University of Groningen's Zernike campus

Researchers are often accused of working in “ivory towers” separated from the real world. Perhaps planning suffers less from this syndrome since it is firmly rooted in practice. But most universities still retain strong boundaries between academic teaching and learning units. Even in an interdisciplinary field like planning, efforts must be made to exchange ideas and achieve some sort of synergy between different groups. While the Department of Geography, Planning, and International Development at the University of Amsterdam seems to have these internal boundaries between groups, several key efforts have been made to link our work to that of others.

Last week several researchers from our transport planning group joined researchers at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen for a unique exchange. A few years ago, our professors Luca Bertolini and Jos Arts discovered that the two departments had a lot in common, and they decided it would be a great idea for the researchers and students to meet up and discuss their ideas. This week’s exchange was the seventh such workshop between the two groups of transport planners. The workshops are organized by two students, one from each school, twice a year.

From Groningen, Assistant Professor Eva Heinen presented her latest research proposal to study cycling in the Netherlands. PhD student Ori Rubin discussed travel trends among family members visiting each other, concentrating on parents visiting their children, children visiting their parents, and siblings visiting each other. PhD student Niels Heeres encouraged discussion on what makes a focus group or a workshop: is one a data collection technique and the other a learning opportunity? Or are both research methods, one centred on a particular issue and the other seeking to develop knowledge or skills? Masters student Marije Hamersma presented some fascinating insights from her study of people living near highways at two Dutch sites–a surprising 80% of people she surveyed had no problem living in these areas, and about 20% chose the location for proximity to the highway.

University of Groningen's Zernike campus

From Amsterdam, PhD student Els Beukers discussed her research on cost benefit analysis as a tool that is problematic for many planners. Her research sought to bring together planners and evaluators to discuss some of the problems they had with cost benefit analysis; the Dutch government requires cost benefit analysis as the final step in approving land use-transport plans for federal funding. Els, Luca, and several other researchers at the University of Amsterdam are attempting to change the policy planning process through these types of projects: bringing together planners, policy makers and members of other professions to hear about innovative practices, reflect on them and try to develop their own policy and plans in focus group sessions. Can planners stage workshops that act in the same way as public health introduces interventions? Andrew Switzer, who is studying transitions to car use in Zurich and Munich for his PhD, hopes to use insights on this historical shift to learn how to shift current trends towards alternative transport modes. Postdoctoral researcher Lucas Harms has been mining data to explore demographic patterns in cycling in the Netherlands, including what percentages are due to population growth, increased distances, or increased trips. Although cycling has increased in the Netherlands in general, it has changed more rapidly in certain age groups and certain regions of the country.

This exchanged offered us the opportunity to hear what others are working on in planning and mobility issues, discuss methods and approaches, and our connection to planners. While Groningen researchers seem more linked to national agencies and organizations, at Amsterdam we tend to meet with local and regional stakeholders. The mix of qualitative and quantitative methods to explore these issues was also interesting, so much that we decided to devote our next meeting to mixed methods approaches. I only wish we had annual exchanges of this type within our own department–I’d love to know what the economic geographers and international development researchers are working on. But we’ll stick to interuniversity exchanges for now: in January we’ll host researchers from the University of Alborg, Denmark in a similar exchange.

Ever wondered about women’s role in housing trends in Canadian cities? Check out The rise of women’s role in society: Impacts on housing and communities. In this paper based on Census data, researcher Luis Rodruiguez compares women’s housing patterns across six generations:

  • Pre-1922 (born before 1922, aged 90+ in 2011)
  • Baby Boomers’ Parents Generation (born 1922-1938, aged 73-89 in 2011)
  • Second World War Generation (born 1939-1945, aged 66-72 in 2011)
  • Baby-Boom Generation (born 1946-1965, aged 46-65 in 2011)
  • Baby-Bust Generation (born 1966-1974, aged 37-45 in 2011)
  • Echo Generation (born 1975-1995, aged 16-36 in 2011)

    Chart 1 from the report, a comparison of housing tenure across the generations

Rodriguez tends to focus on housing tenure and type; he is after all a retired senior researcher from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). And these trends are interesting, for example the much higher rental rate among the oldest and youngest generations of women, and the fact that homeownership among women is approaching parity with men. The older generations’ desire to age in place will place a demand on renovations and community services that can meet their needs (including public transit and walking facilities), and some may move to condos or apartments if they can no longer remain in their homes. Those of the Bust and Echo Generations tend to want low-maintenance housing due to professional and family time constraints, and are less inclined to choose larger single-family homes.

