How can we create a post-pandemic Vancouver that is just, equitable, decolonized, and inclusive for all?
The Vancouver City Planning Commission, supported by SFU Public Square, launched its on-line conversation series the Vancouver We Want, the City We Need on June 23, 2020.
Hosted by VCPC co-chair Omar Dominguez, 346 unique participants joined current commissioners Sierra Tasi Baker, Veronika Bylicki, and Amina Yasin, and former commissioner Leslie Shieh for the 90-minute event. The panelists addressed the question How can we create a post-pandemic Vancouver that is just, equitable, decolonized, and inclusive for all? followed by a Q & A session with participants.
Sierra Tasi Baker is the lead cultural and design consultant at Sky Spirit Consulting. Her work focuses on developing indigenous design methodologies, respectful indigenous consultation, sustainable community planning, and urban policy.
Veronika Bylicki is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of CityHive, an organization on a mission to transform the way that young people are engaged in civic processes and shaping their cities.
Leslie Shieh is the co-founder of Tomo Spaces, a research-driven development firm in Vancouver focused on furthering social and environmental goals through real estate.
Amina Yasin works as an urban planner with a focus on anti-racism, equity, accessibility and redress in planning practice and the profession. She is also a board member of the Hogan’s Alley Society.
Omar Dominguez is the director of government relations at Vantage Point and is the co-founder of Happy City. He has a diverse background in consulting, urban planning, sustainable finance, interdisciplinary research, community development, and public engagement initiatives across multiple economic sectors and regions.
Full biographies here.
Here are a few highlights from the conversation. Please see the video recording of the event below for the whole discussion. A full transcript is available here.
Omar begun the evening by welcoming participants and personalized his indigenous acknowledgement by describing his birthplace on the land of the MexihcahMichoacan Ppeople in Mexico City and his current status as an uninvited guest on the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh People.
He highlighted VCPC’s status as a volunteer board of concerned citizens (not city staff) with a mandate to advise City Council. He then recognized and condemned the legacy of unjustifiable harm, violence, colonization and systemic racism on Indigenous, Black and People of Colour in the development of the city of Vancouver and the history of the VCPC, including in ongoing experiences such as the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 response.
Sierra, as a member of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), welcomed participants to Squamish territory and elaborated on the concept of two-eyed seeing- a way of being able to translate between western worldviews and indigenous ways of knowing. Two-eyed seeing ensures better communication between indigenous and western cultures, so that reconciliation can be approached from anti-colonized lands, and engagement can be truly meaningful.
She noted that we already have the reports, the calls to action, the declarations [on racism and colonialism], but are still in the position where we have to confront white supremacy every day just to get to a point where we can start being creative.
She spoke of her family’s knowledge of how to govern this land, how to have safe, creative, beautiful spaces in this land going back generations, and how Indigenous people walk through the city that has been designed intentionally against their cultural practices, intentionally racist. A decolonized process is a sigh of relief for everyone.
Veronika spoke about how COVID has made more visible the inequities brought about by colonization and white supremacy and how they overlap with the systems that exclude youth from engaging with their city and communities.
Part of imagining a post-pandemic city would focus on process, in particular in nourishing engagement, developing deep literacy and capacity in communities, examining who we do and don’t see as experts, and tackling specific barriers to access rather than generalizing engagement which traditionally has not worked.
Recognizing that lived experience gives people expertise can help people realize that they do belong in the engagement process, building trust and sharing power.
Leslie shared four scenarios that she and her project team have recently been using as a platform for discussion about the post-pandemic city:
1) Almost business as usual: like after 9/11 and 2008 cities almost recover with people adapting to more surveillance and control;
2) The smaller world: people move to smaller communities, more of life takes place on-line, people develop neighbourhood-based mutual aid groups and support local businesses, and people are more cautious of outsiders;
3) Winner-takes-all: the inequities and systems-failures underscored by COVID are exacerbated as some people do well and others suffer;
4) Truer democracy: drawing on collective intelligence and innovation, people take deliberate action to make their cities more equitable, just and inclusive.
Leslie also noted the need for nuanced discussions of the major topics like density that are continually coming up in city-building discussions, the need for detailed, disaggregated data and the need for capacity-building.
Amina spoke about how anti-Blackness has never existed in isolation in Canada, particularly in the way policy, zoning and land use planning has developed in and across the country impacting Black communities, specifically low-income Black communities, and how racism needs to be addressed in the planning profession before we can move to envisioning a post-pandemic city.
She addressed the fact that we are seeing racialized, low-income and disabled people being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, challenging why the onus is on these communities to fight to be heard and calling for disaggregated, race-based data.
She notes that Canada hides these kinds of disparities and that there needs to be hard questions about bias, including in planning schools, individual planners and within city planning departments, and how that affects health and the built environment.
Amina also reflected on the problems with top-down, siloed approaches to planning, lack of meaningful engagement and noted that in the past few weeks Black and Indigenous people have been taking back the streets and public spaces themselves – they didn’t need the city or planners to do it for them. Existing in public space for Black and indigenous people is already a strike against white supremacy.
Thank you to VCPC Executive Director Yuri Artibise and Seth Erais from SFU Public Square, VCPC Commissioners Robyn Chan, Alyssa Koehn, Alix Krahn, Albert Zhong and Marnie Tamaki, and consultant Samantha Anderson for their behind-the-scenes support.
Thank you also to Patricia McDougall for the beautiful graphic summary of the conversation.
Close captioning was provided by Elizabeth Royal at Accurate Realtime Reporting Inc.