With Warmheartedness, Intelligence is Constructive

Hart House, University of Toronto

 For two days in 2009, I was transfixed by the amazing speakers who spoke about peace and transformation at the Vancouver Peace Summit. Their message, that we need to think about how we are creating spiritually healthy communities was powerful, and it is inspiring to see examples of communities attempting to bring this idea to life. 

Last year for instance, Karen Armstrong, the winner of the 2008 TED prize and author of “Twelve Steps to Live a Compassionate Life” visited Vancouver for twelve days to hold discussions across the city on compassion. The visit also marked “the launch of the Greater Vancouver Compassion Network, part of an international movement to build compassionate communities” (12 Days of Compassion, SFU).  Also in BC, the Healing Cities Institute examines the connections between city form and public health/ healing and investigates the “spiritual dimensions of urbanism” and the “concept of the sacred within planning” (Healing Cities Institute, About.)  And in 2007 Durham University in the UK held a 24 hour colloqium about the “connections between connections between faith/spirituality and contemporary city-making” titled Faith and Spirituality in the City.

Similar to how we consider how social connection, economic and physical health is nurtured or hindered in our city, these initiatives ask us to consider how our cities nurture or hinder spiritual health. They ask us to think about how different areas of city life are connected, and it is exciting to imagine city planning occurring in such an integrated way. They also ask us to be clear about the values that infuse our planning process. In Vancouver for instance, sustainability is an organising principle in the muncipal planning process, and whether it is in food policy plans, regional strategic plans or in buying decisions, an explanation is needed about how the principle of sustainability is being advanced. 

All of this work is still very new and rapidly developing. Here’s to hoping these conversations continue to grow and spread and are able to create change! See below for selections from my Peace Summit notes.

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Awesome Event Alert! Digital Storytelling, Adequate Housing, Hong Kong in Lego and Indonesian Culture

It’s been two weeks since I’ve returned to Vancouver, and I’m still getting reacquainted with the city. There are parts of the city that are so familiar, certain intersections where I caught a bus for years, much-loved coffee shops that haven’t changed, libraries that have the same quirky librarians, streets that feel like home, and yet there is so so much that is new. There are new buildings, new bus routes, new projects, and details to the city that were not here when Vancouver was last home. Discovering the city again is a strange but exciting adventure, and part of that process involves doing what I do anytime I’m in a new place. It involves finding and attending lectures and events that make my heart sing. Below are a few lectures and exhibits that I’m excited to attend over the next few weeks.

1) Digital Storytelling Unconference. July 7th from 9:30-4:30 at the Network Hub

This is an unconference (meaning that the participants suggest content and present it the day of the event) about digital storytelling. Not only is the subject matter fascinating, but it’s at the Network Hub, an office sharing space I’m interested to learn more about. One of my favourite spots in Toronto was the Centre for Social Innovation, and I’m curious to know if the Network Hub is a similar sort of space. Early bird sales tickets are over, and regular tickets are now $25.  Volunteer opportunities are also available at the event.

2) The Right to Adequate Housing: From Practice to Policy to Practice – A Talk by Miloon Kothari. July 9th, 7PM, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. ($10)

 If you’re interested in issues related to the Global South, housing, and are a fan of Miloon Kothari, this seems like it will be an amazing, educational evening. As a side note, SFU has so many interesting events going on right now! When I was doing my undergrad, you had to go all the way to UBC for amazing public lectures, but I’m happy to see all the wonderful things going on through SFU at present. All three SFU campuses are transit friendly, and that makes it easier to attend events even when you have a bit of a commute.

3) Adab: Expressions of Indonesian Culture– Tuesday, July 17, 7pm, Simon Fraser University

To celebrate 60 years of the Canadian-Indonesian diplomatic relationship, the SFU Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Culture and the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Vancouver are doing a special lecture featuring a keynote lecture by Azyumardi Azra and a performance by a gamelan orchestra. I’m excited to attend and to look up the books that the keynote speaker has written, because they seem to address the subject of how Islam is expressed in Indonesia. After traveling to Bandung this summer, I’m thirsty to learn more about this topic.