However, he doesn’t address recent trends such as the tendency of the Baby-Bust and Echo generations to choose housing that is close to public transit rather than car-dependent locations; fitting as they have much higher rates of public transit use than older generations. He touches on this and the desire for mixed-used residential options in the section on the Echo Generation, but I believe this extends to the Baby Busters as well. These generations also will have significantly bleaker employment prospects despite having higher educational attainment, and will receive less support from government sources such as the Canada Pension Plan by virtue of the economic trends that have followed them. This will likely have a significant effect on housing tenure, particularly extending the period of renting and delaying home ownership, and housing type (more condos and townhouses, fewer detached houses). This will be even more apparent among those living in Canada’s largest CMAs where housing is less affordable. Nevertheless, the paper offers an interesting perspective on generational trends and preferences among women in Canada.

There have been a few interesting articles lately discussing immigrants’ employment success in Canada. Last week, The Globe and Mail published a story about a new project begun by Maytree, a charitable organization that runs all kinds of interesting programs to help employers hire new immigrants, train and mentor newcomers to organize political campaigns or run for office, and share best practices in integration. Maytree’s current project, under its Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment Strategies (ALLIES) initiative, connects skilled immigrants with small- and medium-sized businesses. Small- and medium-sized employers hire about 64% of private sector employees, but many immigrants don’t know about them. The companies may lack the human resources skills and staff to recruit immigrants.

Immigrants’ paths towards economic success have been linked to many factors, including acceptance of foreign credentials and immigrants’ social networks. A paper recently released by Metropolis BC, using the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC), found that immigrants take different paths towards employment depending upon their immigration category. In 2007, 60% of immigrants to Canada were economic, 25% were family immigrants, and 15% were refugees. Immigrant Category, Social Networks, and Ethnic Workplaces over Time: A Longitudinal Analysis of Immigrants’ Economic Integration in Canada (Metropolis BC Working Paper 11-10) summarizes the study conducted by Wendy Roth, Marc-David Seidel, Dennis Ma and Eiston Lo. The authors analyzed LSIC data, collected 6 months, 2 years, and 4 years after immigrants’ arrival in Canada, to determine how the workplace type (ethnic or non-ethnic) influences the ethnic composition of social ties, and how these two factors impact immigrants’ economic success. They found that economic immigrants benefit from non-ethnic workplaces, family immigrants face economic penalties when they enter the open economy, and refugees benefit from entrepreneurship. In short, “Immigration policies sort immigrants into different labour market trajectories with different financial returns.”

Family immigrants are more likely to remain in the ethnic labour market, leading to co-ethnic friendships. When they move into the open economy, they are less likely to reap its benefits than economic immigrants. They’re also less likely to benefit from entrepreneurship than refugees, who use this as a path to long-term success. Obviously, family immigrants were sponsored by their relatives; 37% of economic immigrants and 65% of refugees had relatives in Canada before immigrating. Economic immigrants are more likely to speak English or French, and have higher levels of education, facilitating non-ethnic social ties and employment in non-ethnic workplaces. Interestingly, the ethnic concentration of the CMA and the presence of friends or family in Canada before immigration had no impact on the odds of working in a non-ethnic workplace or the odds of making non-ethnic friendships. However, people who made friendships through friends and relatives in Canada or through religious activities were more likely to make ethnic friends, while making friends through ESL classes or work more often led to non-ethnic friendships. Those who form mainly non-ethnic friendships early earn higher incomes. While economic immigrants develop diverse social networks and move into the open economy, family immigrants tend to make their contacts and maintain employment in the ethnic market, facing economic barriers to success elsewhere. However, the authors stress that family immigrants often provide support for their families, such as child care, which has economic benefits. Refugees’ relative success from entrepreneurship seems to reflect the support they receive from private sponsors or the government.

This is further fuel for my dissertation, which found that structural changes, such as changes in immigration policy, impacted the housing and transportation choices of Filipino immigrants over several decades. Policy is a remarkable sorting agent, and sub-categories such as the Live-in Caregiver Program or Entrepreneur Class can have major impacts on immigrants’ housing and transportation trajectories. Social networks were crucial factors in finding housing and transportation options, not to mention finding jobs and accessing bridging or training programs.

