Urban Voices -Graduate Students Projects

Urban Sense of Belonging

As I’m working with this notion of place based identity; I am haunted by a question as I read and write. This notion of a ‘longing to belong’ comes up a lot in the literature on immigration, migration and transnational identity. So when we critique place-based identity where does the ‘nomad’ long to belong? Where do they call ‘home?’ What or where do they long to be? Or does the nomad do identity differently? Or do they ‘identify’ differently? Just questions that haunt 2 in the morning. I had to share: you know misery loves company.

Urban Education Blog- A walk in old shoes

This is a blog following my journey through my undergraduate years at U of T.

Urban Education Blog- A walk in old shoes

I wrote this piece cognizant of the power of spoken word as performative ethnography. Here, experience, memory and history converge, taking the form of the audible cadence of a historically suppressed voice. I am both flaneur and subject here, exploring the fragmented experiences of my self and the spatial reality that surrounds it, in the project of engaging in a critical analysis of the structural features of urbanity and modernity.(Jenks and Neves, 2000) It has been noted that we can only apprehend that which engages us: ‘In the face of the rapid change of the city, the flaneur remembers, and folds his  memory into the experience of the present. This changes the experience of the city, making the lived moment into a citable  moment. (Howard Caygill, 1998) I have created here a psychogeographic map of my past self as I journeyed through a time that is itself subject to the changing whims of my memory; the ever evolving positions and tools used to make sense of my present inevitably reaching back in time, breaking teleological laws.

Engaging in urban ethnography demands that the researcher move into uncomfortable territory. It demands that we make the strange familiar and the familiar strange (Wilson, 1991, p. 5). Those who venture to unearth historically silenced voices will be seen, sticking out of the monotonous and contrived uniformity of dominant narratives like a rainbow in a clouded sky. This makes me vulnerable. I must remain reflexive in experience and memory, sight and citation (Jenks and Neves, 2000), for I will be exploring highly political spaces, places and their relationally to My face. My very being demands that issues of class, gender, race, agency and the body be questioned(Stelhe, 2008); satisfactorily or my self will remained disembodied. The narratives of my life- the here and now, lived and future- require deconstruction and demystification of the spaces that help to construct me.

I walk through, carry, am part of, embody, construct and deconstruct the urban. I was ascribed an ‘urban’ identity before i lived it, bore the weight of histories, memories and ill fated destinies manifested in physical space, filling my psychic universe. The possibility, the alternatives, the promise of emancipation, the resilience of the oppressed rains hope on a perpetually disturbed harvest; leeched of its potentiality but where the blossoming and ripening of fruits are realized against all odds.

This is my journey, was my journey, will be my journey…

Mapping my journey through the downtown core, St, George campus where my post secondary student identity was borne.  Wake up, wait for a ride to Bramalea bus station, wait for the bus that will take an 1.5 hours to get to Finch station and another 45 to get to St. George. In the beginning, the journey is liberating- i am on my own- my whereabouts determined only by myself, the people who under pay for my labour and the educational institution….don’t be late for class, though i always am…

I am an exception- among my peers who look like, talk like, walk like, feel Africa from a distance; a vision made nebulous through the depths of the waters of the caribbean, the plumes of exhaust that dance along the trajectory of an airplane that makes its way to Toronto with my parents.

Who else is riding with me. This tedious journey has many passengers making their way to the urban centre. I wonder who among them will be at my school, a school, a good job- under employed, unemployed- if your on the bus in the suburbs its probably not because you are concerned about a sustainable future…although i am…

The urban environment is a space characterized by the meeting of peoples, histories, ideologies, where fluidity and ‘zones of contact'(Pratt, 1987) blur the boundaries of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’, of binary categorization. The urban identity is borne by a subject situated historically and geographically in space and time, constituted by discursive processes but not reducible   to them (Nelson, 1999). An increasingly cosmopolitan urbanity- cosmopolitan in the sense that it is marked by cross-culturality, intersectionality, transcience and movement- makes the consciousness of that society alive with multitudinal desires, perspectives and experience.

I find myself part of an imagined community, situating myself within this group who share a common experience of oppression by and resistance to an extant homogenizing, exploitative force. My face is a representation of a disadvantaged community, my eyes the window to a history of genocide, enslavement, oppression, disenfranchisment by those who are guilty; romanticize my ‘otherness’ if you must. Resilience, promise,  resistance, strength and life to those who live on.

Amin (2007) speaks of the transnational flows of ideas, information,  knowledge, money and people; trans-local networks of organization and influence, including multinational corporations and global financial institutions, international governance regimes and transnational cultural networks…the actions of the powerful as defining the ‘new urban’. The urban environment can no longer be conceived of as an abstract entity when it is a   symptom of globalization, a microcosm of the amalgam the world always was and is now- more than ever.

