Over 60 people attended the first Planners Network (PN) – Toronto event since 2008. The group included planners, architects and urban designers, lawyers, economists, faculty from planning, environmental studies and geography programs, as well as many planning students from 4 different universities. Held at Metro Hall in downtown Toronto, we began with a little informal “speed ideating” prior to the official welcome and start of the evening’s activities. After a brief introduction to PN, we had 6 speakers or provocateurs each given 5-7 minutes to provoke interest in discussing one of three topics: 1) Housing and Homelessness; 2) Heritage Preservation; and 3) the Sharing Economy. Participants then self-selected into one of the 3 discussion groups, with each smaller group reporting back the gist of their discussion at the end of the evening. Noting the links between the 3 discussions, the group decided that the next event should look at the potential of community land trusts and cooperatives to reuse old buildings for affordable housing and shared resources and opportunities of various kinds. Another 10 volunteers joined the original crew of 6 to organize the next event most likely to be held in May.
Welcome & Speed ideating
Nadia Galati introduced the speed ideating activity. As people arrived at the event, after registration, they were invited to join one of two lines of people facing one another. Each pair facing one another had about 3 minutes to introduce themselves and their interests and/or concerns in planning before the lines moved in opposite directions to create new pairs. It was loud and lively, and allowed people to meet many others quickly who they could then connect with later if they had similar interests.
Barbara Rahder introduced PN and PN-Toronto with a bit of history and then presented the agenda and format for the evening. Speakers were limited to 7 minutes each and were instructed to say something provocative, something that would make participants want to talk about their topic. They were, indeed, more provocateurs than speakers.
Housing and Homelessness
Dania Majid talked about housing as a human right. She explained the systemic reasons for Canada’s housing crisis since the 1990s, when the provincial and federal governments downloaded housing services to municipalities without the resources to keep up. She argued that we should adopt a national housing strategy with a human rights lens. George Fallis disagreed, and also argued that too much housing policy is Toronto-centric when housing problems are a regional issue. He pointed out that there are 3 main types of homeless: 1) chronic; 2) episodic; and 3) transitional, and believes that the housing/homelessness agenda should focus on the most disadvantaged (chronic and episodic). He talked about the benefits of the Housing First policy. Others disagreed about the usefulness and efficacy of the Housing First program. Some thinking that the policy doesn’t go far enough and acts as a band-aid covering up, rather than solving, the larger issues. The discussion was incredibly fruitful and clearly showed how layered and complex the issues and challenges surrounding housing and homelessness are in Canada as well as the numerous competing professional perspectives on how to address the problem.
Richard Longley and Matthew Boscariol kicked off by raising questions about community attachment and interest in a particular building or place, and the resulting community claims to ‘ownership’ or ‘the right to heritage.’ MichaelMcClelland added that preservation is a cultural phenomenon, and asked whose cultural values are being preserved, and why we preserve in the first place? He noted change in the last 20-30 years with heritage now emphasizing more context and broader community values.The group then discussed definitions, considered heritage preservation as a social equity issue, and talked about Yonge Street, where most adaptive reuse preserves only the facade of buildings and the character of the street gets lost in the process. The group included people with backgrounds in transportation, housing, land use and heritage, making the discussion fluid from beginning to end, as participants offered their own understandings of what heritage planning is, and whose heritage is being preserved. The discussion was a great success with the only drawback being too much to say in too little time. Everyone learned and benefitted from the ideas of others.
The Sharing Economy
Ellie Perkins initiated the discussion of the sharing economy from an ecological economics perspective by calling attention to the limits of capitalism and the weakening (or even dying out) of neo-classical economics. The group continued the conversation actively exploring the impacts of the current global economic model, the widening income gap, and the multi-billions that are made by the CEOs of services like Uber or Airbnb. We distinguished services that focus on convenience or fill a specific consumer niche in the market from those that involve actual sharing, as exemplified by non-profits such as the Tool Library or other cooperatives, and explored alternatives to the monetization of goods and services. When ownership is a precursor to ‘sharing,’ like with Uber and Airbnb, it is still capitalism and not an alternative to it. We also discussed community gardens as sharing economies but also, and perhaps more aptly, as sharing communities. Some preferred emphasizing community over economy because the latter has become synonymous with capitalism. The group was interested in exploring more examples and models that provide tangible alternatives to capitalism so that we might imagine another world.
Report Back & Next Steps
We reconvened altogether for a brief report back from each group. The connections between the three topics were noted and discussed with the idea that the next event should focus on the opportunities to reuse old buildings for shared community use, including affordable housing. Volunteers interested in organizing the next event huddled briefly at the end of the evening and agreed that we’d focus on community land trusts and cooperative housing. We plan to hold the next event in May.
For more information about PN-Toronto, visit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/829497817120171/
And find them on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/PNToronto