Interactive Activity: Notes + takeaways from the Arrival Cities live event

photo by Cyrus Sundar Singh
photo by Cyrus Sundar Singh

This week, the City Builder Book Club held its first live event to kick of the Arrival City edition of the club: Arrival Cities: Global Framework + Local Discourse, with Arrival City author Doug Saunders and activist, researcher, and HIGHRISE film collaborator Emily Paradis. Below, Centre for City Ecology volunteer Anna Wynveen recaps the evening, providing an overview of the event and an analysis of the takeaways.

The Bloor-Gladstone Library recently hosted a ‘live preview’ of the upcoming edition of the City Builder Book Club. The first speaker, Arrival Cities author Doug Saunders, began his presentation with a nod to the library and its role as a community hub for recent immigrants.

“You’ll often find this place completely packed to the rafters…largely by new Canadians, who are using the resources of the library as part of the formation of networks of mutual support that are what I call the Arrival City,” he said.

Saunders jumped quickly from Toronto to Liu Gong Li, an arrival city in China on the edges of the rapidly urbanizing city of Chongqing. Many residents (mostly recent arrivals from rural China) were creatively linking themselves to the established urban economy of the city, and gradually sending its residents out of the neighbourhood and up into the middle class. However, the local government considered the area to be blighted, and cleared the area. They placed the residents in new apartment towers, where the types of informal entrepreneurship (i.e. small-scale manufacturing, trade, services) that they relied upon could not take place.

Forgive me for editorializing, but I believe this is an essential take-away point — when an area is described as “blighted” it is crucial to consider whether you are placing your own aesthetic tastes and values above the survival of others. Saunders highlights the fact that, while so-called ‘slums’ should not be imagined as a problem-free proto-capitalist wonderland, they are “not just collections of poor people”— they are the very “real accumulation of social and actual capital.”

A successful arrival city forms and maintains community networks at both the global and the local scale. At the local scale, arrival cities require particularly flexibility in the physical urban spaces to enable small, informal businesses to start up and thrive, and rely upon proximity to facilitate the building of networks and community. On the global scale, the connections between the arrival city and the place of origin are maintained through digital communication, which was the topic of the second presentation given by Emily Paradis, Senior Research Associate at the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto, and Project Manager of the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership.

Paradis, along with a team of researchers from NFB’s HIGHRISE project, organized a survey of residents by residents in apartment towers in Rexdale—a marginalized, racialized, low-income immigrant arrival community in north Etobicoke. The survey was focused primarily on understanding the ways residents use digital technologies. The findings? The so-called ‘digital divide’ is a complete fallacy. The vast majority of respondents had access to internet both in their apartments and on a wireless device, even though about half of all households were sacrificing something to maintain access to these technologies. Paradis argues that importance of these technologies to the lives of residents cannot be understated: “it’s critical, it’s a lifeline.” Simultaneously, she was careful to not valourize technology as a sort of ‘magic-bullet’ solution to instantly create community.

Using video clips from this project, Paradis highlighted the variety of ways residents were using this technology to connect and strengthen networks at both the local and global scale. In a way, the City Builder Book Club promotes similar transnational connections, using digital tools to expand networks by linking local issues to a global conversation.

By Anna Wynveen

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