The heart of the urban is located in many places, for migrant people bring their sense of belonging with them wherever they may go. Movement helps to define us. It is through movement that our experience can be located, contextualized. The centrality of the fluidity of boundaries in my mind map is readily apparent . I move through areas thought to be bound by name with physical ease, yet internalization of the boundedness of territories creates psychic barriers, dislocating the realities of structural inequities and issues shared by the people of the GTA. In ‘Unpacking Cosmopolitanism’  Beck and Snzaider assert that boundaries are continuously erected to signify and maintain difference. Here, the  conceptualization of autonomy is defective and subverts the reality of interdependance. Those who seek to maintain the  status quo will resist interrogation of the bounded entities they vehemently try to naturalize.(Beck and Sznaider, 2010)

In Brampton and Toronto, I am ascribed an urban identity; synonymous with being afflicted with an endogenous condition, an ‘urban condition’. The ills of the products of neo-liberalism and its supporting discourses inscribe and confuse what faces me. The realization that I must be an ethnographer in any space i find myself in is my saving grace.

I blend with the crowd, realizing that outside speculation will almost too consistently be deductive- black skin- that’s actually cocoa brown..plus- badges of ethnicity, performative gender and class markers- dark eye liner, baggy pants and air force ones, bubble jackets and weaves, and perms and natural hair, the melody of my voice- equals ghetto black girl- the popular image of the urban. Unless urban is to mean modern, cultured, experiencing transience, cross cultural interaction etically, a privileged position- flirting with the marginal- celebrating its delicacies, and consuming its soul.

New spaces, new places- familiar stares from unfamiliar faces… Well, thats if you catch them looking.. I must be the subject of another’s flaneurie. They wonder what i’m doing in this store where i clearly cant afford anything screams my shoes, shouts my skin, laughs my wallet emptied by school fees. Can I help you- just looking..at another world within a new world.

Adjacent to the campus is where we aspire to make our own. We go to this school and are told we are among the elite, are taught the ways of the west, and its omnipresent religion- capitalism… i mean democracy. I used to feel alienated from this bordering space- rich rich, money money, got none?, sorry honey… but i am redeemed in my cynicism. Unearthing the many epistemologies that make this self- i create, re cycle revolution- full circle- this becomes the real project i’m working on- though the institution still wants its tribute- read and write til blood is drawn- and they are still not satiated.

Dymystification and deconstruction reveals what lies beneath. Unearthed in my micro-ethnographic experience is the salience of many isms, that unless held up to a microscope, go unnoticed; how difficult it is to gather empirical evidence of discrimination of any kind in a society that overtly claims to value difference. Profound neo-liberalization in the GTA has resulted in the commodification of difference. Ethnic diversity is now a weapon in the deadly competitions refereed in the name of capitalism and entrepreneurism.(Boudreau and Young, 2009) A language ideology that privileges standard English  and its cultural expressions is reproduced through language socialization and reinforced through the necessity of mastering literacy and oracy in that standard form. In this way am I, identifiable through the performative markers of gender, race, sex  and class, insidiously and quietly excluded from spaces and places. Bhaba discusses stereotyping as a major discursive  strategy to ensure that differences between people are recognized. ‘Othering’ is the product of such a strategy and here the target of denigration is dehumanized, their positive and desired attributes disavowed. (Bhabha, 1994). Riggins(1997) argues that for a stereotype to ‘make sense’ to those who apply it, a whole chain of reinforcing ideas must accompany it.

Engaging in critical analysis of the discursive, epistemological and ontological makings of me makes visible the systemic discriminatory paradigms that permeate my lived experience. Shattering oppressive norms requires us to confront our own colonization: The system we are fighting is not merely structural; its also inside us, through the internalization of oppressive cultural norms that define our worldview. Our minds have been colonized to normalize deeply  pathological assumptions. (Reinsborough, 2004)

Decolonizing and detoxifying our psychic spaces require questioning the mundane, targeting norms as subjects of deep inquiry. Dlamini (2002) warns that “often putting the principles of critical  pedagogy and anti-racism into practice is very complex….The application of these principles can simultaneously eradicate  or contradict them” (p. 55). This will be true in a society that has not delineated the reasons why they believe what they believe, how that impacts every encounter, every experience, every meaning.(Stelhe, 2008)

The disjunct between here and there slowly feels less imposed, less threatening, as i realize i am entitled to a different imagined dream than this ‘Canadian Dream’ land of freedom, wealth, democracy, for some not all…patriarchical, racist, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, xenophobic- don’t talk like that here or you’ll get No respect.

