Philosophy

Activism Entails Community Building, Not Fragmentation

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 25, 2010

I recently read a great essay by Palestinian journalist and activist Ramzy Baroud explaining his view on activism. He starts by defining an activist as someone who "feels strongly about a cause and who is also willing to dedicate time and energy towards advancing and realizing this cause."

Then, drawing from his own childhood experiences growing up in a refugee camp in Gaza, he adds:

Activists in my refugee camp, whether they're identified as Islamist, secularist, socialist or any other name, ensured the community remained unified in the face of adversity.

[...]

Activism, as I understood it, was largely a unifying, pro-active force that kept the struggle and resistance alive. It was the ingredient that allowed the Palestinian people to maintain their relevance to the conflict, despite the brutality of their enemy and the self-serving nature of their elites.

I like this definition, because it recasts activism as an ongoing act of broad-based relationship- and community-building, not merely a campaign for policy changes. Debating policy is inherently fragmentary, because different people have different particular ideas about how best to move forward.

Add political ideology and partisanship (affiliation to interested organizations) to the mix, and opportunities abound for activists to expend their energy fighting each other instead of struggling for change.

Baroud explains it this way:

Over the course of the last 15 years, I have come across some of the world's most passionate, compassionate and sincere individuals. I can only express good things about that.

But I have also become disheartened and disappointed. "Leftist" groups insist on placing Palestine into its anti-imperialist campaign merely as a rally cry, as opposed to a substantively unique issue that needs a substantively unique strategy.

Disenchanted "leftists" endlessly quarrel. Some cannot even stand the sight of one another. [...] Different groups have their own meetings, petitions, rallies and merchandise, often competing with or rejecting each other. Take any issue [...] and you will find vastly differing factions that won't converge or meet.

Baroud is writing about his experience as an activist for Palestinians, but his conclusions have broad application.

Clash of Ideologies

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at Sky Dragon on gentrification. It was organized by Common Cause, an Ontario organization of anarchists promoting nonviolent class struggle toward a social revolution that eliminates imperialism, colonialism, nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, sectarianism and all other forms of oppression.

Not surprisingly, the prevailing tone of the group was anti-gentrification, on the grounds that it marginalizes and displaces poor urban residents.

Conversely, I approached gentrification on the basis that suburban sprawl is an ecological, social and economic disaster-in-slow-motion that will become impossible to maintain as global oil production slides into permanent decline (not to mention a largely spent cultural force).

All doctrine aside, we simply need to find ways to integrate large numbers of people back into cities.

We also need to ensure that the people already living in cities - often poor and marginalized - aren't displaced and further marginalized by the influx of the more affluent. That is, we have to ensure that everyone shares in the benefits of re-urbanization - benefits that largely fall outside the scope of a class-struggle based analytical model.

Personally, I would much rather have to deal with the problems associated with urban property values increasing because of increasing demand than with the problems of urban property values falling through middle-class flight and disinvestment. (Unfortunately, when the definition of "value" itself is in dispute, it's hard to make such a case.)

It seems to me that ensuring people of limited means can still afford to live in increasingly popular cities is ultimately as simple (technically if not politically) as ensuring that everyone has a living wage - an argument I don't think I did a very good job of articulating at the meeting.

Steep Conceptual Hurdles

Naturally, my case for gentrification landed like a sperm whale dropped from low orbit. It wasn't just that my priorities were different from the priorities of the assembled panel and audience; ideology got in the way of reconciling our respective values.

I knew there were going to be some steep hurdles between my small-l liberal, progressive, urbanist world view and the overarchingly anarchist/marxist tenor of the group. Unfortunately, with such a big conceptual gap we often ended up just talking past each other.

Short of a petulant blow-by-blow, I'll just share one anecdote that captures the essence of my experience on the 'hot seat'.

An audience member commented that RTH doesn't do enough to understand poverty issues. I agreed with her and acknowledged that there are a lot of things we don't do or don't do well enough.

Our focus is on urban revitalization but there are big areas where that intersects with other issues and I think such groups should do a better job of understanding each other's concerns.

