Rob Shields, October 27 2017. Space and Culture Research Group
On October 27 Rob Shields presented asking, ‘What are the social effects of built infrastructure?’ Changing public interaction with civic infrastructure accumulates to changes in Canadian social forms. Infrastructure affects social integration, accessibility, and inclusiveness. Infrastructure choices affect the relations of core and periphery, and the exercise of sovereignty and Canadian values.
1. Infrastructure as representation of the system and program of the city?
Infrastructure has often been believed to reflect how the city creates its system and manages natural resources. However, that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes infrastructure functions in a way that is not planned or expected. For example, we may find many built infrastructures such as bridges that were designed to provide a new passage over an obstacle or adjust the traffic flow/density. Instead, they are now being used mainly as venues for festivals, markets, or more stationary activities. In this sense, infrastructure may not necessarily be “broken” or “dysfunctional”, but it sometimes evolves or is re-purposed by the local residents to serve different or even multiple functions.
Subdivided: City-Building in anAge of Hyper-Diversity (2016) is a collection of essays taken from a varied source of contributors writing about their experiences of diversity living in Toronto edited by Jay Pitter and John Lorinc. The book attempts to unpack the municipal and national mantra of “diversity is our strength” by exposing the reader to a myriad of unique experiences and world views and complicate the narrative of Toronto as the most multicultural city in the world. As Pitter writes, the reality of hyper-diversity demands a recognition of “diversities within diversities within diversities” and of the intersectionalities of the identities associated which make up that diversity.
Neither of the editors belong to the discipline or the profession of urban planner or have been involved in municipal governance, they are better described as city-builders: writers and activists that have invested personally and professionally in advancing progressive action in Toronto. Pitter has worked (and grew up in housing) with the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and both have written for publications such as Spacing and Walrus, among others. The rest of the contributors make up a diverse group of writers, urban planners, journalists, and lawyers among others.
With a narrative form and personal stories, Subdivided is aimed at a broad audience. While the inclusion of more theoretical and ideological language might distance some readers, the personal tone of the contributions anchors their stories in a very real and relatable way.
Although the stories shared in the book are very different, what they and the editors share is a desire to critique the current conception of diversity in Toronto and to explore the socioeconomic realities of the divisions separating those diverse groups. An interesting thread that the book picks is the universality of the impact upon these disparate groups relating to the changing economic realities of Toronto as housing prices skyrocket and government programs have been curtailed or abandoned completely. While reaching few conclusions, this exploration of the meaning of diversity in a changing economic and social context does accomplish its intended purpose – to start conversations. Exposing the reader to experiences of the “diverse” living at the margins of the popular and institutionally supported conception of Toronto’s diversity as a fait accompli (an attitude the transnationally wealthy in Toronto like to pat themselves on the back for), this anthology raises the question of what that attitude really means for those living that diversity without the power to challenge the accepted rhetoric.
Like David and Goliath, there is a mismatch between the scale at which environmental impacts are assessed under Canadian legislation and the geographical scale of environmental, human rights and economic risks. The Provincial Government of British Columbia is promoting the development of liquified natural gas (LNG) shipping terminal at the mouth of the Skeena River estuary by Petronas. Based on both cultural attitudes to the environment and scientific research, the proposal and and offer of $1.5B compensation has been rejected by the Lax-Kw’alaams First Nation on whose territory the LNG terminal would be located. Effectively this would be a form of expropriation approved by the Provincial government and is reminiscent of 19th century scrip practices in Canada, by which indigenous individuals were offered rations and money to extinguish their aboriginal rights to land and traditional hunting and gathering. An article published in Science(7 Aug 2015) by Jonathan Moore and others (Moore et al 2015) notes that this estuary is the site of the second-largest salmon-production in Canada, largely by First Nation communities. ‘Although terminal proponents and government have recognized interests of First Nations from the estuary during environmental assessment, they have ignored interests of upriver First Nations who also harvest salmon’ (see Stantec Consulting Ltd. Pacific Northwest LNG Environmental Assessment Certificate Application (Burnaby BC 2014) cited in Moore et al 2015).
