Sustaining Canada's Multicultural Cities: Learning from the Local

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By: Leonie Sandercock
Org: Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
Date: 2004

From the paper presented as part of the Breakfast on the Hill Seminar Series of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. This paper explores the ways in which multiculturalism is an urban phenomenon, the many things we can learn from local level enterprises in building a more diverse and accepting community, as well as many lessons learned from across the country in cities big and small. The author critiques the use of traditional citizenship as a marker of success in newcomer integration noting that "becoming a multicultural city and society means more than ethnic restaurants or citizenship legislation." She thus argues for an urban citizenship which embraces the local, contextual experience to build engaged community.

From the article's synopsis

"The end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century has been called The Age Of Migration. One consequence is that our cities and neighborhoods are being transformed by the social, cultural, and economic diversity of newcomers. How can we be ‘at home’ – all of us, in all of our differences – in these increasingly multicultural cities? And what is the role of public policy in sustaining such cities?

This talk links cities and multiculturalism and argues that we need to rethink multicultural philosophy and policies for the 21st century. Philosophically, the author argues for a shift from a 20th century multiculturalism based on ethno-cultural identities to a 21st century multiculturalism based on intercultural exchange and a shared political community. Practically, she argues for shifting attention from citizenship at the level of the nation state, to focus on our cities and neighborhoods where a new multicultural society is in the making. She describes some of the challenges that a multicultural society poses to urban planning and policy, urban governance, and citizenship, and provides examples of some successful responses. Finally she suggests that national government has much to learn from local practices in various Canadian cities that are leading us in innovative directions, and could lead the world.

Most western nations today are demographically multicultural – none more so than Canada - and more are likely to become so in the foreseeable future. But how does a demographically multicultural nation become a richly multicultural society? Four years ago, the federal Privy Council and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs hosted a special workshop which concluded that the challenge of integrating immigrant populations was the leading policy challenge for Canada’s largest cities. With the recent announcement by the Martin government of a new urban agenda, and electoral and legislative reform being actively considered at all levels of government, it seems incredibly timely to do a stock-taking of the state of the multicultural nation."

A note of particular interest from the authors recommendations

"I recommend new funding for NGOs prepared to develop innovative intercultural agendas, as well as for those seeking to increase the participation of hitherto marginalized ethno-specific groups. There are excellent models in existence, such as S.U.C.C.E.S.S. (The United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society) in Vancouver. These organizations need to learn from each other’s successes. Programs and projects that encourage more spontaneous interaction in the community must be encouraged. This can be done through block grants, neighborhood grants, and small grants. The success of experimental programs depends on continuity of funding and is jeopardised by rigid annual performance criteria."

This document is in Adobe Acrobat PDF format (301 KB, 21 pages).