An inspiring example of such an interdisciplinary approach is the Low Income Energy Network (LIEN), which brings environmental and anti-poverty activists together to understand how to reconcile the goal of reducing energy consumption with the goal of ensuring universal access to adequate, affordable energy.

Another panelist responded that he hates it when activists say they aren't doing enough and criticized RTH for bothering at all if we can't get it right - and by 'right' he clearly meant: reinforcing his specific value system.

Think about that for a moment: if we can't get it right the first time (he used the phrase "half-assed" to describe our efforts), we just shouldn't bother saying anything at all because we're actually making things worse.

(Aside: I don't intend to beat up on Common Cause here. They're likely no more dogmatic than many other groups. I only cite the panel discussion because it's a recent anecdote that illustrates what I'm trying to argue.)

Reach Across Ideology to Build Community

I came out of the evening with one overarching thought: this is why the left can't accomplish anything.

Activists on the left spend too much time critiquing the hell out of each other and highlighting violations of doctrine instead of finding commonalities and working together to make tangible improvements. As I've written in the past:

Instead of maintaining some kind of ideological purity, [we should] work at building relationships with people across the various divides (urban/exurban, liberal/conservative, business/labour, etc.) that cleave our city, trying to understand and respect everyone's values and priorities, and looking for issues and arguments on which you can all agree.

To be sure, there's danger in engaging the world of compromise with groups that have different values and priorities. It's a real struggle to determine which compromises are acceptable and which are not; which collaborations are in the spirit of common cause and which amount to the tacit endorsement of abhorrent practices.

Nonetheless, the solution is certainly not to reject all compromises and disavow all collaborations - either explicitly or, more common, implicitly through an impossible threshold of commonality.

The endless squabbling among the identity- and ideology-driven groups that collectively make up the left reflects the bankruptcy of intellectual precocity run amok.

While radical postdocs with MacBooks are busy organizing performance art demonstrations protesting clumsy efforts to make neighbourhoods safer or opposing bourgeois cycling advocates, the circumstances of people living in precarious conditions are not getting any better.

All the time activists spend scrutinizing each other is time not spent working together to achieve meaningful improvements in universal access to food, housing, essential services and basic human dignity. It's time not spent unifying across ideological divides and holding communities together.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 25, 2010 at 22:45:40

I attended this discussion group and it was interesting. Yes, Ryan you were sort of on the outside compared to the other panelists.

I do think that community building is essential if we are to move forward but the community building must include all voices and currently, those who are low income are not usually heard or dismissed by others.

Given this report from the budget where the government is cutting off the special diet funding, which will leave those who are struggling with health issues to get nutricious food without anything.

http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/ontariobudget/article/785344--poverty-advocates-decry-loss-of-diet-allowance

It is sort of joke really when the government states that the welfare cheques are going up by $6.00 per month to $591.00, that this is really going to help those who are already starving.

Where is the community building when those who are middle class or higher are silent or who state that those who are on welfare because they may have lost their jobs and just cannot find anything should just be thankful for what they get.

What is most deceiving is that given the auditors report which claimed welfare fraud, that in many cases it is the system itself that creates the overpayments and the fact that the majority of the report was on the fraud perpetrated by the government itself on the issue of social housing which main stream media failed to pick up on.

http://poverty.thespec.com/2009/12/we-ar...

Maybe it is those who are middle class and higher that need to pay attention more to how they are being ripped off by the system that puts the blame on those that struggle, when in reality it is not.

Comment edited by grassroots are the way forward on 2010-03-25 21:48:10

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 07:18:39

Great editorial, Ryan.

It all begins...or ends...with community.

(Funny; some people who perform the functions of activists don't see themselves as being activists. Interesting how labels can define a discussion even before it's begun.)

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 08:11:40

"radical postdocs with MacBooks"

Fantastic.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted March 26, 2010 at 08:17:53

Where is the community building when those who are middle class or higher are silent or who state that those who are on welfare because they may have lost their jobs and just cannot find anything should just be thankful for what they get.

