During my graduate studies in Planning at the University of Toronto, my major research project explored conflicts that arise when communities go through the planning approval process to build new mosques. I examined the role of planners in deconstructing and challenging those conflicts. Mosques are some of the most contested building developments in the world, and by and large, when mosques applications are up for approval, deep community opposition about parking regulations, traffic, and compatible architecture among other complaints arise through the community consultation process.
Years later, I still feel resistant towards conversations about heritage because of what I learnt through that project about how arguments about compatible architecture can be deployed to oppose the spatial needs of non-dominant communities. And so when I saw Heritage Vancouver’s October 9th event titled “What do we do about neighbourhoods?” the second conversation in their “Shaping Vancouver: What’s the Use of Heritage?” series, my interest was piqued. One of my goals over the next twelve months is to learn more about planning in Vancouver. Since most programs in the city aimed at increasing civic education and involvement are aimed at the under 30 age group, and I fall outside of that bracket, I’m learning on my own, and this event felt like a good step on my learning journey. (On that note, anyone who is interested in starting/creating the equivalent of the DiverseCity Fellowship or the Maytree Policy School we need you in Vancouver.)
But I digress. I admit, I was nervous to attend the Heritage Vancouver event. When I think about planners or conversations about cities, I often imagine planners and community members who are white, male, and passionate about bike lanes. I don’t imagine someone who looks like myself: racialized, female and Muslim. At the event I was overwhelmingly in the minority and I quickly sought out the other racialized women at the event. (As a sidebar: It can be a bit daunting to share your thoughts in such a space, and I recommend approaches like the one described here to structure post-event question periods so that questions not just follow the order of hands that go up, but actively seek to hear from different voices in the room.)
The panel had four panelists: Jada-Gabrielle Pape, a facilitator and consultant with Courage Consulting, Jennifer Maiko Bradshaw, a pro-housing activist and Director of Abundant Housing Vancouver, Richard Evans from RePlan, a committee of the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association and Scot Hein, adjunct professor in the Master of Urban Design program at UBC. More detailed bios and information about the panelists can be found here.
Here are my takeaways and questions from what the panelists shared that night.
What a joy it is to come across beautiful writing. Everything about Instructions for a Heatwave is exquisite. The sentence structure, the lack of superfluous words, the stunning detailed descriptions, it is all part of a beauty that leaves your heart hurting and your eyes a bit teary without quite knowing why. Below, a description from the book about the love that can exist between a person and a city.
She misses London. She misses it the way she missed Joe. A strange, cramped pain that leaves her almost unable to speak. She has never lived anywhere else until now. She hadn’t really known that people lived anywhere else, or would want to. There are days when she can hardly bear it, when she walks across the landing of the house, again and again, her arms crossed over her middle, her mind overfilled with images of descending an escalator into the Piccadily Line on a wet, darkened evening, everyone’s umbrellas slicked with rain, of the ten-minute walk between her old flat and her mother’s house, of Highbury Fields on a misty day, of the view over the city from Primrose Hill. Homesick: she’s found that it really does make you feel sick, ill, maddened by longing.
Maggie O’Farrell, Instructions for a Heatwave, p.116-117.
I stumbled upon an article today about an incident from Australia where “a community centre which also facilitated Muslim prayers” was denied a planning permit. The post in its entirety can be read here, but the following quotes from the article caught my attention:
What hurt most was the open vindictiveness displayed by objector neighbours who were passionately against having this centre in their backyard.
At times the objections bordered on hysteria, I still have them in my file – “these Muslims celebrate something called Ramadan where they slaughter animals on site”, “I am followed by Muslims who want to steal my credit card details” And then there is the hysteria that connects extremism around the world with the establishment of an Islamic centre. That somehow if an Islamic centre were established it would produce a wave of extremists that would destroy the community. This is the sort of hysteria thrown up with attempts to establish Islamic centres in Camden, Perth and more recently in Doveton and Monash. (…) Sadly what does hold sway are incidences of double parking, blocking of driveways, and excessive noise. That is sad and indefensible. (…) And yet it is easily reversible by exemplary behaviour stemming from humility and sincere concern for the plight of God’s Creations – people and the environment. “
Though I respect the sentiment, and do agree with the point that faith centres should think about how they are helping the greater whole, there are two issues here that require a closer look.