Filipino immigrants are a rapidly growing group in many Canadian cities: there are almost half a million Filipinos in the country. In many ways, they are distinct: recent studies have highlighted their increasing dependence upon the Live-in Caregiver Program, their difficulties finding work in their occupations, and the implications of long periods of separation upon their families in Canada and the Philippines. Last year, the Vancouver Sun ran a four-part series on Filipinos in Canada, which they dubbed “The Filipino Factor”. This weekend the Globe and Mail featured a two-page spread, now that the Philippines outpaces China and India as the main source of immigrants to Canada. In my view, the distinctive patterns of Filipino immigrants make them an ideal case study that can teach us about immigrants’ integration, labour market participation and survival strategies.

As many of you know, my dissertation focuses on Filipinos’ housing and transportation choices in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), where over 170,000 Filipinos live. I’m rapidly nearing the end of my four years in the PhD programme at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning, which means I’m finishing my study and getting ready to publish my results. I have found that Filipino immigrants display a remarkable resilience in their housing and transportation choices. It’s the same resilience that is portrayed in the media: Filipinos come from a country with far less economic and political stability than Canada, and they are willing to work hard to succeed here. They do experience significant barriers to their integration, if we’re talking about the labour market. But socially, they must be one of the most integrated groups in Canada: they are very spatially dispersed and do not form ethnic enclaves. They are also experts in community-building: Filipinos have established hundreds of non-profit, community, and advocacy groups in Canadian cities. These groups help new arrivals find jobs, train for new careers, and adjust to life in Canada; they are often staffed by both paid and volunteer Filipinos. Prominent Filipino researchers Dr. Nora Angeles and Dr. Aprodicio Laquian have done research in this area; Nora is currently an Associate Professor at SCARP and Prod is a Professor Emeritus at our school.

In my own research, I have seen that Filipinos’ lower homeownership rate and higher transit commuting rate can partially be explained by their flexibility: they make practical choices depending on access to transit and the location of their workplaces, their children’s schools, shops and services. They move back and forth between owning and renting, driving and transit use, depending on changes in their families and careers. These choices mirror their experiences in the Philippines, where many lived in dense, mixed-use communities with access to transit. Of course, their choices are also shaped by structural changes in housing policy, immigration policy, and the labour market over the years.

We can’t ignore the issues faced by growing number of Filipinos who work far below their education and skill levels, or the policy shifts that have made things more difficult for recent arrivals (Dr. Phil Kelly at York University has written extensively on this subject). In the 1990s and 2000s, immigration from the Philippines increased markedly, and many of these new immigrants entered under the LCP rather than Skilled Worker or Family Class immigration categories. It will take these more recent immigrants longer to find jobs in their professions than earlier immigrants, and during this time they work long hours and have difficulty studying for recertification; many have college diplomas or university degrees from the Philippines that Canadian employers and professional associations do not recognize. However, in the face of these changes in immigration policy and the labour market, Filipinos’ resiliency strategy serves them well. Because they remain flexible and mobile in their housing and transportation decisions, they are able to adapt to changing situations, like divorce, training for a new job, or offering a room to recently-arrived family members when they arrive in Canada.

Why all the fuss about Filipinos? After all, we’re a multicultural society…why focus on one particular group? Because Filipinos have higher than average rates of education and are fluent in English, but are not able to work in their professions, which means they often have lower than average incomes. For example, over the years, Filipinos’ jobs in finance, insurance and real estate have changed to jobs in manufacturing and the service sector. Filipinos seem to be more affected by changes in immigration policy, such as the LCP. Their resiliency strategy towards housing and transportation choice may be unique. For these reasons, a case study of Filipinos may be instructive to researchers studying immigrants’ housing, settlement, and labour market patterns.

This week, I’ll be presenting my work at the National Metropolis Conference here in Vancouver. I’m looking forward to seeing other researchers in urban planning, geography and sociology who are studying how immigrants settle into Canadian cities. Metropolis Canada is part of an international network of researchers on immigration and migration, and there is also an annual conference in Europe each year. The best part is the diversity of academic researchers, community researchers, non-profit housing providers, immigrant service providers, and of course students who come to the conference to share their research and best practices on immigrant integration. I’ll never forget my first Metropolis conference last year in Montréal…let’s hope Vancouver can be as much fun!

