For Darren Kropf, the foundation for equity starts from the ground up, quite literally. As the City of Kitchener's Manager of Active Transportation and Development, he explained that “A transportation network that’s predominantly functional for motor vehicles privileges a certain demographic.” While this may be a foreign idea to some, Darren’s mantra is simple, “we must not privilege one group over the other in our transportation planning.”

As student council president and graduate with a degree in Religious and Mennonite Studies, Darren began his career with the Mennonite Central Committee, leading discussions on climate justice. He returned to Grebel in 2013 to further his studies in the Master’s in Peace and Conflict program. Later, Darren joined the City of Kitchener in the neighborhood development division, assisting residents in building community in their neighborhoods. Darren rode his bike to work every day – something that was noticed by the transportation division. His interest in sustainable transportation and community engagement, paired with his experience working with the city, made Darren the ideal candidate to help Kitchener work toward bringing equity and sustainability to the streets. So, before he knew it, Darren was shifting divisions into a field he described as “a brand-new realm in which I had zero formal education.”

“During my commutes to work, I noticed that all the other bikers looked like me – young, able-bodied males,” said Darren. It was a trend that he felt required a solution to become more inclusive and accessible. A major component of his team’s work has been to strategize ways to redesign streets with a more equitable approach. Darren was the project manager on a newly created set of guidelines known as Complete Streets – an initiative by the city to design streets to be safe, sustainable, and accessible to everyone. This includes people walking, rolling, cycling, riding transit or driving, and people of all ages and abilities.

“Now when I go for a ride through the protected bike lanes we built, I see a variety of people,” said Darren. “It was exciting to watch a parent and child biking through the downtown streets. That’s something you would never see before we implemented our higher safety lanes.”

Darren’s efforts to uplift his community through cycling continued. When he noticed significant data suggesting that racialized communities were underrepresented in cycling, he and his team worked toward discovering the root causes. They reached out and partnered with Black-identifying organizations to host an event where people could access training and resources for cycling in their community.

“It was great to see the excitement surrounding our plans to bring cycling infrastructure to the city,” said Darren. “Some biked often and found new routes they didn’t know about. Others were telling us they hadn’t ridden a bike in Canada before this initiative, so it brought me a lot of joy to be part of this movement.”

Darren noted that although this line of work may not have been what he was directly trained in, the communication, engagement, and conflict management skills that he developed during his MPACS degree are “very much prevalent” in the work he does today. Darren is a proponent of an arts degree providing the foundation to go in various directions. “What I appreciated about the MPACS program was the constant real-life applications being drawn into class,” Darren said. “I had the misconception that I would go into a certain niche with this degree, but the reality was that we were constantly thinking beyond one narrow focus. The goal was really on the broader emphasis of peace and what my role within that can be.”

At his core, Darren is still a peacemaker, as he works every day to resolve conflict for commuters and bring peace and safety to the streets. “I love that my job is very tangible,” he said. “I get to look around and see the infrastructure I helped build be of use to different types of people. It brings me a lot of satisfaction knowing that I’ve contributed to the growth of our city.”

When Darren was still in school, he took courses where he could focus on his research interests of environmental change and cycling, which at the time was never a professional pursuit. “Instead, it was a way for me to understand and reflect on myself and the interests that motivate me,” he explained. “Taking those courses helped to shape my academic career, and long term, it has proven to have been a great decision.” Darren’s advice to students is to “Take the opportunity in school to draw connections between course content and the things that motivate you. You never know how seemingly unrelated concepts can turn into a foundation for peace in your life and community.

In his cover image, Darren can be seen enjoying the official opening of Gaukel Block, a street converted to pedestrian-only space to bring more vibrancy to downtown streets.

Darren's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.

By Farhan Saeed