Social justice issues have been headline news in the past year, from the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017 to the #MeToo movement, from Standing Rock to BC’s refusal to implement the Kinder Morgan pipeline. It’s a critical time for young people to learn about equity and justice issues, and what they mean for planners.

The 2018 Winter term marks the second time I’ve taught a Social Justice course at the Dalhousie School of Planning. The course is somewhat of a novelty at a school that largely focuses on urban design and technical skills such as GIS, which is probably one reason students seem to like it. For me, social planning is such a critical component of a planner’s work that I’m not sure how it can be absent from a planning education. This is undoubtedly due to my training at the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning, where social planning and environmental planning/ sustainability were the two foundational sub-disciplines.

Dr. Robert Bullard, the “father of environmental justice”, is one of the authors assigned in the course. Bullard was our keynote speaker at the Over the Line symposium last fall.

At Dalhousie, the social justice course overlaps with social planning on some aspects, and forges new ground in others. The course focuses on a particular issue each week:

  • Environmental justice
  • Sustainability
  • Ethnicity and immigration status
  • Gender
  • Community engagement
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Urban redevelopment
  • Equity plans

I was fortunate enough to work on the Over the Line symposium last fall with Ingrid Waldron, which helped raise the profile of social justice in the region. Through this I was able to get in touch with a number of people who agreed to be guest speakers in my course this term. They have really brought the issues to life for our students.

Kelly Poirier, Amber Walker and Leticia Smillie gave students an overview of the Mobile Food Market for residents of underserved communities. The project touches on issues of land use, difficulties in attracting major grocery stores to low-income communities, and historic discrimination in some areas (e.g. North Preston, East Preston). Walker, a planner at Nova Scotia Health Authority, and Smillie, a planner at the Halifax Regional Municipality, described how the project is being evaluated so that it can be expanded beyond its six pilot locations.

Rebecca Moore, a land defender from the Mi’kmaq community (Pictou Landing First Nation), told stories from the front lines: protesting the proposed Alton Gas project and a drilling project in Quebec that threatens water quality. She explained the legal context through which Indigenous people can protest projects that threaten human and wildlife habitats and the treaty rights we share under the 1762 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. She also described the role of the Mi’kmaq Nation in the formation of the United States: the Treaty of Watertown established an alliance between the US and the Mi’kmaq and St. John’s Nations, and was the first treaty signed in the US after independence was declared in 1776.

Roberto Montiel, who works on a Local Immigration Partnership at Halifax Regional Municipality, discussed how Indigenous peoples tellt he story of Canada’s past while immigrants play a key role in its future. He discussed the pilot Dialogue project that HRM launched last year. As a partnership between the Mi’kmaq Nation, HRM, and immigrant service providers in the region, immigrants who have been in Canada for less than six months attend an event hosted by the Mi’kmaq community to learn about the history of Canada. Montiel described the common ground between the attendees as natural, as many immigrants had come from countries that had been colonized or communities that had been oppressed. The event had interpreters, in this case speaking Arabic and French, the most commonly spoken languages in the group. One of our students, whose family immigrated from Syria, volunteered to be an interpreter herself, as she is fluent in English, French, and Arabic. Montiel is hoping the project can expand beyond the pilot stage in the future, and in the meantime is busy building partnerships between HRM and immigrant service providers as part of the Welcoming Cities initiative of the federal government.

This 1991 short film will be shown along with a very optimistic 1961 film depicting the new social housing community of Mulgrave Park.

This week I discussed equity issues related to gender, from the Time’s Up movement and the “unfounded rate” in Canadian cities to David Schwimmer’s sexual assault PSAs (upon student request we watched one of them in class…they are cringe-worthy). I discussed a few ways planners might engage LGBTQ communities. We discussed the work of Women Transforming Cities and will be using their guide to community engagement in next week’s class. I will use other resources too: we’ll be watching National Film Board film Remember Africville and a CMHC film on the construction of Mulgrave Park (1961) in our class on urban redevelopment. The two films tell opposite sides of the urban regeneration story, which are still entrenched in modern urban redevelopment projects.

