Changemaker profile: The Speakers Bureau – Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction

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Header image from Axle Studios

Last spring we interviewed Jennifer Chivers and Naseem Saeed Sherwani from the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction about the work of the Roundtable’s Speakers Bureau and their efforts to build inclusive communities. Our interview happened during the last day of activities of the 2017 Vibrant Communities Canada - Cities Reducing Poverty Summit: When Business is Engaged (Hamilton, ON. April 4-6, 2017).

The aspiration of the Roundtable is to make Hamilton the best place to raise a child. To work  towards this goal they advocate for policy change and play the role of a facilitator of  conversations around poverty. Their partners come from across Hamilton and include leaders from the business and non-profit sectors (Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, Hamilton Community Foundation), government (City of Hamilton) and individuals who experience poverty daily.

The Speakers Bureau, called Speak Now, is an initiative within the Roundtable. The Speakers Bureau provides a platform for its members to share their stories on poverty and exclusion. This project came out from the Roundtable’s Shifting Attitudes work group. The members of this group realized that, on the continuum of people who live in our community, there is a group of residents at one end who understand poverty. There is no need to convince them on how people are struggling and being marginalized because of poverty. But at the other end there is a group who are content to put their head in the sand and will deny that there is a problem and that they could be part of the solution. Somewhere along the continuum lie the people who probably would be willing to listen to what the Roundtable has to say and they will have their hearts and minds open. That space is where there is potential to shift attitudes. Residents were invited to gather and share their own experience on what is like to live in poverty, and introduce themselves to break stereotypes.

Storytelling is a core component of the work of the Speakers Bureau. By listening to the stories of their members, we come closer to the lived experience of those struggling with  poverty, build relationships with one another and shift attitudes toward poverty, which is foundational to the work of the roundtable. Shifting attitudes can happen within the public and private sector, as well as community organizations. Through shifting attitudes, we let stakeholders see the benefits for them and for the community they operate in.

Over time, members of the Speakers Bureau gained knowledge and confidence to join boards and other committees. For instance, there is a member who now sits on the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic’s board. Other members have gone back to school to pursue all types of programs, from vocational training to a graduate degree. Its members have spoken at more than 200 different events, sharing their stories and connecting poverty to other topics (unemployment, immigration, healthcare, etc.).  As a member of the Speakers Bureau, Naseem has lived experience of poverty because she has had troubles finding a job, despite having professional qualifications and a university degree. She started out as a member of the Speakers Bureau and became a trained speaker. She is now confident giving speeches and also serves as the liaison with the Roundtable, as appointed and voted by her former members . Naseem talks to them directly, peer to peer, and then she shares their concerns with Jennifer at the Roundtable. Naseem has gradually become an advisor on the relationship between the Roundtable and the members of the Speakers Bureau.

Naseem is an example of the enthusiasm of the members of the Speakers Bureau and their willingness to contribute to larger efforts to improve social wellbeing. During our conversation, Naseem and Jennifer shared the story of a member who is a mental health survivor. He has gained strength and confidence through the Speakers Bureau training and has launched conversation cafés around housing for people that are mental health survivors. Members of the Speakers Bureau are highly productive and motivated individuals but they lack employment opportunities and social support to lift them out of poverty. Naseem highlighted that for immigrants, jobs are precarious and lack opportunities for professional growth, even if they already have work experience in Canada.

We asked Jennifer and Naseem to define poverty based on their day-to-day work in the Speakers Bureau.

For them, poverty is a lack of justice. It is a human-made construct that can thus be removed and deconstructed by individuals and human systems. Poverty can also be similar to a crime because people are being taken away from their right to wellbeing. Eradication of poverty means that everybody has access to decent housing, proper caloric intake of food and health services. Storytelling plays a key role in understanding poverty because it provides the qualitative data that is needed to support change at the policy level.

Our conversation ended with four learnings to keep in mind in supporting listening for transformative change:

  • Having a trained facilitator who is very good at listening can make a world of difference when you are starting a Speakers Bureau.
  • Listening is about filtering emotions out to hear the words and understand the reality of those being left out.
  • Facilitation is about understanding the human dynamics of interactions. Ideas come out when we allow people to speak in a safe and organic environment. Everyone is a spokesperson.
  • There is more than one way of listening because people communicate differently (acting, painting, filming, photographing, writing).