I must carry this eye with me, it must engage with the storm that embattles my very being- a fierce wind that demands that i accept the unacceptable- normalize the constructed, and naturalize what cannot be freedom, love- but this eye can see the machinery at work here.  I am a stranger in this place- but my very presence demands that i belong. I say, i am not an exception- others who look like, talk like, walk like, dress like me belong here too. Don’t roll your eyes when i ask how we can discuss the success of the European Industrial revolution- implicitly illustrating why europe and its descendants dominate the world – without locating the contribution of the slave trade and all supporting imperialist projects to the continued oppression of 2/3rds of the world.

My tongue is cement- heavy to move- anxiety builds- but i have to speak up. Raise my hand…This is why i am here. ssssssssssssssssspeak for i am who they think i am, though i’m not who they want me to be.

It has been noted that from a position of privilege, only the ‘other’ is affected by racialization. Everyday spaces are racialized, and the racialized are not the only victims. Any discourse that highlights the existence of these spaces brings discomfort to those who find solace in the imagined presence of ‘universal equality’. Stelhe’s article discusses the effects of confronting issues of racism, ethnocentrism and classism in zoned spaces on beneficiaries of what has been called ‘white racism’- those who benefit by and are complicit in the oppression of ‘others’ (Stehle, 2008)

Any discourse that triggers thoughts about ‘white privilege’, and the concomitant guilt, is easily subverted, ignored, avoided or categorized so that it may be contained. Speaking up- the telling of a narrative that is purposefully silenced to ensure the maintenance of inequitable relations of power- is hard. Vulnerable to ridicule, anger, denial of personhood, my flaneurie moves me to speak up; make the connections and interactions of ideas and knowledges visible. This orientation is practiced by the authors of the ‘New Keywords’ (Bennett and Meaghan Eds., 2005) who seek to articulate the connections between words and meaning, validating the positionalities of those who have been denigrated by oppressive language.

A ‘psychogeography’ depends upon the walker ‘seeing’ and being drawn into events, situations and images by an abandonment to wholly unanticipated attraction (Jenks and Neves, 2000). Although I cannot predict the outcome of my travels, I am wearily aware of recurrent themes I will be called to entertain. However, names, categories and stereotypes threaten, but fail to command, my self- authorship. Stereotypes and labels can have the discursive power to construct negative construction of identity, making them intrusive and capable of flattening the psychosocial space that houses of sense of identity (Rimstead, 1997). This is not to essentialize the actions of any oppressed  group or discount the daily resistance they engage in, “A critical view of the social construction of identity not only recognizes the powerful influence of dominant ideologies in controlling and constraining people’s sense of themselves, but also recognizes the possibility of struggle for alternative definitions” (Bloome, 2004).

Now, movement from the retail strip to bloor and st george is no big deal. I feel the stares, but i don’t care, because I decide who i am at this moment and time regardless of the identity so intently splattered on my existence. I don’t even want your stuff. I smirk at what you think i am, within and without the classroom, and die a little because words manifest without intervention and She- that archetype they thought i was, IS manufactured daily…generationally…on purpose.

This area is zoned and i have a temporary pass. In brampton, i’ve already mapped the safe areas and distance often impedes accidental intrusions into exclusive spaces. I am the urban here and there- the urban condition resonates in many aspects- although in sub urbia abject poverty is not rampant- although the caste like status and crosses heavied with the weight of stereotypes, categories, names, are carried by people with little political capital, criminalized, truants until proven innocent, who have been given an opportunity to rise up the social mobility ladder through education like everybody else and its their fault if they waste it…though their ladder has few steps, can only fit a handful, and will fail if too many stand on the structure. – though there are always exceptions.

The Urban centre is the meeting place of a multiplicity of crossroads, zones of contact. I turn onto st. george and i am ambivalent. Robarts library induces this disembodied state, wherein i am called to put myself back together again as i see fit, in every encounter, in every conversation, in every class comment- and i am pleased with the product.

My urban self will never be complete as long as i live. Today, I move past this area in triumph, as though i have done the impossible which is to deconstruct and sculpt a new me. This area still symbolizes the centrality of reclaiming  self authorship in my life- resistance a necessary tool to survival and sanity, the tireless energy necessary to break down and build new forms- detournement… my flaneurie connects to the emancipation of MY imagined community… for all…

I close this chapter of my life, knowing that experience and memory are reflexive; knowing that temporality is cyclical, not linear. I use my flaneurie to map my world- acknowledging the spaces I am excluded from and deconstructing the barriers  to those places I determine to be worth entering. From this perspective, the spectacle cannot seduce me so easily. I can  distance myself from the (re) presentations of the hegemonic norms and values of this urban space enough to (re) focus my eyes and (re) define my self as I choose. This choice will always be constrained by my historical, geographical, socio-eco-political…; my choices will always be constrained, but my flaneurie allows me to exercise greater agency in the  matters of My mind.