For the past three years, SCARP has been honoured to have high-profile planning scholars with us for one week under the Amacon-Beasley Scholar-in-Residence program. Our 2011 scholar is Dr. Susan Fainstein of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Dr. Fainstein has also served as Acting Director of the planning program at Columbia University and as professor of planning at Rutgers University. Her many publications include the comprehensive edited volumes Readings in Planning Theory (2003, Blackwell) and Gender and Planning (2005, Rutgers University Press). She will be here from January 31st until February 4th, and will do a number of guest lectures at SCARP, Geography and Landscape Architecture. She will also be here for SCARP’s 60th Anniversary Gala and this year’s student symposium: Metropolis: Growing Just or Just Growing.

The Scholar-in-Residence program offers a great opportunity for students in related disciplines to chat informally, learn from, and become inspired by academic planners. Our first such opportunity came in 2009 with Dr. Tom Campanella from University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill). His path through landscape architecture to planning, and his interest in urban history and redevelopment, made him a very engaging and personable speaker. His interests in publishing for both academic and general audiences were also inspiring: his latest book, The Concrete Dragon: China’s Urban Revolution and What It Means for the World (Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), tackled the rampant redevelopment taking place in China’s major cities. Our 2010 Scholar-in-Residence was Dr. Emily Talen of Arizona State University, who has written extensively on urban design, New Urbanism and socially mixed neighbourhoods.

Today, SCARP is hosting a “teach-in” of Fainstein’s latest book, The Just City (2010, Cornell University Press). Faculty members Penny Gurstein, Leonie Sandercock and Tom Hutton, along with PhD candidates Silvia Vilches and Victoria Barr, will discuss and critique The Just City in preparation for her visit. Three of us (Victoria, myself, and fellow PhD Candidate Jennie Moore) have also organized a roundtable discussion on justice and equity in planning (“Theorizing Growth in the Just Metropolis”) during the upcoming symposium where we will discuss the questions:

  1. How can planners adrress issues of justice/ethics in their day-to-day work?
  2. Is “justice” simply about equity or should it include notions of the “good,” democracy, sustainability?
  3. What is the scale of the Just City? (Is it only within urban boundaries or in articulation to hinterlands and other cities as well?)

Susan Fainstein and John Friedmann will be joining us for this workshop. Here’s to an intellectually stimulating few weeks!

Yesterday the School of Community and Regional Planning hosted a symposium called SustainaWHAT? SustainaHOW? The aim of the two-day event was to bring together planning policy makers with practitioners and academics to discuss how to move from talking about sustainability issues to implementation.

As I mentioned in a previous post, several PhD students comprised a panel on how research moves from academia into practice. Ugo Lachapelle discussed how research in active transportation has given policy makers empirical evidence of the benefits of walking and cycling, which has led to policy and programs encouraging alternative modes could be implemented. James White spoke about the importance of practitioners and academic researchers attending each others’ conferences and about publishing in a variety of non-academic venues. Aftab Erfan discussed participatory planning exercises as a way to bring different actors into dialogue. Leslie Shieh discussed the value of learning from planning practices in other countries. Janice Barry proposed that using case studies as examples of planning practice in the teaching process provides a vital link between practice and academia. I spoke of the way housing and transportation models have been instrumental in shaping policy, and how a re-examination of these models can lead to paradigm shift. The example I used was how research into immigrants’ housing careers led to the finding that lack of foreign credential recognition was resulting in lower labour market participation, lower incomes and therefore lower homeownership rates among immigrants. These findings, and others indicating poor outcomes for immigrants, led to policies like the Canada-Ontario-Toronto Memorandum of Understanding on Immigration to develop short bridging courses at community colleges to help new immigrants get Canadian experience and find work, develop more immigrant services, and develop municipal websites to help immigrants find housing, public transit and employment information.