Many of you (hundreds, in fact) have been following my posts about the new SCARP/SALA building. As you know, Shape Architecture/FeildenCleggBradley Studios (architects) and PWL Partnership (landscape architects) will be producing a feasibility study and the anticipated full design for the UBC Integrated Planning and Design Facility. Andrew Harrison (DEGW), a leading expert in learning environments, and Atelier 10 are also involved. In addition to the public events planned this semester, an IPD Working Group has been created with the design team and representatives from all the stakeholders: SCARP Masters students, PhD students and faculty; SALA Masters students and faculty; UBC Properties Trust, Buildings Operations, Campus and Community Planning and Infrastructure Development; the Belkin Art Gallery, Applied Science, and the Faculty of Arts. I am a PhD rep, with fellow SCARP students Rohit Mujumdar (PhD), Erica Lay (Masters) and Jessie Singer (Masters), so I have an inside view into this stage of the design process. I’ll be providing regular updates on this after the three “event weeks” that are planned: Learning Landscapes (Jan 14th), Spaces for Learning (Feb 11), and Low Energy Landscapes (March 25).

Each Event Week begins with a kickoff event in a social environment, then there is a public lecture on campus, and an all-day IPD Working Group workshop. This week was focused on Learning Landscapes.

The kick-off event was held downtown and got a great turnout. The public lecture featured presentations by Andrew Harrison and Peter Clegg, and short segués by Nick Sully and Alec Smith from Shape, and Derek Lee from PWL. Andrew’s presentation did a great job of showing different types of learning environments at universities and colleges: from specialized spaces (science labs, workshops, computer labs) to general use spaces (student lounge, reading room, café). Even hallways can be designed to facilitate conversation and collaboration (he called them “learning corridors”). I’m hoping Andrew will make his presentation available online so you can all see it.

The Working Group meets every two weeks, including the workshops each month during the Event Weeks. For this first workshop, we were asked to consider questions such as “How does a changing studio culture within architecture resonate with SCARP and the Arts?” and “How much time do students/faculty spend teaching/researching/writing/drawing/discussing ideas?” We were asked to submit images that represented the culture of learning in our programs. Then at the workshop, we discussed these ideas in more depth, both in large-group and small-group conversations. The five images shown on the right were provided by the SCARP Masters reps. (Outside of the IPD Working Group, SCARP is running a Directed Studies class, which will be meeting regularly with the design team to discuss their ideas. The students organized a survey, held a visioning workshop and presented the responses to the survey in the format of images to the Working Group.) The text images (general, specialized, and informal learning spaces) were produced with Wordle, which allows you to represent the number of times each word/concept was raised by font size (similar to my website’s “tag cloud” on the right).

It was really interesting to hear from the UBC folks as well as those in the adjacent arts buildings (Music in particular). Some ideas that were discussed were the switch from hand-drawing to digital work in architecture, the need for more social space to discuss ideas, the need for a shift in educational approaches, and the possibilities for shared infrastructure (like photocopying/printing space). Another interesting idea was having faculty offices closely aligned to the student workspaces: Larry Frank from SCARP said he’d like his office to be closer to the transportation modelling lab and also students who use the space. Peter Clegg told us about his virtually paperless office in Bath, where there are no drawing tables at all because everything is done digitally. Scott Watson, curator of the Belkin Art Gallery, raised the idea of having informal exhibition space available in the studios so that students could look at each other’s work as it progressed, and we discussed the idea of “open studio week” where students would host visitors from the broader campus and community.

However, as a research-based program, I still feel that SCARP’s needs are not being addressed: Peter actually admitted that we needed to tell him what we meant by research. SCARP Director Penny Gurstein and Larry Frank both raised the issue of research space, but all of us still felt the issue needed to be further discussed. Larry’s definition of a studio was a good fit for SCARP (a space where people learn in a collaborative way), and the studio culture is changing so much anyway: no need for glassed-in spaces when everyone works on computers. When I said that most SCARP students would graduate without ever drawing anything, Peter asked if that was okay. I think it is, but then I may be biased because I already have those skills from my undergrad in landscape architecture. I should have asked if it’s okay that SALA students graduate without knowing participatory planning or municipal planning processes? We have a lot to learn from each other: many SCARP students would like to learn how to draw, read plans and understand design terminology, and likewise I think SALA students would like to learn about how to build the structures and landscapes they want within the current planning framework and processes. I also think SCARP students could learn how to represent written work in a visual format through diagramming, short film/animations, and the like; and as a former landscape architecture student myself, I imagine that the SALA students could benefit from more attention to their research and writing skills.

