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How Can We Re-Indigenize Our Cities?

And how can the principles of the Indigenous design can play a role?

An overhead view of Toronto's skyline from the north, looking south towards Lake Ontario.

Published on November 10, 2020

What does it mean to re-Indigenize a city? It’s an evolving conversation, with many different components of importance and complexity.  

That’s just what Wanda Dalla Costa and Selina Martinez will be discussing in their upcoming panel Re-Indigenizing Cities at Future Cities Canada: #UnexpectedSolutions, as part of the TD Future Cities Speaker Series. 

Dalla Costa is a professor at Arizona State University’s (ASU) Design School and School of Construction. A member of the Saddle Lake First Nation, she is Canada’s first female Indigenous architect. Martinez, an architectural designer at ASU’s Indigenous Design Collaborative, is a recent Masters of Architecture graduate who studied under Dalla Costa. 

In a conversation moderated by Jamie Bennett, Executive Director of ArtPlace America, the two will explore how the principles of the Indigenous design can play a role in re-Indigenizing cities across Canada and around the world.  

Keeping a Place 

A term in many conversations about Indigenizing cities is placekeeping — a re-imaginging of urban planning’s “placemaking” term into a form of engagement that prioritizes ecological, historical and cultural relationships to place, while bringing the presence of Indigenous histories and futures into focus. 

It’s a term Dalla Costa has used many times in her work. With others she has created the Indigenous Placekeeping Framework, which she describes as “process-heavy, place-based and highly contextual” framework. It centers reciprocity, and the value that a city-building project can provide to its community. 

“The framework is led by citizen experts, lived experience, people who know and have generational understanding of a place, and with value systems at the forefront,” says Dalla Costa. 

For her part, Martinez’s work also aligns with placekeeping, and she connects with the concepts of community dreaming and speculative design as well, which envision beyond what no longer serves a community to what could. 

“The concept of de-futuring, or you can call it elimination design, is basically a situation when the future is sacrificed for hollow gains of the present,” she says.  

Who is in the Room? 

Essential to the framework is consultation with, and the centering of, Indigenous communities. 

“You don’t know what a community needs unless you share their lived experience,” says Martinez. Both she and Dalla Costa agree that having Indigenous voices involved in every step of the design process is crucial to creating spaces that will reflect the community and meet its needs. 

“Being able to engage people [in the design process] enriches it, and creates genuine relationships that are long-lasting and surpass the timeline of the project,” says Martinez. “That’s how you gain trust from a community.” 

Dalla Costa has worked with Indigenous artists, engaging with their work and perspectives for every step of the design process. “They have spent years thinking about what they want to say and how they’re going to articulate it,” she says. “We give them a canvas.” 

Both Martinez and Dalla Costa stressed the importance of mentoring and uplifting young Indigenous people and students, encouraging them to join in conversations about, and consider careers in, planning, architecture and city-building. 

Hear More at #UnexpectedSolutions 

Watch the full panel discussion followed by a Live Q+A with Dalla Costa, Martinez and Bennett on as part of  Future Cities Canada: #Unexpected Solutions — six weeks of thought-provoking keynotes and inspiring workshops. Register today for over 60 free virtual sessions, running until November 26.