You know, one of the drawbacks of a welfare state (and don't get me wrong-- I think the welfare state is important and necessary) is that people seem to feel that it absolves them of any personal responsibility for their fellow citizens. We figure the government's taking care of them and we can just drop a few cans in the food bank drive and think we've done our share. There are some incredibly generous people in this city who give of their time and money to give others a hand up, and then there are the rest of us...

We need to pay a little more attention to our immediate neighbours, and help them in practical ways.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 10:11:49

"We need to pay a little more attention to our immediate neighbours, and help them in practical ways."

Great comment, Michelle. The problem is that while there are more means of communication than ever before and more awareness of the world-at-large (and the same technology that makes this awareness possible also facilitates assistance endeavours when calamity strikes), the basic truth is that people are more isolated, more protective of their worlds, their lives. They've ordered things in the opposite direction from 'community'. I don't want to use the word 'selfish'; maybe 'self-referential' is more apt. And with economic realities being what they are, people are less and less inclined to look outward; they're worried about protecting their own, about survival.

And then of course, there's the whole 'Us' and 'Them' mentality, which isn't exactly anything new.

It's easy to be pessimistic about community, about engagement, about contact...but sometimes meeting someone on a hiking trail and exchanging greetings can serve to remind us of our humanity.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 11:12:26

Interesting comments Ryan, and from my perspective, not without a little irony. The main reason I stopped reading RTH (until I started relying on GoogleReader to filter out the good bits) was because I got the exact same feeling from interacting with you, Jason et al. on the website. I also know I'm not the only one because I've had a bunch of pretty interesting (in-person!) discussions with Beasley-ites who feel the same way. For the most part there's too much talking past one another, and that's not a good expense of anyone's time.

From the crypto-NIMBYism ("I'm not a NIMBY, but if X or Y happens here, I'm leaving!), to the reductionist approach to urban planning (bikes and transit = #1!), to the obsession with decaying heritage buildings, to the fairly homogeneous group of contributors who reinforce the echo-chamber mentality of the blog's comment section (voting dissenting views into oblivion), there appears to be a complete blindness to the diversity inherent in this pretty decent (one day, great?) city of ours. Your points about bridge building are incredibly prescient, and everyone could probably learn a lot from them.

You write,

"Activists on the left spend too much time critiquing the hell out of each other and highlighting violations of doctrine instead of finding commonalities and working together to make tangible improvements."

Guilty as charged, but surely the ideological purity/know-it-all-ness that is constantly on display on the website could be similarly toned down to open doors to Hamiltonians who aren't ardent cyclist/transit/heritage/art-community junkies. In our own backyards, downtown, there are plenty of citizens and business people reflecting the diversity of this city's roots who can and should be engaged, not with an appeal to Hamilton's weak-points, but with a willingness to listen to the concerns that effect them and their vision for the city (warning: it might involve cars, parking, or bars on James N., or poor people living downtown, or whatever). Also, it might involve going out and creating a community in the real-world, in addition to the one you've created online.

As you rightly point out, the goal isn't to get things right "the first time," but to take the time to get things right in a way that reflects diverse opinion, and that attempts to move a big-tent of people towards some mediated common ground. Compromise shouldn't be a bad word: it's what makes politics work, and is the difference between an engaged citizenship and a cynical one that snipes from the sidelines advocating for some perfected version of the city that just isn't possible.

Anyway, great article, Ryan--it made my Friday. Have a great weekend!

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted March 26, 2010 at 11:24:13

In my own activist efforts over the years I have found there to be a lack of action oriented people. I found that, more often that not, whenever I made a suggestion to do something, it would be shot down. Too much discussion, too little action. In the end I had to scale back my involvement because activism became sort of like an episode of Sienfeld - just a lot of people yapping and nobody doing anything.

Personally I can't be bothered with ideological discussions and over-wrought analysis - save that for the pseudo-intellectuals. I didn't sign up for University I signed up for change. I'd much rather take a look at the evidence and do what works already.

I had once suggested, here on RTH, that we create a 'Take Action Hamilton' bureau. That is, where practical, we would identify useful action items that readers could take to address an issue under discussion. Often this would be nothing more perhaps that e-mailing a councilor, but at least we would be promoting doing something.

