Public spaces are the heart and the lungs of our cities: they allow for communities to gather and provide valuable green space and programming for physical activity, socializing, and relaxation. For the Public Space is Public Health panel, we assemble speakers who look at public space through the lenses of green equity and gentrification, human-centred design, architecture and policy. Neuroscientist Robin Mazumdar, professor and researcher Lorein Nesbitt, urbanist and fitness ambassador Gervais Nash, and Bentway project lead Robert McKaye share their experiences and insights about how to protect and enhance our public spaces, for the health and happiness of city dwellers.
Design for Wellbeing Fellow Maighdlyn Hadley moderates the discussion, and we will close out with a Q+A period.
Robin Mazumder is an award winning urban neuroscientist with a keen interest in understanding how living in cities impacts well-being. His PhD research, funded by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, used wearable technology in real and immersive virtual reality settings to examine psychological and physiological responses to the urban built environment. His research interests are informed by his clinical experience working as mental health occupational therapist in the urban cores of Canadian cities, including Toronto and Edmonton. Working with individuals with mental illnesses in urban environments provoked curiosity into how different settings, from busy streets to parks, inhibited or supported wellbeing. Robin's hands-on clinical experience, in conjunction with his training in urban neuroscience, uniquely positions him to collaborate with scientists, practitioners, policy makers, and the public to create healthy urban environments. In addition to his research, Robin is an outspoken advocate for urban design that supports wellbeing, and has given more than 30 keynotes internationally on the topic. He is also passionate about science communication and has been interviewed by and written for major media publications, including the BBC, CBC, Huffington Post and Wired Magazine.
Lorien Nesbitt seeks to create more liveable and equitable urban environments. During her career, she has had the privilege of working with communities and organizations across Canada and internationally to achieve environmental and sustainability goals. In the realm of environmental justice, her current research is particularly concerned with understanding the nature and dynamics of green gentrification, i.e., the physical or psychological displacement of residents due to local greening activities.
Lorien's research focuses on urban forestry and socio-ecological interactions in urban environments, with an emphasis on environmental justice, human health, well-being, and climate change. She uses mixed methods approaches to gather information for her research, including her current examination of four interrelated topics: (1) the relationship between greenness exposure and public health in urban environments, with a focus on adaptation to climate change-induced heat stress;
2) urban forest governance systems that promote resilience and equity;
3) smart technologies and their applications in urban forestry; and
4) environmental justice in multicultural cities.
She has been named a Green College Leading Scholar at UBC, where she is an assistant professor of urban forestry.
Special Projects Lead at The Bentway
Robert McKaye is an interdisciplinary designer, educator, and maker with a background in interactive art and architecture. As Special Projects Lead at The Bentway, he is responsible for the development and realization of ambitious and innovative public art and expansion strategies. He is interested in harnessing the power of environmental and human capital to create unique and accessible experiences.
Robert comes to The Bentway after several years in the emerging research and development arm of Canadian architecture firm, KPMB. Working with advanced tools for microclimate analysis and generative design, his projects explored how to infuse data-driven processes with traditional design methodologies. From 2016-2019, he acted as project architect for Canada’s Diversity Gardens at the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, a horticultural centre celebrating the diversity of people and plants. In his own time, he has explored the realm of public art through experiments and installations in prototyping and digital fabrication. Robert has exhibited his work at Toronto’s Nuit Rose, Barcelona’s Festival of Lights and EASA Links in Valletta, Malta.
Gervais is an advocate for urban equity, for accessible health resources, and for high-quality public spaces. He is an ambassador for outdoor workout parks in the city of Toronto under the pseudonym Coach Nash. He hosts outdoor, at-distance workouts in small groups at a variety of west end parks and is working to raise awareness of the availability of this equipment. He teaches the versatile discipline of calisthenics, a type of exercise using one's own body weight as the resistance.
He holds an undergraduate degree in urban and regional planning from Ryerson University (2019). In the property development space, he has experience leading the public engagement and consultation program at Cloverdale Mall for QuadReal property group from 2018 to 2020. The property is among many smaller neighborhood malls undergoing the transition to a mixed-use community and will feature a workout park upon completion, along with many more park amenities and an ambitious public space offering along a new commercial high road.
A lack of Black and Indigenous representation in his educational experience prompted him to join in co-creating the Mentorship Initiative for Indigenous and Planners of Colour (MIIPOC) in 2019. It is their mission to reduce barriers to employment for racialized groups whose perspectives have been historically missing in the field of urban planning. He is currently working with the Black Planning Project to create a directory of Black-owned land development firms and Black land development consultants.
Maighdlyn is a proponent of design for wellbeing. Trained as an architect, she believes in the ability of spatial design to change minds. She is currently a project lead at Hume, and gained experience at studios in Europe and North America. A recent MArch alumna of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, she worked as a graduate research assistant for the Humanics Lab to understand the role of design processes in creating positive spatial experiences.
Maighdlyn has pursued design research about spaces which cater to mental health for a neurodiverse public, and wants to take steps to improve the process of knowledge translation from cognition science findings to design. Restorative environments are an area of academic interest. Through her fellowship at the Centre for Conscious Design, she seeks opportunities to promote health and wellbeing through design. Maighdlyn’s name is pronounced “MAD-lin”.