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Bringing the city to life

Cities Alive's Geordon Omand and Danielle Davis in the podcast zone (Photo by Mel Hatiie)
Cities Alive’s Geordon Omand and Danielle Davis in the podcast zone (Photo by Mel Hatiie)

She jumped. She jumped with a white hunk of plaster and gauze on her foot, which bound her like a shackle, even though she was stuck in her own home.

Dalhousie masters of planning student Danielle Davis jumped for opportunity.

“I was stuck,” says Davis. “Interviewing people helped me reach out when I felt really stuck.”

Davis used her house-bound summer to gather stories via cold-calls and emails for a potential podcast that Ross Soward had told her about. His place of work, the Planning and Design Centre, tossed around the idea of a podcast as a way to make planning and design more accessible.

Davis and Soward now present Cities Alive, a podcast that aims to make urban planning and design more accessible.

Cities Alive is one of the first urban planning-themed podcasts to include story-telling and different voices. People share their stories and experiences, along with snippets of interviews with experts.

“You’re naturally inclined to sit back and want to listen to them and hear what they have to say,” says Soward “which is much more interesting than hearing a professional planner talk about a report, which is often the association or image people have in their mind when they’re thinking about urban planning.”

The podcast episodes also use sound clips and songs. In “Temporary Spaces, the Seinfeld jingle plays before an interview with a journalist who covered the conversion of New York’s Times Square into a pedestrian plaza. During a break in the interview, Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind” plays.

“I think what’s missing in planning a lot of the time is emotion,” Davis says. “But these things are emotional, and music is such a conveyor of emotion, so I think that it really helps.”

Cities Alive’s executive producer Geordon Omand adds, “If you pay enough attention, you’re going to get little tidbits that someone who maybe doesn’t delve as deep won’t get. We’re not spelling it out, but if you get it, you get it.”

The episodes mainly focus on Halifax Regional Municipality. “Neighbourhoods” centres on Africville. Omand says they have future plans to gather more nation-wide stories so as to not limit their listenership. Davis adds that they will occasionally use international stories as parallels, like they did in “Neighbourhoods” with a story of a Finnish architect trying to establish a community within the often unfriendly high-rise.

“These topics are things that people live firsthand every day,” says Omand. “It’s one of the neat things about this subject, it’s so universal.”

The Cities Alive team hopes that that the podcast will eventually become “self-sustaining” so they can receive compensation for their work. They have submitted a proposal to CBC to gain a timeslot. They also are in conversation with the Canadian Institute of Planners to make Cities Alive a national professional development tool, and a forum for planners and city builders to share their practices or stories.

Davis expects the next episode to air in late January. Its theme will be urban agriculture.

The podcasts are available on the Planning and Design Centre website and iTunes.

Sabina Wex
Sabina Wex
Sabina is the Gazette's Managing Editor. Email Sabina at

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