked what walks people should check out. My quick reply has always been…”It depends what you like!”. There are so many different kinds of walks.  Nature walks, food walks, history walks, urban planning walks, night walks, bike rides, art walks. Not only that, but it also depends on how you expect to participate. There are walks that are completely improvised by strangers where you inform the conversation and route, while others are planned months in advance by professional historians where you follow along to their every word and step.

But I can still point you in the right direction. I’m a big fan of walks that provoke, challenge, and force you to reflect and act. I’ve even written a blog about this style of walk. Generally, I love anything that doesn’t look like a walking lecture. With that in mind, here are my picks for Jane’s Walks in Toronto that re-invent and re-interpret the entire idea of the walking tour.

Please note! The dates, times and descriptions are all taken from the Jane’s Walk Toronto website. Please check their site for exact time and location details.

Access in the City – May 2, 2015 | 11:00 AM

Our walk will focus on accessibility, safety, health and well being, identifying barriers, public spaces, green spaces, car and foot traffic. This is a community group effort, community members planning this walk are from The Anne Johnston Health Station Consumer Advisory Committees, they are volunteers. Community members who have lived experience with a variety of disabilities will share their stories and ask you to give some thought to what accessibility means to you? ….It’s more than just curb cuts and ramps. The sidewalk width and grade, shop entrances and aisle widths can make huge differences. Smooth pavements, traffic light signal timing and good lighting, all add to how easily and safely a person moves around their neighbourhood. Walkers will also be familiarized to who Anne Johnston is and why the Health Station is named after her, a brief history of the neighbourhood will also be shared along with examples of accessibility and how the neighbourhood has seen changes over the years, drawing attention to the current state and future goals of accessibility and people friendliness in the community. We hope to see you at our Jane’s Walk this year!

Cosmopolis Toronto: The World in One City – May 2, 2015 | 11:00 AM

Where do you call home? Where do you feel the greatest sense of belonging? This is something 195 Torontonians from different places around the world needed to consider when I photographed them for Cosmopolis Toronto (cosmopolistoronto.com). Together we will explore some of the places they called home… whether it is a favourite restaurant or a community centre that welcomed their family after migrating to the city. I was fortunate to have spent a year meeting the individuals that make up Toronto’s incredible diversity, and I am really looking forward to revisiting many of these stories with the actual participants while on this Jane’s Walk. This event promises to create dialogue, reflection and introspection. See you there!

Wrestling with change in today’s Parkdale: The forces that divide and community initiatives that hold us together – May 2, 2015 | 11:00 AM

These days, the common story of Parkdale is about gentrification, social exclusion and poverty. But there’s two sides to every story, and Parkdale is no exception. Together we’ll explore the dichotomies that try to separate this neighbourhood as well as community initiatives that are bringing neighbours together to overcome them. These include the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT), Co-op Cred Program, Parkdale Community Economic Development Project, the Food Flow Project and more. Through the following themes, we’ll explore the issues affecting people who live, work and build community in Parkdale: – Exclusion vs. Inclusion – Gentrification vs. Community assets – Poverty vs. Community wealth We’ll also talk about what a land trust is, we’ll hear from the partners involved in building one in Parkdale, and we’ll explore the opportunities and challenges before us in building a successful land trust in Parkdale. https://parkdalecommunityeconomies.wordpress.com/community-land-trust/ *The walk will be lead by members of PNLT, Greenest City, PARC, and more.

All the Libraries Toronto- well, some of them – May 2, 2015 | 11:00 AM May 3, 2015 | 10:30 AM

In 2014, I visited and drew every branch of the Toronto Public Library. This walk will explore some of those branches to think about the dynamic growth of the system and appreciate the fact that Free Public Libraries are a relatively modern concept, only starting in Toronto in 1883 (50 years after Toronto was incorporated as a city). We’ll start at the beloved Lillian H Smith, visit the original Reference Library and make our way north to the city’s oldest and biggest branches, stopping at some branches within U of T’s extensive library system along the way. Some discussions I hope to provoke: Why is the library so important? Why did the concept of a free library come so late, and why do we take it for granted today? Are libraries going to be relevant in the 21st century city? What will the 21st century library look like? Do we need to spend money on free book systems when there is access to so much free information on the internet? I also hope to evoke memories of walkers’ favourite branches, including the ones we will visit, but also branches further away. If successful, the walk will turn into a Library Love-in.

Oakwood: the school that built a community  – May 2, 2015 | 01:00 PM

Before there was a neighbourhood here, streets or public transit, there was a school. Since 1911 Oakwood Collegiate Institute has been at the heart of our community. Join us as we explore the school’s history, its contributions and alumni, and the role the school plays as an important community meeting and green space. Together we will imagine what more we want for and from our local schools in Toronto. Supported by: Trustee Marit Stiles. With: Oakwood CI School Advisory Council.