Note: On April 4 2017, the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction was recipient of the Leadership in Poverty Reduction Award for their outstanding work in their community.  To learn more about the 2017 Vibrant Communities Canada – Cities Reducing Poverty Awards, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Jennifer Chivers:

Jennifer provides administrative and logistics support to the work of the roundtable as she is the contact point with people from across Canada that wish to learn more about their work. She collaborates with a diversity of stakeholders: academic institutions, community organizations and local authorities. She is also the coordinator of the Speakers Bureau.

About Naseem Saeed Sherwani:

Naseem is a member of the Speakers Bureau since 2014. Through this initiative, Naseem has received training on public speaking and she also has the opportunity to speak in a variety of topics linked to poverty, specifically professional training, immigration and living wage. She currently has an advisory role at the Speakers Bureau. She helps members go through a brainstorming process, convey and tailor their speeches.

 

Placemaking for Peacemaking

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This is the third in a Placemaking Profile series in which we will share short conversations we’ve had with urban innovators – from those who are actively building places that foster social inclusion to those who listen, engage, and tell stories from the communities.

For more information about placemaking, please click here.

Rony Jalkh: Placemaking for Peacemaking

As part of a panel discussion on strategies to go beyond Habitat III at the Placemaking Leadership Forum (Vancouver, BC. September 14-16, 2016), Rony Jalkh shared his work on Placemaking for Peacemaking, a two-way process for intervening, activating and improving public spaces as a way to promote inclusion and interaction in socially fragmented cities, particularly with immigrant and refugee communities.

We had the chance to chat with Rony before his session to get a glimpse on his approach to placemaking and ways to promote civic engagement in marginalized neighbourhoods.

What is placemaking for you?

To me, it’s about making place with the people, for the people. And it’s for all the people. I started working in Beirut. The project was about promoting placemaking because it’s not something known in Lebanon. We don’t have the culture of public spaces and we don’t have the culture of a participatory approach. In Lebanon we have a proverb that says “kill two birds with one stone.” This means that I want to make placemaking for two reasons: I want to tell people that they have the right to have public spaces and to claim them. But also I want to tell municipalities that people must participate in these projects.

Who would be the mediator in this process of placemaking for peacemaking?

We have to find someone who can be the link between community and municipalities. Someone who can play this role, someone who is dynamic and a catalyst. I believe universities can help. University students are young, dynamic, open and capable to play the linking role between the community and municipal authorities.

What has been your experience working with university students as mediators?

I started by providing workshops at universities. I implemented a pilot project at the American University of Beirut. I took placemaking because to me it’s a flexible process, we can always adapt it to local contexts. So I prepared a syllabus and I taught these courses for free. I wanted to test what I prepared to connect students to the community. Timing was good because we had municipal elections in Lebanon and the municipality was open to new ideas.

What challenges did you experience working on this project?

It was not easy because the students have never been to these communities. The students came from middle- to upper-income Lebanese families. I focused my work on marginalised neighbourhoods, mostly in the suburbs. Some of these neighbourhoods had immigrant populations (predominantly from Syria). The cultural shock experienced by students helped us screen their level of commitment to the project.

How did you bring students closer to the reality of residents in marginalized communities?

I included anything related to communications as part of the syllabus of the courses that I organized. The students often did not speak Arabic because they came from upper class families.

We also implemented a listening process among students. We explained to them how to ask questions in Arabic and introduced them to the cultural reality of these communities. For instance, we explained to students that it’s not enough to speak the language, they need to understand the slang and be sensitive to these nuances so that they can come closer to their reality. We worked a lot on communication skills. We also helped students learn how to negotiate the design and co-creation process with the community and told them that every opinion counts. I gave them an example. I said “You are architects. When you graduate you will build a house for your clients. So you will prepare the design and you will have to negotiate with your clients the number of floors. For public spaces the client is the people. You cannot build public spaces without negotiation. The community is your client. You must make something that is feasible, tangible and accessible for everyone.”

What was the scale of this project?

During three months we worked on 21 designs prepared by 21 students for different locations in Beirut. We are talking about small spaces because publicly accessible land is scarce in Lebanon. These are little land pockets where we could plant a tree to make people come. We worked under the idea that public spaces must remain open anytime and for everyone.

How can we use placemaking to bring peace in fragmented communities?