Matt Jelly's by-law crawl is a great example of doing something. It's succinct, it's goal oriented and it's manageable. And beyond anything else it is doing something! I hope we can see more of this kind of activism (see - even the word has 'active' as a component!) in the future.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 11:26:38

Fantastic comment, Borrelli. You've summed up some very salient points about the general profile of RTH and done so in a decidedly non-confrontational way. (Not that those who disagree with you will see things that way, of course...)

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By Bridges (anonymous) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 11:50:00

I think another thing to think about is groups supporting other issues. What I mean is not only do groups spend too much time discussing and agruing approaches to the same cause, their are a number of issues that are ignored or left to others even when sometimes those others do not in fact exist! as a previous writer said, there are too few action oriented people. This makes it even more important for poverty activists to support environmental initiatives and Environemtalists to support animal advocates and animal advocates to support human rights etc and this aid would travel both ways.

It does not mean that everyone needs to do everything but one can attend events, speak out, etc to help many causes and build ties between them aand not rely on folk in other types of activist communities or "official" organizations to look after things because often that is not happening or their are not enough spuuorters to make a significant difference.

I hope I explained this clearly enough, if not sorry.

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By Common Cause, or common cause (anonymous) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 11:58:09

I'm not sure what Common Cause does beyond discussion [a question], and if it is only discussion, that's fine, *except* if you are only allowed to colour in the lines as they have drawn them, which is my reading of things.
I know some people in CC and think highly of them but I cannot comprehend the need to embrace ideology first and/or over action, which again, is my understanding of their contribution.
I always prefer when people from different backgrounds/ideologies come together to work on, yes, a common cause (Red Hill was a good example)
I am not sure about the reference to attacks on cycling advocates, but I would expect that if anyone wants to help people in poverty, bike lanes, affordable transit and safe places to walk to local destinations are tangible material benefits, part of a larger environment. That might be a good example of needing the ideological package intact and an overarching analysis that covers everything, before being able to proceed.
The shot at "performance art demonstrations" perhaps short-changes the idea that transformations are not always (perhaps rarely) made based solely on linear and rational argument, but that culture and performance contribute to change in important ways too often denied by some/most? people concerned with change.
Good contribution Ryan.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 26, 2010 at 13:26:41

I got the exact same feeling from interacting with you, Jason et al. on the website.

I recall that discussion. You encountered resistance because you singlemindedly insisted, against all evidence to the contrary, that the city should promote cycling by imposing mandatory licencing for cyclists.

You complained that evidence isn't proof; that the well-understood urban design patterns that promote cycling in other cities somehow magically wouldn't work in Hamilton; and that we were proposing an engineering solution to a social problem (as if mandatory licencing isn't engineering).

When challenged to provide evidence - any evidence - to support your proposal, you trotted out Davis California, a city that registers bicycles for theft prevention/recovery ... and also has an extensive network of cycling infrastructure.


I call ideological an approach to reasoning that force-maps facts and arguments onto a rigid, preconceived dogma about how the world works.

Compromise is essential in debating policy, but compromise doesn't just mean taking all positions at face value and splitting the difference. Compromise means recognizing that not everyone has the same priorities and that a policy goal should, as much as possible, reflect the diversity of priorities (like, say, a road network built for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, and not just for drivers).

Compromise means finding areas of overlap between interests - e.g. the proposed LRT in Hamilton, which enjoys the support of urbanists, environmentalists, social justice advocates and the business community for various different reasons.

Compromise also entails a willingness to change one's mind in the face of new evidence that reveals inaccuracies in one's model of the world.

It doesn't entail a willingness to accept the idea that up is down to satisfy an empirically false worldview.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-03-26 12:27:44

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 13:28:37

>

100% agree--I only ever knew MJ as "the guy at PJs who hosted open mic" so I was surprised to hear he was organizing the By-Law Crawls (which I think are wonderful community-building activities that can actually accomplish something). Though I'm not sure where he stands on a bunch of issues, pre-judging by the thoughtful pieces he's contributed to various fora in the Hamilton community, he's the type of person I could get behind as a candidate for a council should he ever condescend to run.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 13:47:03

Oh please, Ryan, don't fool yourself into thinking I've based my conclusions on that single interaction--I've been reading RTH's contributors long enough (without commenting) to know that single-mindedness towards key issues is remarkably common (along with an often shocking lack of empathy to the poor). Paraphrasing my position as you did is very disingenuous: I never promoted anything of the sort, I only promoted an open discussion of alternatives (my first post right here proves as much: http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog/1538#... in the face of knee-jerk criticism of a Spec columnist's opinion piece (who knew it would be so divisive?!)