Amidst everything, I am joyful in the knowledge I have been given, more so for that i have accrued. I tell this story and the process of ‘Inkumbulo’ resonates in my soul. I seek to commune with those who hear this voice amidst the noise of the world. Dlamini invites us to use our stories, gather our ethnographies and share them ‘purposively to teach and transform the social consciousness of the listener to facilitate a conversion from obvious surface meaning and understandings to philosophically critical positions of social and political occurrences.(Dlamini, 2006) This possibility gives me the courage to speak up; to be.

I walk through, carry, am part of, embody, construct and deconstruct the urban.  I live in, and the urban lives in me.

The following is a link to my performance of the italicized words… http://portal.sliderocket.com/APYPJ/My-Presentation-1 or copy and paste http://portal.sliderocket.com/APYPJ/My-Presentation-1 into your browser…


Amin, A.(2007). Rethinking the Urban Social. City analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action. Volume 11 No. 1: 100-114

Beck, Ulrich and Natan Sznaider. (2010).Unpacking cosmopolitanism for the social sciences: a research agenda. The British Journal of Sociology. The British Journal of Sociology. Special Issue: The BJS: Shaping sociology over 60 years. Volume 61, pages 381–403, January Bennett, Lawrence Grosberg and Meaghan Morris, Eds. (2005). New keywords: a revised vocabulary of culture and society. Rev. ed. of: Keywords / Raymond Williams. 1985. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Bhaba, H. (1994) Location of Culture. London: Routledge

Bloome, D. (2004). Microethnographic Discourse Analysis and the Exploration of Social Identity in Classroom Language and Literacy Events. From Discourse Analysis & the Study of CLassroom Language & Literacy Events: A Microethnographic Perspective. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 101-158

Boudreau,J.,R. Keiland D. Young. (2009). Changing Toronto.Governing Urban Neoliberalism. Toronto: UTP.(Ch. 1Canada Urbana: Perspectives of Urban Research.)

Caygill, Howard 1998: Walter Benjamin: the Colour of Experience. London and New York: Routledge.

Dlamini, S.N. (2006). “Inkumbulo” as Remembering, Communing, and Praxis:Retelling the Stories of Transformation and Learning. International Education, v36 n1 p32-45.

Jenks, Chris and Tiago Neves. (2000). A walk on the wild side: Urban ethnography meets the Flaneur. Journal for Cultural Research, Volume 4, Issue 1 January: pp. 1 – 17. Nelson, Lisa. (1999). Bodies (and Spaces) do Matter: The limits of performativity. Gender, Place and Culture. Vol. 6, 4, December: 331-353

Riggins, S. (1997). The Rhetoric of Othering. In S. Riggins (Ed.), The Language and Politics of Exclusion: Others in Discourse. California: SAGE Publications, 1-20

Stehle, Maria. (2008). PsychoGeography as Teaching Tool: Troubled Travels Through an Experimental First-Year Seminar. InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 4(2), Article 5.

Wilson, Elizabeth 1991:TheSphinxintheCity-Urban Life, theControl of Disorder, and Women. London: Virago Press.

Natalie Davey’s Urban Studies Presentation

Ragini’s first post

Nombuso’s second post

Sam’s first post

Patrick’s first post

The big idea

The idea for this project came about during a visit to the museum of modern arts (MOMA) in New York city.  By chance, I came across a book entitled Ecological Urbanism which is a collection of articles on urbanization from an ecological standpoint.  The book explores the urban setting from a critical lens with an accomplished collection of educators and writers.  As I walked around the MOMA there were a number of exhibits with the same ecological theme.  I thought my project would be an autoethnography of Queen St. with a twist.  Some ecological problems the urban environment faces are garbage storage and recycling, transportation, energy use and renewal, population growth, and ability to harvest natural resources. The pictures are taken courtesy of Google maps.  My autoethnography will critically evaluate the city’s ecology giving reference to many of the authors that contributed to Ecological Urbanism by Harvard University Graduate school of design.  The recent ecological crisis around climate change has fast impacted humanity’s willingness to change.

Definition of Urbanism

A walk along Queen St.

My journey along Queen St. takes me back to 1995 when I first moved to Canada from Trinidad.  At that time I was only 13 and my mom kept on reinforcing to me that this was a fresh start for me and that I needed to take advantage of the opportunities that were available.  Arriving in Canada in the late winter was not an easy adjustment but soon I would see some of the best sights around the city.  I remember how clean the city was in comparison to my former country.  There were garbage cans and recycling bins conveniently located around the city.  On weekends we would go grocery shopping in the west near Lansdowne St./Dufferin St. and that is where my journey along Queen St. begins.