Placemaking is about connecting people in a space. And peacemaking is also about connecting people to each other. And for me peacemaking cannot succeed if it is not in a concrete place. It means we have to bring people together but how, where? So, the place should be a tool to bring peace. Placemaking for peacemaking is an approach, they reinforce each other. Placemaking is a participative approach. When you let people participate, the participation will bring trust and when you build trust you can have peace. So if I work with you, we will have to trust each other. If we make peace together, we will be more encouraged to work together.

But how do you engage people to work together?

Trust. In Beirut we learned that when we co-create neighbourhoods you don’t bring contractors, you work with the community. I asked students to identify skilled people within the community: carpenters, construction workers, plumbers, and so on. We invited students to work together with these people and friendships were made. These interactions facilitated teamwork.

While working with Syrian communities in Beirut, I explained to them that if they wish to be accepted they need to contribute to city co-creation. We saw Syrian and Lebanese residents working together in creating public spaces.  I’m not saying this is magic but if the public space is a place where we all wish to come, we could begin by building peace through the public space. If we have playgrounds for Lebanese and Syrian children we can facilitate interaction and parents might begin talking to each other.

Once I worked on a tree-planting project in a marginalized neighbourhood in Beirut. We designed the streets and we told residents “This is your tree and it’s up to you to take care of it. Tomorrow we will plant it, please be ready to help us.” It was the residents and not volunteers who were involved. Ten years later, I observed that trees grew and provided shade to residents. Working with communities takes time and requires patience. Trees, like communities, do not grow up in one day, they are the result of patience.

Rony will be joining us as part of The City as a Commons, a series of conversations in Canada with international innovators who are advancing transformative change in participatory city building and thinking. He will be giving talks open to the public (RSVP required) in Montreal on March 20 and 24; and in Toronto on March 27.

About Rony Jalkh

With nearly 16 years of experience working with UN-Habitat and other international organizations, Rony has extensive knowledge managing and monitoring projects relating to governance, civil society and working with the public sector. As an activist and practitioner of Placemaking, he provides lectures and workshops throughout Lebanon and abroad. As a senior fellow at the Project for Public Spaces, Rony is currently leading research on “Placemaking for Peacemaking” with the objective of creating placemaking resources and tools to promote urban equity and inclusion.

Cities Reducing Poverty: Bringing all voices to the table

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BY: MEGAN WANLESS

Poverty is a complex issue. It’s an issue that cannot be approached in isolation or solved by a select few – it effects everyone, is experienced by people in different ways, and involves a significant number of interrelated elements and stakeholders. We know this. We know that when working on complex problems, such as poverty, finding comprehensive solutions requires communities to come together to leverage and better understand their assets – knowledge, experience, skills and resources – to truly see and act on the issue from all angles.

Momentum around the importance of bringing everyone to the table to combat complex issues has been growing over the years, particularly with the introduction of collective impact in 2011 (See: Kania and Kramer, 2011). Over the last 15 years Vibrant Communities Canada (a division of the Tamarack Institute) has been building a network of cities committed to working collaboratively to reduce poverty. Cities Reducing Poverty is a collective impact movement of 57 member cities or regions who together aim to reduce poverty through local interventions at the individual and household levels and through policy and systems changes. These local, multi-sector initiatives are bolstered by provincial and territorial poverty reduction strategies and by the federal government’s recent mandate to develop a Canadian poverty reduction strategy. Together, we are in the midst of a country-wide movement to overcome poverty.

However, while we say bringing all voices to the table is key in moving the needle on issues like poverty, the practice of doing it is not so simple. Oftentimes it is the process of engaging the right people from across multiple sectors and viewpoints and harnessing that engagement to create lasting change that can be the most challenging. Overrepresentation of some sectors over others, too much emphasis on the ‘usual suspects’ and muted voices from individuals who might understand the issue the closest but lack the connections to participate, are all common challenges collaborative change-makers can attest to.

At a Cities Reducing Poverty summit last year in Edmonton, Ruth Kelly, President & CEO of Venture Publishing Inc., took to the stage in front of over 330 poverty reduction practitioners, people with lived experience and elected municipal officials and staff and stated that she was likely the only business person in the room.  She also warned the audience, “if you don’t engage them [the business sector] early on, they will be barriers to your success.” She spoke about the importance of educating all members of society about the benefits (social and otherwise) of poverty reduction and that everyone needs to be part of the solution. Before receiving a round of great applause, Kelly also shared her hope that, “next year’s conference would engage a broader group of people so that we’re not just talking about ourselves to ourselves, but that we are bringing in all of us to create solutions together.” See the full video here.

