Imagine sidewalk cafés everywhere. Add trees and greenery at parking lots. Mix in seating in both the sun and shade along the waterfront.

Those are just some of the changes Amanda Burden has made since 2002 as chief of New York City’s planning commission, overseeing vast redevelopment from the Lower East Side in Manhattan to the Brooklyn waterfront to revitalizing 125th Street in Harlem.

“We want people not just to come to New York, but to stay in New York,” Burden told an audience at the University of Toronto Friday that included politicians, planning students and community activists.

The way to ensure people stay in New York, Burden said, is providing affordable housing, local retail, jobs throughout the city and public spaces like playgrounds for kids.

“We direct development of the city by shaping its neighbourhoods, its business districts, its waterfront and its industrial areas,” she said.