Making places feel safe so that we can thrive

What makes you feel safe? In the city? In your neighbourhood? How about at work or at home? In November, the Rat Creek Press in partnership with AVID Architecture, The RAIC Centre for Architecture at Athabasca University, and Parkdale Cromdale Community League held a panel called Building to Thrive. Panelists took an engaging and candid look at the physical, emotional, and psychological barriers to feeling safe in our environments.

Cynthia Dovell, one of the panelists, summarized the theme of the panel best when she said, “The majority of us feel, even subconsciously, unsafe a lot of the time. And in order to thrive, we’ve got to feel safe first.” 

The event was hosted on Zoom and facilitated by Athabasca University as part of their Global Lecture Series. Over 120 participants from around the world attended.

The panelists for the discussion were Cynthia Dovell, Anne Stevenson, Chelsea Jersak, and Ofelia Leon. I was also one of the panelists. Dovell is the founder and principal architect at AVID Architecture as well as a Parkdale resident. Stevenson is a city planner who works for Right at Home Housing Society. Jersak is an urban planner at Situate and a board member of Infill Development in Edmonton Association (IDEA). Leon is a psychologist with a private practice called Befriending Self. I’m a resident of Cromdale, a student in architecture at Athabasca University, and a board member of the Rat Creek Press.

After a brief introduction, Lindsay Farr led the panelists in two discussion questions. The first question, “What does ‘building to thrive’ and creating safe spaces mean to you?” asked panelists to speak about the mental and emotional aspects of feeling safe. The second question, “What barriers prevent people from thriving?” encouraged discussion of things that contribute to feeling unsafe. 

For the first question, panelists discussed their individual perspectives on what makes a space feel safe. For some, it’s privacy, where safety is maintained through limiting contacts. For others, it’s public space, where contact with neighbours and community make one feel safe. 

The second question asked about barriers that prevent people from thriving. The consensus was that uncertainty around physical needs and feeling that those needs will continue to be met going forward is a barrier to thriving. Leon drove this point home in her response to the question which concluded with a call for and explanation of compassion. 

Unfortunately, the panel ran over time, and we were not able to complete our final question, which was, “What are some ideas for the audience members to make their spaces feel safer?” This is a valuable jumping off point for anyone interested in making a community space where people feel safe to join and engage with each other. We intend to interview panelists in the coming months, but until then if you are interested in Building to Thrive, visit for a recording of the panel.

Feature Image: In November, panelists of Building to Thrive took a good look at the factors that make people feel safe or unsafe. | Image by Chrissy H from Pixabay