RE: Re-Assemble – Briefing the First Lecture of the Azrieli School of Architecture’s 2021-2022 Open Forum Series

Written by Alison Elliott

October 8, 2021

On the 20th of September, Carleton’s Azrieli School of Architecture renewed its long-lasting tradition of Open Forum lecture series’ by hosting it’s first of six lectures throughout 2021 to 2022 under the overarching topic of “Re-Assemble”. The event was hosted by Carleton staff and professors Frederica Goffi, Suzy Harris-Brandt and Benjamin Gianni. Two prominent speakers were leading, one being Dr. Valerie Preston, professor at York University and Dr. Nik Luka, associate professor at McGill University. Ottawa Ward 15’s City Councilor Jeff Leiper was the respondent to the lecture, as featured in the resulting round-table discussion.

Dr. Preston’s Lecture

Dr. Preston presented her extensive work on immigrant, international student and refugee population demographics in Canada, specifically focusing on increasing newcomers, settlement patterns/preferences, transportation, and work place statistics. She summarized that minority groups in Canada are rising rapidly with most new immigrants originally residing from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, or South America. Dr. Preston exposed the inequalities that minority groups face in the housing market, often having to rent in old, dilapidated inner suburban apartments as housing in Canada is limited and expensive. She also links new immigrant’s dependence on public transportation and the lack of supporting infrastructure in the suburbs to creating continued inequalities among immigrant populations that are especially prominent in the COVID-19 pandemic.

CI-KEENANNIMBY1 TORONTO, ON – NOVEMBER 26 – Tom Morrison poses with Star Columnist Edward Keenan in a Weston area yard on November 26, 2015, for Keenan’s column on Not in my Neighbourhood (NIMBY). Cole Burston/Toronto Star

Dr. Luka’s Lecture

Dr. Nik Luka spoke on the interrelations of density, neocounterurbanism, and participation. You may be asking, what is neocounterurbanism? Well, Dr. Luka describes counterurbanisation as the movement of people away from urban or suburban areas and the resulting development of fringe lands. This phenomenon is happening as a result of densification fright and NIMBYism. Because of historically bad densification, there is a fear that “traditional” or “heritage” neighbourhood’s will become overcrowded and tainted. But in-turn, those participating in coutnerurbanism are developing on precious farmland, using tax-payers money to support their new neighbourhood infrastructure (sewage systems, roads, etc), and ultimately creating new suburbs in auxiliary settings.

Dr. Luka explains that participation, the third of the preoccupations, can be used to engage people to understand the needs of the neighbourhood. Participation can also be used to create trust between community members and professionals (architects, planners, the city, etc) to produce meaningfully designed density. Below is an example from Dr. Luka’s presentation on the different forms that the same density can take, in which he relayed that it’s “not how dense we make it, but how we make it dense”.

Round Table Discussion

The round table discussion naturally led to the topic of population growth in Ottawa, driven by economic immigrants and migrants, and how this growth will affect the housing market. As identified by Dr. Preston, many immigrant families gauge their success by their ability to buy a single-detached family home, which drives sprawl and development in outskirt areas of major cities, an issue that is prevalent in Ottawa. Councilor Leiper relayed that the needs and demands of his Ward are consistent with NIMBYism, making change difficult despite the transit-oriented development’s (TOD) occurring in the neighbourhood. The new Official Plan in Ottawa will create an opportunity for development to shift to meaningful densification, with revisions to traditionally exclusionary zoning mechanisms.

The take away is that Canadian metropolitan areas are growing, and densification will come as a way to manage that growth. The issue is how we create that densification and how taking population demographics into consideration can alter the structure of our cities for the better to create non-discriminatory, happy spaces.

Alison Elliott

Project Coordinator

October 8, 2021