November 7: “Urban Citizenship and Community”


  • Kern, Sex and the Revitalized City, Chapters 3-5
  • Bosco, Aitken & Herman (2011) Women and children in a neighborhood advocacy group: engaging community and refashioning citizenship at the United States–Mexico border, Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, 18, pp. 155-178
  • van Eijk (2010) Exclusionary policies are not just about the ‘neoliberal city’: A critique of theories of urban revanchism and the case of Rotterdam, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 34, pp. 820-834
  • Driskell, Fox & Kudva (2008)Growing up in the new New York: youth space, citizenship, and community change in a hyperglobal city, Environment and Planning A, 40, pp. 2831-2844

For those who would like to write a Reading Response for Nov 7, here are four questions that you may consider to prompt your writing:

  1. Consider one or both of the texts that you read for this class period in a discussion of urban citizenship. How do the authors define or discuss (even implicitly, in the case of van Eijk) citizenship?
  2. van Eijk’s goal is to complicate a reading of urban policy that relies entirely on economic justifications. She argues that social agendas also drive policies that target particular social groups. How is “the social” (eg, social norms or issues) intertwined with “the economic” (economic norms or policies) in each of these texts that you read?
  3. What do the reading/s tell you about youth engagement in urban activism, or about the development of youth citizens?
  4. What happens to gender and race in these texts? Are gender and race addressed, and to what end? Or, is one or the other social marker/category obfuscated in the presentation of other issues? If this is the case, what is the effect of this absence?

Lecture overview.

As we talk about urban citizenship this week, it seems only appropriate to open with a nod to the labour actions happening at SFU on Wednesday. CUPE and TSSU are withdrawing services to all SFU campuses in an effort to remind SFU administration whose labour makes university services possible. Like many classes, GSWS 333 has been cancelled in an effort to support strike action.

A cancelled class does not mean that conversation about course material should end. As a way to facilitate more virtual conversation over the course of this week, the format of the content will take a slightly different shape. In addition to this overview page, there will be four separate blog posts, one for each of the week’s readings. Students were asked to read the Kern chapters and one of the other three texts. Thus, students can use the posts to reflect and comment on the text that they read and get a sense for the content and conversation about the texts that they didn’t read.

As the authors of this week’s texts demonstrate, citizenship and community can be defined and practiced in multiple ways. Moreover, the texts illustrate how these concepts (and their praxis) are driven and constrained by myriad factors: gender norms, class context, economic change, the way that urban redevelopment is framed and reproduced through media discourses, etc.

van Eijk speaks to these points indirectly, focusing instead on un-settling the primacy of economic theory as the central (or only) driver of urban change. Yet, her efforts to demonstrate the importance of social difference in urban policies offer relevant insights about how certain practices are valued and expected of urban citizens and members of urban communities. What van Eijk did not talk about was where newcomers were expected to learn about such practices and expectations. For me, this segues easily into a re-visiting of the Simonsen & Koefeld article we read earlier this term and its discussion of the figure of the stranger. Together, these texts assert the complicated function of social difference in the city and in urban policy.

Kern highlights how neoliberal economic measures – like support and incentives for home ownership, as well as a reduction in the supply of rental units (Recall Alan Walks’ report on Toronto’s social housing that we read earlier in the semester) – and individual-centric discourses work hand-in-hand to shape the market for condo buyers, as well as the culture of that market. “Liveability” in the downtown core becomes commodified: those who have access to the benefits of these private developments are those who can afford them. Under this model, urban citizenship reflects this disconnect. The provision and use of amenities like neighbourhood walkability and access to transit are conceived not as public goods; instead, they have become a function of “lifestyle choice”. As Kern shows, gender is central to the re-making of the central city. Security, social connectedness, empowerment…all of these concepts are touted by condo developers, in ways that are fundamentally inflected with gendered connotations. (While Kern speaks only about women in this text, gender here does not only refer to women. Take a look at this discussion of masculinity and the “hipster male” and think about it in relation to how urbanity is defined and (how it “supposed” to be) practiced.)