‘Identifying the proper spatial scale for environmental decision-making is a fundamental challenge for environmental policy and ethics. Whether it is migratory animals like salmon that transmit impacts, hydro-electric dams that deprive downstream farming communities of water (see Glenn et al 1995 in Biology 10.1175), or carbon emissions from industrialized countries that raise ocean levels and threaten low-lying islands (see Barnett et al 2003 in Climate Change 61, 321), decisions can impact distant ecosystems and people. Science can and should inform the scale at which environmental decision-makers weigh risks to the environment and human rights against potential economic benefits’ (Moore et al 2015)
How does one heal a community after trauma? A difficult question, especially after the horrific events that occurred on the afternoon of January 22, 2016 in the small north-western Saskatchewan community school of La Loche where four people were killed and seven were injured by a young boy of 17, who is also of that community (La Loche Shooting, n.d.).
Now is the difficult time, where questions are being asked and a search for someone(thing) to blame begins; the answers do not emerge easily and are evasive. La Loche is a small isolated North-Western Saskatchewan Dene community that has experienced great amount of trauma, and not solely from this incident. It is a community that has been living the intergenerational effects of colonialism; many in the town have been directly and indirectly affected by the legacy of residential schools (Residential Schools, n.d.). As such, La Loche is a community where a people are struggling to find their way back to their Dene cultural and historical roots. It is also a community where: the young are beginning to outnumber the old; there is little hope or opportunities in town for their youth’s future; the social supports and resources are continually lacking and being cut back (Tait, 2016); and, they suffer one of the highest suicide rates in the province (Tait, 2016; O’Connors, Hall, & Warick, 2016; Mandryk, 2016; White, 2016). This community needs to heal in more ways than one.
Where does one even begin to heal?
One proposed way was put forth by Georgina Jolibois (MP for Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River) and by La Loche’s acting Mayor Kevin Janvier, both calling for the demolishing of the school (White, 2016; Tait, 2016). Georgina states, “Tear down the building, rebuild the building. There’s so much pain, so much trauma. They need to rebuild. The families are hurting, the youth are hurting, the community is hurting. The north is hurting” (Tait, 2016).
Is this the answer? How can a place hold such power over a community’s healing? A potential response might be found in the newly released document by the Government of Canada, the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada‘s (TRCC) report, detailing the injustices of “cultural genocide” (p. 55) committed upon the Indigenous peoples of this country through their forced assimilation and absorption via the residential school system. According to this report, residential schools are responsible for a “loss of pride and self respect” of and for Indigenous peoples in Canada (p. VI). This “loss” and “cultural genocide”, as can be surmised by engaging with this document, is firmly connected to a profound disconnect from place, which consequently led to a disconnect from history, culture, language, and family.
Residential schools that are still left standing remain an imposing fixture (physically and emotionally) in various Indigenous communities. While some have been re-claimed and re-purposed by the community, others lay empty acting as ghostly reminders of a horrific past. These structures are places of great trauma and unsettling memory. They are not merely buildings; rather, they are places that conjure temporal and spatial disturbances for all who are in their presence. The school buildings evoke memories, recall histories or pasts, generate affects (physical and emotional), transform the spaces around them, and create potential becomings (positive or negative) for all who engage with them.
The heart of the TRCC report is regarding reconciliation, not only for the survivors and their families, but also for Canada as whole. It is about developing a mutual respect, reciprocity, and a recognition that we are all interconnected in this process of healing that requires all of us learning from our shared and difficult past. Reconciliation is not just one thing we do to make ourselves feel better, it is something that needs to be adopted into our ethics of how we might engage with life differently. Therefore, one needs to do more than just talk about reconciliation, “[one] must learn to practice reconciliation in our lives” (p. 21).
In terms of reconciling and healing through the tragic events of January 22nd, there is a need to look beyond this single event and realize that it is not a simple fix and it requires a look at the past – no matter how uncomfortable that will be. It is a realization that this community school building is not just a simple building, rather a conduit to the past, present, and future of and for this community. Reconciliation begins with how we enter a place and interact with it. Healing, therefore, might also being with how we choose to engage with this community and respect their path towards reconciling their trauma. Georgina Jolibois, stated “when you listen to the community, when you listen to the youth, when you listen to the elders, and the pain – they will say that [they wish the building to be demolished] also” (Tait, 2016, n.p.). The fate of the building is tied to the community and listening to the community is where one might begin.