The class always includes a 30-minute written response to our guest lecture and a discussion of the readings. The Masters students lead a discussion and write a 5-page summary of the readings and seminar. Students’ written responses have really improved even a month into the course, with strong thesis statements, clear structures and argumentation. Initially they were worried about the practice of weekly writing, so I think this has really removed the fear and allowed them to be more reflective than usual. They’re able to write in a more personal, narrative way than they often do for class assignments. They are preparing to choose topics for their final papers, due at the end of the term.

It’s been a real pleasure teaching a course that adds so much value to a planners’ education. I intend to keep the course small (fewer than 35 students) to enable deep discussion and reflection, which tends to disappear in the larger classes. Hopefully there will be a good mix of students in the years to come as well, as it’s open to all Dalhousie students in third year or higher. The interaction of students in economics, management, and planning this year has really contributed to the discussions.

Figure 5 from The Opportunity Equation in the GTA (Update report). Notice how the middle class has switched places with the low- and very low-income group. Some of the other regions in the GTA show an even more extreme transition

I’m part of a research grant on neighbourhood changes in Canadian cities, the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership, which examines the ways in which our cities are changing in areas such as affordable housing, income inequality, and poverty. Our Principal Investigator is Dr. David Hulchanski at the University of Toronto, and there are research teams in Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver. As a member of the Halifax team, I presented our research on rooming houses in a previous post.

Last week Dr. Hulchanski’s team and United Way Toronto and York Region released a report, The Opportunity Equation in the Greater Toronto Area: An Update on Neighbourhood Income Inequality and Polarization. Their first report, The Opportunity Equation, proposed a relationship:

Effort + Opportunity = Success

The research found that over half of people living in the Toronto area felt that factors like race and gender were a barrier to success, and that the next generation would be worse off. The researchers believed that increasing income inequality was threatening the Opportunity Equation.

The update to this report, released on November 1, 2017, updates the analysis with data from the 2016 Census and also looks at the trends in Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver. The main findings were that income inequality continues to grow in all of these cities, and is geographically dispersed across the Toronto region. A majority of Toronto neighbourhoods are now either high- or low-income, with middle-income neighbourhoods disappearing. In 1970, almost two thirds (64%) of neighbourhoods were middle-income, though only 42% were in 2015. In contrast, low- and very low-income neighbourhoods together made up about one-fifth (21%) of the Toronto CMA’s neighbourhoods in 1980. By 2015, they made up 39% of all neighbourhoods. High- and very high-income neighbourhoods grew from 15 % to 19%. The highest increase in income inequality in the Toronto region were in the City of Toronto and the lowest in Durham Region.

Based on the findings from the first report, the authors called on all partners and sectors to address three issues: providing young people with opportunities, helping develop a more stable, secure labour market, and helping ensure that background and circumstances are not barriers to opportunity. The United Way launched an Anchor Agency investment strategy, ensuring people have a broad range of services available close to their homes, a Youth Success Strategy to connect youth with multiple barriers to meaningful career opportunities, and continues to build on its Building Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy to tackle the lack of economic opportunities in many areas across the city.

The update report builds on this message and encourage more partners across various sectors to address the challenges.

 

I’ll be live blogging from the Over the Line symposium today, a one-day symposium on race, place, and the environment that brings together experts from the US, Canada, and Nova Scotia. This exciting event is meant to generate a conversation about the spiritual, environmental, and physical damage caused to black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities. I’m a co-investigator on the SSHRC Partnership Grant supporting the symposium along with several others, organized by our principal investigator Dr. Ingrid Waldron, who has become a local expert on environmental justice. Waldron heads the ENRICH (Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health) Project. If you want to check out Twitter, participants are using the handle #overthelinehfx.

