Over the last 27 years, the Cities and Environment Unit (CEU) has worked with small villages, coastal towns, and urban neighbourhoods; with First Nations, Municipal, Provincial and Federal agencies; with developers, not-for-profits and community groups.

Our work has been recognized through many awards, most notably the UNHabit Dubai for the development of the internationally recognized First Nations Community Planning Model. The Model continues to be implemented in communities across Canada. The CEU team has a combined total of more than 50 years of experience in community planning.

The Cities and Environment Unit has made a difference, affected how planning is done and set a new standard and approach for public engagement. At the CEU, we strive to bring people closer to planning and planning closer to people. We are changing the view of planning to be more creative, more accessible and more participatory throughout every step of the process.

In each place, for each project, we work with local people to raise awareness of community assets (natural, human, social, cultural and economic) as a base for collectively imagining a future that “lifts all boats” and inspires change. It is then possible to actively engage the community in inventing, designing and building infrastructure, policies, partnerships, plans, programs, projects and places. All of these initiatives are designed to go beyond solving an immediate problem. They are building a better future, affecting life on the ground, in that place; making a difference in health, equity, quality of life, climate change, capacity development, economic growth and more.

Our Team

The Cities and Environment Unit approaches every project as a team. All team members are involved, informed and participate fully in engagement with the community, in substantive discussions of content and in the production of the final document/design/plan. Planning, city building, infrastructure design, connecting communities, placemaking are simply too important, complex and interwoven to depend on a single point of view or “expert “ perspective. If a project does require some other particular expertise we have partners and collaborators that can be asked to join the team.


Frank has a background in architecture, planning, urban design and teaching. He has a degree in Architecture from the University of Toronto and a degree in Urban Design from Harvard. He is a Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Planners, and a Charter Member of the Licensed Professional Planning Association of Nova Scotia. He has been a professor in the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at Dalhousie where he also served as Director of the School of Planning and Dean of the Faculty. Frank started the CEU in 1993 and has been its director since its inception. He also started the Planning and Design Centre (PDC), a not for profit organization dedicated to connecting people to planning and planning to people; increasing public/community awareness and access to planning; serving as a forum to engage “the public”, decision-makers and experts in discussions about the future of their communities, and provide leadership in making community-based change happen on the street (in public infrastructure).

In the course of his career, working as a designer in an Architecture office in Toronto, as Director of downtown Planning for The City of Calgary, as the principal investigator for a CIDA funded project in Brazil, as an administrator and professor at Dalhousie and through his work on every project undertaken by the Cities and Environment Unit, Frank has been committed to community engagement (working with communities so they can shape their own future); passionate about bringing together (and thinking about) different disciplines, points of view and aspects of a project to leverage assets in a way that lifts the entire community; and, driven to make a lasting difference on the ground. His work has been widely recognized in a number of publications and many awards

Kieran Stepan, Community Planner, | BCD, BA

Kieran Stepan is a community planner who holds a Bachelor of Community Design with honours in Urban Design and a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Sustainability and Society from Dalhousie University (2016). Her varied experience has focused on community-based planning approaches; discovering new ways to bring people closer to planning so change comes from the community. Kieran has worked in the municipal, private and non-profit sectors. Working on the Urban Renewal Team at the eThekwini Municipality (Durban, South Africa) she broadened her understanding of the challenges communities and individuals face and the importance of inclusive participatory planning. Kieran’s work at the CEU has been grounded in community, she thrives on discovering new ways to involve people and community in every stage of a project. She is passionate about the connection between people and places and the power of community voice, in her role as the Director of the Planning and Design Centre she strives to spark curiosity, engagement, and innovation through placemaking projects, demonstrations and public forums.

Iyad Al-Halis, Community Planner, Urban Designer | BSC.ARCH.ENG, M.ARCH, MPLAN,

Iyad holds a B.Sc. in Architectural Engineering from the Univ. of Jordan, a Master of Architecture from the University of Arizona, and a Master of Planning from Dalhousie University. He has built on his technical background and skills in engineering and architecture to study and practice urban planning and design. Such exposure to the built environment at its various scales, and especially through the lens of community design, has deepened his thinking and understanding of the complexity of human settlements. Throughout the comprehensive community plans and urban design projects, he has contributed substantially to developing and visualizing community structure maps, spatial qualities and housing typologies. Iyad is generally interested in the way planning and social values continue to evolve and shape places, and specifically in urban design, as means to imagine new realities, communicate ideas, and as a tool to visualize and test policies.

Michael MacLean, Interdisciplinary Designer, | BFA, MEDS Design-Build

Michael MacLean is an interdisciplinary designer who holds a Master’s of Environmental Design Studies (Design-Build) from Dalhousie University (2019) and a BFA in Design from Concordia University (2017). Michael is influenced by his rural community upbringing in Quebec and years working in community engagement in Yukon. Working for Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in youth support and engagement has inspired him to develop a community-based design and art practice. Through his master’s research, his art, and his design interests he strives to find new ways of working with communities and bringing them into the process. His thesis identified and tested design-build as a participatory approach to working with youth in Dawson City in partnership with the education system. He uses a variety of approaches including participatory design, architectural design-build and site-specific installation. Michaels’s work has been highlighted in the exhibition, design competitions and publication. His recent work focuses on impact-based approach to project development and he currently sits as a board member on the Planning and Design Centre.