Both of the readings that focus on youth and activism as citizenship (Bosco et al and Driskell et al) present a familiar picture of citizenship-in-development. The authors emphasize the significance of participation in the public sphere, and they note how active citizens (whether mothers or youth) confront the boundaries of acceptability with their activism. Moreover, the subjects of both texts are constrained by the notion that they are “becoming-citizens” (or not-quite citizens), whether because of legal status or because of age.

More on urban citizenship and some deconstruction of community on the text posts. Join us!

15 thoughts on “November 7: “Urban Citizenship and Community”

  1. While diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds are a hallmark of a strong, diverse community, do you think that this can cause excessive social stratification among groups who do not speak each other’s language of proficiency?

    • I think that this can potentially cause social stratification if regarded in a xenophobic manner. If approached in a proper manner I feel it could still create a well functioning diverse community. There are many other ways of communicating such as body language and they could always bond by trying to teach the other about there respective languages. I volunteered in Nepal this summer with children who spoke little to no english and I speak NO nepali, and we still found ways to communicate and get to know each other. I feel as long as all parties are open to trying a new language and trying to communicate that in itself creates a community. I feel providing support to one an other is a huge part of being part of a community and this would exemplify that.

      • I believe social straitfication does exist among diverse cultures because we do not speak each other’s language of proficiency. I work for a bank and deal with members from the community who come from diverse cultural backgrounds. Many do not speak english so a simple transanction can be quite complicated to process. However, as Georgia mentioned there are other ways of communication such as body language which definitely helps to communicate. Typically, east indian members who do not speak any english prefer to be helped by me instead of my non-Punjabi co-workers and vice versa, Chinese members typically like to be helped by my Chinese co-worker. So from my experiences I can say stratification is very common through language barriers. However, I think it can be avoided if individuals are more open to one another and support and respect eachothers languages.

      • Just in addition to this discussion, I find that there’s quite often an assumption that people will be able to speak English and particularly in North America parts of Europe and Australia policy structures create an expectation of linguistic assimilation and social/institutional discrimination when this is not met. When I’ve travelled overseas I’ve had a lot of fun spending time studying different languages and bits and pieces of history and tradition but have been told time and time again not to worry about language because English is the global language and I can expect people to communicate on my terms… Blah. We certainly have our issues here in regard to language divides and ethnic group separation but there are a couple different perspectives that might be drawn from this. One thing in Vancouver that I’ve found since moving here is that there are fewer assumptions that you will speak the same language. I don’t often expect to be able to linguistically communiate with the person next to me but like Georgia mentioned there are always other modes such as signs and body language. In this city when you just stop and listen in a public setting there are so many different languages being spoken it makes for a really interesting experience. This can be really positive but at the same time people have the ability to stop making an effort to communicate with diverse populations because of the tendency to isolate ourselves into “like groups” which reside in certain neighborhoods, use different services and shop at different stores. Sometimes that’s challenging. I’ve not lived in a city before that for example had stores such as cellular dealerships that had separate offices specifically for different languages groups which is amazing but can lead to stratification and marginalization if used the wrong way.

        I don’t know sometimes it’s hard to be politically correct, not mistep and figure all of these things out! What a class!

    • Hello Everyone! This is a very interesting discussion, and I would just like to add my opinion to this thread. I really agree with your comment(s) on this issue, Georgia – especially when you stated that: “I think that this can potentially cause social stratification if regarded in a xenophobic manner.” I think it’s very important to emphasize the fact that when racialized, ethnic, and/or immigrant groups live together in specific parts of the city, they do so because they not only share a language and culture(s) with one another, but because they can also relate to each other’s lived experiences as minorities in a ‘western’ country (i.e similar experiences of discrimination, racism, etc.). I think that providing services that cater to individual cultural groups (i.e. the example of the cellular shops that you mentioned, Michelle) is very important because it makes for a more inclusive city – especially for seniors and new immigrants who do not speak or understand English. Most often, new immigrants will learn the basics of the English language – either to obtain a job or attend school for example, but I do not think that people should be forced to learn English – as this can be seen as an example of Anglo-centrism. As a society, our ultimate goal should not be to advocate for assimilation, but to create safe spaces so that people do not feel alienated in their communities. Again, to directly quote from your response Georgia – I think the key here is to make sure that “all parties are open to trying a new language and trying to communicate […]” rather than indirectly or directly forcing people to converse via English.

