On Friday February 23, members of the Toronto public had a fantastic opportunity to sit down with author and placemaker Jay Pitter for an Inclusive City-Building Q&A at CSI Spadina. The format was a drop-in tea and pastries “pop up”, with Jay on hand to answer questions about cities, equity-based placemaking, and Black communities.
She answered some of our questions leading up to the event.
Your professional title is “Author and Placemaker”. Could you explain a bit about what “placemaking” means?
Placemaking is conventionally defined as an integrated approach to the planning, design and management of the public spaces. My research and practice are focused on spatial design + social justice. As such, I’m constantly interrogating the ways spaces facilitate or impeded the movement, wellness, and possibility of urban dwellers. Unlike traditional placemaking practice, I explicitly address the increasing stratification in cities. I recognize that people’s experiences in cities are informed by varying levels of spatial entitlement, histories of displacement, bodies being “read” differently in the public realm, and systemic exclusion. My goal is to centre these complex issues along with my equity-based placemaking principles and community knowledge of urban dwellers in all city-building processes. And yes, I’m also a writer. Subdivided, an award-winning anthology I had the great pleasure of co-editing is required reading in urbanism programs across the country and has also been embraced by a wide range of readers overall. I’m currently working on my second book Where We Live, which will be published by McClelland & Stewart at Penguin Random House Canada. I also lecture a lot.
I really love the format of this event. What made you decide to take this sort of all-day-drop-in approach?
Thank you. I often use public and semi-public spaces as a locus for city-building conversations and engagement processes. I enjoy the challenge of always building on my approaches—I’m constantly learning—looking for ways of increasing creativity and accessibility within city-building processes that have been historically top-down and impermeable. City-builders often talk about “bringing people to the table” but I think we should also be more adept at meeting people where they are.
How could attendees best prepare for the engagement?
The best way to prepare for the engagement is to resist the urge to prepare. I want people to show up curious, vulnerable and without pretense. Conversations pertaining to urban inequity and increasing stratification within the city are difficult. More specifically, some of the issues related to Black communities and cities are difficult. There is no amount of preparation that will alleviate this difficulty. However, showing up open to learning about the ways urban renewal and planning approaches have adversely impacted Black (and other marginalized communities), celebrating the contributions Black communities have made to cities, and unpacking approaches for living harmoniously across difference is a good way forward. I’d like people to simply bring themselves and sincere questions.
What is your greatest hope for Toronto for 2018?
Late last year, the United Way published The Opportunity Equation in the Greater Toronto Area, a report authored by a team of scholars, including Professor David Hulchanski, underscoring alarming income inequality and polarization across Toronto neighbourhoods. Characterized as “a tale of two Torontos”, the report outlines deeply concerning class and cultural stratification. My lived experiences across class lines in this city (as a kid I lived in social housing), and placemaking practice, have given me particular insights into the issues outlined. My hope for 2018 is that we learn and work together to mediate the increasing divides in our city.
Note: As evident by Jay’s tweet below, the event was a great success. Huge thanks to Jay and to everyone who attended and helped organize.