There is a grocery store just a little north of Queen St. that we would go to every two weeks.  The store was not a close walking distance but only 10 minutes on the streetcar.  Notice from the picture the clutter with the cars, the lack of bicycle lanes, and of course the streetcar tracks.  Already there appears to be too much congestion in the city.  Mostafavi finds the impact of automobile-based living can be seen in the steep increase in the percentage of overweight individuals in the American population, from 24 % in 1960, 47% in 1980, and 63% in 2010 (p. 32).  The Canadian statistics are very similar at 62% overweight in 2010 (Stats Canada).  As a newcomer to the city I thought about walking or riding over to various destinations.  It was a huge change for me to feel the density of people in the city.  It seemed that there were not that many people walking around in the city to get places.  The streetcars were always busy on the weekends and the city was always full of life.  A more ecological city design would give more access to cyclists and less to the drivers who clog the city streets.   The impact of the large number of cars in the city was certainly something I could smell in the air quality.  It was not the same as the pure Caribbean breeze from my house in the countryside.  Comparatively, in the Netherlands cycling is the main form of transportation in the urban centers.  The obesity rates in the Netherlands are less than 20% ( http://ec.europa.eu/health).

As I move along to the east I start to appreciate the amount of trees and green that is around the city.  In my childhood I loved the spring and the summer months as the trees started to get green again.  It was a site to behold while traveling on the streetcar.  “Toronto is not a concrete jungle,” I thought to myself.  The trees can be seen all the way down, a few small parks are conveniently located along Queen St., and the street car tracks continue all the way across.  The green that is seen in Toronto makes it aesthetically pleasing.  The plants seem to be an afterthought only given a 1 foot by 1 foot square or max 2 feet by 2 feet.  It is impossible to debate the point that the city is full of concrete: high rise business towers, apartment buildings, shopping centers, sporting facilities, entertainment buildings and much more.  Glaeser writes: “Dense, concrete jungles may not look at all that green, but they are, because when we use less space, we do less environmental harm.” (p. 307).  I agree that the city is the place where people of all varieties come together for unified causes and that it is a green way to live since everything is in a close proximity.  A recent study has shown that it is much more carbon efficient for individuals to live in the city, that is, those individuals drive short distances away from work and use less amounts of electricity in the summer and winter (p. 306).  The largest wave of urban growth in history is happening now. Since 2007, for the first time, the majority of the world’s population has been living in urban instead than rural areas (UN-Habitat, 2007).  There is an argument for keeping the city concrete and keeping the rural natural.  However, most authors disagree that the urban city will be able to survive without adapting its ecological behaviours.

This is the Queen St. and Bathurst St. intersection.  I went to an elementary school for a few months only a short distance away from this intersection.  My urban-Toronto education experience was no different from my Caribbean (urban and rural) education experiences.  This intersection represents my clash with the urban education I received.  There was more technology available but it was hardly used and school was becoming a place of stress not personal growth or enjoyment.  The emphasis was still on learning math and science in order to get a job.  However, my experience could have been much more authentic if ideas on incorporating the urban experience were introduced to many of my classes.  Imagine the impact of studying an ecosystem if the students are allowed to plant trees, harvest the soil, learn about organic vegetables and the organisms that survive in these settings.  The math, english, physical education, science and geography components are all embedded within the above task.  By contrast, the current school system is a very linear model of what true education represents; specific subject categories limit the creativity of educators to use more transdisciplinary approaches to teaching.  Fortunately there are forward thinking schools such as The Green School in Bali where students are not only surrounded by organic materials but the learn to survive by learning the necessary skills to maintain sustainable balance with the planet.

This view of the CN tower shows a contradiction in the beauty of the city

Toronto is full of amazing scenery and Queen St. is the place to be for some of the best art, fashion, and shopping venues.  Here you can see the CN tower in the background.  The Canadian National tower represents an architectural feat that was unparalleled in its time.  It stood as the tallest building in the world for 34 years and it remains the tallest in the western hemisphere.  This view of the CN tower shows a contradiction in the beauty of the city.  The deserted land is full with wooden rubble and garbage but a good sign is that land is available.  Perhaps in a few years there will be some sort of business built on the same land but the view of the CN tower will be blocked from Queen St.  The street is full of buildings that give you a narrow view of urban life: shops, banks, and restaurants.