      • I do agree with your anglo-centrism comment. I do not think English should be forced as it takes away from our goal as a supportive multicultural society. I believe it is the diversity that labels us as a community, and the fact that we are willing to accept diversity and support individuals who do not speak english is what labels us a *strong* community. I enjoyed your post 🙂 !

  2. After reading Growing up in the new New York: youth space, citizenship, and community change in a hyperglobal city the impression I got was that Jackson Heights youth have and had challenges as where they belong and fit into the community. Throughout the article there was common voice that youth felt excluded from their neighbourhood by adultification of space and place. However with the participation of GUiNYC project youth were able to make changes in their neighbourhood through civic engagement.

    What I found interesting is that the article stated that older generations that grew up in Jackson Heights enjoyed youth friendly places and I wonder or make assumptions if it has to do with Jackson Heights has previously been a corporate control and speculative development that lead  it to upper-middle-class white neighbourhood. And only after the WWII did Jackson Heights undergo change to a heterogeneous mix of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, cultures, languages, etc. leading it to supposedly to be more tolerant. However point in point is that why are youth being marginalized in their neighbourhood that they feel they need to go to a corporate places such as McDonalds in order to hangout together without be hassled. This goes to say about anti-tolerance levels that exist. Another point that stuck out was how adults claim that spaces should remain adult-friendly in regards to privacy and relaxation when in reality drug dealers’ presence in parks part taking in drug deals. These are the same public park spaces youth identified that as much as that they would like to go to the parks their safety could be in jeopardy because of dangerous activities. Also, would it not be in previous older generations interests to have youth nowadays enjoy the same privileges, as they did grouping up in Jackson Heights.

    • Balbina,

      Your comment about youth seeking out corporate spaces to find a sense of welcome and escape from the tension of aultrified places was great. That makes a lot of sense. Had not thought about that before. Youth have to find alternative safe outlets in reponse to the tendency for adults to feel entitled to space as well as insecurity, resentment and estrangement from youth and variant youth culture.

      • First of all, I agree with your comment Michelle. I also wanted to add a response to your comment.

        The sense I got after reading the article was that youth didn’t feel welcome in their neighbourhood Jackson Heights because adultification of spaces and places. So what do the youth do well they went down to local McDonalds. What is interesting to note about this corporate space that if the youth need to purchase “something” in order to stay at the McDonalds. Otherwise they could be labelled as loiterers and then again given the boot to go somewhere else. While reading the article I noticed how the youth had wanted to be in public spaces such as the school grounds and the public library however through adultification and being marginalized the youth made the corporate world of McDonalds as their safe haven.

    • Call me crazy, but I feel like places like McDonald’s love the fact that they’ve become a place for youth to hang out in because they profit from it. There’s other issues that come along with that because youth are hanging out in places that promote unheatlhy eating styles which is a whole other problem within itself.

  3. Pre-meeting Qs from students for the Nov 7 class meeting

    Overarching question
    Is it possible to create inclusion policies that are responsive to specific challenges faced by specific groups without reproducing essentialist and stigmatizing ideas about ‘the other’, which paradoxically defeats the initial purpose?