Keynote Speakers

We started out last night with an energizing public lecture by Dr. Robert Bullard, distinguished professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University. Bullard is the founder of the environmental justice movement in the United States, starting with his involvement in the Whispering Pines Sanitary Landfill case in Houston in the late 1960s. He got involved in the case, which involved siting the landfill in a middle-class African American community, through his wife, the lawyer who represented the community, and has now published 18 books on environmental justice. A packed audience at Ondaatje Hall on the Dalhousie campus listened to his history of the fight for environmental justice and the effects on African American, low-income, and Hispanic communities. He finished with photos showing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey on the city, with wealthy as well as low-income neighbourhoods affected. The low-income areas on the east flood every year, with the majority of the flood mitigation support going to the high-income area on the west. Bullard showed many slides of the health trends, poverty and income trends in the US, with the south showing up as the most environmentally degraded, low-income, and least healthy. He stated that it was no coincidence that the civil rights movement and the environmental justice movement both started in the south.

Today’s keynote speaker at our free event at the Halifax Public Library is Dr. George Lipsitz, professor of Black Studies at UC Santa Barbara. He opened by stating that this is no ordinary time: the protest at Standing Rock, Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, challenges to Canada 150 and so many others are in his words “the manifestation of a greater upheaval that is on the way.” He compared the protests to waves, which have long fetches: they started days, weeks, and months ago, they have built up force and represent a collective, cumulative process in history. We’re at a moment when a new generation is mobilizing for change: “a crisis that distills a complex history”, not people with their backs to the wall but people whose backs have been pushed through the wall. From this, Lipsitz anticipates a break which will lead to new policies, people, personalities, and perspectives. Social movements produce new knowledges, teaching us how people without resources become resourceful. Equity-oriented collaborative community-based research works with groups in motion and can help support social movements.

We’re also pleased to have the fantastic Charla Williams as our host for today’s event. Charla has an extensive background in employment equity and is the chair of the Halifax African Nova Scotian Employment Network. She is also, as one participant stated, “a magical person who can somehow keep everyone on track and make sure things run on time.”

Community Organizing Panel

Panelists on the Community Organizing panel included Raymond Shepard, Stephen Thomas, and Dr. Deborah McGregor. Shepard spoke about his experience growing up in Lincolnville, a predominantly black community in Nova Scotia, and the history of community activism that exists there. Thomas’ work as Energy Campaign Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre is helping communities transition to clean energy, and he gave a few examples of local Indigenous communities who are building solar energy farms on their territories using their own local skills and expertise. Dr. McGregor spoke of an Anishnaabe understanding of environmental justice, and how difficult it was to translate stories, topics, practices, and ideas into English and vice versa.

Cultural Transitions

After moderating the Community Organizing panel, I’m back listening to the incredible Umoja Cultural Diversity Drummers, a group of African Nova Scotians who performed using beats from Indigenous, Middle Eastern, and African musical traditions. It provides an integrative conclusion to our first panel, which was also introduced by Indigenous drummer and spoken word artist Richard Simon Taylor.

Research Panel

For the Research Panel, our speakers are Dr. Michael Mascarenhas, Louise Delisle, Dr. Cheryl Teelucksingh, and Dorene Bernard. Mascarenhas, a professor at UC Berkeley, has published a book called Where the Waters Divide: Neoliberalism, White Privilege, and Environmental Racism in Canada. He spoke of a presumed new emphasis on humanitarian efforts (e.g. tsunami relief, hurricane relief) which still involve discrimination: NGOs decide who gets relief and who does not, and there’s a major increase in the number of NGOs worldwide with less government aid going to communities. Even once access to water is enabled, taps and wells are kept locked so that communities have limited hours in which to gather it. In the US, half of black communities in Michigan have lived under emergency management, which means that their schools, parks, and other institutions come under private management. Even though Mascarenas feels that we’re increasingly blaming the victims affected by environmental hazards, residents and communities are often doing their own research and presenting their own data to governments.

Dorene Bernard is involved in the Truth and Reconciliation process as a member of the Mi’kmaq community. Just seven of the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada have now been completed. The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and around the world has been similarly slow. Bernard spoke of the Alton Gas Project, and the lack of consultation and false resource mapping process of the Mi’kmaq community during the Environmental Assessment process. The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has returned this flawed process to the Minister of Environment.

