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Jennifer Keesmaat

June 18, 2018 by Speakers' Spotlight

We Designed Canada’s Cities for Cars, Not People — and the People are Dying

A renowned urbanist, Jennifer Keesmaat is passionate about creating places where people flourish. In an article for The Guardian, she makes an impassioned plea for cities to prioritize people over cars in response to a string of pedestrian and cyclist deaths on the streets of Toronto.

Over the past two years, 93 pedestrians or cyclists have died in Toronto. Jennifer writes that this number will only increase if we continue allowing cars to design our cities. She urges Canadian cities to pursue a people-focused lens so pedestrians, cyclists, and cars can live in harmony instead of constantly at odds.

Below is a segment from her article where she discusses what a healthy and safe city really looks like, you can read the whole article here.

Some will argue that road deaths are inevitable — that even if drivers follow the rules, humans will make mistakes, wander into traffic and die, and therefore we need to tolerate it. That is wrong. Humans will make mistakes – which is precisely why the environment should be designed with them in mind. If someone wanders into traffic — a child, a senior citizen — they don’t “deserve” to die. We must design our cities knowing that people make mistakes.

Two fundamentally contradictory visions are bumping up against each other. In the old model, if driving is the key to freedom, then cyclists and pedestrians need to get out of the way. They are audacious, misplaced and — even worse — entitled. Who and what are streets for, anyway? They are places to get through, and fast. Lowering speed limits to ensure pedestrians are safe makes no sense.

In the new model, however, streets aren’t just for getting through — they are places in their own right, designed for people, commerce, lingering and life. It’s the people, the human activity, that should come first. Cycling isn’t just for radicals and recreation, and lower speed limits make sense: they protect and enhance quality of city life. In Oslo, for example, where cars move slowly, an easy sharing of space takes place.

Inspired by the Norwegians, as well as the Dutch and the Danish, some urbanists on this side of the Atlantic have been trying to introduce the idea that, as the city gets denser, cycling and walking can become a great transportation option. But a choice must be made. The two models are based on competing philosophical assumptions. To straddle the two — as Toronto and so many other cities do — will continue to lead to tragic outcomes.

Named one of the “most powerful people in Canada” by Maclean’s, and one of the “most influential” by Toronto Life, Jennifer spent five years as Toronto’s Chief City Planner, where she was celebrated for her innovative and collaborative approach to city-building.

Interested in learning more about Jennifer and what she can bring to your next event? Email info@speakers.ca.