POLICE CARDING: Not a black and white issue – May 2, 2015 | 02:30 PM

Police carding has been debated primarily as a racial profiling issue between the black community and police officers. While race is inarguably a factor, it is a thread in an intricate web of arbitrary intelligence gathering, profiling, and data collection, regularly occurring in the public realm. By employing a holistic urban placemaking, public engagement, and city-building approach (rather than exploring this issue from the perspective of a single marginalized group), this walk seeks to uncover multiple forms of problematic public space policing. Through the re-telling of site-specific narratives gathered through interviews, a public space policy review, and references to popular conversations, we will uncover the negative impact of targeting a wide range of groups in public spaces like: restrooms, parks, retail establishments, beaches, schools, detention centres, and transit. This walk will begin to connect the issue of police carding across history, geography, and public space user groups, to underscore the ways this, and similar policies, threaten our collective safety in the public realm. *Please note that this walk is participatory and inclusive.

Watah Walk – Steps of self knowledge May 2, 2015 | 06:00 PM

Let’s explore the space of the distillery district from a truly unique perspective; a holistic and art affirming one. The Watah Theatre Institute Transdisciplinary Artists in Residence (TAP) are excited to collaborate with Jane’s Walk to produce this storytelling journey. Artists will be telling their stories of who they are, how they came to create art, and their relationship to the space of the Distillery District. This walk will include spaces that Watah residents have explored as they prepared for festivals, created art, and reflected on their artistic journey. Finally, the walk will end at the Watah Theatre Institute where participants will get the chance to look around and arrive to a special treat!

Diversity in a Block – May 3, 2015 | 11:00 AM

We will be talking about the diversity within our community. It is the most densely populated in a square block within Canada. We will be talking about some of the history of St James Town and the development of the community (condominiums). We will also be talking about the negative connotations that outsiders have about this community and the perspectives of residents. This will be an opportunity to meet youth leaders within St James Town as they lead you through this tour.

Jane’s Walk the Line – May 3, 2015 | 01:00 PM

We will be celebrating the use of this provincially-owned Hydro Corridor as a public recreation space; instead of a dangerous profit centre for Enbridge. We will be exploring the threat to the local community posed by this dangerous pipeline, with interactive displays, music, and discussions about possible solutions. The Walk will begin at the west end (at Talbot Rd.) of the TTC parking lot (free parking) situated at the northwest corner of Hendon Ave. and Yonge St. The Walk will take us west to Bathurst St. with stops along the way. The route is accessible.

Critical Eyes on the Street – May 3, 2015 | 01:30 PM

Jane Jacobs believed that greater powers of observation lead to greater demand for healthier places. As a group we’ll critique what we see from a cultural, economic, physical, political and psychological perspective. Our facilitated walking discussion will begin with these simple questions: What do you see? How does this affect your state of mind? What makes this a healthy or unhealthy place? How might it be healthier?

Myths about Mothers Experiencing Child Welfare Involvement – Walk With So Called “Bad” Moms – May 2, 2015 | 02:00 PM

Can our current system intervene in a way that prevents abuse? What happens to children in “care”? How do we keep families and children safe? How do we support families in crisis? Mothers can be blamed, shamed and demonized as the cause of family breakdown and harm. Are moms alone responsible for family well-being? We will share our stories, challenge myths about “bad” moms and invite a new conversation about how to keep families and communities safe. Community Action for Families is a grassroots organization mobilizing to create community based alternatives to child welfare intervention in our families. We are a community of mothers and allies. We are women and adult children who have survived violence, impoverishment, racism and sexism and have been pushed to the margins as a result of our survival responses. We aim to develop a voice and that is collective and strong, which challenges the belief that separating & controlling families fosters healthy communities. We believe that food, shelter, freedom, availability of necessary transformative services, supportive communities and access to personal autonomy are the pieces that truly create strong families.

Scarborough Poetry Walk – May 3, 2015 | 02:00 PM

What better way to celebrate the arrival of May than to read poetry in a park?  The Scarborough Poetry Walk will begin inside the Agincourt Public Library where walkers will be introduced to the recently launchedToronto Poetry Map. The walk will proceed outdoors in a loop: first we’ll head westward on Bonis Avenue, then we’ll walk northward through Ron Watson Park, then we’ll make our way eastward on the path that runs along West Highland Creek south of Tam O’Shanter Golf Course, then we’ll return to the library via Kennedy Road and Bonis Avenue. Along the way we’ll make stops to hear nature poems from The Weight of Dreams written by Scarborough and League of Canadian Poets poet Jeevan Bhagwat as well as selections written by other poets featured on the Toronto Poetry Map including Margaret Avison, Dionne Brand, Glen Downie and Toronto’s fourth poet laureate George Elliott Clarke. We’ll also pay homage to Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) by reading excerpts from his poem Tam o’Shanter. Walkers are encouraged to bring a favourite poem or even one they’ve written themselves to share with the group. Be inspired to discover our poetic city and perhaps even wax poetic yourself!