Louise DeLisle of the South End Environmental Injustice Society spoke about environmental racism in Shelburne. SEED is a community-based non-profit group located in a mostly low income, African Nova Scotian community. They were recently successful in having a 90-year-old landfill removed from Shelburne. Through the ENRICH Project, they participated in research on the health effects of the landfill, where waste was often burned, and water pollution in their community. They are now advocating for more research on the potential links to the town’s high rate of cancers, asthma, chronic fatigue, and depression.

Dr. Teelucksingh, professor at Ryerson University’s Department of Sociology, spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement and its link to racialized communities in Canada. Blacks represent just 2.9% of the Canadian population, but 10% of the federal prison inmate population. Activists have called for the end of the carding process in Ontario, after they showed that 27% of those carded were black youth. The Black Lives Matter movement protested the death of a Somali man in Ottawa in August 2017 by disrupting public space in Toronto. She is using critical race theory to link the Black Lives Matter and environmental justice movements: the need to reject colour blindness and race neutrality, critique claims of meritocracy, and recognize a convergence of interests (e.g. making all of our institutions more inclusive so that Indigenous, black, and other community members are all involved in decision-making).

Policy Panel

The final group of panelists are Dr. Carolyn Finney, a professor in geography at the University of Kentucky, Vanessa Gray, a community organizer from Sarnia, Halifax journalist Tristan Cleveland, and Dr. Meinhard Doelle, an environmental law professor at Dalhousie.

Dr. Finney talked about home and being visible/invisible in our home communities, and how easy histories can be erased. Policies have embedded bias and privilege, as do the institutions in which they are developed. The Homestead Act (1862) allowed European settlers to obtain 160 acres of land for a pittance set the precedent of stealing land, power, and privilege. In developing policy and working with communities, we have to unearth unwritten stories and histories and commit to relationships where mutual learning is the goal. Looking for innovative projects and connecting them through communities of practice, building relationships and reciprocity, embracing conflict (one person’s conflict is another’s revolution), committing to the process. She mentioned The Next 100 Coalition, a coalition of faith and civil rights organizations, environmental justice activists who developed and led a national conversation on public lands, which led to a presidential memorandum right before President Obama left office.

Dr. Doelle discussed four legal reforms in Canada right now: the Environmental Protection Act, Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, and the National Energy Board Act. The report on the review of the Environmental Protection Act talks about substantial environmental rights, which could protect vulnerable communities and effect the siting and regulation of polluting industries. It recommends a new stipulation on state of the environment reporting, which can identify areas/communities that are affected. The review report also explicitly acknowledges environmental racism and that standard forms of consultation are not appropriate or sufficient in culturally distinct communities. Environmental Assessment Act review was much weaker, and we’re now waiting for a draft bill. In the Fisheries Act, the policy review has addressed fair access to resources, especially for Indigenous peoples. The National Energy Board Act review has less relevance for Nova Scotia, but on a national level there is a lot of conflict between local communities and large energy companies. In Nova Scotia, the provincial government is dragging its feet on reviewing the EA process (first enacted in the 1980s).

Tristan Cleveland discussed historic communities in Nova Scotia: Africville and Membertou, an Indigenous communities in Sydney that is now self-sufficient through its international business certification. While Africville was systematically dismantled, Membertou was able to stay together and thrive. He also discussed jobs accessible to transit, which are scarce in the African Nova Scotian communities of Linconville and Preston, and the growth rate in Halifax that is pushing out traditional communities.

Vanessa Gray is from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, Canada’s chemical valley, where the US-Canada border bisects the traditional territory of her people. She characterized governments as unnecessarily violent when Indigenous peoples are defending land, air, and water with their lives. This is part of systemic violence that includes residential schools and missing and murdered indigenous women. Aamjiwnaang is affected by the international petrochemical companies located along the river, where there is a 39% miscarriage rate (compared to the national rate of 15%) and toxic substances above the levels specified by the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy. Gray and her colleagues were arrested and charged with mischief in their protest against Enbridge’s Line 9, but luckily the charges were dropped.

Cultural Transitions

Sadie Beaton from the Ecology Action Centre and spoken word artist Abena Amoako-Tuffour ended our day with five-minute summary and powerful piece about the themes we’ve discussed today.