1) Raqs Media Collective: The Primary Education of the Autodidact (Audain Gallery – 149 W Hastings St, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, SFU)

This is a window exhibit on display till Sept 4th 2012 as part of the Indian Summer Festival. It’s free, and meant to explore the idea of “the university as a site of knowledge production.”

2) In My Life, Pearl of the Orient – Hong Kong.

On display at the Aberdeen Mall, this is an exhibit that seeks to create a version of the Hong Kong Victoria Harbour Skyline. I am a bit in love with Hong Kong’s skyline, and  this sounds like an incredible project. There is a house from the sixties that you can visit, street food stalls, and the whole thing is constructed by one of thirteen Lego Professionals in the world. Something to definitely check out before it leaves Aberdeen Mall on Sept 3rd.

Is Resilience Just a First World Concept?

While you were doing the World Cafe, people were marching in Tahrir Square. And they aren’t protesting because Mubarak is a bad leader, that is beside the point, they are protesting because people in that country didn’t think about  the issues you are thinking about.  Back when the protestors were two years old, people in that country didn’t think about what they would grow up and do, and this is what happens when young men have nothing to do. So that’s why you see protests across the Middle East right now.”~ Craig Applegath, CAPS-ACEAU.

The final keynote speaker said these words a few minutes before the conclusion of the Canadian Association of Planning Students annual conference, and I’m still surprised it happened. Given the fact that many countries ( the US etc) have supported the Egyptian dictatorship for so many years and have been so timid in supporting the Egyptian people during the recent events, this is a simply inaccurate and inappropriate way to describe what has been going on.

More than it just being a crazy thing to say though, I mention the example of Egypt because it perfectly describes a wider problem with the CAPS conference this year. The discussion of resilience was incredibly simplistic.

I say this because in March 2010 I attended the 2nd Annual UBC School of Community and Regional Planning Symposium about Planning for Resilience, and over the course of an amazing two days, the conference showcased sessions about diverse topics ranging from planning for housing in Mumbai, to the relationship between social media and planning and resilience, to disaster management in North Vancouver, to just so so much more. Before the conference we were sent required readings that related to the keynote speakers, and Mark Holland sent us his Resilient Cities and Regenerative Regions Manifesto.  It was and still is, one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read. I blogged about a few key points here on Terry last year, but really the whole Manifesto is well worth a careful reading.

In Mark Holland’s work, his principles about the relationship between us and other places include:

  • “Everything is connected and that the dispassionate karma of the earth offers a reaction for every one of our actions;
  • That we must transform our cities from a parasitic to a symbiotic relationship with our all other species in the world;
  • That the scale of change we need can only be realized when we work together to coauthor a future that fits us all;
  • .. because there is no “social out there” any more than there is an ecological “out there”,  we must confront our fears and work to heal those who have been hurt or have hurt us ‐ for pain is a virus that is passed on until it is confronted and healed – and while in action, it hurts all species.

and later on in the Manifesto it says:

I will open to the pain that I cause in the world through my ignorance and fear and the distance I seem to have from my internal dignity and nobility, and I will feel the pain, shock and injustice of participating in the death of so many, if only by accident – and then I will move past that grief to the restless serenity of my responsibility – to my planet, to my community, to my family, and to myself;”

The key point: We are a source of harm and have a responsibility to rectify our actions because we are all connected. This idea is clearly evident throughout the whole document which emphasizes that while yes we must focus on building healthy communities, this can only happen when we are engaged and committed to building resilience everywhere.

At CAPS however, Thomas Homer Dixon noted in his presentation that it is very likely that Israel will invade Iran in the next five years, and that would cause disturbances in our energy supply, so we need to be ready for that. In other parts of his presentation he spoke about the need to de-couple and reduce energy dependency, and it seemed as thoug attacks in other places ok is long as long as we aren’t affected. Surely we don’t care about populations merely when our own survival is threatened.

