Housing
February 22, 2016

Item from Ian: Who speaks for those who don't speak?

A comment on James’s post Who Speaks for those who are not already here the other day led Ian to think about a related issue: who speaks for those who don’t speak?

Commenter ‘Bob’ made this statement: “I don’t have much sympathy if young people of any colour who live in my neighbourhood can’t be bothered to show up for planning and development open houses. Maybe they should put aside the craft beer for a night if they care at all for their ‘hoods. If they don’t care or can’t be bothered, well they’ll get the city they deserve.” As a young(er) person, who faces a multitude of pressures on my time (and I’m certainly more involved than most), I take issue with this sentiment – especially as it is one you hear voiced quite frequently (… I don’t mean to pick on Bob necessarily, but it’s a good point to try and unpack).

Why should people have to speak to be represented? Everyone has a right to just and fair representation whether they specifically demand it or not. Case in point: babies have rights but can’t verbalize them, neither can the infirm. Is there some magic moment at which point you lose your voice if you don’t make it heard?

Whether we intend to or not, we create ‘clubs’ which exclude people and viewpoints, and without going out of ‘our’ way to include others and their views, we are poorer for it.

On CBC radio this morning, I was hearing about a great sounding event sponsored by Google called XX-UX  … which to me even is only vaguely decipherable … but it is an event to get more women (XX) involved in the User Experience (UX) field (Wikipedia).

(There are a huge number of parallels between UX and Architecture and Planning … I shudder to think how much more brainpower is going into the design of the apps we use than the form and feel and function of the spaces we live in, and seriously wonder if I should do UX in my next life!)

Why should we care who we hear? Using Bob’s line of thinking, maybe the women are off having beer instead of being engineers? (ok, this is a cheap shot, sorry Bob) Seriously though, why is it detrimental when a large segment of the population is not represented?

From the CBC interview:

Stephen Quinn asked “What do women bring to UX design that men don’t?”

Amy Ngai, a UX Designer for AxiumZen, the company hosting the XX-UX event, replied “Its not so much what we bring that men don’t, but we are 50% of the population… and UX design requires you to look at users, it requires you to be empathetic with the people you are designing for, and if I have the experience to understand these people then I can design better for them.”

The more diversity of viewpoints you have, the better you can understand and create and design. You can’t consider a design to be as good as it could be unless you have a broad pool of ideas – this is the classic ‘the next Einstein or Mozart might be living in Africa , but unless they have opportunity, and/or we care to look, we’ll never know’ situation.

If diversity is important in design, and also in looking for Einstein 2.0, should it not also be important in designing buildings, cities, and countries? If only a small part of the population is represented in decision making, if certain areas of the city exclude large parts of the population (or simply don’t include large parts, or those who simply feel excluded, or non-included), how can we consider that society is healthy?

If we care about equity in one area of society, we must also elsewhere … There are examples of inequity almost anyplace one might look … Why are some of these given a pass as being normal, and unavoidable, and just a cost of doing business. (Comments that suggest simply that the solution to affordability is giving up on Vancouver and moving to Hedley or Hope fall in this category)

Whose voices are we missing?

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