Diversity And Planning Canada Cultural Studies Essay

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Canada is one of the countries in North America. Canada comprises of ten provinces and three territories. Its territory extends from Atlantic Ocean in the East to Pacific Ocean in the west - hence its national motto "from sea to shining sea" which means that it stretches from one coast to another. By area, it's the second largest country after Russia. Canada is etymologically from the word Kanata which means village. The country's northern border reaches to the Arctic Ocean while the southern meets the United States. This border is the longest undefended national borders in the world (Kalman, 1994).

Cities are what make modern economic systems work. Without them there may be improvement but it will be necessarily at a very low level of efficiency and generally not self sustaining. It is the cities that provide direct links between all the macro variables. The essence of the urban system permits the joining of these economic processes and the high level of interaction among them provides the sustained thrust to launch modern economic growth. Macroeconomic driving forces impetus for development but also gets reinforced by that development. Even though it is generally agreed that cities can not solve all their problems hence the need for a centralized planning of the cities by the central government. In fact, the urban system is a spatial dimension of the national economy, and that economic development will cause and depend upon sound urbanization, its sound planning and solving of all presented problems whether they only affect the cities internally or their effects transcend the city boundaries. (Cullingworth, 1987).

The urban context upon which urbanization occurs varies across the world. Demographic trends present a challenge due to the presentation of a new diversity that may not be unprecedented in some cities. Urban planning initiatives may not succeed without an adequate understanding of the diversity of urban contexts. Unprecedented rates of urbanization in the world started in the early 20th century all over the world. World figures show that between 1950 and 2007, there was a world wide urbanization of 2.6% and a quadrupling of urban populations from 0.7 to 3.3 billion urban population. The level of urbanization increased form 29 per cent in 1950 to 49 per cent in 2007. By 2008, the level hit 50 per cent and it is projected that by 2050, 70 per cent of the population will live in urban areas. This situation is well reflected in Canada. During the first decade of the 20th century, Canada ranked ahead of all other western countries in terms of population increase. The most important factor in this increase was the massive wave of immigration. The immigrant arrivals were nearly double the increase in the foreign born proportion of the population. This influx of immigrants in this period has had a permanent impact upon the ethnic composition of Canadian cities. The ethnic diversity of Canadian immigration has played a complex role in the development of urban class politics which have in turn led to a challenge in planning. The main diversity is reflected in the multiplicity of languages and cultures. (Scott J 1981) Surrey is a member municipality of the metro Vancouver and has the second largest population after Vancouver. Its population is composed of 37 per cent Indians, 20 per cent Taiwans, 7 per cent Philippines, 7 per cent Fiji, 4 per cent from South Korea and another 4 per cent from China. 41 per cent of all these people were immigrants in the period between 1991 and 1996. This is an example of the nature of culturally diversified Canadian cities.

Cities are becoming multiculturalised more and more. Urban planning will therefore need to seek the right balance between cultural groups seeking to preserve their identity in cities and the need to avoid extreme forms of segregation and urban fragmentation.

More specific to Canada is the debate that is currently taking place in Vancouver with respect to the provision of single room occupancy (SRO) in some neighborhoods. Planners and developers wanted to demolish several blocks of low cost, single hotel rooms in Chinatown, Downtown Eastside, Gastown and Strathcona. They planned to increase the capital return for the land by intensifying its use with high rise apartments, commercial space and social housing. The planners and developers intended to seek approval from the city of Vancouver for public assistance in several forms, including massive upgrading of water and other services in the area. The issue has however raised tensions between business groups and social cultural groups in these neighborhoods. Each of these groups has formed citizen organizations to protest against the city's plans. For example, the ethnic Chinese merchants have joined forces with other merchants to seek the removal of the poor and drug addicts from the area because they undermine the tourist trade, while the poor have asked for fair treatment and accommodation of their needs for low income housing.

The planners' response to this debate has been to take a more technical or functional approach to the problem and to separate the planning issues from the concerns of the merchants, the poor and the developers. This has created a battleground for competing interests. The planning system has become an arena not only for contending ethnic or class interest, but for more personal conflicts between groups.

This indicates that planning can not be divulged from its social context, especially in a multi cultural community. The planners use of public hearings and town hall meetings in responding to the demands of divergent groups often creates further tensions and conflicts between competing groups because these methods are too abstract and do not address the 'real' concerns of ethno cultural groups. What is needed is a balancing act that appreciates the values and assets of different groups and includes them in the planning process.