This is exactly what I mean: You Philosopher Kings already have all the answers spelled out in your playbooks as dogma, and believe any contrarian sentiment to be some un-researched attack on its inherent logic. Why you're so frightened of an honest and open debate of issues that takes into consideration ideas and opinions from other corners of the city is beyond me, but it at least explains why so few of you have managed to perfect the "King" part of that equation: it's pretty well impossible to lead any significant group of people when you're this focused on what (or more accurately, WHO) is right and wrong.

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By thompsmr (registered) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 14:06:16

I think Borrelli's comments raise some very valid questions. As of March 2010, the big abstract boost that LRT was going to delivery has been delayed for a fear years atleast (until Ontario has money again). Now is the time to look to the "urbanist" assumptions that worked from 2004-2010.

Isn't there an assumption that those "unenlightened" folks just need the right articles, "fails", facts and figures, studies and reports to be brought on side. Rational minds will come to understand the presented version of the truth, right? Shouldn't reason enough be alone to change this city? Straight up Enlightenment Rationality will change the city, right? We've all read Jane Jacobs, right? So, why dont things change?

It's not just about building bridges now, it's about understanding the metaphors and frames we work in. It's about understanding those assumed pieces as limits, and that they limit our ability to work / reach out to other folks who are unlike us, because politics is about working with people who are often unlike you.

If real change will require us to have honest discussions with those who greatly differ in their values from ourselves than we must sit down with our city-enemies, and find out what they value (why do people move to suburbs anyways? why do people value their cars so much?, why do people show compassion for and even value "the poor" downtown?). Realize that one version of the well-researched, blogged and enlightened rational truth might not always be enough to bring out change in the city.

edited for grammar

Comment edited by thompsmr on 2010-03-26 13:08:30

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 14:19:07

Borrelli writes: I've been reading RTH's contributors long enough (without commenting) to know that single-mindedness towards key issues is remarkably common (along with an often shocking lack of empathy to the poor).

Yes, there are people who blog here who have no empathy for those that struggle, it is a mindset of some people, I guess just like the person I was engaged in a conversation with the other night, a university graduate, who stated that those who are on welfare, should be thankful for what they get, meanwhile, those who are on welfare, do not get enough money to really survive, it is always about choices, do I pay my rent, do I buy food and become homeless, never mind the abuse that some welfare workers engage in, such as yelling, screaming and even belittling those they are serving, the clients. It is clear that some of those who are clearly middle class, need a stiff kick in the rear, because in this city currently there are not many jobs and the fact that there are not many places where one can job search and that people may have to walk ,long distances, depending where they live in the city, as welfare does not provide enough money even to pay for bus fare.

Ryan writes: An audience member commented that RTH doesn't do enough to understand poverty issues. I agreed with her and acknowledged that there are a lot of things we don't do or don't do well enough.

RTH is run by volunteers and the focus of this blog is not necessarily about poverty but about urban issues. But poverty is affecting things and we all need to work together to move things along.

How about creating a space where those who are low income can come together in unison, to organize themselves to work together to educate others about their hardships and how the system itself creates many barriers. These individuals could work making presentations to local buinesses, labour groups and so on. If those who are struggling are engaged in something positive that would empower them, is this not better for the community as a whole, oppose to seeing people who are disenfrahcised just hanging around.

Comment edited by grassroots are the way forward on 2010-03-26 13:20:39

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted March 26, 2010 at 14:20:47

"It's not just about building bridges now, it's about understanding the metaphors and frames we work in. It's about understanding those assumed pieces as limits, and that they limit our ability to work / reach out to other folks who are unlike us, because politics is about working with people who are often unlike you."

