Housing in Focus workshops aim to make urban planning a more inclusive conversation

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Cheryll Case had barely graduated from Ryerson University last year when she made a splash as an urban planner with a project that laid a map of the city’s zoning boundaries over census data.

Her peers are still hailing the work that shows how vast tracts of Toronto are effectively overhoused, squeezing younger, less affluent residents into smaller areas.

Urban planner Cheryll Case (from left) stands with Penny Fisher, a Housing in Focus workshop participant; Jennifer Oliverrie, a housing support worker at Women’s Habitat in the Etobicoke Lakeshore area; and Tetyana Bailey, who helped facilitate workshop discussions, outside LAMP Community Health Centre in Etobicoke. LAMP was the charity sponsor of Case’s Housing in Focusing project, designed to elicit ideas for city building from residents in under-served communities.
Urban planner Cheryll Case (from left) stands with Penny Fisher, a Housing in Focus workshop participant; Jennifer Oliverrie, a housing support worker at Women’s Habitat in the Etobicoke Lakeshore area; and Tetyana Bailey, who helped facilitate workshop discussions, outside LAMP Community Health Centre in Etobicoke. LAMP was the charity sponsor of Case’s Housing in Focusing project, designed to elicit ideas for city building from residents in under-served communities.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

But rather than joining Toronto’s urban planning establishment, Case’s after-graduation encore is a project called Housing in Focus, which challenges the status quo in her chosen field.

Using grants from the Laidlaw and McConnell foundations, Case, 23, organized a series of workshops, drawing about 140 participants from low-income areas — people she says have little say in how their neighbourhoods are developed — and asking for their ideas on how to make more affordable housing in vibrant, well-serviced communities.

“My goal is to bring forward a conversation that communities have been wanting to have — the whole idea that the planning process should be serving those with the most needs. It’s to see how the planning process can best suit their interests — ensuring the conversation is welcoming to those communities,” she said.

The ideas Case collected ranged from a waterfront marketplace in Etobicoke to new rules that would allow residents to convert their garages into homes — something that might provide more affordable shelter since it doesn’t involve buying more land.

“As a planner trained to think a certain way, I have certain ideas of what good development looks like. Talking to these communities they had different ideas about really cool, neat ways to build complete neighbourhoods,” she said.

Affordable housing was the jumping-off point for the discussions. But the participants talked about their desire to mix subsidized rentals with market-rate units, to build equity through co-ops and rent-to-own programs.

“They’re open to providing opportunity. They acknowledge that to have opportunity you need to have development,” Case said. “They see really holistically the way you can use development to build more affordable housing, to build more culture, more vibrancy in the neighbourhood.”

Participants in six workshops were drawn from community groups and services in Etobicoke, Scarborough, Weston, Parkdale and the Danforth area. There were also five workshops dedicated to building youth engagement — developing their leadership and research skills.

The women, who meet at a weekly cafe at Women’s Habitat in the Etobicoke Lakeshore area, are hungry for opportunities and believe they have a role to play in making their neighbourhood function better, said Jennifer Oliverrie, a transitional and housing support worker, who helped co-ordinate one of Case’s workshops.

“They want their neighbourhood to be safe. Women who use our services need rent geared to income housing,” she said.

Oliverrie cited an example of a building in the area where some of the agency’s clients live for which rent on a two-bedroom unit jumped from $750 a month plus hydro to $1,775 in less than two years.

Those women wanted to see more consideration given to shared accommodation — something similar to a program that connects seniors with students who exchange affordable rent for help around the home.

“If seniors can do this why not other individuals?” she said. “Why not youth, why not people with families … to help them not use their entire paycheck plus their child benefit to pay rent.”

Gerry Dunn of the Danforth Village Community Association admits he was skeptical when Case approached him about helping organize a workshop.

“She presented a document, an outline of her idea. At first I thought it’s a bit academic. It’s like somebody looking for a thesis,” he said.

He said he was leary right up until the event.

“What she did was fairly spectacular. There were four tables of about 10 people each. Not a big crowd but they got going. They were engaged,” Dunn said.

If he has any criticism of the project it’s that, so far, it was a one-off.

“The question that is on everybody’s lips is, ‘Where do we go from here, what’s next,’” he said.

Case says she is developing a report on the workshop ideas that will be released later this month and distributed to the city and as many planners and housing professionals as possible.

Although community consultations are part of virtually every development project in Toronto, Case thinks there’s room for improvement.

