Calgary does #WeAreCities

We Are Cities Campaign: Promises to Canadian Cities.

Groundforce Digital
5 min readAug 6, 2015


While most case studies give you recipes and results in hindsight, we invite you to join Groundforce Digital on a journey as we document the progress of the We Are Cities campaign. Read We Are Cities: Part 1 on how great campaigns work here.

By Elena Yunusov

How do you engage Canadians from coast to coast in making their cities better places to live, work, and play? The We Are Cities campaign, launched in February 2015, puts the urban agenda on the table — literally.

Since the We Are Cities launch, roundtable conversations have been taking place all over Canada.

  • To date, 39 roundtables have taken place in 33 cities — from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador to Victoria, British Columbia.
  • The We Are Cities Community Innovation Grant was born. Would you just look at all the winning projects!
  • Over 800 ideas have been submitted.
  • 2,388 people have joined the campaign.

Thousands of people have felt inspired by the We Are Cities approach to facilitating discussion about complex, systemic urban challenges.

“Cities are where the majority of Canadians call home. They generate over 70 percent of Canada’s GDP and are capitals of knowledge and skills, innovation, opportunity and shared experiences. Cities will solve some of the most complex challenges we face and chart a new path forward that enhances Canada’s prosperity and quality of life.” — John Brodhead, Executive Director, Evergreen CityWorks

Image from @WiTOpoli We Are Cities roundtables invitation

Who organized We Are Cities roundtables?

So what goes into organizing successful roundtables all over Canada? It’s been all about doing more with less, getting creative with digital tools, and keeping it simple. serves as a central hub for the campaign, where people can sign up to host a roundtable, or find a session in their city and RSVP. Hosts follow a structured facilitation agenda, and all the ideas and conversations get captured and analyzed.

Here’s how Vasiliki Bednar, Associate Director of Cities at the Martin Prosperity Institute got involved with the campaign:

“I initially saw the #WeAreCities hashtag on twitter, and went to the website, and read a bit more about the campaign. I signed up to host my own roundtable — it was pretty easy. I thought we would get some interesting perspectives if we invite a group of women to talk about their ideas for the city. Cities are the economic engines of the country, and people identify with their cities when they want to participate in civic process. Cities are our backyards.” — Vasiliki Bednar

Bednar signed up on to co-host one of #WeAreCities roundtables in Toronto, alongside Jane Hilderman, Executive Director of Samara Canada, with support from Women in Toronto Politics. That roundtable hit capacity within days.

Darrin Foster attended the first roundtable in Toronto, and summarized the common themes that emerged, such as the need for a national urban narrative.

“Think about the image we project to the world and each other. Mountains, wilderness, lakes and rivers, wide open spaces, coureurs de bois and moose. How about a little game of pick-up shinny on a frozen pond?

Yet we are decidedly an urban nation with 80% of us living in some variation of a city configuration. What are the things that unite people living in Calgary with those in Montreal and St. John’s? We have to work together to establish an urban narrative that reflects the reality of the type of country Canada actually is.” — Darrin Foster

The city archetype exercise seems especially helpful in provoking a new way of thinking and teasing out an alternative dialogue about the characteristics of Canadian cities.

Zahra Ebrahim of archiTEXT put it best, saying that people have enjoyed being part of a process that’s not already set in stone.

“The end game hasn’t been defined quite so clearly, and because it’s an emergent strategy, everyone who gets involved can shape how this We Are Cities project looks and influence the path.” — Zahra Ebrahim

Canadians love their cities.

If there’s one common theme emerging from the roundtables all over Canada, it’s love. Canadians love their cities, and they love talking about them. Really, #WeAreCities is an urban lovefest of sorts — a shared space to discuss what works and what doesn’t. What small steps can each of us take to make our cities work better? What can we collectively achieve?

Calgarians made this awesome art during Calgary’s first #WeAreCities roundtable

At the end of each roundtable, people made promises to their city. That’s thousands of promises being made and kept, thousands of personal commitments.

“People commit to a specific action and timelines. I found it very powerful to hear the breadth and depth of initiatives — I left feeling inspired and motivated,”- Chris Cowperthwaite, Founder and CEO, Groundforce Digital.

Get Involved!

Part of what makes We Are Cities such a unique campaign is that we’re all figuring it out together. We Are Cities crosses geographical and ideological boundaries, and makes space for new ideas, ways of thinking, and promises. What promise for change would you pledge to your city, if you could make it into a reality? What is the one thing you can do to make your city work better? Who can you connect with to work on your idea?

So why not vote on some of the excellent ideas, read a roundtable recap or two, and think about making your city work better. Please stay tuned for an action plan to be released in late 2015 or early 2016!

To subscribe for campaign updates, visit:

About Groundforce Digital: We work at the intersection of politics, technology, business and community. We help organizations grapple with complex community organizing challenges by laying down digital infrastructure designed to allow a new generation of civic leaders to experiment and chart new paths forward.



Groundforce Digital

Digital strategy, product and campaign studio. Posts by @cswc.