Walking with Refugees in the West Bend  May 3, 2015 | 02:00 PM

Can you imagine life as a refugee? What would it be like to suddenly have to leave your home behind: your country, family, friends, and know no-one, not knowing whether the Canadian government will protect you where others have failed? This walk is organised by community members of Romero House, a refugee transitional housing and settlement organization at the intersection of Bloor and Dundas West. It features stops at some of the key places of support for refugees in the neighbourhood and area known as the “West Bend”, including the facilities and programs of Romero House itself, the Four Villages Community Health Centre, and the First Contact program at the Red Cross. At each of these stops, members of the Romero House community – particularly people with lived experience as refugees – will give a short presentation about the location’s significance.

The City’s Best Hiding Places: A Geocaching Tour! May 1, 2015 | 04:00 PM

Geocaching is a new-ish hobby of mine, and it always teaches me something new about the city. The premise is simple: people hide little trinkets, stories, toys and other interesting things and mark the general location on a map atgeocaching.com. Every hidden “cache” has a hint, sometimes a riddle or poem, that you can use to find it. I’m going to start my tour at Danforth & Donlands, and then we’ll hunt for treasures, making our way east. I’ll likely hide a few things before the tour, but please bring some of your trinkets to leave for others. The best caches teach us something about the place they’re in, so I’ll be logging a few stories about the things I know about my neighbourhood, and sharing them with you when we find each cache.

Celebrating Helen! May 3, 2015 | 02:00 PM

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Helen Weinzweig’s birth, we are taking a Sunday stroll through the neighbourhood of her youth – the College-Bathurst-Spadina area. We’ll visit a number of sites that were important in the life of this wonderful novelist – and even see where she was courted by her husband-to-be, John Weinzweig. The walk will head east and end up at the First Narayever Congregation at 187 Brunswick Avenue. There, actors Esther Arbeid and Bella Larsen will perform a short dramatization of one of Helen’s most moving stories. The walk is approximately 12 city blocks and begins at 2 pm at 599 College Street (southwest corner of Clinton, kiddy corner to Cafe Diplomatico). It will continue east and eventually end up at 187 Brunswick Avenue, which is a few doors north of Harbord.

Hot City: see what is literally hot and cool in Toronto May 4, 2015 | 07:00 PM

DIALOG invites you to see the downtown core like you’ve never seen it before. We’ll discuss the development of design and building technology in our fair city by looking at some of Toronto’s most iconic architecture. Using a thermal imaging camera, we’ll show you how buildings perform by looking at the heat loss of their envelopes and discuss what that means in the context of city building. Join us and see what is literally hot and cool in Toronto. (Note: additional stops can be added if time permits)

Fresh Perspectives on Public Spaces in Thorncliffe & Flemingdon – May 3, 2015 | 01:00 PM

Local teens challenge the view that young people don’t get involved in their communities. These inspiring young people share how the community in which they live has changed while giving a sneak peak to some of their “down-low” hangout spaces, ideas on public spaces, and public art projects they have lead and are planning for 2015! Active Neighbourhoods Canada (ANC) look at the connections between the Don Valley ravine and the neighbourhoods of Thorncliffe and Flemingdon which have been a major focus of the Participatory Urban Planning project ‘Active Neighbourhoods Canada’. In the Janes Walk this year, we will collaborate with local youth to tell the story of the ravine and how the connections can be improved in simple ways to make them more inviting and accessible for residents.****LAST ONE!  (This one looks more like traditional historical walking tour, but I think the topic needs your attention)

Labour Opposes War Walking Tour – May 3, 2015 | 10:00 AM

A walking tour of downtown Toronto will explore labour’s stand (100 years ago) against conscription and the conditions working people faced during the years of World War I. Canadian labour fought against workers being used as cannon fodder while huge profits were being made and well-to-do officers participated in the war in much safer conditions. The tour will highlight the key events and experience of working class men and women during those dynamic days. David Kidd will provide the historical background while Paul Bilodeau and Cheryl Robb will provide the actual words of labour leaders and other participants of the time. The walk is taking place on Sunday, May 3, 2015 at 10 am. The meeting place is Southwest corner of Shuter Street and Church Street, across from 167 Church Street. This walk is co-presented by Jane’s Walk, George Brown School of Labour and Christian Peacemaker Teams Canada and co-sponsored by Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) National. Invite your friends to join you on this walking tour: https://www.facebook.com/events/1434530080178983/

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 6.13.05 PM

Taken from this year’s 2015 Jane’s Walk Poster http://janeswalk.org/information/resources/posters-and-logos/


Anti-Oppression – What’s in a name?


This is guest post was written by Nicole Bernhardt, a human rights and equity specialist.