It can therefore be concluded that planners are unable to critically examine and analyze issues from a multicultural perspective. They are also unable to adapt the universal rational planning process to address the concerns of multicultural groups and above all, they are unable to design participatory processes that bring racial and ethnic groups in to the planning process. These inabilities lead to planning that is not representative of the opinions and interests of all those who are going to be affected by the plans. Despite the concerted efforts by the city planners to include ethnic communities in city plan making (for example, the Vancouver's citizen circles process, the SRO town hall meetings and hearings), these efforts have often been seen by ethno cultural groups as cooptation. There needs to be a broad based planning process that includes minorities, multicultural groups, and women in the decision making bodies.

Every culture, ethnic group and race attaches symbolic meaning to a particular service or set of services and policies. Among some groups, for example, the east Indians in Surrey, housing is thought to symbolize the sense of community where the extended family and communal life is of great importance. As a result, these groups often seek housing that meets the needs of the extended family. In recent times a new social mosaic is becoming evident in Surrey. The real estate market has built several mega homes in Surrey to accommodate the larger family sizes of the East Indian community. These neighborhoods are gradually becoming ethnic residential concentrations. Also, sidewalks and streets have become active public places in these neighborhoods (Martin, 1995). This trend has raised tensions between the east Indians and other residents whose individualistic and nuclear family lifestyles conflict with the extended family lifestyles practiced by the east Indians. Thus, there has been a greater need for planners to reconcile the needs of racial and ethnic communities with those of other residents of the neighborhood and with the city's land use plans. Planners here are faced with the challenge of mediating between the competing interests of stability and change in a community that is undergoing rapid social transformation.

The city of Surrey's parks and recreation department acknowledges cultural diversity and multi cultural community groups as sources of enrichment and strength, with significant contributions to the life of the entire community. The department therefore supports the right of all persons to freedom from cultural or racial discrimination and to be included with equal opportunity and participation in the department and community affairs. This is the way to go and this department has set an example to be followed in making changes to the planning of cities. In line with this, the department presented a draft implementation plan to the social planning committee and they reached a consensus that they would appoint a multicultural project coordinator. The coordinator's role would be to develop strategies to facilitate effective outreach services and provide support for members of diverse ethno cultural communities. In short, the Surrey task force policy formulation experience cautions planners to endeavor more to understand the nature of problems and issues confronting ethnic and cultural groups with whom they work. The model is appreciative and provides the most suitable approach for formulating policy with diverse ethnic and cultural groups. This is because the appreciative process helps to develop networks, create innovative ways of gathering information from various groups, and above all, promotes effective community building initiatives and effective implementation strategies.

The traditional belief of the planners being the technocrats who have the final say on planning issues has had to change. Planning affects the communities and these are the people whose opinion and rights have to be upheld. Diversity has therefore seen a change from the functional approach to an appreciative planning process that has increased participation of the urban dwellers in planning of cities through focus group sessions and other methods.

Planning in a multicultural environment has come to mean expanding the depth and scope of city planning. This means not just changing the planning process, but also rethinking how planning issues are identified, conceptualized and prioritized. Involving ethno racial communities in planning is a critical component of the multicultural/anti-racist planning process. Despite more enlightened attitudes toward ethno racial groups, planners often fail to acknowledge the gifts these groups bring to the city planning environment (Robinson, 2002). The most successful communities are those that can identify the gifts of all residents including multicultural groups, and draw them in to the planning process. (Burayidi, 2000). With proper planning that considers the diversity of all the residents, the cultural diversity and multi racial nature of such cities is in fact an asset that stands to be exploited especially in terms of tourism. Diversity enriches the culture mostly through assimilation. This is the opportunity presented by this diversity.

In conclusion, perceiving planners as the only legitimate knower is increasingly changing so that the communities are perceived as the legitimate knower. Planners are faced with a more daunting task of coming up with innovative ways of planning in such a way that the needs of each cultural group is not jeopardized. In issues that touch on human rights, dignity and antiracist policies, the planners have to be more careful (Cullingworth, 1987). Canada has not been left behind in this. As early as 1995, a ten member task force was formed to deal with multi culturalism in the urban cities. The task force was made up of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, ethnic relations committees, municipal government, non profit organizations and social service agencies. The findings of the task force are to date relevant to the emerging multi cultural and diversity planning.