So while withstanding shocks was spoken about, thinking deeply about reducing the occurrence of human produced shocks in the first place was not.  This is a shame because if we are concerned about fluctuations in access to oil from the Middle East due to conflict, our discussion is incomplete if we don’t talk about reducing conflict in the first place. It is a bit like trying to give a patient a pill for a fever, without thinking holistically about what is making the body sick in the first place.

It reminded me of the work of Scott McMurray, (one of the keynote speakers who actually was phenomenal), who said:

“Interdisciplinary work helps us avoid what Kenneth Burke called “trained incapacity,” which is a kind of blindness associated with being deep but not very wide. Despite the risks, we should step outside of the metaphors and narratives that form our intellectual safe zones as often as we can”.

And as much as I enjoyed meeting cool people, the experience of presenting my research, the humour and warmth of the Professional Panel, and the dynamic mobile tours, sadly, the conference discussion of resilience by a few of the keynote speakers did feel lacking. We all know energy is a problem, we all know climate changing is happening and that we need to think about food, but you’re only saying something  innovative and meaningful when we think about the system, the planet as a whole.

To illustrate, what wasn’t discussed was that as first world industrialized countries  we actively produce shocks in other places, and a real difference exists between places in terms of their capacity to plan for resilience.  A resilient city we were told, has “sustainable energy flows, maximizes flexibility, is about local self sufficiency, reduces redundancy of systems while still ensuring diversity of systems, and has a decentralized system (in addition to one more attribute related to the environment). On an international scale though, there are real impediments to places implementing these characteristics; foreign policy gets in the way. One of the panel presenters responded to a question about planning in Africa and noted that in Durban they got tired of what the World Bank was saying their cities had to look like, and so they created their own plan in response. Think of the capacity of places like Palestine, Pakistan, Iraq etc etc to do the same.  The whole Gaza flotilla crisis was about enabling basic supplies to enter Palestine in order to reduce the fragility of the Palestinian people and ensure basic human rights. The policies of our governments often create barriers for other nations to achieve resiliency.

Finally, we never spoke about the impact our work to become more resilient will have on the rest of the world. As we try to revitalize local manufacturing and increase local food production, what does that mean for other places? Wouldn’t that create ripple effects and create external shocks?  That doesn’t mean resilience planning isn’t important, but we do need to understand the wider picture.

In sum, without a description of power, the model is not helpful at best, and at most is scarily preservationist. The result is a world with resilient pockets and non resilient pockets, which is perhaps a recipe for an overall non resilient world, a world that is constantly generating shocks that we will be forced to respond to.

Great to meet today.

It is day 2 at CAPS-ACEAU in Waterloo, and I’m thoroughly enjoying my time at the conference. I gave a talk this morning titled “Faith in the City” about land use conflicts around the building of mosques, and what these conflicts mean for urban planning as a whole. If you were there, I hope you liked it! Once I’m back in Toronto, I’ll post resources that I mentioned during the talk as well as a copy of the talk hopefully, so do check back in a couple of days..probably on Sunday.

Difference is a Good Thing (A Peek into my Non-Family Household)

We had a discussion at home the other day about whether or not we choose our friends. I was convinced we do, but afterwards realised that the Roommate was right. We don’t really choose them, it’s more that life itself chooses our friends for us. At least that’s how it’s always worked for me. In nearly all the people who I consider close and dear, our meeting is an unusual story, and extraordinary timing and coincidence (being in a particular place on a particular day for instance) played a role in how we became important parts of each other’s lives.

The Roommate and I are no different. In the weeks leading to my departure for Toronto, I spent huge amounts of time on Craigslist and Viewit.ca and Kijji and Padmapper and all sorts of other apartment hunting sites trying to find a place that I liked enough to commit to. For the most part, listings would read: “Most AMAZING apartment ever! Beautiful, sun filled, spacious, and an incredible deal! Close to everything, food, transit, the city, the university etc”. And then I would actually look at pictures, and it would invariably be a small dark apartment with an unpleasant colour of walls, and some dude’s lumpy mattress in the middle of the room. After a while, I could no longer distinguish one listing from another, time was ticking by and I was really no closer to finding a place.

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