As a person who regularly runs workshops on equity issues I have found myself in many conversations about what terms best describe the sort of work that I do.  The buzzwords ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ have surged in popularity amongst banks, governments and community organizations alike, so why do so many social justice practitioners, like myself and Nico, cling to the terminology of ‘anti-oppression’?  You be the judge, after reviewing the following brief introduction to an ‘anti-oppression framework’ and its difference from diversity frameworks.

‘Anti-oppression’ sees the world that we live in as composed of unequal power relations.  These unequal power relations are the product of a collective history in which Canada failed to recognize women as people, attempted to exterminate indigenous peoples, and considered Black and indigenous people to be property.  Accordingly, an anti-oppression framework is attentive to these histories and the continuing effect of these histories on the places where we live, work, learn and play.

What are we “anti”?

Anti-oppression sounds like an inherently negative term to some, in part because it begins with the negative – “anti”.  This “anti” stands in recognition of the work that still needs to be done and the struggles that are ongoing.  This “anti” is opposed to the denial of inequality by folks who claim that we are all equal now.  This “anti” is committed to challenging existing power relations.  And crucially, this “anti” is opposed to oppression, in all its forms, and makes an effort to avoid repeating this oppression within collective actions, workshops, and community initiatives.

What oppression?

Oppression has been described by publicautonomy.org as

a pattern of persistent and systematic disadvantage imposed on large groups of people, in many domains of social life, including employment, social status, treatment by the legal system, vulnerability to violence, and more; e.g. racial oppression, gender oppression, etc.”

Oppressions include deep-rooted class relations that allow a small portion of a population to continually get richer, while others are left without adequate food or safe housing.  Oppressions can also include being randomly stopped by police based on the colour of your skin.  Oppressions also impact who has access to citizenship rights within Canada and who will be treated as an outsider.

What is not anti-oppression work?

Anti-oppression work is significantly different from certain kinds of diversity and inclusion work which claim that including people from different backgrounds is simply good for business.  This ‘business case for diversity’ approach stresses that by including a variety of people from different cultures and backgrounds we get better innovations and links to global markets.  The troubling part of this approach is that it puts added pressure on the ‘diverse new addition’ to ‘perform their diversity’ by being unique, novel, and above all different.  It can feel like the organizational version of “I always wanted a friend who is gay/Black/Asian/insert-your-difference-here.”

This approach also fails to consider why this difference was being excluded in the first place.  Anti-oppression work goes beyond reflecting on our own personal biases, to consider what structural biases or privileges are in place.  While personal bias-based work asks us to look in the mirror, anti-oppression work asks us to hold the mirror up to the society we live in.

What does anti-oppression work look like?

Anti-oppression work can look like all kinds of different collective actions, community organizations, transformative workshops, and change initiatives.  What all anti-oppression work has in common is that it recognizes that oppressions are not based in single, interpersonal events; but are instead present in systems, organizations and social structures that disadvantage groups of people.  Anti-oppression work seeks collective strategies to counter these oppressions and insists on systemic change.

Examples of anti-oppression work may include:

  • reviewing your organization’s policies and practices to identify any barriers to accessibility
  • partnering with community organizations that connect with members of marginalized groups
  • creating a ‘priority speakers’ list’ at meetings and workshops that invites those who have traditionally been left out to speak first

So, what’s in a name?  A commitment to collective change based on recognizing collective struggles.

Want to learn more? Check out these online resources:

Nicole Bernhardt is an experienced trainer, investigator and mediator in the fields of equity, anti-harassment, and human rights. In addition to her professional activities, she is currently completing a PhD at York University, conducting research into the efficacy of systemic equity-driven change efforts within the framework of human rights. Find out more about her work http://www.nicolebernhardt.com/ 

12 Global Education Spaces for Social Change (PART 2)

If you haven’t already, check out my first post on education spaces for social change.

Ready for more? Here are your next six education spaces for social change starting with a classic eco-village.

 Findhorn (Scotland)


Located on the northern tip of Scotland, Findhorn is primarily an eco-village where people live year-round. They host a variety of workshops, ranging from permaculture, sustainable living,  biomimicry, facilitation.  Much of their programming focuses on elements of spiritually and personal development.

Part of Findhorn Eco-Village http://www.findhorn.org/

Biomimicry workshop (http://ben.biomimicry.net)


United Nation’s University for Peace/ Earth Charter Initiative (Costa Rica)


The mission of UPEACE is to “to provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace”. Big ambitions! Check out some of their Masters-level programs.

It also hosts the Earth Charter Initiative, one of the leading centres and networks for education for sustainable development. It trains youth from around the world to learn about environmental education, leadership and the Earth Charter itself.

2013 UN University for Peace Model UN Conference. http://pacenycmundotorg.files.wordpress.com


Barefoot College (India)


Grandmothers teaching grandmothers to be solar power engineers! That’s Barefoot College.

Since 1972, they’ve trained women from from villages of India and Eastern Africa to be “midwives, handpump mechanics, solar engineers, artisans, weavers, balsevika (crèche teachers), parabolic solar cooker engineers, FM radio operators and fabricators, dentist, masons, and day and night school teachers”. 