Another alarming comment: when Leslie Van Duzer, Director of SALA, discussed the three areas used in assessing faculty for tenure (teaching, research and service), one of the SHAPE architects asked what service was. Now this could just be a terminology issue, but it’s also possible that SALA does a lot less community service than SCARP. Both Larry and Leslie raised the need for specific spaces that could be used for community meetings and to welcome visitors to the new building. Of course service means more than that (participation in groups such as the IPD Working Group or on committees/councils for your professional association are also service activities), but I get the sense that because architecture isn’t a field where all the faculty are PhD-holders with tenure-track positions, there’s a weak understanding of both research and service.

At the end of Event Week 1, I’m cautiously optimistic about the IPD design process. There seems to be a great deal of interest from all the stakeholders and the public, people are raising many innovative ideas and willing to collaborate with each other, and there’s a general feeling of trust among the various players. But there are definitely some issues that need to be worked out: a better understanding of SCARP’s teaching and learning processes, a governance model for the new building (considering that SCARP and SALA are under two different administrative units), and the issues of research and service. It’s also unclear how much these workshops will influence the design: how will the design team use our ideas and responses to their thought-provoking questions? Planning students and faculty will continue to watch the process closely, since “that’s what planners do.”

If you’re interested in keeping up with the IPD process, or giving the design team feedback on any element of the process so far, go to The site has photos from the events, news from the design team, and details on upcoming public lectures. Here’s the current list, but any changes would be listed on the website.

Event Week 2: Space for Learning

Public Kick-off Event February 11, 2011 5:30-6:00 pm Lasserre Lobby

Public Lecture February 21, 2011 6:30-7:45 pm Math 100

Working Committee Workshop February 22, 2011 8:30-4:30 pm Liu Centre Multipurpose Room

Event Week 3: Low Energy Landscapes

Public Kick-off Event March 25, 2011 5:30-6:00 pm Lasserre Lobby

Public Lecture March 28, 2011 6:30-7:45 pm Math 100

Working Committee Workshop March 29, 2011 8:30-4:30 pm Liu Centre Multipurpose Room

Bill Rankin's map of Chicago

A couple of years ago, when I attended the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference in Chicago, I was stunned to hear that Cleveland and Chicago are the most segregated cities in the US. As I’ve written before, Canadian cities simply don’t have these levels of segregation; obviously not for African American and Hispanic populations, but also not for other groups. Recently, I’ve come across a series of maps illustrating the difference between American cities that are more segregated vs. more integrated, thanks to some enlightened cartographers. It is very interesting to compare these maps to the (albeit simpler) maps of visible minorities in Canadian cities recently published by the Globe and Mail.

Bill Rankin‘s map of Chicago illustrates the sharp divides between white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and other ethnocultural groups. It was originally published in Perspecta, the journal of the Yale School of Architecture; Rankin is a PhD candidate in architecture and the history of science.

After seeing this, Eric Fischer produced similar maps for the 40 largest American cities. He used the same process as Rankin (one dot for every 25 people and same colour code, using the 2000 Census data).

We can see some segregation in New York City, but there are zones of integration.

Eric Fischer's map of New York City

Detroit’s 8-Mile district stands out as an example of entrenched segregation. Many of the maps of smaller cities, like Buffalo, Toledo, and Raleigh, highlight inner city concentrations of African Americans.

Eric Fischer’s map of Detroit

Eric Fischer's map of Los Angeles

On the other hand, check out Riverside, CA, which looks very integrated. Los Angeles also has a lot of integration, and San Antonio is very integrated.

Eric Fischer's map of Riverside

A couple of weeks ago, the Globe and Mail posted a series of “heat maps” showing the concentration of visible minorities in Canadian cities. They don’t break down the statistics (from the 2006 Census) into specific ethnocultural groups, as is the usual Canadian trend; there are simply too many groups to map. But they are interesting nonetheless. The maps are interactive, allowing you to zoom in, so I can’t reproduce them here. Check them out at under Multiculturalism.

Vancouver’s map shows that in most census tracts in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey, over 30% of the population are visible minorities. Toronto has a similar pattern: over 30% of the population in Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Richmond, and Ajax are visible minorities. The central Toronto map shows some interesting areas of lower concentration: areas around the subway lines, west Toronto and the Beaches. In Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa, the census tracts with over 30% visible minorities are mainly in the suburbs.

