Out And About With Craig Cal

Fueled by his passion for city building and urban planning, read all about Toronto’s homegrown enthusiast through a Q&A session that dives into some of Toronto’s best neighbourhoods and attractions.  


Tell us what you do and how you got to where you are now in your career.

I help to design cities – that’s the simple answer. The long answer is researching alignments for new transit lines, working with a community on a new vision for growth, conducting best use analysis, redesigning streets, researching planning policies and assisting non-profit organizations through the planning process … among other things. Urban planning and design is such a broad field and the scale of each project can be very different – that’s what makes it interesting. Looking back on my career, the path was never clear, but I’m where I am today at Urban Strategies because I care about city building and that care fuels my passion.

Craig Cal, Urban Planner

Was urban planning something you always wanted to do or did you stumble upon it?

I think it was a bit of both actually. As a kid, I used to create superhero teams and draw little bases, which were essentially little cities when I look back at them. The bases had their own transit lines, places for them to chill out, to train, and rest. I redesigned a few of them to make sure the super jail wasn’t too close to the super airport – you don’t want the villains to just fly away, right? That was my thought process as a kid, so I’d say the spirit was already there. But I had absolutely no clue that urban planning was even a job that existed until I got to university. This is why they should teach kids of every age how cities work. Our cities will be better off for it. After my third year of university, I dropped out for a few years because I didn’t love what I was studying. Eventually I came back, switched my major and got an Honours degree in City Studies and my Masters in Urban Planning from the University of Toronto.


What does a typical work day look like for you?

If it has to be a typical work day, I’m going to pick one in the summer because I get to ride my bike and biking is one of the best ways to experience the city. Typically, I’ll work on several different projects throughout the day – writing, managing, designing, researching and corresponding with others on the types of projects I mentioned earlier. Lunchtime is always interesting – Jamaican, Filipino, Chilean, French, Sri Lankan, Japanese, Chinese or Mexican, among others. Thankfully there are a plethora of great options. After lunch, I’ll play a few games of Crokinole with my co-workers and read up on city building initiatives around the world from City Lab or Landezine. Then I tackle my projects again, wrap up the day and ride home.

Water Treatment Plant

What are you doing when you are not working?

Outside of the 9-5, I continue to do urban planning work for non-profit groups and city building work through my own firm, locale. I also spend time helping to organize Ciinema, a bi-monthly event where a different artist curates a particular narrative through an hour of videos and movie clips. I’m obsessed with soccer – specifically Liverpool FC. Love for the beautiful game is universal and can spark conversation with different people from all over the world. It’s actually really interesting how ubiquitous it is.


Where is your favourite place in the city?

If you’re visiting Toronto, actually even if you live here, I recommend biking up the Humber River in the west or east towards The R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant. I know what you’re thinking – “what, a water treatment plant?” Yes, it’s this beautiful 1930’s Art Deco building situated high above the lakeshore. Clearly, the designers really cared about their civic responsibility. It has a stunning view on a sunny day, especially when your bike is at the top of the site and you see the vista towards Lake Ontario and the Scarborough Bluffs.

Water Treatment Plant - close upWater Treatment Plant - Landscape viewCraig Cal infront of the Water Treatment Plant

How has this city influenced your personal style?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but I’d say that growing up in one of the most diverse places on the planet certainly helped. Experiencing every conceivable type of weather also forces you to have a versatile wardrobe!

Craig Cal's styleCraig Cal's biking gear

What is your favourite place to eat in the city?

I really like bringing people to Lamesa for Filipino food because most people don’t really know what it’s like. Being able to have people to experience a part of your culture is a blessing in this city, but as I said before, there are so many great food choices. Imanishi Japanese Kitchen, Han Moto, People’s Eatery – the list goes on – but One Love Vegetarian’s BBQ tofu is my current obsession.

Lamesa, TorontoLamesa food

What is your favourite Toronto neighbourhood?

I’d have to say Kensington Market – the smaller buildings and the intimate scale of the streets, combined with the independent shops and interesting street life help create a place that you actually want to be. We need more neighbourhoods with those ingredients –the key is creating an environment that allows for experimentation.

Streets of Kensington MarketNeighbourhood view of Kensington MarketCraig Cal walking the streets of Kensington

How do you think Toronto has changed in the last 20 years?

The physical changes are obvious with the sheer amount of new buildings – some good, some bad – but the most remarkable change is the pride that people now have for the city. That’s been the most important change for me. There’s a global focus on creativity in Toronto at the moment, be it music, art, style, film, food or design. Of course, there are still major challenges to overcome, but that is part of what makes it a really interesting time to be here.


What would be your theme song in life?

If you ask me this in 5 years it will probably be different, but “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” by Kanye West seems like an appropriate choice at this point.

Rear view shot of bikeCraig sitting with bike