If that doesn’t impress you, (and, seriously, how could that not impress you???), consider that most of the learning happens cooperatively at their campus without formal textbooks, and even without a common language.


Similar to the other education spaces mentioned, Barefoot College considers itself “a centre of learning and unlearning, where the teacher is the learner and the learner a teacher; where no certificates, degrees or diplomas are given“.


Community Development Resource Centre (South Africa)

Community Development Resource Centre (CDRA) office in Cape Town https://www.facebook.com/communitydevelopmentresourceassociation

Community Development Resource Centre (CDRA) office in Cape Town https://www.facebook.com/communitydevelopmentresourceassociation

The Community Development Resource Association (CDRA) has been offering organizational and community development workshops in Cape Town, South Africa since 1987.

Kayum Ahmed, CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission facilitates a session on Human Rights Education and How to Bridge the Values Gap — at Community Development Resource Association (CDRA). https://www.facebook.com/communitydevelopmentresourceassociation/

Kayum Ahmed, CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission facilitates a session on Human Rights Education and How to Bridge the Values Gap — at Community Development Resource Association (CDRA). https://www.facebook.com/communitydevelopmentresourceassociation/

CDRA is often called upon by international development agencies to consult and they also host regular workshops and seminars on community development, advanced facilitation and organization development.

I visited CDRA in 2006 and was impressed by their facilitation style, commitment to participation and their cozy house. There, in their community development library (yes, they even have a librarian), I discovered John Dewey’s philosophy on experiential learning. Doug Reeler (featured below) told me that Dewey’s book might change my life. Note to Doug: You were right!

Rochdale College (Toronto)

Rochdale College Building http://www.alexmorrison.org/

Although it no longer exists, Rochdale College is worth a quick mention. For a few years in the late 1960s, the University of Toronto opened a radical cooperative learning school.


The fact that Canada’s major University built an massive complex for students to live and learn cooperatively is a feat that should remind us of the potential for future learning spaces.

Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (India)

UNESCO MGIEP Distinguished Lecture, presented by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in New Delhi

UNESCO’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) is the latest education space for social change.

MGIEP hopes to become a research and education space for sustainable development, peace and global citizenship. They plan to embed these concepts in teaching curriculums, strengthen governmental educational policies, host youth programs, and develop innovative tools and methodologies for educators. Check out their upcoming work with game developers.

The new UNESCO MGIEP team http://mgiep.unesco.org/blog/lecture-irina-bokova-director-general-unesco/

12 Global Education Spaces for Social Change That You Need to Know About

I love spaces that bring people together to learn.

You name it. Libraries, community centres, recreation spaces, parks, town halls. My favourite are spaces that say “we can make this world a bit better by learning together”. I love those spaces so much that I did a Masters degree on what they look like and how they came to be.

The kind of spaces I think work best don’t require exams, formal qualifications, years of time, or hundreds of thousands of dollars to apply. That’s right! Take a look through my list of 12 education spaces that support social and democratic change that you need to know about.

Let me ease you into this world starting with…

Folk High Schools  (Scandinavia)

Wendelsbergs Folkhögskola in Sweden http://commons.wikimedia.org/

I am a big fan of Folk High Schools. So much so, I visited a few in Norway and Sweden, and wrote an article detailing one of them in a Canadian magazine.

So what are these things?

Folk high schools or folkehøgskoles are a type of Scandinavian community college. They emerged through the vision of Danish Bishop N. F. S. Grundtvig during the 19th century. He imagined a humanist model of adult education to counter what he saw as “schools of death”.  I love that quote.

Vadres Folk High School http://www.folkehogskole.no/

Mostly, folk high schools are small post-secondary residential learning centres that emphasize creating a sense of community and engaging with civil society.  Their curriculums are often influenced by the physical and social assets of a given community and are typically promoted to youth aged 18-to-25 as a year for personal development before focusing on a professional or academic career.

One hundred thousand students each year attend folk high schools and more than three hundred schools exist across Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

International People's College in Denmark http://www.ipc.dk/

International People’s College in Denmark http://www.ipc.dk/

Each school has a specific focus, such as on visual art, theatre, outdoor leadership, religious studies, organic agriculture, boat building and many other themes.

They make my list because a handful of them have curriculum based around politics, advocacy, social justice, international development and peace-building. These include the Nansen Academy in Norway and International People’s College in Denmark (above).

Greenland’s Folk High School – Knud Rasmussen Højskolia http://www.krh.gl/

Over the past hundred years, Grundtvig’s idea was passed around in eastern Europe, South Asia and even Canada. Greenland’s Knud Rasmussen Højskolia for example (pictured above), keeps the tradition of adapting curriculum to fit the needs and interests of the local community and focuses on indigenous language learning, art and craftsmanship.

Bonus point: It is illegal to charge for tuition to folk high schools in Sweden. Just sayin’.

