Navigating urban planning with community at heart

Hafeez, a Planning student at Waterloo, standing infront of the Environment 3 building on campus.
Written by Jordan (she/her), student

Meet Hafeez, a Planning student in the Faculty of Environment and a passionate advocate for road safety, better transit, and complete communities.

Advocacy for safer streets

In his early years of high school, Hafeez (he/him) noticed the inadequacies of painted bike lanes in his neighbourhood, Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park. This sparked what became a keen interest in transportation and community well-being, and a mission: to improve street safety for cyclists. Reflecting on this, Hafeez says, "I just thought, how could we make that better?"

Hafeez worked to gain support from his friends, classmates, community members, and local advocacy groups like Cycle Toronto. With this network behind him, Hafeez successfully lobbied city officials for upgraded protected bike lane infrastructure.

The Lawrence Prospect campaign

One of Hafeez’s recent projects has been the Lawrence Prospect campaign — a grassroots effort to improve road safety and community connectivity in Scarborough. Lawrence Avenue has a vibrant retail and restaurant culture, but the design of the arterial thoroughfare cutting through Wexford Scarborough, was not ideal for anything but cars. For Hafeez, the vision was clear: "I want to see safer streets that can be enjoyed, rather than prioritizing highway-like speeds on roads like Lawrence Avenue."

Hafeez standing outside on the side of a busy street speaking to an elderly person

Building community

Hafeez acknowledges that he's faced some challenges on his advocacy journey. "Creating change by yourself is really hard," he admits, "But I've learned the importance of asking for help and building a support network."

Finding a path

When it came time to choose his next move after graduating from high school, Hafeez found himself drawn to the Planning program at the University of Waterloo. With his love for cities, Hafeez’s choice was clear.

I realized that planning was my calling


At Waterloo, the co-op program offers a way for Hafeez to tackle the issues he's passionate about while staying connected to his community, building his résumé, and earning money as he completes his degree. In May 2024, Hafeez began his first co-op term with Bike Share Toronto, where he plans and designs new bike share stations in suburban Toronto to provide greater accessibility to bikes for everyone in the city.

Hafeez sitting at a desk in the Planning studio

Classroom experience

Two years into the program, he reflects, "My learning in the Planning program has involved city design, the history of these cities, the built form, the architecture, the movement of people, laws and politics, and the ebbs-and-flows of daily life." While his courses have set the foundation for a professional planning career, it was the environmental courses that were most memorable for Hafeez.

In ENVS 200 (Field Ecology), my favourite thing about that course was the labs. They allowed us to go outside and interact with the environment to learn new things that we may not learn about as planners. One day, we were planting trees! Another day, we were birdwatching! Other days, we were getting our feet wet in swamps and creeks, and these experiences allow us planners to understand more about why the decisions we make are important in keeping the environment well for generations to come.


Hafeez standing infront of the ION

Future vision

As he looks into the future, Hafeez is excited about the dynamic changes that are happening in planning. "Young planners are learning more and adapting to new ideas, and that’s spreading into legislation." Particularly, he highlights how we are seeing more complete streets, densification, and prioritizing transit over building more highways. "These things can only happen when we’re advocating for them," he emphasizes. Hafeez anticipates more of these positive changes in the future, and eagerly looks forward to more projects and advocacy work that will contribute to safe streets, vibrant communities, and future-ready cities




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