March 6-8, 2017 | Hotel Arts Calgary, AB


                                                  Presenting Sponsor



About the Conference

Heart of the City will bring together 100 people dedicated to city parks across Canada. Join us for two days of learning, collaboration and relationship building. Together, we will explore how we can harness the power of city parks for all Canadians.

We are also offering bursaries including some that cover all hotel and travel costs for qualified applicants. Our goal is to ensure that cost is not a barrier for prospective delegates.

Heart of the City is hosted by Park People, an independent charity that builds strong communities by animating and improving parks, in partnership with Calgary Parks.

Join Park People and Calgary Parks to:

  • Meet park leaders from across Canada
  • Hear from inspiring leaders speaking on ways they are re-imagining and enhancing city parks
  • Tour some of Calgary’s most innovative parks and public spaces, including St Patrick’s Island, the Rotary-Mattamy Greenway, and Reader Rock Garden
  • Participate in hands-on workshops
  • Share your ideas for the future of the Park People Network, a new national movement to support people’s involvement in Canada’s city parks

The conference has passed, but videos from the conference livestream are available on our website.

Conference Speakers and Sessions

Keynote Speakers


Adrian Benepe

A Senior Vice President and Director of City Park Development for The Trust for Public Land, Adrian Benepe is a leading expert on the nexus of the public, private, and non-profit sectors in public space development and management.

Born and raised in New York, Benepe served as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation for eleven years under Mayor Michael Bloomberg (part of a 27-year career in that department). During that time he oversaw a major expansion of the city’s parks system, including restoring historic parks such as Central Park and Battery Park, adding 730 acres of new parkland including Hudson River Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the High Line, and laying the groundwork for an additional 2,000 acres within the city.

In his career, Benepe has worked in leadership roles on park and public space conservation, design, construction, and operation, and in the areas of city planning, arts and culture, historic preservation, and landscape and urban design. Benepe held several positions within the Parks Department including Manhattan Commissioner, Director of Art & Antiquities, Director of Natural Resources & Horticulture, and Director of Public Information. Benepe also served as Vice President for Issues & Public Affairs at the Municipal Art Society and as Director of the Annual Fund and Major Gifts for the New York Botanical Garden.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Middlebury College, Benepe holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University, where he was awarded a Pulitzer Fellowship.



Jay Pitter

Jay Pitter, MES is an author, placemaker and senior stakeholder engagement professional. Throughout her career, Jay has spearheaded noteworthy projects with organizations such as the Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Community Housing, The Health and Safety Task Force, the City of Toronto, the Toronto District School Board and DIALOG, a national architecture firm. Her work has consistently resulted in increasing the capacity, resources and relationships required for co-creating more inclusive, safe, and vibrant cities. Jay has been a guest lecturer and faculty member within post-secondary institutions and has also co-led a number of participatory research processes. Most recently she collaborated with Westbank to increase community engagement in the Honest Ed’s redevelopment process, co-edited Subdivided, a Coach House anthology exploring inclusive city-building, and was one of two authors selected to be interviewed by Premier Kathleen Wynne at the recent Word on the Street Festival. She is currently the Director of Stakeholder Engagement with the Inspirit Foundation and shooting a five-part walk show with Bell Media.


Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities (via Webcast)


The Honourable Amarjeet Sohi is the Member of Parliament for Edmonton Mill Woods and the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. Prior to being elected Member of Parliament Amarjeet Sohi was a three-term Edmonton City Councillor. He was first elected in 2007 and then re-elected in 2010 and 2013.

Dedicated to improving Edmonton’s infrastructure and livability, Amarjeet represented the city on the Canadian Urban Transit Association, and is a strong advocate for Light Rail Transit. Amarjeet also advocated municipal interests to other orders of government through his delegation to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. He therefore understands the importance of building strong relationships between governments in order to build strong, vibrant and resilient communities.

Amarjeet works tirelessly to promote learning and cooperation among cultural communities. While on council he led City Council’s Immigration, Multiculturalism and Racism Free Edmonton initiatives.



Interactive sessions led by Canadian city park leaders

W1: Designing and Delivering Great Park Programming

The best city parks are designed with and animated by their communities. Learn about successful and innovative approaches to community engagement and share your experiences facilitating or participating in the design, stewardship and programming of city parks.

W2: Creating Park Partnerships that Work

City parks are increasingly the product of a host of partners working together to create, maintain and program them. There is tremendous value in partnerships but they can also present complex challenges. Hear firsthand how cities, non-profits and community groups across Canada are forging partnerships to benefit city parks.

W3: Citizen-led Change in Parks

Across Canada, people are harnessing the power of citizens to galvanize support for new and improved parks and park systems. Learn tips from community leaders in Halifax, Winnipeg and Montreal who are driving bottom-up efforts to transform parks and public spaces.