This year, Tamarack’s Cities Reducing Poverty: When Business is Engaged Summit will be hosted in Hamilton, ON from April 4-6 and the often-underrepresented voices will be given a new opportunity to join the conversation. Business leaders will join together with community organizers, mayors and municipal staff, federal and provincial/territorial governments, Indigenous leaders, as well as funders, policy makers, and persons with lived experience to talk about how together we can end poverty.

We know that the business sector has an immense and important role to play in our collective efforts to end poverty. However, let’s remember that this doesn’t mean that business leaders will have all of the answers. Only by meaningfully including representatives from all sectors can we begin to piece together the poverty reduction puzzle, and start to re-imagine, re-align and re-discover what we can do to make our communities more vibrant and prosperous for all.

To learn more about this year’s summit, Cities Reducing Poverty: When Business is Engaged visit the event website or reach out to Alison Homer at Alison@tamarackcommunity.ca

Crafty placemaking with Brussels-based Urban Foxes

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This is second in our Placemaker Profile series. Read Part 1, an interview with Victoria Dickenson, here.

We first heard of Urban Foxes, a Brussels-based collective, when one of its founders reached out to us, sharing their “Saint-Cath-sur-Mer” project. We found this to be an unassuming yet impactful approach to bringing people together around a common space that was previously underused. After doing further investigations, we learned that we share a name with Urban Foxes’ placemaking labs, as well as common interests in playful and participatory approaches to animating urban spaces. Two elements struck us: 1) a method of placemaking that is rooted in understanding a community’s assets and needs, and 2) an attention to inclusion, especially in the face of re/development that often puts private interests first. Keen to learn more about their background, approach, and on-the-ground projects, we asked Urban Foxes member Bram DeWolfs to answer a few questions.

All photos are courtesy of Urban Foxes.

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  1. Can you describe Urban Foxes' approach to placemaking?

As a fairly young collective with no structural funding nor employees, we have chosen to focus on relatively smaller actions in our city, Brussels. Most of the time we target enhancing urban wellbeing by using creative and playful interventions. We don’t differentiate between age groups or cultures. Everybody can play or participate, and we always make sure that activities are free of charge. When it’s more than a [small] intervention, e.g. like Canal Park BXL where we crowdfunded a small part of an urban wasteland (thanks to that pressure, now a large park of four hectares is being “installed” by the government), we aim to involve all stakeholders. We also organize annual placemaking city labs called “Cities for People”, funded by the Erasmus+ program, where 30 participants from all over Europe are immersed for eight days in the world of placemaking. During this time, participants visit places showing good practices, analyze public spaces, communicate with locals, take part in theoretical and practical workshops and in the end come up with their own ways to improve urban wellbeing.

For our last project “Saint-Cath-sur-Mer” we involved locals, restaurant owners, the local youth theatre, the three youth centers and a retirement home from a few blocks away. We tried to facilitate the process of starting up a common project, of which every stakeholder would be a part and where ideas could be proposed.

  1. How is placemaking around water different than on land? What are the benefits and obstacles to transforming water-scapes rather than landscapes?

At times with nice weather, the basins of the old harbour attract people looking for tranquility and relaxation. We wanted to preserve this sensation but we believed we could get more out of the unused space, which is approximately 3000 square meters, on the water. The water brings a natural feeling of poetry and triggers feelings and memories linked to the sea and water. It gives us something to look at, like the glistering and the movement of the water, but also the people around it. The obstacle of the water is that you cannot bring the people on that exact spot, like you would do on an empty market place or old parking lot, but you need to gather them around the water. But we used this disadvantage to our advantage. In order to facilitate encounter around the water, we opted for sailing boats that are controlled by the wind instead of radio-controlled. The wind took the boats across the water, which encouraged people to walk around, interact, and play, asking each other to “send” the boat back. Remote-controlled boats might have kept the people in their own private world, as happens a lot in our smartphone age.

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  1. With your Saint-Cath-Sur-Mer project, you refer to "Transforming the Fish Market into a place of wonder, playfulness and encounter." How did you go from their vision to a concrete action plan?