Montréal is even more fascinating because it shows a very different pattern. The visible minority population there is almost exclusively concentrated on the island of Montréal, with lower rates of concentration in the suburbs: the older pattern of immigrant settlement that we still see in smaller cities. This is likely due to sheer numbers: Toronto and Vancouver receive tens of thousands more immigrants each year than Montréal.

Obviously, the American maps show that not all cities south of the border are sharply segregated, but even in the smaller cities, like Toledo, Ohio, there are lingering segregated African American populations. This in itself is not an issue; the maps of Canadian cities show lots of neighbourhoods with high concentrations of visible minorities. The real issue is when these concentrations are due to poverty or discrimination (either societal or institutional, such as in the housing market). American housing research seems to indicate that much of the segregation is in fact due to these two factors. Entire programs are devoted to fixing this problem: Housing Choice Vouchers, for example, aim to remove people from entrenched areas of poverty into neighbourhoods where they may have better educational and job opportunities.

I think these maps illustrate again how different Canadian and American cities are in terms of ethnocultural groups: both in terms of their composition and their spatial dispersal. This continues to create policy differences between the US and Canada, not only in my own research areas of housing, transportation, and immigration, but in many other areas affecting municipalities: welfare provision, health care, and education to name a few.

Most Canadians would deny that theirs is a racist country. Scholars refer to the White Paper (1976) on multiculturalism and the Multiculturalism Act (1988) as proof that Canadians “celebrate diversity.” But there are many sides to this story. While the idea of race has officially been dispelled since geneticists working on The Human Genome Project found as much genetic variation between members of the same ethnic group as between different groups, the idea of difference persists. The Multiculturalism Act encouraged people of every ethnic group to retain their own languages and cultures while integrating into their lives in Canada. Yet there are constant barriers to this in practice.

Structural and institutional racism

Canadian banks may no longer practice mortgage redlining, but there are plenty of other examples of structural and institutional racism in our society. Carlos Teixeira, an Associate Professor at UBC (Okanagan), did a study in 2006 comparing housing trajectories of Portuguese immigrants from Angola, Mozambique and the Azores. He found that black Portuguese immigrants faced significant racism in the housing market compared to white Portuguese immigrants. Robert Murdie, who has now retired from York University, found similar results in his comparison of Portuguese and Somali housing trajectories (2002). There are many studies documenting the difficulties immigrants to Canada face in the labour market: employers will not hire anyone without “Canadian experience.”

While most Canadians with anglo-sounding names would probably urge incoming immigrants to keep their names, in everyday life it is often just easier for Chinese immigrants to go by their English variants, like Josephine for Ji Ling. Indian immigrants often shorten their names to anglo-sounding equivalents: I recently met a Kal who had shortened the considerably lengthier Kalvinder, and a Dee whose full name was Deepali. Indeed, my adolescence and young adulthood was peppered with anglo-ethnic hybrid names. While we were often criticized for “wanting to become white” (by our co-ethnics) or “losing our roots” (by our white friends), in practice it is just annoying to have your name mispronounced and misspelled on a daily basis.

Philip Oreopolous’ study at the University of British Columbia suggests prejudice against ethnic names may be more than just an annoyance. A Professor of Economics at UBC, Oreopolous created 6,000 mock resumés to represent recent immigrants and Canadians with and without non-English names. They were tailored to job requirements and sent to 2,000 online job postings from employers across 20 occupational categories in the Greater Toronto Area, Canada’s largest and most multicultural city. Applicants with English-sounding names got almost 40% more callbacks from employers than those with Chinese, Indian, or Pakistani sounding names. All applicants had at least a Bachelor’s degree, plus any additional qualifications specified in the job ad, and each applicant listed three previous jobs. Changing only the location of the applicant’s job experience, from Canadian to foreign, lowered callbacks by 5-10%. Employers valued Canadian work experience far more than a Canadian education. Oreopolous concluded that there is considerable employer discrimination against ethnic Canadians and immigrants; even when the person evaluating resumes spoke with an accent or had an ethnic-sounding name, they still preferred English-sounding names by a factor of 1.42. Oreopolous points out that this type of discrimination is illegal under the Ontario Human Rights Act. In this case, both the employer and the potential employee lose; the employer has purposely overlooked a potential employee with the appropriate skills and education. Oreopolous’ results cannot help but highlight institutional racism, which is more than a little surprising in the GTA, which is 46% foreign-born; China, India, and Pakistan are the three top source countries for immigrants. In a city and region so multicultural, that has been an immigrant reception center for over a hundred years, there is no way for employers to tell whether a person is a first-, second-, or third-generation immigrant, solely by looking at their name.

