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Blogathon 2009 – Where Strangers Become Neighbours, Giovanni Attili and Leonie Sandercock

Blogathon 2009 Vancouver for Vancouver Public Space NetworkThis blog post is part of Blogathon 2009, in which I am blogging for 24 hours straight in order to raise money for the Vancouver Public Space Network, an entirely volunteer-run organization who do advocacy and education on the public realm in my home of Vancouver, British Columbia. Please consider supporting by sponsoring me with a pledge, leaving a comment or contacting me to contribute a guest post.

In Where Strangers Become Neighbours, Giovanni Attili and Leonie Sandercock focus their attention on the integration of immigrations into Vancouver’s Collingwood neighbourhood. They set the scene with regards to Canada’s history, Vancouver’s experiences with immigration, then delve into what Vancouver did at a policy level that made a tangible difference in the experience of immigrants in this particular neighbourhood, describing the role of transformative learning in the diversity and cross-communication training of staff at the Hastings Institute. One thing that caught my eye about transformative learning is its aim to affect change at both the societal and individual levels through deep experiences of questioning and meeting of Others (in the archetypal sense).

They also discuss the centrality of storytelling and dialogue in giving voice to the experiences of those who are often not acknowledged by official discourses, which tend to “legitimize fears of the bourgeousie.” I’ve had the opportunity to see Sandercock’s other work on Mongrel Cities, where she goes into more detail on the way fear operates in the urban context, where ideas of home and safety are tested and twisted between the forces of past experience and everyday reality.

Her work in asking the tough questions about pluralist and multicultural societies is deeply important to me, because these issues continue to be very important and yet still receive only a fraction of the attention I think they deserve as major issues concerning our future as a society and as a country. The diversity of how someone comes to say, “I am Canadian,” and the tone and meaning with which we say it, is expansive in scope and interacting with all the other issues around demographics, whether that’s age, gender, occupation, skill and education level, or distance from a major urban centre. Sandercock and Attili, in describing minorities’ struggle for recognition, write,

[…] The claims are claims for more than minority recognition and minority rights. Theirs is a claim for the mainstream, for a metaphorical shift from the margins to the centre, both in terms of the right to visibility and the right to reshape the mainstream. It is nothing less than a claim to full citizenship and a public naming of what has prevented that full citizenship.

In the last 3 chapters of this book, Sandercock and Attili describe their process of getting their students to participate in dialogue with subjects through storytelling through digital video, and the relationship between participants and the camera, as well as the powerful reflection that can result and is captured when the camera is running.

For my part, I am looking forward to delving a lot more into this – my current film experiments have really been focused around just me getting a handle on performance of me as a sometimes critical, other times positive commentator on the issues I see. Oh, and we must not forget the heavy use of sarcasm and irony…if I may be so bold as to analyze myself (though this likely has little to do with the topic of diversity at hand), it’s an attempt to send mixed signals, in order to throw the light off the barbs I actually wish to throw. When I think about the communication I wish to engage in, I really would not prefer this, of course, but it’s difficult not to re-enact the sense that I am being told I am powerless and that my opinion has little if any bearing (if it is even being heard by anyone in a position of power at all). I feel forced to veil my intent, because those intentions can be used as a reason to not take my input as legitimate.

What Sandercock and Attili speak of has a great deal of resonance with some recent experiences I’ve had, as well as the work of others around Vancouver that I am very supportive of. I will describe this in my next blog post.

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