What an inspiring, challenging, and emotionally resonant day of discussions and learning from each other! I’m hoping that Ingrid is successful in her goal to bring together people from different backgrounds and disciplines to act together for more environmentally just communities.

Many cities offer free or discounted transit passes for the low-income population, which can include seniors and students. Vancouver’s TransLink offers seniors lower-priced travel in the evenings and on weekends. The very successful U-Pass (universal pass) program for university students: thirty Canadian universities offer students subsidized passes through partnerships with local transit providers. The University of Washington adopted the U-Pass in 1991, and currently offers students unlimited transit for just $84 per quarter (just $28 per month). Such programs show recognition that moving around the city is a right, not a privilege–and one that is often denied to those most in need of reliable transportation to access education or work opportunities.

Halifax Transit piloted a program in 2016 to offer discounted transit passes to 500 low-income riders. For half the price of a regular pass ($39/month), people who need the service the most were able to access it. Halifax Regional Municipality’s standing transportation committee agreed in late January to make the service permanent, and now the program needs the approval of the regional council. It is estimated that the program will cost the HRM about $160,000 per year. The program will provide discounted passes to 1,000 riders this year, targeting HRM residents with a gross household income of $33,000. The number of passes provided could increase in the future.

This is a far cry from TTC’s proposed Fair Pass program, which will cost $4.6 million in its first year and require a subsidy from the City. In December 2016, the TTC obtained Council approval to offer discounted Metro Passes to low-income residents; the program is expected to offer discounted fares to Toronto residents making up to 15% more than the low-income measure, beginning in 2018. Although the program will cost the TTC a lot in lost revenue, the report to council outlined that the cost of a Metropass had risen 30% since 2009, while minimum wage has only increased by 20%. Reports of residents walking miles so that they could make doctor’s appointments, job interviews, or pick up children from school are commonplace in Toronto, as the cost of tickets and passes has outstripped wages. Calgary, Waterloo, and Burlington are among other Canadian cities to offer discounted passes for low-income residents.

By now we’ve all heard about the Syrian refugee crisis and listened to the arguments for and against welcoming high numbers of refugees into our countries. Municipal and regional governments must also consider how they will adapt to hundreds or thousands of new residents in their cities.

By the end of this year, Germany will welcome over a million refugees from Syria and at least thirty percent of them will be formally accepted as refugees. For a variety of reasons, German mayors have been overjoyed to add these new residents to their population base–to rebuild their labour and tax base, repurpose abandoned housing or other surplus buildings, or take advantage of new funding for housing designated by the national government. Germany has an aging population and one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

Short-term housing needs are at the top of the list of considerations for municipalities and regions–in cities like Berlin, sports arenas and even airports have been used for emergency housing. German ministers recently met to rewrite the country’s rigorous building code to allow hundreds of thousands of prefab public housing units can be built in mere months–up to 35,000 this year and another 35,000 next year. Housing Minister Barbara Hendricks pledged $270 million for this rapid construction and also doubled municipalities’ existing $770 million budget for public housing.

Refugees are allotted into cities by quota, depending on cities’ size, labour market, and demographics: for example, the less diverse a city, the more likely it will receive a higher number of refugees. Berlin is obliged to take 5% of all refugees. There are 16 German regions, and special trains from Munich allow refugees to travel to their new homes.

Shrinking cities, like Leipzig, see the incoming refugees as both a responsibility and and an opportunity for renewed growth–with labour market shortages and BMW and Porsche factories, there are ample opportunities for newcomers. Other cities, which may have surplus housing leftover from booming economic times but no real industries to offer jobs, are in weaker positions. Cities such as Neukolln, where half of the population does not speak German as a first language, have not been assigned any quotas because they are already diverse, and likely to attract refugees and immigrants in the second wave of migration because they have a variety of economic opportunities and ethnic communities.