After the terrorist attacks and with the increasing acts of urban neoliberalism by the municipality, the people of Brussels needed playfulness and poetry more than ever. We had a vision of people of different social classes and origins would come together around the water. We wanted to facilitate encounters regardless of age or background. By winning the local competition make.brussels, an open-call to improve the image of Brussels and the wellbeing of their inhabitants, we won the necessary funds to buy the miniature sailing boats, construct the bike trailer and compensate the “vulnerable” youngsters that helped us with logistics (e.g. distributing the boats, maintenance, transporting the trailer, etc). We created a financial plan, a communication strategy, and a participatory process involving residents, local schools, youth centers, local businesses, neighbourhood committees and a retirement home. We bundled the ideas and concerns and came up with an action plan with ideas and proposals. After this process we launched the opening event were we invited all the stakeholders, and where everybody could enjoy the boats, a drink, and a jazz concert. We wanted a mobile and minimal intervention respecting the surroundings and [neighbourhood] identity, and involve all the stakeholders.

  1. The photos of your public space animations clearly show the potential of play to activate and encourage gathering around a public space. What other forms of play would you like to see in public spaces?

It is our dream that there would be an abundance of playing/sporting possibilities for all ages in the Brussels. One important thing that is missing in our municipality is a (soft) running track, but we would also love to see more public benches, parks, playgrounds, pétanque lanes, permanent ping-pong tables (on the newly pedestrianized Anspach boulevard, reclaimed by disobedient interventions of Picnic The Street, from which Urban Foxes sprouted) and of course fewer cars so we are able to breathe clean air.

urban-foxes3

  1. You mention the importance of free programming in public space (for example, providing residents with small sailboats, free of charge). What tensions do you perceive around financial access to public space (e.g. patios that are only available to paying patrons), and how do you see you work addressing these exclusions?

Currently we are dealing with local policy makers who focus on attracting tourists and increasing consumption by allowing restaurant holders to expand their patios, thereby sacrificing public space and benches. Several protests have been held, with some success, to reclaim the public space that was temporarily lost. We think it’s crucial that the City act as a smart and ethical buffer between the private sector and the city [as public space]. [We need to] keep in mind that the city should be for everyone, not only for those who consume. This is why that we will stay vigilant for matters dealing with public space and we will continue to strive for activities that are free of charge and thereby aiming at inclusiveness (like our mobile pétanque, mobile cinema/fablab). We believe that a city that is good for its people is good enough for tourists as well.

Digital technology as one pathway to social inclusion in placemaking

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As part of the Placemaking Leadership Forum in Vancouver, we had the opportunity to attend several breakout sessions on approaches to placemaking. One session that has stood out so far centred on Digital Placemaking - defined in the program as learning how to build in and wisely use technology in authentic ways that reinforce the place-based and community-centered approaches inherent to placemaking.

Moderator: Daniel Latorre, PPS, Digital Placemaking Institute (New York, NY)

Panelists: Cath Carver, Colour Your City (London, UK); Glenn Harding, UrbanScreens (Melbourne, Australia); Karen Quinn Fung, Vancouver Public Space Network (Vancouver, BC); Teeko Yang, Northern Spark (Minneapolis, MN); Yuri Aritbase, Strong Towns (Vancouver, BC)

While integrating digital technologies into our practices of placemaking was the focus of the discussion, themes like bridging online and place-based communities; thinking holistically about the environmental impacts of digital technologies; and the issue of who gets to tell and receive stories through digital technologies, brought up questions about how we can thoughtfully refine our concept of placemaking as new tools and technologies inform our practice.

In this blogpost, we summarize and reflect on three of the five excellent speakers whose work was thematically linked through explorations of the tension/synergy between the physical and digital communities that comprise placemaking.

cityscape

It was wonderful to hear from a Vancouverite, Karen Quinn Fung, who has experience working deeply in Vancouver's neighbourhoods through the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) and other groups. The VPSN is a citizen-led grassroots organization working in many facets of urban life in Vancouver, from open space design to ownership of and access to place - hugely important issues especially in cities with income inequality and the accompanying social and economic exclusion from place. They also work to bring to light the social use of public spaces - in fact, they were one of the organizers of this week's Placemaking Leadership Forum, putting together a fantastic #POPCrawl (Power of Place Crawl) to encourage participants to discover some of downtown Vancouver's underappreciated public spaces.

