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July 07, 2020

Engaging Immigrant and Racialized Groups in Public Planning Processes

Engaging Immigrant and Racialized Groups in Public Planning Processes
The towns, cities and regions we live in are constantly evolving. As per the 2016 Statistics Canada Census data, 29% of Ontario identified as a visible minority. Furthermore, an increase in 13% of Ontarians with a mother tongue other than English or French was noted between 2006-2016. These statistics show our province is changing; however, planning does not appear to be keeping up.

Society has become more multiracial and multicultural than it used to be. Unfortunately, these changes are slow to be reflected in planning policies as the values and norms of the dominant culture are usually the ones reflected in legislative frameworks of planning, planning by-laws and regulations.

As planners know, the Planning Act mandates public engagement as part of the planning and city building process. This engagement is meant to gather the thoughts and opinions of the public to ensure decisions made take everyone’s needs into account. However, if everyone is not sitting around the decision making table, how can the decisions be reflective of everyone? It made me consider who attends public engagements which lead me to my research question:

How can public engagement processes be more inclusive for immigrant and racialized communities?

The research was done through examining public engagement policies and practices in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to determine what is in place and what could be improved on. After using Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census Data to determine the demographics of each municipality in the GTA, the municipalities with the highest percentage of visible minority and immigrant communities were ranked. It became clear six municipalities had a high percentage of both, so the municipalities further examined were:
  • City of Brampton
  • City of Markham
  • City of Mississauga
  • City of Richmond Hill
  • City of Toronto
  • City of Vaughan
20200701.jpgMunicipalities ranked based on their percentage of Visible Minority Populations and Immigrants.

 An online review for mentions of inclusion, diversity and equity was conducted for these six chosen municipalities. The review included:
  • An examination of Official Plans and Strategic Plans
  • Identifying if the municipality had an online engagement webpage with links to current public engagements
  • Determining if the municipality had a strategy for engagement
  • Identifying the various engagement methods used in each municipality
  • Listing the committees and panels that relate to inclusion, diversity or equity in each municipality

Lessons Learned
(1) It was found while most policies and vision statements try to be inclusive of everyone, the statements themselves are too broad and vague. There are no specific mentions of immigrant or marginalized groups people can relate to.

(2) The current loosely organized structure of public engagement means the absolute minimum engagement can occur which does not always capture the diversity of our society. Having a strategy for engagement in place with specific goals and measures (such as the Engagement Strategy the City of Mississauga has in place) will help ensure everyone’s needs are heard.

(3) Having more bottom up approaches by empowering citizens to want to engage in the public planning process is a sure way to get them involved.

Why is this Important?

This is a tumultuous time with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating the inequalities marginalized groups face. Although alternative online engagement methods (such as Zoom) allow people to participate from home, it begs the question whether everyone is equally able to participate. Additionally, the topic of racism has been thrust into the spotlight considering this and the recent events that spurred the Black Lives Matter protests.

Despite this, there is still hope for a future in which all immigrant, racialized and other marginalized groups engage in planning meaningfully to ensure policies and decisions are representative of our society. In order to get there, we as planners must make everyone feel represented in the policies and practices we use when conducting public planning processes, whether online or in person.
This research was funded by a scholarship from the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University. 

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Taranjeet Grewal

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