While there are obvious problems with trying to resettle refugees in areas that may not offer them the cultural, language, and other support they need to thrive, these issues could be partially addressed through targeted service provision in addition to the new housing. For example, providing resettlement and counselling support to those who have fled intolerable political persecution, employment support, language classes, and opportunities for children and youth to socialize and learn about their new country. Offering micro-loans to accepted refugees who would like to start their own businesses may help in the establishment of ethnic grocery stores, credit unions, and other services for the Syrian community. While these efforts may not be enough to keep refugees in German cities cities that do not offer long-term economic or social inclusion opportunities, they would be critical in preventing isolation, frustration, and the development of income-enforced enclaves (where people live because they feel have no other economic or socio-cultural ability to move out). While it’s natural for ethnic communities to form around social, religious, or language needs, people should be able to work, go to school, or do everyday activities with members of other ethnocultural groups. Extraordinary efforts also need to be made in cities/regions that had previously been shrinking: they would have to supply more teachers, more health care workers, more public transit service to serve the increased population.

This is assuming that the German public accepts the long-term integration of refugees, which could be a problem. Like many countries, short-term economic integration (like their “guest” worker category for Turkish men from the 1960s and 1970s) has been accepted, but long-term is another story. It was just this year that the German Parliament passed legislation to allow children of migrants who were raised or educated in the country to adopt German citizenship, while keeping their own. It remains to be seen whether Germans will accept the influx of Syrians in the long run.

A couple of weeks ago, we had what was probably the two busiest weeks in SCARP history. Susan Fainstein was here as our Scholar-in-Residence, SCARP celebrated its 60th anniversary, we hosted our third annual Student Symposium, and two doctoral students successfully defended their dissertations. Writing about all these other events has kept me busy until now!

Leslie Shieh examined Shequ (Community) construction in China, in particular the effectiveness of State policies in local communities (read the dissertation here). Her study, “Shequ Construction: Policy Implementation, Community Building, and Urban Governance in China” shows the impact of a wide set of policies intended to carry out administrative functions and deliver social care: under Shequ policies, thousands of service centers have been built, offering cultural and social services to residents. While many Western planners advocate for community-led change, Leslie’s interviews with local community groups and residents shows how much agency residents have under the Shequ policy framework and urban governance model, and challenges North American experiences of ineffective state planning interventions. Leslie’s work was published in City (“Restructuring Urban Governance: Community Construction in Contemporary China“, 2008) and she has a chapter in the forthcoming Global Capitalism and the Future of Agrarian Society (Arif Dirlik and Alexander Woodside, eds.). She is now busy publishing more of her research findings and working in the Vancouver urban development scene.

Janice Barry’s dissertation is entitled “Building Collaborative Institutions for Government-to-Government Planning: A Case Study of the Nanwakolas Council’s Involvement in the Central Coast Land and Resource Management Planning Process” (read the dissertation here). She examined a government-to-government process involving a First Nations group and the Provincial government, using interviews and content analysis of policy documents. Her work contributes to the growing body of literature linking planning and new institutional theory, clarifying the drivers and dimensions of institutional change. Janice is currently  a postdoctoral researcher in the Urban Studies department at the University of Glasgow with Dr. Libby Porter. They have just started fieldwork for another study involving First Nations communities in BC: “Planning with Indigenous Customary Land Rights: An investigation of shifts in planning law and governance in Canada and Australia.”

Congratulations to these stellar graduates, who have been great mentors, co-conspirators, and friends during my time at SCARP.

Update: Janice became a lecturer at the University of Sheffield Department of Town and Regional Planning in July 2012.

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!

It’s so rare that I see a headline on my parents’ home state of Kerala that I couldn’t resist writing about this article in the Globe and Mail. For those of you who don’t know, Kerala (pronounced CARE-ah-la, and not cur-AH-la) is a mass of contradictions. It has the highest literacy rate in India but still has arranged marriages. The population of the state is the same as that of Canada, but Kerala’s birth rate is lower that the US rate, thanks to the intense family planning advocacy that’s gone on since my parents were children in the 1950s. A relatively high quality of life is contradicted by a very low GDP. And most paradoxical, the state has a Communist history: democratically-elected Communist governments.

This last point is the key to all the others. Since 1957, the Communist party has been democratically elected and in office, either alone or working with other left wing parties. The leftist governments prioritized public services, small scale co-ops and rural land reforms, resisting rabid globalization and the corporatization of agriculture. In other words, the governments have built upon Kerala’s strengths rather than following popular, often disastrous, employment trends. Strong labour unions are also responsible: workers of all stripes go on strike regularly in Kerala, with the result that the state has some of the best working conditions in the country.