Modern racism

While Oreopolous points out the obvious legal implications of this discrimination, many scholars would call this modern racism rather than institutional or structural racism. Modern racism is a slippery concept: the Ontario Human Rights Commission issued a policy in 2005 stressing the subtler forms of discrimination. Examples of modern racism in the workplace are:

  • Exclusion from formal or informal networks
  • Denial of mentoring or developmental opportunities such as secondments and training that was made available to others
  • Differential management practices such as excessive monitoring and documentation or deviation from written policies or standard practices
  • Disproportionate blame for an incident
  • Assignment to less desirable positions or job duties
  • Treating normal differences of opinion as confrontational or insubordinate
  • Characterizing normal communication as rude or aggressive
  • Penalizing a person for failing to get along with someone else, e.g. a co-worker or manager, when one of the reasons for the tension is racially discriminatory attitudes or behaviour of the co-worker or manager

Differences in name, accent or manner of speech, clothing and grooming, diet, beliefs and practices, and leisure preferences can bring out subtle acts of racism. Because of language differences, member of various ethnic groups communicate in different ways. For example, in some cultures it is normal to wait several seconds after a person is finished speaking before responding; in anglo-North American culture the pause time is under one second. Those with the longer pause time would think they were being constantly interrupted by those with the shorter pause time. Underlining, or repeating the last few words of a person’s sentence at the same time as they are speaking, is common in some cultures but considered rude by North Americans.

Another common form of subtle racism is co-opting part of an ethnic culture: it is considered fashionable for a white person to wear a sari or practice yoga, but not an Indian person. I would add that in Canada we have the practice of “celebrating diversity” by having silly cultural festivals, yet we do not tolerate difference on a daily basis. A few years ago, a friend of mine told me his daughter was asked to return one day from school because she had henna tattoos on her hands. My friend, a Canadian of Indian ethnicity who is married to a white Canadian, said the school official told him the school did not allow tattoos at school. A few months later, the same official asked if his daughter could bring some sort of Indian food to a school multicultural festival.

Assuming that members of the same ethnicity are all the same is another example of subtle racism. Most of my Indian friends fend off questions about where the good Indian restaurants are, if we like Bollywood movies, and whether we have been to India; yet in most cases, we would have been teased mercilessly for liking Indian food, movies, or culture during our childhood and adolescence. In Outliers (2008), Malcolm Gladwell addresses the assumption that Asians are better at math. We even find examples of racism in terminology: what groups fall under the heading of “Asian”, and can they be grouped together as if they are all similar?

Joe Darden, a Professor of Geography at Michigan State, argues that denial of subtle and institutional racism allows Canadians to avoid changing legislation or monitor practices that discriminate against non-whites. Along with most other scholars, Darden points out that Canada has a long history of racism in immigration policy (The Significance of White Supremacy in the Canadian Metropolis of Toronto, 2004). He suggests that changes in the economy, and not changes in attitudes among white policy makers, were responsible for the removal of discrimination in immigration policy. In the post-war era, the need for skilled workers opened up immigration to non-European countries, while racist attitudes have remained. Like many African American scholars, Darden believes that there has been a transition from overt and institutional racism to subtle racism. Although significant Aboriginal populations have lived in Canada for thousands of years and British Columbia had small Chinese and Sikh populations around the turn of the century, Canada’s racist immigration policies only began to change in 1952. Most non-Europeans in Canada entered the country after 1967 changes to the Immigration Act. Fifty years is not a lot of time to eliminate racist ideologies.

The idea of racism in Canadian society may seem impossible, but various studies have proven there are subtle forms of racism in the housing market, labour market, and in social interactions. Oreopolous’ study shows that racism is present in the most multicultural city in Canada, therefore it must exist in cities with less cultural diversity. Many believe that cross-cultural education is the key to breaking down preconceptions about other cultures, understanding how different communication styles and values. In a multicultural society, cross-cultural training should be offered for all ages, from kindergarten to university, in schools and in the workplace. But Oreopolous’ study, as well as the earlier studies by Murdie and Teixeira, indicate there is also some legislative work to be done, as well as monitoring of employers, housing agencies, real estate agents, and landlords to ensure discrimination is not a factor in hiring, promotion, renting or buying a home in Canadian cities.