As another example, the session on planning for multicultural cities included panelists Dr. Dan Hiebert (UBC Geography), Paula Carr (Collingwood Neighbourhood House) and Bill Walters (Immigrant Integration Branch, BC Ministry of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development). Their examples went from theoretical (Hiebert researches immigration policy and integration) to practical (Carr discussed the original vision for the creation of a neighbourhood community centre and historic groundbreaking that included a wide range of ethnic communities, ages, and social classes). Interestingly, this was exactly the type of dialogue that Aftab had discussed in our PhD panel, and something that is rarely seen at conferences. It provoked a rather heated discussion between the three panelists, who have different ideas of what could and should be done by the state to facilitate immigrant integration. Hiebert argues that we need to drop the old questions of whether or not immigrants are integrating, whether or not we have ethnic enclaves, and how do we (non-immigrants) manage this. Rather we need to focus on whether more minorities are living in, and are these neighbourhoods ghettos? According to Hiebert’s research, more people are living in ethnic enclaves in Toronto and Vancouver, but the low-income immigrants are not concentrated in these areas. He found that the number of ethnic groups in minority enclaves was almost the same as in other neighbourhoods. He believes that we need a dichotomy between segregation and dispersal, cultural retention and integration. We need to see integration as more complex and understand layers of diversity. And we need to understand that there’s no “we” who should control immigrant integration. Doubtless Carr agreed; her own experience at the neighbourhood house showed the positive effects of community building in a very multicultural neighbourhood. Walter’s review of the Welcoming and Inclusive Workplaces Program showed a counter example of very top-town efforts to combat racism in our communities.

All told, the symposium was a rare example of the coming together of planning’s Holy Trinity. Here’s to more of the same.

One of the main topics of conversation in our PhD programme is the ever-expanding definition of planning. For us, planning can include social and community development, ecological planning and natural resource management, transportation planning, land use planning, urban design and urban development. A student will never get past their initial committee meeting, let alone their comprehensive exam, prospectus, or dissertation defense, without answering the dreaded, “How is your research planning research?” Since our school has a Masters and a PhD programme, students at the Masters thesis defense are likely to answer this question as well.

The purpose of this question has eluded me for some time now. At our school we are taught that planning is so broad and all-encompassing that it can include…well, virtually anything. We know, from talking with other students at various schools across North America, that many schools concentrate on land use planning, policy development, research methods and tools used by planners in the field. This narrower planning focus produces planning professionals who are quite adept at their jobs in municipal government and consultancy. But does it produce researchers? Academics? Writers? This is less certain.

And how does the student answer the question of planning relevancy? Is it enough to answer that planners are concerned with non-motorized transportation, the location of affordable housing, participatory planning? In my case, I will be conducting research on the housing and transportation choices of immigrants in Toronto. I have found numerous examples in Toronto’s municipal and regional plans that show a new concern for housing and transit infrastructure provision. Toronto’s Official Plan documents show housing affordability and housing tenure are major concerns, as rental housing is not growing at a rate high enough to meet demand. Municipalities in the Toronto region, like Mississauga and Brampton, acknowledge their high rates of immigration and set out areas for future housing development and better links to adjacent transportation systems. Is my research going to “sit on a shelf somewhere” while practicing planners are concerned with more practical matters? Since local planners are writing policy about accommodating population growth through residential infill along transportation corridors, mine is indeed a planning question and my research could prove useful to those in this policy area. But it could also be useful in the wider debates around affordable housing provision, the shrinking middle class, income disparities, and immigrant integration. That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it!

We will be having a symposium next week at our school (SustainaWHAT? SustainaHOW?), and a few of us will be discussing the issue of moving from theory into practice. Our PhD panel will discuss the various ways that research in our areas has moved from academia to planning practice: through the intermediary of teaching, through action research, through the provision of hard data to be used in policy creation, by challenging existing models and bringing new ideas into the public discourse, by publishing our work in different venues and presenting to various professional organizations. We argue that it is our contribution to planning practice that distinguishes our work from related fields such as geography or sociology; we consider this more essential than any contribution to knowledge.

I would argue that a breadth of planning knowledge is, and will continue to be, essential in our complex and ever-changing world. We need planners who can work with communities to develop solutions to local problems, those who can work on land use and regulatory change, those who can plan new transportation corridors and bike paths, and those who can develop guidelines for better neighbourhoods. We need people working on both practical tools and on theory development. Planning history tells us that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.