Most importantly, Kerala illustrates one of the classic postwar economic paradoxes: it has a very low GDP but excellent labour conditions, lower poverty than the rest of the country, very strong women’s rights, and excellent health outcomes. How can that be when the state governments haven’t bought into the ideas of neoliberalism, globalization and corporate agriculture? For one, the excellent public health initiatives in Kerala are a direct result of a strong, affordable, health care system that was only possible with consistent leftist governments. Ditto education, which is the key to women’s economic and social independence. State education in Kerala, including free public and high schools, mean that Kerala doesn’t have untouchables: the caste system barely exists at all in the state. It has a very low incidence of religious intolerance (Hindus killing Christians, Muslims killing Hindus, etc.) The strength of the public sector balances out the lower employment in niche areas like traditional Kerala crafts and small-scale manufacturing and production.

All is not sunshine, however: the traffic and pressure on local roads is growing by 10% each year and the rate of road accidents is the highest in India. And unemployment, particularly among youth and women, is fairly high (a handy side effect of strong labour unions and a very well-educated population). This has resulted in massive emigration of Kerala’s population to the Arabian Gulf, the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. More than 50% of Kerala’s population relies on wells for fresh water, which are still responsible for water-borne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and hepatitis. Environmental conditions are no picnic either: Booker Prize winning author Arundati Roy (The God of Small Things), who hails from Kerala, famously donated her prize winnings to fighting the Sardar Sarovar Dam project across the Narmada river.

Nevertheless, Kerala has achieved a remarkable amount with, measurably, very little. The state is just one more example that money may not be the key to happiness after all.

December 24, 2009 will become a date to remember: today the US Senate passed its landmark health care legislation in the first Christmas Eve vote since 1895. I wrote earlier on Canada’s rough ride to Medicare, and Bill HR 3962 (the Affordable Health Care for America Act) passed in the House of Representatives in another post. It’s an electrifying issue which is exciting regardless of where you stand on this complex issue. Health care, and the delivery of health services, are crucial issues for cities in the US. While there is a lot of debate about the differences between the Senate and House bills and the numerous concessions required to pass the Senate version (Bill HR 676, the National Health Care Act or Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act), the legislation is a particular success for the still-young Obama administration. According to the White House, the main goals of the bill are to reduce long-term health insurance costs for governments and companies, ensure a choice of doctors and health insurance, prevent bankruptcies, invest in patients and wellness, improve patient safety and quality of care, ensure quality affordable health care for all Americans, maintain coverage when people change jobs or leave work, and end barriers to coverage for people with pre-existing health conditions.

Earlier this week, the Senate narrowly agreed on Bill 676, which they endorsed 60-40 at 1am on Monday. Sixty votes are required to bypass a lengthy debate (filibuster) and the Democrats have 58 Senate seats, so they need every vote plus the two Independents. Nebraska Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson was the keystone in cementing the 60-40 vote. Critics feel the bill is too expensive (CNN’s David Frum), delivers too little, and excludes too many (Michael Moore). Republican critics maintain that health care will be “rationed” and overall patient care will suffer: House minority leader John Boehner said it “puts bureaucrats in charge of decisions that should be made by patients and doctors.” Many Democrats are still divided on the issues of abortion represented in the bill (Huffington Post’s Judy Patrick) while others say it diminishes choice by forcing Americans to buy heath insurance. Most agree that the bill was diluted significantly in order to ensure its passage, citing the exclusion of a government-run insurance option that had been included in the House bill, but as Michael Tomasky wrote for the Guardian, “Half a loaf is better than none.” Nelson, in particular, held out for concessions like a federal contribution to Nebraska’s Medicare program. The “Senate test” on Monday was said to predict the passage of the bill today.