Piqqusilirivvik (Nunavut, Canada)


For a couple decades, the Inuit of Nunavut had been studying at Greenland’s Knud Rasmussen folk high school. They decided it was time to create their folk high school. The result was Piqqusilirivvik which opened in in Clyde River Nunavut in 2011/2012.


Piqqusilirivvik hosts programs focused on traditional Inuit knowledge, values and beliefs; hunting and fishing skills; and land use and survival skills, among other issues.

The community of Clyde River, Nunavut

The International Youth Initiative Program (Sweden)


I had a chance to visit the International Youth Initiative Program (YIP) which falls under the folk high school umbrella in Sweden. In their own words, YIP is ” a holistic education in Järna, Sweden that gives youth 18-28 a chance to explore their fullest potential and take initiative towards a better world.”

I’ve also written about my experience visiting YIP here.


YIP is based in Ytterjärna, a sort of cultural capital for the teachings of Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Waldorf schools and other education, healthcare and business philosophies. Influenced by Steiner’s anthroposophy, YIP’s curriculum also focuses on community engagement, social entrepreneurship, internships and self-reflection.


Much like other folk high schools, at YIP, students and teachers live, reflect and learn together. During my visit, Edgard Gouveia Júnior, pictured above in the purple coat, discussed the importance of play and place-based initiatives. (If you’re interested in asset based community development, you should read about his Oasis Games)

I recommend exploring YIP’s online videos and web content to better understand the experiences of their teachers and learners.


Highlander Research and Education Center (USA)

Highlander is one of the longest running education centres for social change in North America. Founded in 1932, it has trained organizers and community activists during the labour movements of the 30s and 40s, civil right movement organizers in the 50s and 60s and actvists and organizers in the ongoing struggles of the past 50 years.

Martin Luther King J and Rosa Parks as students of Highlander http://www.paulofreireschool.org

Yes that’s right. Both Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks were students at Highlander early on.

In 1955, Rosa Parks took part in desegregation workshops at Highlander and after 6 months of organizing, she helped spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Popular belief sometimes assumes she was just an “old lady just wanting a seat”. Wrong! This was a planned protest that took years to organize!

The Highlander building itself. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/

These days, Highlander hosts a number of seminars and workshops for people from across the United States and abroad. A big focus is protecting migrant workers’ rights and learning about strategies for economic justice.

Highlander use popular education, a highly participatory method of learning and moving towards collective action. Note the rocking’ chairs which are a staple of Highlander. http://highlandercenter.org/

Highlander uses popular education, a highly participatory method of learning and moving towards collective action. If you want to know more about popular education and its use at Highlander, I would highly recommend reading We Make The Road By Walking, a book that records an interview held by popular education theorist Paulo Freire and Highlander founder Myles Horton.

Fun fact! Myles Horton visited Denmark to learn about the folk high schools, and then adapted his own version in the United States. C’mon. Geek out with me here, people.


The Coady International Institute (Nove Scotia, Canada)


The Coady International Institute, or “The Coady” has been offering community-based development and leadership education since 1959.

Hosted at St. Francis Xavier University (St.FX) in Nova Scotia, Canada, the Institute offers scholarships and certificates for international community development practitioners in creating resilient communities, promoting democracy, and building women, youth and indigenous leadership.


The Coady’s philosophy and programs are highly influenced by its historical connection to social change.

In the late 1920s a number of different stakeholders from rural Nova Scotia came together to find solutions to economic depression in Atlantic Canada. Led by St.FX’s Extension department, Rev. Dr. Moses Coady and Rev. Jimmy Tompkins, they helped rural communities create study circles to discuss the possibility of developing co-operatives and credit unions.

Over the next ten years, more than one hundred co-ops were created across the Maritimes in what was called The Antigonish Movement. After twenty years of community organizing and cooperative development, many international students began coming to St. FX to learn about the movement.

Moses Coady http://www.tourismantigonish.ca/

So you thought you could leave without hearing about folk high schools one more time? No way! Prior to the Movement, Rev. Jimmy Tompkins’ initially wanted to create a “People’s School” like the folk high schools of Denmark.

Six more education spaces in part 2! No more folk high schools I promise.

Move on to part 2…

MOOCs for Community Developers in 2015

MOOCs! Massive Online Open Courses are university courses offered online to the public. Thousands or even a hundreds of thousands of students can register for each course from all over the world for free.

A year ago, I signed up for a MOOC on how to design online courses…and it was terrible. It wasn’t clear how to engage with the content, teachers or students and I soon lost interest. Rightly so, there are plenty of folks talking about MOOC’s failures. That being said, there were likely tens of thousands of people enrolled around the world that gained valuable learnings for free. So, not all bad?