Look above at the urban spider web.  This is the Spadina Ave. and Queen St. intersection.  Streetcar tracks from the north-south route intersect with the east-west route.  It takes about 20 seconds to cross the street walking at a normal pace.  I don’t remember this intersection ever being quiet.  There are banks at diagonal corners here to represent the strong presence of commerce in the urban setting.  I was once bumped by a car while riding my bicycle to school only a short block away from this intersection.  The traffic in the city is a major problem here and pedestrians seem to have no power or even any rights in the heart of the city.  At this intersection there is a 24 hour McDonanld’s where a new face in the city becomes visible: the poor.  One night as I walked by the McDonald’s with my brother we were approached by a young man whose face was full of dirt, his hair was long and messy, and his facial hair was untidy with traces of debris as if he had not washed his face in weeks.  The young man asked me (at 18) for some change.  I had no job or means of income at that time.  Yet, out of compassion I purchased the young man a bag of fries.  Fainstein comments on the widespread definition of ecological urbanism that also embraces environmental justice which “considers the impact of environmental change on the socially disadvantaged groups and analyzes the distributional impacts of environmental policy.” (p. 300)  Even in a beautiful city such as Toronto there are people who have no place to live and no place to sleep.  There are casualties every winter from extreme cold conditions.

The classic architecture with the arches above the windows is something that I rarely appreciated in the city.  The colour of the building is a sign of its age.  These style of buildings are good at keeping in the heat and act as a good insulator against the cold weather.  There is nothing truly novel about the architecture compared to some of the more modern initiatives in other parts of the world where ecology, architecture and art fuse together in harmony.  In the background we can see the tall buildings starting to appear.  However, there seems to be no variety with the architecture in the city.  All the tall buildings are concrete with rectangular windows.

(Chinese Television Headquarters.  Photo courtesy of Google images)

(Singapore residential complex. Photo courtesy of Google images)

(Capital Gate- Abu Dhabi.  Photo courtesy of Google images)

Cohen and Naginski describe architecture to be “just as likely to provoke change (transformative architecture) as it is to respond to it (responsive architecture).” (p. 137).  With all the ecological problems facing the city- smog, renewable energy sources, disposal of waste, over-congestion- I wonder what response will there be from an architectural standpoint to challenge the ecological problem and still fit in the city without being an unpleasant sight.  The good news is that there are multiple projects already underway.  www.urbantoronto.ca is a website where Torontonians can see all the upcoming projects from the newest subway stations, to new designs for condos, to new eco-friendly shopping centers, and much more.

(photo taken from www.urbantoronto.ca)

This is a rendered picture of the new Steeles West station under construction in the north of the city.  Toronto promises to make the transportation system more accessible to the public in an effort to clear congestion in the city.  However, there are no new initiatives with limiting the exhaust from the cars in the city.  There are dozens of car companies with zero-emissions models available for purchase that could do the city a lot of good.  I used to go for short runs in the city for my training on weekends.  I started to realize that I was doing more harm than good to my body by running alongside the fumes of cars.  Many people living in the city have the same complaint.  Tolaas asserts: “It is interesting that when people were asked to use their noses to perceive the city, they suddenly became aware that they themselves were causing the pollution.” (p.153).  The lack of eco-friendly options in the city is a major concern.  Much of the pollution could be avoided with alternative renewable sources of energy such as solar energy and wind power energy.  Although Toronto does have geo-thermal energy as one of the providers of energy in Ontario there is still a heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

Queen St. and John St. is the landmark for my arrival in Toronto.  The first building that I lived in for 5 years in the city is only a short distance to the north of this intersection.  Every morning when I traveled to school I walked south on John St and I saw the CN tower in the background.  I started to lose appreciation for the marvelous architecture after a while.  These are some of the things urban dwellers take for granted in the city.  At this intersection there once existed the political voice of the people in Toronto known as “Speaker’s Corner”.  Torontonians and visitors alike were able to pay a loonie for 3 minutes of recorded video that sometimes would air on the Sunday night show with the same name.  The voice of the city no longer exists at Queen St. and John St. but perhaps one day there will be enough interest to renew the popular destination.

The next two blocks enters the core of the city.  In Rennes, France there is an ecotower that integrates windmills, photovoltaic panels, Canadian wells, rainwater, black water, ecological materials, and thermal and hygrometrical regulation.  The 30 level building located at the heart of the city integrates agriculture and energy production with the city through architecture.  None of the skyscrapers seen in this picture have such energy efficiencies.  In fact, many of the buildings in the above picture are searching for new technologies to improve energy efficiency through the study of natural biological organisms such as studying the efficiency of the human skin in retaining heat and regulating internal temperature.  Ecological urbanism involves the cross-curricular approach to problem solving because it recognizes the need for professionals in all branches of science, medicine and art, to come together to make the best design for sustainable living in the city.  The SOFT CITIES project is one possible solution for clean energy using energy-harvesting textile systems and thin-film solar nanomaterials.

