Neighbourhood Projects|


Exploring the Way Forward Toward New Horizons

“Long-term wellbeing of residents should be baked into developer projects, not just in the typical brochure way, but in a more disciplined, tough-minded way. People take vacations in suburbia, but they travel to Florence squares and markets because they love being there; because it is beautiful and fit for human living.”

Milton Friesen to Peter Chiaramonte

Milton and I met again this week for coffee at Balzac’s café inside the Toronto Public Reference Library. We’ve been exploring the way forward—together— applying his expertise in urban planning with our (CityPlace Residents’) shared interest in adapting innovative business and social structures to the human dynamics interactions at CityPlace, Toronto.

The next morning there was another book in my Inbox, Postsecular Cities: Space, Theory and Practice, by Beaumont and Baker. Chapter 5 begins with an intriguing question and answer from Adrienne Rich (from Dreams Before Waking): “What would it mean to live in a city whose people were changing each other’s despair into hope? You yourself must change it.” (Italics mine.)

Reading this jiggled a bell in my head; something else Milton said about “how to build the social effects and community effects into business planning models, so that the value of those ‘intangible’ aspects of life are taken stock of…” and “Long-term wellbeing of residents should be baked into developer projects, not just in the typical brochure way, but in a more disciplined, tough-minded way.”

You see the challenge.

“Whole Life Place Planning”

Throughout our ongoing conversations—together with Rafael Gomez at the U. of Toronto CityLab program—Milton and I have been sharing diverse literatures—from urban planning and design and landscape architecture to local economic development, community development, and ecological planning—all to include or incorporate issues of “social capital.”

A large part of the challenge will be, in my view, how to expand this conversation to include more of our residents, developers, city planners and policymakers—“in a more disciplined, tough-minded way.” Not just mouthing the words in some slick, inauthentically idealized brochure sort-of-way. You know the drill when you see it: actors in makeup standing in for real people, kids and dogs.

I mean no disrespect towards Concord Pacific developers—the corporate group of companies responsible, not only for Concord Pacific Place in Vancouver and CityPlace in Toronto—but who have expanded with numerous other large-scale “Master-planned” (as they say) communities all across Canada. Here’s the rub: It’s one thing to espouse a belief that “Communities are more than bricks and mortar” on a website. It’s quite another to put your money where your ads are.

What I’m learning from urban/community development experts like Milton Friesen and Rafael Gomez is that—at its core—planning how to live with each other in the shared spaces within multicultural cities is an ethical enterprise, not primarily a capital venture. (Though it’s often planned and developed that way.) Or, as Sandercock and Senbel put it in Chapter 5 of Postsecular Cities, “Planning is fundamentally a work of hope, the work of organizing hope.”

Writes Friesen, “The built-in logic of corporate processes constitutes a feedback mechanism that ‘mutes’ anything that does not fit the mechanism’s logic. [This] example of corporate processes generating feedback loops optimized for one type of product profit margin at the expense of another.” To which I’ve added my opinion that, even at its best, modernist urban planning is ingrained with a reliance on the rational ordering of cities—and this mechanistic design for living has proven awfully unsatisfying for so many.

What Role Can and Should the CPRA Directors Play?

Riffing on the “Spirituality at Work in the City” segment of Sandercock and Senbel’s chapter in Postsecular Cities, I imagine Canoe Landing Campus facilities as being occupied as a bright and busy place; buzzing with goodwill and camaraderie. Volunteer staff working alongside Rec Centre employees. I can close my eyes to concentrate on the sweet and spicy scents of potluck dishes I imagine being reheated in the kitchen adjacent to the reception areas.

I hear children screaming with laughter and watch young adults helping some seniors and homeless folks trying on, or donating, shoes and jackets from one of the free clothing bins in the hallways. Overall, a thriving gathering place for everyone in this urban neighbourhood of 20,000 people. Meeting places where people come together and connect.

Bringing people together to work through matters of values and meaning, not just material things. Ways of living and feeling and being among others, for instance. A matter of daily practice. An ethic towards others, not just another MASTER PLAN designed remotely by others further removed from the premises in play than we are.

As we move ahead into 2020 full-steam and “damn the torpedoes,” I expect these ongoing conversations with Milton and other experts to continue. We all have a role to play. I’ve reached out to the developer. While we wait for a response, there’s plenty we can get busy with on our own in the meantime.

Canoe Landing Spirits’ Call to Action

First of all, we can readily gather important data related to individual interactions within social structures related to our location, average education, income, and a whole range of other gainful perceptions—and present this information and our analysis to planners and policy makers. Please stay tuned for online surveys that will request and require your active participation.

For example, there are surveys we can invite Residents to participate in the collection of important CityPlace data—perhaps using the GPS capabilities of our ubiquitous cell phones—to include “social capital” investigations. There are spatial networks analysis tools, and other instruments Milton Friesen can tell us more about. I’ll be inviting him to speak at our April Board Meeting, TBA. I’d like to extend this invitation to our CityPlace community-at-large.

* * *

New knowledge emerges from the complex systems and networks of natural human, social interactions—in places where “rights meet responsibilities of humility and awe at our common humanity and collective destiny, despite our incredible diversity,” write Leonie Sandercock and Maged Senbel.

“The spirit at the heart of planning engages…in a struggle to moderate greed with generosity, to conjoin private ambition with civic ambition…to think…about future generations as we do about our own, to mindfully weigh the importance of memory alongside the need for change.”

CityPlace. Here and now. Its history; its future—both our legacy and our collective responsibility—and its formable challenges.

What would it feel like to live in a city where people were changing themselves and, by extension, each other’s despair into hope? Let’s find out, shall we? Together. Let’s get into the Spirit of this place with its ancestry and its inherent potential, embedded in its cultural DNA.

“Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”

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—Marshall Brickman, attributed to Woody Allen in their screenplay for the
Academy Award Winning Best Picture, Annie Hall.


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