I recently saw a post on 260 MOOCs starting this January 2015 on OpenCulture.com . Sifting through, I assembled a smaller list of MOOCs starting in January 2015 for community developers like you! In case you were wondering, the courses are a bit light on advocacy. You won’t find “Revolution 101” here. Sorry :)

Free Courses Credential Key
CC = Certificate of Completion
CA = Certificate of Accomplishment
HCC – Honor Code Certificate
VC$ = Verified Certificate
VCA$ = Verified Certificate of Accomplishment
SA  = Statement of Accomplishment
SP$ = Statement of Participation
CM = Certificate of Mastery
NI – No Information About Certificate Available
NC = No Certificate



Online Learning



Sustainable Development




International Development

Organizational Development

How to lead a good walk


Photos taken during Belly Full: A History of Hunger Resistance in Parkdale

I love creating ways for people to engage with their local area; to connect, share and be critical in their day-to-day spaces. A pretty rad way to do that is to lead a group of people on a good walk*.

But how do you lead a walk that is interesting, that educates and that makes some kind of positive change in your local area?

I thought a lot about this question while creating the Choreographer pilot program with Jane’s Walk. As the organizers of a global walking festival in 100 cities, Jane’s Walk has some great resources and introduced me to a few more ideas that I’d like to share.

But first, let us start the revolution, reach world peace and end poverty … starting with my own neighbourhood walk.

Of course, you’ll have to read my uber popular neighbourhood walking guide. It details my super cool neighbourhood and even offers concrete strategies to make it a better place. My guide may transform you, your friends, your community, the world even!

But you’re right. You deserve better. Fine. I’ll lead you around, see the sights and you can take part in my amazing copyrighted “walk for good lecture”! Still not enough!? Ah! You are a greedy one. You want the best. OK I’ll tell you everything you want to know and everything there ever was, I’ll find a room for you, and we’ll meet every single neighbour of mine and we’ll walk everyday for the rest of our lives!!!

No. This is the wrong place to start. Think about what the aim of a good walk actually is.

To use a quote from Tilden’s Principles, a good walk “is not instruction, but provocation”. To provoke, you must infuse yourself with your surroundings, be confronted and uncomfortably challenged by what you see, reflect with others (real actual groups of people) and act. And re-act. One way to do that, is facilitating a walking conversation with people.


When planning your own walk, begin with this idea: ‘a walking conversation’. Next, add a few of these starters below.  By starters I mean, start here and figure out the rest later.

Permission to inquire

This is a mindset. As a walk organizer, you need to make sure everyone who is participating is given permission to investigate, lead, take a step, poke, prod and figure things out when they are curious. It’s not enough to say “feel free to ask any questions at any time”. There are reasons why people speak and others do not. Think about what those reasons might be, counter them and make space. Offer multiple ways to inquire, like asking a partner, talking in small groups, writing questions, touching and hearing the space, creating time to explore individually, and making space for silence.

Local Expertise

Really sit with this idea. I know it’s tempting to want a certified expert, with some kind of degree, to tell you things. It feels trustworthy and you want the facts. But we are all experts in our lives, so why privilege only a few? Look for expertise in all the shapes it comes in: personal stories, anecdotes, exciting moments, things people like and don’t like, skills, talents, people who have 50 years experience living in an area and people who just moved there. Practically, this looks like validating people’s living knowledge. It doesn’t mean throwing out the history books, but it does mean relating to the ways history affects the present and future lives.

Multiple Perspectives

This is both a starter and an organizing tip. Share different stories from different points of view. This doesn’t mean that you can give a neutral “some say this, and some say that” approach. No. Try to show how the same story affects people differently. Logistically, find different people to help you both facilitate and tell their story, for example as a stop along a walk. Who are the people on your street? Stop in and find out.

50 / 50

I really like the simplicity of this one. Try to work towards 50% of the conversation coming from you and other speakers and 50% of the conversation coming from the rest of the group.

Remember the “walk lecture” I mentioned? That’s 100% of a walk leader’s voice. One voice, one story. This completely disregards the audience’s experience and knowledge. Not cool. 100% from the crowd can be interesting but your fellow walkers might not be expecting that. In my experience, people want to make sure there is some kind of control in how a walk runs. They will be looking to you for a little direction.

Sure, you might end up 75/25 and that’s OK! Just remind yourself to work towards an equal dialogue in every walk, and you’ll do just fine.

Sorry. I’m going to confuse you. Not just 50/50. Some voices carry more weight, while others are under-represented. Find those silent voices and increase the volume when you can.

Next Steps

Great walk! Time to go home and forget about it! Boooo. That’s not right. A good walk never ends. It is a living walk.

People might think about your walk years later, and it might have truly impacted them, but further impact takes action. Make sure your walk nudges folks towards a next step. That could be almost anything, from future events, meeting, petitions, local groups, websites, email, anything that encourages the discussion to continue in person after the last stop of the walk. It’s really simple to do, but often forgotten.



These starters came mostly from my work with Jane’s Walk  – with major thanks and support from Toronto Community Foundation – and a recent meeting with Dan Monafu from de(tour) Ottawa (check them out now!). Thank you all for inspiring me to write it all down.

