In this session, we talked about Black influence in urban planning and heard from community leaders working across Canada to make our cities more just and equitable for all.
Black Influence in Urban Planning
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. We need more voices at the table
Cynthia Dorrington, an EDI advisor based in Halifax Nova Scotia, notes that mainstream society has no inroads to understanding Black Communities. Urbanization in the 1960’s led to the displacement of Africville without any input from the community. In order to ensure that needs are understood and met, we need to have more Black voices involved in decision making both provincial and municipal levels. Having the right groups at the table allows the right resources to go to the right places and hastens legislation that can improve employment for marginalized opportunities.
2. Recovery efforts need to refocus around accessibility and homelessness
Stephanie Allen, a founding board member if the Hogan’s Alley Society in Vancouver. She stated that challenges around accessibility and homelessness were exacerbated during the pandemic and many of the recovery efforts left people living with disabilities or experiencing homelessness behind. For instance, in order to help the restaurant industry survive, many patios were expanding to increase outdoor dining. Often these patios blocked access to sidewalks decreasing space for people with mobility issues. Making efforts to collect disaggregated data around the racial composition of the homeless population is also critical. If we don’t count, we don’t know and don’t address challenges in racially appropriate ways. People of African descent are absolutely over represented in the homeless population.
3. Youth need a balance to thrive
When challenged with the question of to how to keep Black youth engaged Jamilla Muhamud talked about a balance between frank, honest truth telling and fostering dreams and imagination. Especially in urban cores where poverty and wealth live in such close proximity to one another, there needs to be public infrastructure that allows everyone to access the same amenities, like tennis courts, swimming pools and book. We should try to deal with the challenges of reality head on while also making sure that children understand that they contribute to the world and matter. They can adjust the barriers.
4. Little Jamaica is still here
When asked why we are pushing so hard to save Little Jamaica, Anyka Mark, with Black Urbanism TO pointed out that Little Jamaica still exists. While gentrification is happening and ongoing Crosstown construction has taken it’s toll, the midtown neighbourhood is still incredibly culturally rich and holds great significance as the heart of the Black community in Toronto. She noted that Friends of Chinatown are facing similar development challenges that to erase Chinatown as well.
5. All of these conversations are about displacement. Could land trusts be a solution?
Land trust were born out of the civil rights movement. They were specifically to help Black farmers and Black people find place and hold place because the conversations you’re hearing today from Africville, to Little Burgundy, Little Jamaica, Heron Gate in Ottawa and Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver, all of these conversations are about displacement. The system is designed to, first of all, push certain people into poverty, and then they’re relegated to parts of urban areas that are for poor people that are low income. Then these sites become targets for redevelopment to unlock the value of the land. Land trusts remove the land from speculation and offer security of tenure. Larger parcels of land in trust protect the community from unsustainable gentrification.
Black experiences with planning in Canada – Redesigned courses in the School of Urban and Regional Planning explore Black-led city-building efforts as well as historical and contemporary harm
Urban planning and anti-Black racism in Canada: Reflections on the past as a way to promote a better future
Black History Month 2022 – February Forever