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The Holy Trinity: policy, practice, and research

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.


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