Finally, it is important to remember that a good walk is not easy. But if you take some of these starters seriously, your walk will educate, be interesting and leave people thirsty for more questions than answers (a good thing!).

*I use the term walk to explain what experiencing a physical space in motion is like. It is a multiple-abled experience and can be done by wheelchair, by cane and by bike. As long as the “walker” can stop and converse with someone else while in motion – I say it’s a walk!

Old Town Ramble & Ride


The 8th Old Town Ramble & Ride festival ran for 3 full days in Yellowknife North West Territories of Canada.  It is an eco-friendly festival put on by the businesses, artists and musicians of Old Town, one of Canada’s most unique neighbourhoods, to celebrate Old Town’s remarkable character and culture. The festival has elements of a traditional community art and music festival as well as encouraging the public to ramble (walk) and ride (cycle) through their community similar to open streets/ cyclovia. It is now one of the largest summer festivals in the city of Yellowknife in the North West Territories of Canada. ( Photo by Jack Danylchuk)

Nico Koenig did a wonderful job of coordinating the Ramble and Ride Festival in our community ”

– Mark Heyck, Mayor of Yellowknife since 2012

There were over 50 events organized during the festival which included craft workshops, live music, food and art market, boat rentals, pallet painting, art shows, houseboats visits, story telling and kids activities. In the spirit of Old Town, there was a large 100 person bike rally on Friday evening as well as numerous walking tours held across Old Town for the public.

Position: Coordinator


  • The first Old Town Art Show hosted 100 pieces of art inspired by Old Town by 20 artists
  • The Mayor of Yellowknife led a walk from Pilot’s Monument to open a renovated Government Dock
  • 18 musical acts played throughout town finishing with the Old town Jamboree organized by Indio
  • 24 Food and Art Vendors were organized along a pedestrian-only McDonald Dr and Government Dock
  • 5 walking tours including the Bird Walk, Garden Walk, Architecture and History tour
  • 1000+ visitors to our festival during the weekend with more than 600 attending each day

Press and Research:

Website and Social Media:

Old Town Ramble & Ride Website

Twitter @OldTownYK

Facebook Old Town Ramble & Ride


 Photo by Jack DanylchukIMG_20140803_153000~2





Vote Tag: Federal Election Facebook Voting App

votetag-final Vote Tag was a Facebook application that helped users remind their Facebook friends about the 2011 Canadian Federal Election and receive voting and political party information. Launched as an experiment in April 2011. Position: Team Leader Results: 

  • 3000 Facebook users used Vote Tag in three days

Partners and Friends: Senning Luk Danielle Olsen Leadnow

Jane’s Walk


Jane’s Walks are free, locally organized walking tours, in which people get together to explore, talk about and celebrate their neighbourhoods. Since 2007, this homegrown phenomenon has expanded, now reaching 44 cities in Canada and 100 more cities around the world. In 2014, 157 free walks were organized in during the first weekend of May in Toronto alone with topics ranging from understanding the refugee experience to exploring urban history and architecture.


With Jane’s Walk, I was asked to create and facilitate a train-the-trainer program called Neighbourhood Choreographers. Participants from suburban neighbourhoods would be trained to encourage, support and “choreograph” their local community in the process of leading their first Jane’s Walk. The following year, I worked with the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, to develop the capacity of neighbourhood organizers in Halton Municipality to use public walking conversations as a way to engage with the Greenbelt and other issues related local sustainable development.

Position: Program Manager, Jane’s Walk (International Headquarters in Toronto)


  • Choreographer program guide and training curriculum developed with best practices and activities
  • 30 Neighbourhood Choreographers trained across suburban Toronto, Halton and Hamilton Municipalities in Ontario, who initiated 35 community Jane’s Walk activities
  • Initiated and coordinated partnerships and trainings with community-based agencies and funders including Action For Neighbourhood Change offices, Toronto Public Libraries, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Community Health Centres, the City of Toronto and Community Development Halton.

Impact on Walk Festival

  • 300% increase in number of walks in the Etobicoke Lakeshore region due to the Choreographers
  • 25 total suburban walks inspired by the Choreographer program
  • 9 new community agencies recruited to organize their first Jane’s Walk
  • 75% retention of returning community agencies previously involved in Community Walks program

Website and Social Media:

Jane’s Walk Jane’s Walk: Neighbourhood Choreographer Program
Jane’s Walk: Highlighted Choreographer-led Walks
Choregrapher: Amitis Nouroozi


Spacing Magazine  How Jane’s Walk is engaging with suburban community “choreographers” (Summer 2014)

Partners and Friends: Tides Canada Toronto Community Foundation East Scarborough Storefront Bathurst – Finch Action for Neighbourhood Change Office LAMP Community Health Centre

Elysse Choreographer Still 8


Choreographer Certificates