Karen raised thought-provoking questions around the ways in which we use digital tools and technologies to augment public participation, and the need to be conscious of different populations' comfort and trust of these technologies, especially with concerns about ownership of data. This was timely given all the praise and critiques of Pokemon Go, the location-based augmented reality game designed for mobile phones, and how it enhances or detracts from our experiences in public space. Karen also addressed an important question about the environmental impact of the manufacturing, use, and disposal of digital technologies. As a placemaker, she aligns with a "fixer" (rather than strictly "maker") state of mind, which involves a cultural shift towards understanding how things work and fixing/adapting/improving them; in other words, a shift away from planned obsolescence (something that moderator Dan Latorre also honed in on).

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Image from the Vancouver Public Space Network

Cath Carver presented a unique approach to expressing values and personal connections to place through colour. Why colour as a means of participating in placemaking? According to Colour Your City, "Colour impacts everything we do. It is a very powerful tool of language, expression, communication and connection. Everyone 'gets' colour, making it an accessible and potent tool." The idea that colour is something everyone can relate to and thus can use to ascribe meanings, values, and aspirations onto public spaces resonated with us, especially in light of concerns about "non-places" - places that are difficult to connect with due to their absence of rootedness in a particular community.

Cath's presentation brought about a few questions for us: How can we, as placemakers, use colour as an entry point to engage individuals to shape public space, particularly those whom 'traditional' public engagement does not reach? Who communicates the stories that inform public space design? How can we broaden the methods by which those stories are communicated so that more can be heard and thus included in the design and programming of spaces?

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Image from Colour Your City

Teeko Yang's work on the Minneapolis-St Paul based Northern Lights, a  a nonprofit arts organization working to transform our sense of what’s possible in public space, touched upon these questions as well. One of their main initiatives is Northern Spark, a "free, annual, dusk-to-dawn, multidisciplinary arts festival that takes place on the second Saturday of June in the Twin Cities and draws tens of thousands of Minnesotans each year". Like colour, light projections have a wonderful capacity to reach everyone who passes through or stops to dwell in a public space. Teeko explained that one of their core principles is not leaving anyone behind, which is a serious concern, especially in communities comprised of diverse migrant populations. Hearing Teeko's emphasis on not taking places away from people to make them more appealing to others was an important reminder as we increasingly work creatively to fuse the digital with the physical in the dynamic process of placemaking.

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Image from Twin Cities / Northern Lights

From all these thoughts, ideas, and questions, we can conclude that digital placemaking must begin from listening to how people understand and use a particular place, then humanizing technology to enable these multiple feelings, stories, and connections to be surfaced and communicated. This begins with acknowledging basic human instincts and desires, like curiosity, status, and search for meaning. Often for people to feel belonging in a spaces, those spaces must provoke an interest in newness in tandem with satisfying our intrinsic need for rootedness/connection/comfort. Our understanding from this rich session is that digital placemaking is a process that can either increase inclusion in placemaking, or push people away from places to which they no longer feel connection. We hope these open-ended conversations around the evolution of placemaking will continue.

Reimagining the Cities of Tomorrow

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Thanks to Social Connectedness for sharing the progress we made in Cities for People 1.0, and what our focus areas are - social inclusion being at the forefront - looking ahead!

Here's an excerpt:

According to a United Nations report, over half the world’s population live in cities. In Canada, close to 80% of Canadians live in urban areas. As cities become denser, an important question arises:  How we can make our urban spaces more livable, joyous and socially connected? Currently a pan-Canadian initiative is looking at ways to build more inclusive, innovative and resilient cities.

Cities for People is a collaborative initiative that aims to find diverse solutions to create more liveable cities. With a team of curators across Canada, Cities for People focused on innovative projects that explore four main themes during its experimental phase between January 2014 and June 2015. These pillars were art and society, new economies, cityscapes and citizen spaces. At the heart of each of these themes was social inclusion.

Jayne Engle is the National Curator for Cities for People. Engle emphasizes the importance of social inclusion,explaining that it stands as a core value in each of the organization’s activities. “It’s our feeling very much, that people living in poverty or situations of exclusion are best placed to lead the way in developing solutions. To bridge social divides, our experience tells us collaboration and working in solidarity are essential,” she says.

