Issues continue to crop up with urbanism chats and who does the talk, even among the well-recognized planning institutions in Canada. A few years back at a Canadian Institute of Planners Conference the former United Nations Special Envoy Stephen Lewis took one look at the panel he was to sit on and declared that he made it a point never to speak on a stage that was all men, and did not recognize the diversity of place or the fact that women make up half the population and need to be talking about issues too. There was an audible hush in the room, and it was evident that the bashful organizers just had not done critical diversity based thinking. If you accept that the leaders of planning thought are only from one ethnic background or one gender you don’t get diverse ideas or thoughts, and the perspectives are certainly not reflective of everyone living in that place, and results in cities largely designed by men from a male perspective.
Another unfortunate hiccup burped all over twitter from the latest Canadian Urbanism Conference. A photo of an on-stage panel of three well-known and charming caucasian older planning males was tweeted out across Canada, with CanU organizers breathlessly labelling the session a conference “favourite”. Showing one more reason why she will be missed, Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat as reported in Metro News called the panel what it was-with this lack of diversity it was “shameful” and a display of “professional incompetence”.
As a result, the Council of Canadian Urbanism pledged to work harder on diversity. But here’s the thing-if planners are more than fifty per cent female, why are we not seeing those women promoted at planning events that purportedly represent a diverse Canada? Should professional organizations and their conferences ensure that professionally qualified women are also represented in every conference panel and every venue, and advance as men do in planning based organizations? Author Jay Pitter observes “Effective diversity isn’t just about representation but about ensuring various perspectives have the power they need. This, she added, needs to be a basic standard.”
The faux pas was again repeated at the otherwise excellent Calgary Walk21 Conference. There was a very succinct presentation by Rutgers Professor Charles Brown on the need for Complete Streets and Vision Zero to recognize cultural diversity in implementation. Professor Brown observed that these programs are not just about street redesign, but often threaten existing minority groups and single parent households by failing to recognize the history, culture and social context of places in and around the proposed street changes. He also pointed out how offensive those arty presentation board drawings are when they do not include the ethnic groups of people who live in the area being planned for. It is almost as if they did not exist, or will vanish once the proposed project and assumed accompanying gentrification happens.
Immediately after this presentation Walk 21 Calgary had a surprising judgement lapse-they brought out three university researchers to expound on their ideas on how the university could shape the city. They were three well spoken guys, no women, no ethnic diversity. From a diversity point of view, and especially after the presentation on inclusion this gender gaffe was odd. But it points out that it is time to stand up for the young women and diverse voices to be heard on these platforms, and for us to champion the design of cities that are not just designed by men for men, but to include women and their issues too.The art of thinking independently together will create stronger placemaking and create policies truly reflective of a complete society. It’s time we start ensuring that young women and diverse voices are heard and recognized as planning leaders too, and represented on panels, and venues. The success of the future of our places and our cities depends upon it.