    On Kern, Sex and the Revitalized City Chapters 3-5
    In Kern’s Chapter 3, “Under Construction,” we see a discussion about condominiums and how community is constructed. We see how many new condominiums offer community spaces which some people see as an attempt to make up for small apartment sizes whereas others see it as an outlet for people to get to know each other within the building. We have spoken a lot in class about the idea of community and how it is created within different neighbourhoods. How do you see the public-private community spaces in condominiums? Do you think they are beneficial to residential bonding or just purely a sales point?

    Throughout the text, access to suitable transit is brought up as a key factor in why many women were living in the downtown core and as a resource that contributed to their feelings of independent and control. The author acknowledges that choosing to not have a car and use these resources is a privilege for many of these women. I thought this was interesting as the concept of building condos around accessible transit is something that I don’t recognize as being a priority in Vancouver, and that relying on buses and trains as a main form of transportation is in fact not a privilege but a lower-status symbol. In a newer city such as Vancouver, do you think this will shift, that Vancouver’s transit in the main city and suburbs will grow into being an ideal/priorty for high-income/independent condo/home owners? Do you think it already is? Or will we as a city continue to acknowledge driving a vehicle as a main source of mobility?

    In her study, Kern (2010) discusses how developers in Toronto market condominiums to women as their key demographic by creating a sense of ‘community.’ Jillian, a woman from Kern’s study, expresses how living in a condominium “is an amazing opportunity to meet the man of your dreams or whatever. Just meeting new people, our entire building is open to that”(Kern, 2010, p. 112). However, despite the former positive response, Kern believes that social networks built through condominium ownership reflect a very narrow conception of what truly is a ‘community.’ Do you agree with Kern’s argument that developers target specifically women when they are building condominiums? Do you think living in a condominium increases your likelihood to meet friends/ partners that you share common interests compared to living in a suburban single family home? Or do you believe the concept of ‘community’ within condominiums is simply a façade created by marketing teams?

    On van Eijk, “Exclusionary policies are not just about the ‘neoliberal city’: A critique of theories of urban revanchism and the case of Rotterdam”
    In Van Eijk’s article, the idea of Urban Revanchism is discussed and critiqued. Specifically, the author argues that urban policies aimed at goals of “integration” such as mixed communities and citizenship actually inherently exclude people (par.8). I absolutely agreed with the argument that these policies stem not only from neoliberalist thought (par.4), but from anxieties surrounding national unity, social order, and safety. However, I struggled with some thoughts that complicate the matter for myself and perhaps for other people who are unsure about inclusionary policies. If we were to adopt multicultural policies that encouraged people to occupy the spaces in the city that they choose, which would often likely be in areas where similar people lived, would we not still have the same issues of “same” vs. “other” (par.26) that we have now, if not an intensified version? Wouldn’t a person occupying space in the area that was an obvious “other” to the neighbourhood culture still be seen as a threat to the social order? Furthermore, wouldn’t this run the risk of the majority making negative connotations between the issues in an area and the certain group (whether cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic or otherwise) that primarily occupies that place? Is it even possible to think of concepts like unity or safety without human nature forming some sort of “other” that will be excluded?

    On Driskell, Fox & Kudva: “Growing up in the new New York: youth space, citizenship, and community change in a hyperglobal city”
    Driskell, Fox & Kudva (2008) argued that with the effects of globalization, we must begin to re-examine and deconstruct the current definitions of what constitutes immigration, citizenship and identity. What, in your opinion, changes these definitions? Why are the current views on immigration and citizenship problematic in their role of shaping identities?

    On Bosco, Aitken & Herman: “Women and children in a neighborhood advocacy group: engaging community and refashioning citizenship at the United States–Mexico border”
    I would like to examine the concept ‘differently equal’ that surfaced in the Bosco, Aitken & Herman paper. Doesn’t saying that having different abilities and backgrounds categorize a person into being different types of equal? Isn’t equality a blanket statement given to all people no matter their ethnicity, gender, or economic status? This term is a blanket contradiction – ‘different’ cancels out ‘equal’.