Right on, thompsmr, you obviously know what you're talking about. If politics were about bullying those you disagree with, or denying the validity of their opinions (quick! vote this comment down before others see it!!!) because it contradicts yours, well then we'd have the same situation going on the USA right now (and I doubt many people would put that up as a shining example of a functioning democracy).

"Realize that one version of the well-researched, blogged and enlightened rational truth might not always be enough to bring out change in the city."

Or as some hilarious joker implied somewhere else, what works in changing opinion online, framed by overarching principles of instrumental rationality, does not necessarily translate into changing opinion off the internet. Or, closer to their words, being a Level 49 Armchair-Urbanist Mage whatever doesn't work the same way in real life--bridge building is more than just proving you're right.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted March 27, 2010 at 06:28:34

Whoever downvoted thompsmr, I'd love to see you justify it. (Unless it's for a couple of typos in the first paragraph.) I'm not trying to be sarcastic or critical -- I'm genuinely interested in knowing why.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2010 at 10:29:15

Whoever downvoted thompsmr, I'd love to see you justify it. (Unless it's for a couple of typos in the first paragraph.) I'm not trying to be sarcastic or critical -- I'm genuinely interested in knowing why.

I have noticed this phenomenon around comment voting-- I try to upvote comments for the quality of their arguments and the willingness of the author to engage in reasonable criticism, whether or not I agree with it, even if they argue against something I have written (much to my chagrin, I have not always met my own personal standard of behaviour here). But comment voting seems to be used at times to freeze people out of the argument. I was under the impression that it was put in place in order to discourage trolls (there is a difference between one-issue arguers and bona fide trolls) and those who engage in insulting language or personal attacks, not as a popularity contest.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-03-27 09:32:17

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted March 27, 2010 at 15:39:10

Hmm??? Interesting article from someone who said this in response to me daring to question the perceived value of bike lanes:

"That's garden variety magical thinking, not to mention empirically false." - Ryan

I didn't see much effort to find common ground in that statement Ryan.

But I digress, I did enjoy this article. Gentrification is a difficult subject with the word itself having both positive and negative connotations depending on your outlook. Your statement about rather dealing with property values increasing than decreasing is how I look at it as well. But when the cards seem stacked against those that are being displaced, because frankly it is easier to displace the poor than it is to deal with them being displaced and there are few to no programs in place to deal with the negatives of gentrification, it becomes a very ugly debate. As you obviously witnessed firsthand Ryan.

Society must respond to and help eliminate poverty but you must be careful that doesn't become pandering to poverty. Unfortunately, the problems of poverty may only be solved by an increase in government social engineering that many people may be uncomfortable with and is unlikely to happen in a society drifting right not left. So, I understand many people seeing gentrification as a major negative. How can we make gentrification be both a positive transformation to the buildings and infrastructure as well as the people of a neighbourhood? That needs to be the discussion and entrenched positions at polar extremes are never going to answer that question.

Great discussion to get started Ryan!

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 27, 2010 at 17:56:37

OK borelli, I followed your link and read all the comments. From here it looks like you suggested an idea, a bunch of people patiently and respectfully explained why your idea doesn't work, and you refused to learn anything from it prefering to stand your ground instead of having an open mind. Sorry but if your wrong your wrong. Part of being mature is learning from other people espeically people who have a lot of research and experience (I noticed you don't even ride a bike) and not getting pouty and calling them "philosopher kings" when they explain to you why your wrong about something.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 27, 2010 at 18:35:16

So, I understand many people seeing gentrification as a major negative.

Some studies have shown that the displacement of the poor associated with gentrification may be more a matter of perception than fact.

Anecdotally, from my experience living in Toronto in the '80's, while gentrification may not have displaced people from their residences, community gathering places were lost. Love 'em or hate 'em, divy bars are often the only refuge for men living in rooming houses, for example. Conversions to trendy clubs and restaurants froze people out of their traditional gathering places, in much the same way as seniors are displaced when enclosed malls are replaced with power centres.