W4: Animating Parks in all Seasons

Ice, snow, sleet and rain are challenges that Canadian park lovers are pretty familiar with. With so many of us relying on city park systems as our main gateway to nature, municipalities and their partners are figuring out how to make parks accessible, inviting and animated year-round, through programming and design that embraces Canadian weather. Learn more, and share your experiences and visions for your city parks, in this interactive session.

W5: Constructive Conflict

Conflict is almost par for the course when it comes to negotiating the multiple uses and future of parks and public spaces. Hear from volunteers, non-profit staff, and city parks staff about how they have managed to channel differences of opinion into constructive solutions that benefit parks and communities.

W6: Arts in Parks and Public Spaces

Parks are great platforms from which artists can share their work with new audiences and engage communities in the art-making process. Hear from leading arts thinkers and doers who are moving arts and culture out of institutions and into parks and public spaces. Be part of a conversation to reimagine the valuable role art can play in bringing city parks to life.

Panel Discussions

Diverse presentations by park leaders followed by Q&A session

P1: Inclusive Cities: Realizing the Social Benefits of City Parks

We are all familiar with the economic, health and environmental case for city parks, but what about the social case? In this panel discussion, hear firsthand stories of the social impacts of park engagement in underserved neighbourhoods, and learn how projects led by communities themselves are delivering benefits often unrealized by traditional community engagement processes.

P2: Leveraging the Power of Philanthropy for Parks

Philanthropists of an earlier era gave us some of Canada’s historic city parks. In our current era of limited budgets and increasing demand for city park space, philanthropic dollars can mean the difference between a great idea staying on the page and a new park coming to life. This panel discussion will explore how philanthropic initiatives are generating new park spaces, dynamic programming and revitalizing existing parks.

P3: Green City: A Landscape Approach to the 21st Century City

Right now we are undergoing a cultural shift towards understanding parks as elements in larger ecological systems required to sustain our cities, rather than standalone spaces. This revolution in thinking is a critical first step in responding to 21st century urban challenges like climate change, loss of biodiversity, and building environmentally and fiscally sustainable cities. Hear from the people who are leading this shift in thinking and planning, and discuss what it means for your city and community.

P4: Sustaining our Parks for the Future

As densifying cities struggle to keep up with demand for green spaces,  cities are exploring new financing and management models to build and maintain great parks. How can municipal park budgets keep pace with growing populations? What role should municipal play and how can they leverage creative partnerships to build, program and sustain parks? Join us to learn more about finding the right funding and partnership models to support and sustain great city park systems.

P5: Transforming Under-Used Urban Spaces into Parks

From laneways to hydro corridors and vacant lots, Canadian cities are dotted with under-used urban spaces that can be creatively used to create new parks and public spaces. How can citizens and communities access and transform under-used spaces? Learn valuable lessons from those with experience creating new park spaces and bring home new ideas for revitalizing marginal spaces in your city

Related Conference and Networking Opportunity: Canadian Parks Conference

Canadian Parks Conference, Banff, March 8-11, 2017

 Immediately following the Heart of the City conference, the Canadian Parks Conference in Banff will bring Canadians working in national, provincial/territorial and city parks together to re-imagine our relationship with the natural world and create practical solutions for our parks in a time of increasing challenge and complexity.
The conference will include six keynote presentations including Clara Hughes and Chief Dave Courchene, as well as over 45 breakout sessions, along with pre-conference workshops and tours.There will also be a corporate tradeshow, opportunities for celebration, outdoor activity sessions and fun socials. The conference is from March 8-11, 2017 at The Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta, Canada. Please visit the conference website for more information.










Conference Delegates

Park People is excited to share the list of 100 delegates from across Canada who will be attending the Heart of The City Conference. Together, they represent the community, non-profit, municipal, parks, environmental and funding organizations that bring Canada’s city parks to life. See the list of 100 Heart of the City Delegates











About Calgary

Iconic parks and public spaces shape life in Calgary, from new award-winning projects like the RiverWalk and Princes’ Island Park to historic green spaces like Nose Hill, Bowness and Fish Creek Provincial Park. But it is the way that Calgarians are bringing their parks to life that makes Calgary the perfect place for the Heart of the City Conference.


Ambitious and innovative park programming, new parks built through collaboration, and community-driven approaches to tackling major challenges make Calgary an energizing spot for Canadian city park champions to meet, learn and get inspired.

The Conference will take place at Hotel Artsa designer, boutique-style hotel in the heart of downtown Calgary.


Photo Credit: City of Calgary










Sponsors & Partners

Presenting Sponsor

Questions? Please get in touch! Email us at