“These communities, when I’m talking to them, they’re feeling they’re not included or they’re not being asked the right questions or they’re not being invited to the right spaces. I’m trying to help both sides figure out what conversations do we need to have, what kind of spaces do we need to build to make sure everybody is included in the decision-making process so we can actually develop an adequate supply of affordable housing that meets all our needs,” she said.

If it sounds like advocacy, Case insists she is a planner first.

“As a planner, I’m seeing a gap I’m trying to fill — discussions with people who are underserved.”

Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski

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Activist says recognition of 2-spirit identity a crucial part of reconciliation conversation

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A two-spirit activist met with Calgarians this weekend to talk about what it means to be two-spirit, and discuss the importance of including queer Indigenous voices in the reconciliation process.

Two-spirit is term that encompasses a diverse range of Indigenous people who embody different sexualities and gender expressions.

« Reconciliation, truth and reconciliation, most people think that learning the truth and the history is the work. That’s only part of the conversation, » said Harlan Pruden, who is Cree. « What the charge and mandate of reconciliation is, is how do we learn this history and how do we not enact or continue privileging ourselves or gaining benefits from that history. »

Pruden said before colonization, many First Nations recognized more than two genders, with some, like Siksika, accepting the validity of as many as seven different genders.

In Cree, Pruden said, there are no pronouns for « he » or « she » — people are identified as « it » or « they. »

Keith Murray, the affirming coordinator at Hillhurst United Chruch, said it’s important to make space for diverse gender identities in communities. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Keith Murray, who is the affirming coordinator at Hillhurst United Church, which hosted Pruden for the series of events, said that fluidity of language is something English speakers could benefit from.

« Wouldn’t that be amazing if we can open up our language and learn from Indigenous communities? » Murray said.

« We can try and adapt and evolve our language so we can move forward together. »

Some two-spirit people were, historically, afforded special status based on their abilities to connect with both male and female perspectives, according to Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, a LGBTQ2S advocacy non-profit.

The inquiring on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls heard last month that a lack of support for LGBTQ2s Indigenous people continues to put them at risk of harm in Canada.

Pruden said as a two-spirit activist, they’re not asking for new rights, but rather recognition of the place gender fluidity has historically had in Indigenous communities.

« It’s part of remembering and reclaiming our place of honour, respect and dignity for our two-spirit relatives back with their respective nations, » Pruden said. « We have to do that education and then we have to create that supportive environment for people to lean in and have those conversations. »

‘You are not nothing. You are someone.’

Frankie Williams, who attended one of Pruden’s workshops on Saturday, said they’ve been working to discover their identity as a two-spirit Indigenous person.

Williams said as they grew up in an urban setting and not on a reserve, they felt a certain level of disconnect with their identity and it’s something they’re only just now trying to explore.

« I think one of the best things I can do is just be myself. I wasn’t sure I was on the right track but hearing from Harlan helped me realized, ‘you are on the right track. You are not nothing. You are someone, » Williams said.

« It’s only the beginning. I’ve got a lot of work. »

With files from Kate Adach.

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Mandarin conversation club in Kelowna bridges east and west – Okanagan

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Huānyíng lái dào Mandarin Mondays: that’s how attendees of the Okanagan Regional Library’s Mandarin Conversation Club, held at its Kelowna branch, may learn to greet one another. The phrase means “Welcome to Mandarin Mondays.”

The club meets weekly to learn and practice speaking Mandarin Chinese.

Participants of all backgrounds and walks of life dedicate their Mondays to playing mahjong, practicing brush pen writing and sharing Chinese cuisine, all with the goal of improving their language skills.


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Marriana Chen is the mastermind behind the club. She says her lifetime passion is bridging eastern and western culture.

“It’s time now for Chinese immigrants to give back so that they find their confidence,” Chen said.

The group has evolved since its inception, shifting the format from a group classroom setting to one-on-one tutoring with one of 20 seasoned Mandarin-speaking volunteers.

Chen estimates that highly motivated learners attending the club weekly would take between one to three months to be able to have a basic conversation.


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Lukas Mortenson was already studying Mandarin when he saw a flyer at the library advertising the club. He says his language skills have progressed exponentially since joining.

“The environment is really easy-going,” Mortenson said. “There’s no pressure to learn at a certain pace.”

The Mandarin Conversation Club meets every Monday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Anyone can join Mandarin Mondays, and the club is free of charge.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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