Cities for People originally planned on having social inclusion as a separate theme, but the team decided to integrate it as an essential element of each pillar in the experimental phase. Moving forward into Cities for People 2.0, social inclusion is deliberately highlighted. “The overarching values of inclusion, innovation and resilience are not underlying but front and centre at the same time,” Engle says about the initiative’s next steps.

Full article here.

Image from le Salon 1861.

Spikes, Shelters, and Stories: Listening to the voices of the urban homeless

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Urban design is not typically the point of heated political debate, though lately the internet has spoken otherwise. New anti-homeless spikes on benches in London and Montreal, deemed "hostile architecture", pitted citizens against local authorities, leading to an online petition that successfully led to the removal of the spikes.

PAY & SIT: the private bench (HD) from Fabian Brunsing on Vimeo.

If the spikes were a symbol of hostility towards the homeless, does their removal harbinger social inclusion and acceptance?

According to Matthew Pearce, CEO of the Old Brewery Mission in Montreal, one of Canada's largest homeless shelters, the answer is no.

Pearce writes in The Gazette that "We will not see any change in homelessness in Montreal unless we also change the way in which we respond to [homelessness]."

Being homeless is not simply about having a surface to sleep on-- it's about finding one's place in society without having a postal address or a door to welcome guests into.

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The Old Brewery Mission in Old Montreal. (Source: Flickr)

Pearce describes the current system of "warehousing" the homeless inside shelters as outdated. They are being replaced with transition programs, mental and physical health services, and different models of supported affordable housing. "Today, someone arriving at our doors for the first time heads to a residential assessment-and-referral program — not a shelter bed. Four in every five depart, and reintegrate into the community, within two to three weeks. The others move on to our transition programs. More than 500 of them reintegrate into society every year."

The success story of the Old Brewery Mission marks the importance of social inclusion, and getting folks back on their feet so they can walk on their own.

Social innovation breeds social inclusion

A new project in Spain delves deep into the stories, lives, and particularly the words of the homeless to a whole new level -- turning them into marketable typefaces. Homeless Fonts, a joint effort between the charitable Arrels Foundation and creative agency McCann Worldgroup, has paired designers with a handful of homeless people to create typefaces inspired by the handwriting of the homeless. The designers are taking the group's testimonies and handwritten cardboard signs to create a line of fonts that highlight the homeless experience in a personal way. The idea is for corporations to purchase these fonts for use, with proceeds going towards Arrels' homeless outreach work in Barcelona.

Another story-based initiative that runs on the voices of the homeless is London's Unseen Tours, a social enterprise that offers walking tours of London led by homeless, formerly homeless, and vulnerably housed tour guides. The enterprise grew out of the volunteer network the Sock Mob, a meetup group that facilitates interaction between people from different walks of life -- through socks and stories. Unseen Tours takes that model a step further by providing paid work to tour guides who can guide visitors through London's historical and cultural quirks through an alternative and meaningful lens.

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La Buanderie, or Streetsuds, an employment program for at-risk homeless adults to reintegrate into the workforce.

In Montreal, an industrial laundry service with a social mission aims to reintegrate people struggling with mental illness, homelessness and addiction into the working world. La Buanderue, or StreetSuds, was started by a McGill student and the Saint James drop-in centre as a one-year program aimed to prepare high-risk adults to return to the workforce. In addition to a bus pass and a $130 monthly allowance from Emploi-Québec, each graduate of StreetSuds receives a $1,000 bonus to set their futures in motion. The work at the laundromat is not easy, but participants appreciate the motivation to get up and go to work every morning.

Perhaps it's about empowering the marginalized, or being more inclusive in defining our urban community. Or, listening to the unheard stories of the streets we walk every day. As Pearce writes, "what we all share is a desire to see homelessness reduced".

But, whether it's a homeless youth or a struggling single mother in the city, those deemed powerless have just as much of a place in the city as a wealthy CEO living in a penthouse condominium. Famed urban theorist Saskia Sassen writes in "Does the City have Speech?": "the city, and  especially the street, is a space where the powerless can make history". Throughout history, the city has always been created a powerful collection of voices. It is the diversity of voices that breathe life into a fully complex and incomplete system - complex in its myriad stories and histories, and incomplete its continual rebirth.