Adriana Boffa (University of Alberta)
La Loche shootings: The victims, the town, the school and the tragic tale so far. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2016, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/la-loche-shootings-the-victims-the-town-and-the-tragic-tale-sofar/article28368674/
Mandryk, M. (2016, January 26). La Loche shooting tragedy seemed almost inevitable. Regina Leader Post. Retrieved from http://leaderpost.com/opinion/columnists/la-loche-shooting-tragedy-seemed-almost-inevitable
O’Connor, J., Hill, A., & Warick, J. (2016, January 25). La Loche fights to find hope. National Post, In Edmonton Journal, pp. NP1-NP3.
Residential Schools – History of La Loche. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2016, from https://sites.google.com/site/portagelaloche/history/6-residential-schools
Tait, Carrie. (2016, January 24). La Loche turns to forgiveness, healing in wake of shootings that killed four. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/it-hurts-for-everybody-la-loche-residents-in-mourning-after-school-shooting/article28363770/
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Retrieved from http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/201/301/weekly_acquisition_lists/2015/w15-24-F-E.html/collections/collection_2015/trc/IR4-7-2015-eng.pdf
White, P. (2016, January 24). La Loche: A beautiful town with a rough reputation. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/la-loche-a-beautiful-town-with-a-rough-reputation/article28367474/
Slavoj Žižek, Yanis Varoufakis & Julian Assange at ‘Europe is Kaput!’ in London Nov. 16 2015. What was said: Video. Alainah Rook has provided a transcript of the evening at Southbank Centre.
Crucially, solidarity with Paris includes recognizing that similar experiences of bombing has been endured throughout Syria and Iraq by civilians. Why is there no discussion of the role of the Gulf States? Rather than repeating the tragedy of ‘us’ against ‘them’ in which countries declare that they are at ‘war’ with the Other, attention to the root causes of inequality and inhumanity are required.
War on the Other
Declaring war is the easy way out. It panders to desires for revenge which perpetuate a cycle of violence on an international scale. We need to confront the fear of difference and the operation of states for corporate interests rather than the rights and interests of citizens.
War on the ‘Grey Zone’
Assange points out how Clinton and Hollande are in effect consenting to Isis’ stated strategy of eliminating the ‘grey zone’ of tolerant, secular societies centred on human rights and creating a polarized, intolerant situation instead. There is no ‘exit option’ being pursued for radicalized Muslims that would allow them to to see a more compassionate but still religious alternative.
‘You end capitalism; you end Isis’
Zizek’s closing call is to remove the competition over oil resources for which the Middle East is been an imperial playground for over a century.
Assange calls the Trans Pacific Partnership a “rebordering” of the economic and legal world. A geostrategic shift such as this unites multiple, heterogenous forces in an ‘economic NATO’. It locks in neoliberalism across continents but has not been engaged intellectually.
This is a provocative conversation for Canadians, sitting on vast energy reserves and themselves trying to grapple with these challenges: how not to be shunted aside by foreign, often state-owned, corporations; and how to move from an economy based on fluctuating ‘rent’ from the value of raw resources to ‘profit’ from the ingenuity of its people; how to courageously extend an ethics which is neither charity nor humanitarianism to welcome new refugees.
Listening to the Chair’s struggle to allow all three of his speakers to be heard, the last word to Rook for her hard work:
‘I believe it is not simply just that the content of the evening many will find either compelling or arguable, but that the success is in having the conversation at all. If there is a movement towards those who wish to unite, globally, sharing ideas and perspectives, reforms and solutions, many more conversations such as this will need to take place. But if the potential for its success is already laid out in available means: the Internet, discussion, and education – it is not unattainable.’
The Mowat Centre has created a map of the areas where Canadians are not thriving, based on health district data. Unfortunately, these often cover huge areas and mix both cities and regions. In many regions data is not available. Other projects, such as the recent Faculty of Extension project of early childhood well-being in Alberta have previously shown just how difficult it is to correlate information collected by school district, with socioeconomic information and household data collected on the basis of census areas. The various areas overlap but do not correspond with each other.
This restates the spatialisation of Canada in terms of well-serviced metropolitan centres and unserviced frontiers, notably in the north. Where regions do score better it is because of the presence of large cities, such as Edmonton and Fort McMurray for the case of northern Alberta (Wood-Buffalo) in comparison to northern British Columbia.