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Cities across Canada are diverse, but are they inclusive?

In conversations at the Future Cities Canada Summit, we heard of local experiences and challenges with inclusion in our cities.

A panel at the Future Cities Canada Summit including Senator Ratna Omidvar, Tanya Talaga, Rashiq Fataar and Maxim Bregoli. Image: Layah Glassman
Image: Layah Glassman

Published on November 13, 2018

The Canadian government welcomes nearly 300,000 immigrants every year, and most of them settle in cities. We’re a country of urban dwellers, and we’re a country of immigrants. Over 80 per cent of the Canadian population lives in cities, and according to the 2016 Census, one-fifth of Canada’s total population was foreign-born. That trend will only increase in the years to come. According to population projections nearly one-third of our population will be foreign-born by 2036. 

Newcomers tend to settle in our country’s three largest metropolitan areas — Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver. This is where they can find economic opportunities and established communities from their home country. But we’re also starting to see newcomers settle in urban areas across the country. Over the past 15 years, the share of newcomers in the Prairies has doubled, with the majority landing in cities like Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary, Saskatoon and Edmonton. Our Atlantic provinces are seeing similar increases.

Last week at the Future Cities Canada Summit, The Honourable Ratna Omidvar, Senator for Ontario closed out the three days by reminding us that diversity and inclusion are not the same thing. (See her talk at 1:29 in the live stream below). Some of the most diverse places in the world can be deliberately exclusive. Diversity is merely a representation of our demographic situation. Inclusion means you’re being intentional, you have a plan, a set of actions, and a means to measure success.

Senator Omidvar’s final comments tied in well with how Desmond Cole kicked off the Summit — by pointing out that Toronto is a divided city. Citing David Hulachanski’s research, he focused on inequality to demonstrate how Toronto is a segregated city. Behind him was a single slide, a map that depicted Toronto’s Black population predominantly living in areas outside the city core like northwestern Etobicoke and Scarborough.

If we want to build the sustainable, equitable and inclusive cities of the future, we first have to have the honest and difficult conversations about this reality. How are we supposed to incorporate the perspectives of those living on the margins if we aren’t able to admit to these challenges?

This challenge was also reflected in Tanya Talaga’s comments on the exclusion of Indigenous people from our cities. Cities are fundamentally about creating a sense of belonging, she said. So, what does it say about our cities if our country’s Indigenous communities don’t feel like they belong? Little details can make a huge difference, and she suggested bilingual street signs with the Indigenous language of that particular region could be a constant physical reminder of whose land we’re on. Our public spaces need to be inclusive of those who came before us, and anticipate the needs of those who have yet to come.

Immigration may be federally mandated, but inclusion is felt at the local level. Our communities will develop a sense of belonging in the public realm — on a city sidewalk, at a public library, riding the subway, or on the street signs around them. These are all hyper local experiences.

To see more from the Future Cities Canada Summit and learn about the leaders working on inclusion at the local level, visit Evergreen's Facebook page to view the live streams. Subscribe to the Future Cities Canada's newsletter for more.