Shawn Micallef | Author of Frontier City | Co-Owner of Spacing Magazine
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

“There’s something worth sharing with the world in how Canada builds and runs its cities.” Shawn Micallef explores public spaces, downtowns and suburbs, and writes about the people and institutions that make them great. The author of Frontier City—a book about inequality, wealth, populism, geography, and why these issues are worth fighting for—Micallef reveals how cities find prosperity and resilience. 

Shawn Micallef has created a career around thinking about cities and culture. He’s an urban columnist at Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star, and an editor and co-owner of Spacing—the independent, national, Jane Jacobs Prize-winning magazine dedicated to looking at what makes Canadian cities work. Micallef is also interested in how technology and social media integrate into cities, and how they make them better. While a resident at the Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab, he co-founded [murmur], a location-based mobile phone documentary project that has been established in over 20 cities globally, often working with marginalized groups to help get their stories and voices into public life. 

 

“[A] new group of non-academic, street-smart urbanists has emerged … Shawn Micallef is one of the sharpest of this sharp-eyed breed.”

The Globe and Mail

Micallef has spoken at The Walrus Talks and at TEDx (on the suburban-urban divide), and has given keynotes internationally. He also teaches civic citizenship and design courses at the University of Toronto and OCAD University, and was a distinguished 2011-2012 Canadian Journalism Fellow at Massey College. Micallef’s books, Stroll—now in its fifth printing—and Full Frontal TO, look at the city from the inside out from an urban flâneur’s perspective. (Though specifically about one city, Toronto, both books hold wide appeal, thanks in large part to Micallef’s accessible writing.) His book, The Trouble with Brunch: Work, Class and the Pursuit of Leisure, is a provocative examination of social status, leisure, and work, and a profound call to reset our class consciousness. And his latest, Frontier City, offers a revelatory view of urban spaces today and an inspiring vision of how they might be in the near future.

Testimonials

“Shawn did an excellent job, covered everything we talked about and in fact much more. Really liked his focus on how cities are the engines of the new economy, and the places where culture and general society are fostered. Really appreciated how he inserted humour and unique examples into his presentation. Almost all of the feedback I heard was that it was well received, and the sponsor of the session was thrilled.”

Alberta Smart City Symposium

Speech Topics

Canada 150
Canadian Cities at 150 Celebrating the New Urban Reality

Today’s Canada is young, diverse, and increasingly urban. In fact, 80 percent of Canadians live in cities or suburbs—vibrant hubs of innovation and creativity that are now world-renowned. And to new urbanist Shawn Micallef, this signals opportunity. If we can realize the tremendous value of our cities, we can create truly coherent policy renewals—and reinvigorate a new nation-building project around our urban centres. In this forward-thinking keynote, Micallef argues that it’s time to embrace the buzz around urban (and suburban) Canada. It’s time to overcome the regionalism that divides downtowns and suburbs and start working on the common threads that bind us together. Our 150 year nation-building story of Canada needs a crucial update—and with Shawn Micallef, you’ll learn how to celebrate, critique, and explore our cities for what they are: the envy of the world.

Cities
The New Canadian Urbanism

It may be our best-kept secret. Cities in Canada are thriving. Compared to other cities around the world, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, etc. are experiencing a renaissance—they are routinely voted some of the best, the safest, the most socially engaging, and economically robust places to live. They are desirable. Why? And what can we learn from their sterling example? In this original talk, Shawn Micallef looks into the new Canadian Urbanism to explain why our cities are so resilient to economic collapse (why didn’t our urban cores fall apart like some places in the States?) and so nurturing of social harmony. Drawing on history, culture, economics, art, politics, and social engagement, Micallef offers a powerful perspective on everything we do right. At the same time, he reminds us to not fall victim to complacency—to find the cracks and fix them, to protect the institutions that make us great and to junk those that don’t. This is a fascinating talk buoyed by both pragmatism and optimism—a must-see for anyone interested in a uniquely Canadian approach to doing urban living right.

Cities
The City and Us

What happens when you put a bunch of different people in the same place, call it a city, and let them do things together? How can we all benefit from cities? How will technological change affect the future of cities? And, of course, what, exactly, is the future of cities? In adaptable and humour-filled talks, Shawn Micallef uses striking examples from his extensive travels to cities around the world to show us why and how cities can be great. With grace, wit, and counterintuitive thinking, Micallef touches on local economies, public space, and architecture; examines the mixing of socio-economic populations; and addresses how to overcome the disastrous divide that separates the urban core and the suburbs. Micallef leaves audiences with a new appreciation of—and a clutch of practical solutions for—cities around the world, as well as their own.

 
Corporate Culture
Work, Class, and the Pursuit of Leisure

Every weekend, in cities around the world, bleary-eyed diners wait in line to be served overpriced, increasingly outré food by hungover waitstaff. What does the popularity of brunch say about shifting attitudes towards social status and leisure? In some ways, brunch and other forms of conspicuous consumption have blinded us to ever-more-precarious employment conditions. In this talk, Shawn Micallef looks more closely at the nature of work itself and solidarity among the so-called creative class. Drawing on theories from Thorstein Veblen to Richard Florida, he traces his own journey from the rust belt to a cosmopolitan city. He examines the way the evolving middle class he joined was oblivious to its own instability and insularity, explores status anxiety, and calls on us to reset our class consciousness.