It is somewhat troubling that US health insurance companies like Aetna Inc., Signa Corp. and Humana Inc. instantly posted stock market increases, and Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT) got major contributions from these and other insurance companies to fight the bill. While the bill is expected to cover 30 million Americans who were previously uninsured (the population of Canada, by the way) the Congressional Budget Office reported earlier this year that there were 45.7 million uninsured people in the US. Although this number has been disputed, there will still be millions uninsured in the US, since health insurance will still be tied to employment and the government option has been eliminated. But it is encouraging that the bill bans discrimination of insurers based on pre-existing conditions and mandates employers to provide health insurance, providing tax breaks for small businesses and penalties for large ones.

Today’s Senate vote required the agreement of all 58 Democrats and 2 Independents to achieve the 60-39 win. Four different administrations have tried to pass health care bills in the US. This particular bill, HR 676, was introduced in 2003 by Representative John Conyers (D-MI), and has been reintroduced in every congress since. However, the release of Michael Moore’s Sicko (2007) focused attention on the country’s inadequate health coverage, in particular discriminatory treatment of insured people and the business ethic that pervades Health Management Organizations (HMOs). American friends told stories about the aftermath of seeing the movie in the theater: afterwards, audience members lingered the lobby, saying, “We’ve got to do something about this.” The DVD release of Sicko included a segment entitled “Sicko goes to Washington” which promoted the health care bill. Although the original bill suggested a single-payer system for universal coverage, public opinion was divided: most Americans are against government-run health care, although the American Medical Association favours the option. The single payer option was dropped from in the Senate bill (it still exists in the House bill). The next step involves harmonizing the Senate and House of Representatives bills, which may take until February.

While everything in HR 676 isn’t perfect, legislation rarely is. We’re currently awaiting the proroguing of Canadian parliament (the termination of the current session) which is how our Conservative Prime Minister deals with the fact that he doesn’t have the agreement of the whole House of Commons. This would mean all bills proposed and worked on in committees would die, including the long-awaited affordable housing act (Bill C-304), which has been introduced three times already. So Merry Christmas to our neighbours to the South, and celebrate your imperfect legislation!

In what has been called “a hard-fought victory for President Obama“, the Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR 3962), passed November 7, 2009 in the House of Representatives. The vote was 220:215, an extremely narrow victory (218 votes were needed to pass the bill). Among other things, the bill prohibits insurers from charging different rates or refusing treatment based on a patient’s medical history or gender, requires most employers to provide health insurance, increases Medicaid eligibility to cover more low-income people, a subsidy plan for low- to middle-income people to buy insurance, a central health insurance exchange where people can compare plans and rates, as well as a government-run insurance program.

In an earlier post, while the US was gearing up for its health care talks, I wrote extensively about some of the myths concerning public health care provision. Among these was the claim that public health care is much more expensive than private health care, which is simply not the case. In addition to the data I provided in that post, the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s annual report on health care spending was released today. According to their figures, Canada’s health care costs rose by 5% to $183.1 billion in 2009 compared to 2008. Canada’s per capita costs are highest at the early and late stages of life: $8,239 for an infant under one year old, and up to $17,469 for an adult over 80 years old. For those aged 1-64, the per capita cost is only $3,809 per person. There are also interesting regional differences, with Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador having the highest per capita costs and BC and Quebec having the lowest. Our costs are in the top 20% worldwide: presumably the 20% with socialized health care systems, since our costs compare to France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria.

How do we compare to the US? The per capita cost in the US is $7,290 US, almost double Canada’s average of $3,895 and the highest of 26 countries surveyed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). While Canada’s increased from 10.8% of the GDP in 2008 to an estimated 11.9% in 2009, the CIHI reported that the US was forecasting a similar increase in spending, up to 17.6% of its GDP. Interestingly, they also write that health care spending spikes during economic recessions.

The battle isn’t over yet in the US, which plans to take their health care bill to the Senate. Only one Republican in the House of Representatives voted for HR 3962, and 39 Democrats voted against it; the Democrats will need 60 of 100 votes in the Senate to end debate and bring the legislation to a vote. This was in part due to some controversial amendments at the last minute that added in some flexibility for states in dealing with abortion. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi compared the passage of the bill to the 1935 passage of Social Security, but it will be a rough run at the Senate if the abortion issue remains unsolved.