Heather Menzies on how Canadian cities are reclaiming the commons

Excerpted from Heather Menzies:

“I sense a reclaiming of that vision at work in many grassroots initiatives to reclaim the city as a public living space, not just retail, real estate and parking space. In Ottawa, some of this has been channeled through the conventional institution of the community association. In the neighbourhood where the West End Well Co-op operates, the local Hintonburg Community Association had spent the previous decade and more reclaiming the neighbourhood as safe, convivial living space for a diverse population of often low-income people. Not only had they turned municipal planning bureaucratese into street language so that local residents could find their voice in city planning. They had negotiated with the city to shift the management of two local parks from the city to local self-governance. A related Economic Development Committee has helped local owner-operated small businesses turn local streetscapes into welcoming, even festive spots for people to mingle and meet.

There are similar developments at work in practically every city, including under the umbrella strategy, “We Are Cities.” In Toronto, initiatives range from the episodic, like the Jane’s Walks, to longer-term ventures such as the Community Food Centre in the Symington Public Housing project, the Parkdale Community Economic Planning & Development Project and related community land trust, plus a range of gardening and local-habitat claiming initiatives by schools.

One of the lessons from my work researching and writing Reclaiming the Commons for the Common Good is the importance of capacity building and, with that, accumulating knowledge and confidence in doing it ourselves, informing ourselves and governing ourselves. This is the foundation for reclaiming the commons, one neighbourhood, one city at a time. This reclaiming of agency as inhabitants of habitat, neighbours in community, tenants in a tenants’ association and so on.

In a later blog post, I will write about the role that time and space-sharing ventures such as the Centre for Social Innovation and the Futures Cities collaboration between the universities of Ryerson & Toronto in Toronto and, in Ottawa, 25One Community and the Citizens’ Academy can play in fostering this sharing of local experience as knowledge and affirming local residents as knowledgeable participants in an enlarging sphere of local self-governance.”

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