    If having children help translate for their parents in a variety of situations is so controversial and people are so terribly opposed, should there not be alternatives provided to immigrant families in a compassionate manner to aid them in this adjustment process? It seems extremely backwards to start throwing bills around stating English is the sole language of a state in which Latino immigrant families uphold the California state economy. If individuals and communities fail to meet these requirements they become void and are denied citizenship as well as the ability to seek the resources needed to advance by this standard. I use citizenship as a liberal definition of access, sense of community and belonging, political agency and economic prosperity.
    Are we so misguided to believe that new immigrants do not wish to access all those resources afforded to the so called good English speaking Americans? One example against child translators stated that it would be inappropriate for children to communicate a terminal medical diagnosis to their parent. This translates in my mind as immigrant parents cannot distinguish what is or is not appropriate for their children. Do we really think in that given situation parents would not seek alternatives to protect the emotional well-being of their children? Shock and awe is definitely a tactic here. Further, if this is actually the case how sad is it that families are being forced to use their children to communicate such emotional affairs because there are no alternatives.
    There is this very ethnocentric sociopolitical mindset that implies guardians, particularly mothers from cultures outside the white white West have inadequate parenting abilities and tend to sacrifice their children for family gains. This leads to a sort of Western crusade against ethnic diversity in the name of protecting the child. So what are the objectives here?
    Lastly, given the Spanish speaking population in California and the national political and economic backbone of the Latino and Mexican immigrant population would it not seem logical to find effective alternatives, such as multilingual medical centers, government funded translating organizations for non-English speaking immigrants, language centers directed by Latino persons, on site translators in all social service spaces? None of this seems terribly difficult considering most of it is happening in different forms anyway by the efforts of Latino communities and multilingual people in different social agencies.
    So, is the problem that government bodies are trying to save money and stick on Band Aid solutions? Are sociopolitical structures inherently racist? Or is the Latino-American population so underrepresented in government that these issues are simply forgotten? What’s missing here?

  4. After reading about the creation of community I wonder if it is able to create a community that is truly inclusive yet NOT intrusive? As some people do not want a community or don’t feel that need for support and sometimes they find it a bother. This was evident in reading about the construction of condo’s and community. I feel like community can only be a positive in a person’s life however others may have differing thoughts on this such as feeling it is an intrusion to privacy or feeling that they are “too busy” to make new friends or support others. I am curious what others think on this issue?

    • Georgia I feel similar to what you have stated about community as a being positive supportive environment. And yet funny enough I think back when I participated in a neighbourhood social media project/focus group last year. There was this one person that identified that he like living in a Yaletown condo because of his anonymous status. The person mentioned an example when he entered the building’s elevator he wouldn’t greet people because he didn’t know them and he could careless. It interesting to reflect what specifically he found appealing to being unknown to his neighbours.Was he trying to hide his identity?? I suppose this particular person seemed to like to live an individualistic manner as suppose to collective sense of community. Who knows, it’s hard to say.

    • Hi Georgia and Balbina!

      You both have raised interesting points about this topic! Because I have been raised to value both community and support networks, I have never perceived the idea of a community in a negative light before, and I have never really thought about it as being “intrusive” (as you mentioned, Georgia) – and maybe this is because I’ve always felt that community – in it’s truest, most genuine form – is something that people embrace, and it’s not necessarily enforced upon individuals – i.e. we choose to be a part of a certain community. Perhaps I am thinking of this in too simplistic of terms? And perhaps my understanding of this is biased – because I am very thankful for, and cherish community in my personal life?

    • Hi Georgia,
      I feel like there are positives and negatives to community. I used to live in a townhouse where community involvement was a huge focus, and it was sometimes super annoying because I would receive pamphlets, annoying neighbours at my door or feel embarassment if I didn’t engage in the community. After moving away from that townhouse, I moved into one where NO ONE talks to each other, and where I personally have no clue who my neighbours are.While it’s nice to have peace, I can say that there are positives to having a sense of community. For one, It feels safer, as well it’s nice to talk to your neighbour once in a while.

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