Jennifer Keesmaat

Jennifer Keesmaat

Former Chief Planner, City of Toronto | Renowned Urbanist

Jennifer Keesmaat is passionate about creating places where people flourish. Named one of the “most powerful people in Canada” by Maclean’s, one of the “most influential” by Toronto Life, and one of the top Women of Influence in Canada, she spent five years as Toronto’s Chief City Planner, where she was celebrated for her forward thinking and collaborative approach to city-building.

A Distinguished Visitor in Residence Emeritus at the University of Toronto, Keesmaat continues to share her vision for cities of the future, and her belief in the importance of public sector leadership through a variety of publications including The Guardian, Macleans, The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and on her podcast, Invisible City, where she covers a broad range of future city and technological topics.

Over the past fifteen years, as a founding partner of the Office for Urbanism and subsequently Dialog, Keesmaat has worked in municipalities across Canada and around the world on urban design guidelines, official plan reviews, culture strategies, and university campus master plans. She has been recognized for her expertise in transit planning, heritage preservation, strategy development, communications, sustainable economic development, and the creation of walkable, complete communities.

In 2018, Keesmaat ran for Mayor in the City of Toronto on a progressive, visionary platform that included addressing the housing crisis by building at scale on city owned land and implementing a Rent-to-Own program; neighbourhood-based crime prevention through the development of Community Wellbeing Plans; redesigning city streets to prioritize vulnerable users; the development of five Cultural Hubs to instigate renewal outside of the core; and the tearing down of the Gardiner Expressway to build a new walkable, transit-oriented waterfront neighbourhood community.

Today, Keesmaat heads up The Keesmaat Group. With her team of city building experts, she provides inspiration through public speaking, and delivers impact through her consulting services pertaining to creating complete, walkable communities. She is also on the Advisory Board of the Urban Land Institute in Toronto and appointed to the International Panel of Experts for the Singapore Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Keesmaat has a Combined Honours degree in Philosophy and English from the University of Western Ontario, and a Masters in Environmental Studies, Politics, and Planning from York University. As a Registered Professional Planner, her work has been repeatedly recognized by professional associations, including the 2016 President’s Award of Excellence from the Canadian Institute of Planners, the 2016 Bryden Alumni Award from York University, and the 2017 City Builders Award from EDIT/the Design Exchange. Jennifer’s TED talks include “Walk to School,” “Own Your City,” and “Taxes, Democracy, and Our Shared Interest.”


Within Reach: Advancing Transformative Change

So many of the challenges we face seem insurmountable. A globe that is heating up around us. An upswing in authoritarianism, racism, division and conflict. A global refugee crisis. A world on the cusp of AI, grappling with privacy issues. Growing income inequality in our rapidly urbanizing cities.  And a generation of young people that fear access to stable housing might just be continually beyond their grasp.

In this fast changing, increasingly complex world, is there a way to advance transformative change? To grab hold of the things that matter most, and have an impact?

When we let our values guide us, we can prioritize our actions and our efforts, and change the world. We can transform our work places, communities, cities and our world.  We can build knowledge and understanding to inform strategic, transformative actions. And we can leverage our collective impact, to advance positive change.

It begins with identifying what is within reach.

Within Reach empowers people, organizations, and leaders to advance transformative change. We can green our planet, create inclusive work places and communities, and usher in prosperity for all.

This keynote will:

  • Inspire strategic thinking by focusing on your core values and prioritization as an organization, using case studies to identify how to move from vision to action
  • Help you to extend your influence and build momentum
  • Build knowledge and understanding to information strategic, transformative actions
  • Unlock meaningful change

Our Cities Will Define Our Future

While some may argue that the issues we face in the 21st century are insurmountable – global warming, peak oil, economic collapse – Jennifer Keesmaat believes that now is the best possible moment, locally, nationally, and internationally, to engage in city building and taking ownership of our shared future.

Jennifer issues a call to action which implores cities to best address the most pressing challenges of our day: global poverty, affordable housing, quality of life, the need for innovation, the economy, traffic congestion, and climate change.

Women In Leadership

It’s a man’s world. Or is it?  As a woman, navigating professional life and defining leadership in your sector is contingent on pushing past boundaries, inventing new ways of being, and drawing on the power of collaboration to nurture success for all in your workplace.

As the first woman – and youngest person – to hold the post of Chief Planner in the City of Toronto, Jennifer Keesmaat has a pretty interesting case study on this subject that she shares: her own story.

Event Host/Master of Ceremonies

Looking to give your event some flair that will make it light, inspiring, and worth the attention you have given to every detail? Let Jennifer Keesmaat, as the face and voice of your program, set the tone and create a lasting presence with her ability to weave together the context, commentary, people and personalities of the event into a warm and unique memory.