On a sunny day in the heart of the city I hardly ever felt the sun.  The tall buildings tend to block the sun for most of the day.  Along Queen St. most of the buildings are concrete but some of the newer buildings are entirely made of glass on the exterior.  Some may argue that the glass buildings are more attractive.  However, attractive is not necessarily better for the environment.  While walking to the Eaton center with a few friends I noticed a dead bird being decomposed in the grass adjacent to a tall building.  At that time I was unable to process the reason for the bird’s death.  I thought perhaps it died of natural causes.  Is it now natural for birds to die in the urban as they crash into the sky scrapers that give them the illusion of not being present?  Tall glass buildings are the cause of hundreds of bird deaths every year in cities across the globe.  Biology professor Dr. Daniel Klem Jr. calls this “senseless slaughter of wildlife” an irresponsible act by humans.  The small park in this picture shows that Toronto is committed to maintaining an eco-friendly environment but many of the glass skyscrapers contradict the idea.

Queen St. is one of the cleanest in Toronto.  This picture shows one of the many recycling stations on the busy street.  When I took the subway back from high school as a teenager I would get off at Queen St. and University Ave. only a block away from this site.  In the early afternoon many of the garbage cans were overflowing and I was forced to hold onto my garbage until the next recycling station.  I started to investigate Toronto’s garbage policy and what happens to the large amount of waste that is produced daily.  Toronto purchased the Green Lane Landfill just outside London about 200 km from Toronto.  The previous contract with the city of Michigan expired in 2010.  At that time over 142 trucks traveled the 500 km distance daily.  Currently there are over 100 trucks that travel to the Green Lane landfill daily.  The Green Lane landfill has some of the latest technology to collect methane gas and by 2013 much of the collected gas will be used to produce up to 16 megawatts of electricity for Ontario.  Methane is one of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.  Other major urban cities do not have the luxury of transporting the waste too far away from the city centers.  Thus other environmental initiatives have come to the forefront.  Outram, Biderman and Ratti describe one such project named Trash Talk in New York City which “aims to increase the rate of waste recycling in the city to almost 100 percent by 2030” (p. 169).  Toronto has similar initiatives underway to continue its award-winning practices in limiting the damage to the environment especially the littering of cigarette butts around the city.

Just before Yonge St. there is a sky walkway to connect the Eaton center with The Hudson Bay building.  This dazzling bit of architecture – between two glass-covered skyscrapers  – is a convenient pathway for pedestrians to get a good view of Queen St. while staying in a temperate environment.  The city saves on cost for energy with a stop lights, the buildings also save on energy costs as there is less heated or cooled air being lost when doors are opened.  Finally, there is a less interrupted flow of traffic that keeps the carbon pollution out of the city.  Queen St. also has an extensive underground walkway with less scenic views that pedestrians have the option of using in the colder months.  Nevertheless, the shopping is quite good underground.

Looking south on Yonge St. reminds me my first restaurant experience in the city.  As a university student I dined at an Italian restaurant a few blocks south of here.  I did not pay close attention to the prices and was expecting a bill less than $50 but when the final tab of $100 came to the table I was stunned by the expense of eating in the city.  The prices are significantly higher in the city.  Ecological urbanism has a very holistic definition that defies not only what we eat but where we get the food from.  Vogelzang writes: “some people call themselves ‘locavores’ and eat only food produced within cycling distance of their home.  Maybe we can go a step further and be ‘urbatarians.'” (p. 166).  Some restaurants in Toronto are proud to disclose the source of the ingredients.  Down at Queen St. and Pape St. there was a Thai restaurant called Green Mango that served all organic foods with many local ingredients.  The restaurant has since relocated to Bloor St. but similar restaurants can be located around the city.


“…green is more than color; it is vegetation, open space, a type of building or urbanism, an environmental cause, a political movement…” (Doherty, p. 174)

“…speak of the relativity of color across cultures; still, they found that a word for green almost always exists, even when a word for blue does not.” – Brent Berlin and Paul Kay

As I exit the core district of the city along Queen St. the colour of nature makes an appearance again.  The buildings go back to normal height and nature is given room to breath again. One idea that I got from the book Ecological Urbanism was to view Queen St. as a function of stock market trends.  One author, Koolhaas, hypothesizes that any solution for the current ecological crisis will simultaneously call for an end the ¥€$ regime of profit and consumption (p.69).  The ecology of the downtown core of Queen St. is essentially made up of cement buildings that start very short as one is away from the city, rises to very high levels as one enters the city, and drops again as one leaves the core of the city.  Certainly, this picture shows the trend exists.  Even though the lines on the graph go up the challenge is to keep the lines green using eco-friendly technology.  Green in the urban setting is not only about the colour of nature, it is about creating a sustainable way of living for future generations to enjoy life on the planet.  The architects and planners are well ahead of the politicians with many interesting projects displayed on sites such as www.archi-europe.com