Perhaps as neighbourhoods gentrify, should Hamilton ever be so lucky, as much emphasis needs to be placed on keeping public and semi-public places accessible and inclusive, as on the residential mix.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2010 at 19:23:20

Interesting article from someone who said this in response to me daring to question the perceived value of bike lanes

You're right, Kiely, and I apologize for the tone of my response. I was feeling frustration because for years I've been hearing people react to proven best practices by saying variations on: That might work somewhere else but it won't work here.

The thing is, people say that everywhere about their own place. They said it in Amsterdam and Copenhagen when they were building the bike lanes that we're saying wouldn't work here.

However, I apologize for undermining what could have been an opportunity for constructive dialogue between us. I'm certainly not immune to the fragmentation I wrote about in my piece above!

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-03-27 18:24:45

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted March 28, 2010 at 14:59:04

Very interesting highwater, I will have to take some time to read the studies.

Your point about the divvy bars is a good one as well. Read enough Charles Bukowski and the roll of the divvy bar for the rooming house residents is apparent. I also saw this first hand in San Francisco in the early '90s when they were beginning a period of gentrification. I think your point about keeping spaces accessible is an excellent one.

And no worries Ryan, I understand the frustration. I'm just not a big fan of the entrenched opinions. I believe solutions begin with established priorities, open minds and then follow proven best practices adapted for the situation at hand, (i.e., make sure it is apples to apples). I also believe understanding culture is crucial not necessarily for the success of an idea but certainly for the implementation of the idea. I work in an industry that has attempted many "programs" of one type or another in developing countries and I have seen the lack of understanding of culture be the downfall for many of them. To speak specifically on the bike lanes I believe our money would be better spent on initiatives to increase residential and commercial density downtown. Once we see that piece of the puzzle coming together the increase in people living and working downtown will better justify bike lanes. What would be good right now would be a dedicated bike path, similar to what KW has done with the Iron Horse Trail. This would be of more use to a wider range of people and have recreational value as well since families with children could ride safely. If implemented properly you could then run bike lanes from it in the future.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted March 29, 2010 at 08:08:38

Kiely wrote:

I believe solutions begin with established priorities, open minds and then follow proven best practices adapted for the situation at hand...

I could not agree more, making change is about action not ideology. The left (IMO) often has a more difficult time understanding this, (probably because the left is typically a much more politically diverse group) and it leads to a lot of talk without any results. We can't pass up opportunities to work together (and make a difference) just because we don't 100% agree on everything.

The whole point of activism is to engage as may people as possible and you can't do that when you're alienating those who don't already agree with you.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 29, 2010 at 09:39:29

Borrelli wrote,

You Philosopher Kings already have all the answers spelled out in your playbooks as dogma, and believe any contrarian sentiment to be some un-researched attack on its inherent logic. Why you're so frightened of an honest and open debate of issues that takes into consideration ideas and opinions from other corners of the city is beyond me

Are you kidding? An honest and open debate of issues is what you asked for..... it's exactly what you got. The debate you wanted resulted in the conclusion that your idea didn't have alot of merit. The real "dogma" here is the stuff that you can't support with facts but try to force people to accept through shear force of will. The discussion did it's job just fine and aired a variety of opinions. You just didn't like where it ended up and now you're trying to say it wasn't fair.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 11:08:24

Ryan says:

I call ideological an approach to reasoning that force-maps facts and arguments onto a rigid, preconceived dogma about how the world works.

Yes. Yes. Now we're on to something.

Comment edited by synxer on 2010-03-30 10:08:53

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 01, 2010 at 03:51:07

UrbanRenaissance writes: The whole point of activism is to engage as may people as possible and you can't do that when you're alienating those who don't already agree with you.

So let us group things or people:

Leading activists

Active allies

Passive allies

Neutral

Passive Opponents

Active opponents

Leading opponents

I learn this yesterday, so the idea would be whatever the issue you are advocating for, let us say bike lanes, the goal would be how to get those groups below leading activists to move at least one spot toward the leading activists.

Even if those who vehemently oppose such as those in leading opponents catagory can move one spot to active opponents, you have won a battle, not necessarily the war. Maybe the next go around, we might get them to move up another spot.

Comment edited by grassroots are the way forward on 2010-04-01 02:52:42

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