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In an article in Saturday’s Globe and Mail, Jeffrey Simpson reports on a study on the factors that influence university attendance. University of Ottawa professor Ross Finnie and his co-author Richard Mueller, using Statistics Canada data, found that family income is less of a predictor of university attendance than the parents’ education levels, the number of books in the house, internet access, family dinner conversations, the presence of both parents in the household, and cultural background. Simpson points out that this causes a problem for governments who would like to increase university attendance: they have little control over what he calls “cultural” factors.

This is an interesting conundrum. As planning graduate students, we are often encouraged to think about the policy implications of our research. It must be practical in some way. While the first impulse is to ask how our research will impact policy development, a deeper examination of knowledge into action (as our friend John Friedmann would say) is more appropriate.

In an earlier post, I reported on our PhD panel at SCARP’s recent symposium on how research moves from academia into practice. The different methods we discussed were:

  • Giving policy makers empirical evidence upon which to base policy and programs
  • Publishing in a variety of non-academic venues including professional and trade conference presentations
  • Bringing different actors into dialogue through participatory planning exercises
  • Learning from planning practices in other countries
  • Using case studies as examples of planning practice in the teaching process
  • Re-examining traditional planning models to lead to paradigm shift

Using this broader framework to redefine the practical nature of our research, we can see the value of Finnie and Mueller’s work. While their study’s findings doesn’t give policy makers empirical evidence, they serve as a useful reminder that family income alone does not determine university attendance. In an era of rapidly rising tuition and concerns over equitable university access for all potential students, this is incredibly valuable information. We are in the habit of comparing ourselves to the US, where income can and does play a major role even at the elementary school level. American parents often choose their housing based on the locations of the best school districts.

Simpson points out that immigrants, especially from Asia, are much more likely to attend university than other ethnic groups; as a cultural factor, this is seen as impossible to adapt to policy. As part of this large ethnic category (South Asian) I can confirm that Asian parents put more of a priority on university attendance. Education is highly valued, even above marriage, for themselves and their children; they will even encourage married children to live away from their spouse to complete a degree, something that would never be encouraged in other ethnic groups. Many of these parents come from countries where they have seen the value of a Bachelor’s or Masters degree, and want their children to do as well as, or better than, they did in their own careers. While we can’t replace everyone’s parents with academically-oriented Asians, perhaps it’s time to gain some insight from Asian parents on how their children become such high achievers. If they help their children with homework more than other ethnic groups, perhaps schools could encourage study groups led by parents or encourage more dialogue between parents of different ethnic groups. If they use specific techniques to help encourage their kids or reward them for work done, perhaps other parents could learn these techniques and apply them. We are encouraged to learn planning practices from other countries; why not learn educational techniques?

Owning a dictionary, having many books in the home, internet access, and family dinnertime conversation were all found to predict university attendance. While the government certainly can’t mandate these practices (as Simpson jokes) schools could encourage parents to buy second-hand books, have fund-raiser book sales, or create web lounges for students to use after school with their parents. Community groups could have monthly dinner clubs for school-aged children and their parents. Instead of a play date for their kids, parents could host a kids book club.

The presence of two parents in the home, an increasingly rare occurrence these days, was also found to encourage university attendance. The two-parent household is implicated in all sorts of positive benefits, yet we do not know what specifically leads to all these benefits. If it is the fact that single parents often work longer hours and have less time to spend helping their children with homework, we can again see some program opportunities for children living in single-parent households: perhaps an after-school study group at a community center or help using the internet for class assignments.

In short, despite Simpson’s joke that governments could give tax incentives for dinner conversation or buying a dictionary (I’m sure Stephen Harper would disapprove), there are many ways in which this research could lead to paradigm shift in our perceptions of university preparation and equitable access to universities. Now that family income has been revealed as a less important factor than what Simpson calls “cultural” factors, perhaps it will free researchers to delve further into the factors that have the most impact on university attendance.

This example serves as a reminder that our research as planners need not have immediate policy relevance. It can move into planning practice in any number of ways, and can help change the way people think about important social issues. Finally, it illustrates our point that publishing in non-academic venues such as the Globe and Mail can move research into the public imagination.

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.