This is the Parliament St. and Queen St. intersection.  A few blocks south of this picture is Lake Ontario.  Kirkwood comments: “as modern cities grow up and out, what sustainable systems will deliver food, energy, and water?” (p. 190).  Until this point there has been no mention of one of the most valuable resources on the planet: fresh water.  I remember the first time drinking water in Toronto.  I was in my family’s small apartment and I held the largest cup I could find.  My mother told me the water was safe to drink unlike the highly chlorinated water from the Caribbean.  The urban population of the city are fortunate to have such a large water source.  However, upon further evaluation Lake Ontario is the most polluted of all the great lakes.  Countries in Asia and Europe have started to look critically at sustaining their water resources.  A series of technological designs are underway to best filter, store and remove harmful products from the water sources in the urban ecosystem.  Floating cities have also been proposed by forward-thinking architects to increase land area close to the coasts.

(Floating city image taken from Google images)

Occasionally you will find a house on Queen St. that looks like the one in this picture.  It seems like bushes have taken over of humanity.  The bushes have covered the front of the house and are growing up to the second floor.  Is this by design or due to laziness?  I think that it adds character to the property.  Yet I would not be surprised if the neighbours had serious complaints.  I have seen many cities in Europe that have houses covered by bushes similar to the one in this photograph.  Perhaps there is a cultural difference in the perception of nature in the urban setting.  The dominant way of thinking of architecture is to design with intent to stay permanently.  Vector Architects (a brand name) from Beijing have created a residential plan with a design for temporary period of time, “to design an installation that could be built, demolished, and recycled in an easy and straight-forward manner, with the least impact to its site.” (p. 254).  Such a design could prove to be revolutionary for the urban environment with ecological efficiency in all aspects of the design.

(image provided by www.treehugger.com)

As I approach the Don Valley Parkway bridge memories of traffic jams surface.  The view overlooking the bridge is packed with cars and buses during peak times.  In Toronto that includes morning, late morning, noon, afternoon and late afternoon.  There is no escaping the traffic.  Recently there has been some more incentive to limit the number of cars in the city by having car pool lanes for long stretches on the highways.  However, those lanes are not long enough and enforcement of the lanes is difficult to control.  Toronto is slowly improving its transit system for the growing population.

There are plans to build a condo just south of the DVP and Gardiner intersection.  Nothing says city living like the word “condo”; it represents the need for space in the city, a maximization of area and profit.  Some condo dwellers love their lifestyles being close to work, enjoying the benefits of the city, and having certain luxuries such as gyms and swimming pools in the condos.  On the other hand, I find that condos detach the human from nature; the trees that provide oxygen and food, and the animals that provide food while contributing to their ecosystems.  Most the modern condos are highly efficient buildings with solar panels, rooftop dining areas, rooftop gardens, and extremely efficient recycling practices.  I previously mentioned that the urban can be a green space for those who attempt to ensure the resources are well maintained.  Therefore, I see condo dwellers as doing their parts in living the “green” life by limiting their commutes to work, limiting the car pollution by walking, saving the environment by having a home that is vertical to the ground instead of having to cut down more trees to build a house, and living in buildings that have strong environmental practices.

My journey to the east ends at Pape Ave. where most the building are small houses or retail stores.  My former high school was only a couple blocks away from the intersection in this picture.  The traffic in the city is much less, cyclists are able to ride with less hassle, there is a lot of green near the sidewalks, the stop lights are further apart compared to the core of the city, and garbage/recycling can be found at the major intersection.  It is best to recapitulate with the words of Bruno Latour: “nothing looks the same, space is different, and so is time. Space is now that of a fully urbanized planet Earth.”  Queen St. has changed since I routinely traveled it over a decade ago.  From a global perspective, the planet too has changed.  The changing global climate has led architects and politicians to consider ways to make the urban ecosystem more efficient and ultimately fully sustainable.  Food, water, air quality, transportation, traffic are some of the ecological issues that were presented along Queen St.  Cross-cultural, cross-curricular solutions are needed to solve many of the problems in the urban environment.  Millions of lives depend on the success of future projects in the urban setting.


Mostafavi, M., Doherty, G. & Design, H.U.G.S.O., 2010. Ecological Urbanism, Lars Muller Publishers.

Video of my autoethnography

Natalie’s first post

Nailah’s first post

Laila’s first post