Mon, Sep 10, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Canadian cities boast minorities as majority

In cities such as Markham and Brampton, the combined number of people in cultural minorities exceeds those with French or English roots

By Sadiya Ansari  /  The Guardian, MARKHAM, Ontario

However, Brampton has only one non-white city councilor, Gurpreet Dhillon, who is Punjabi.

In the last municipal election, Bromley recalls watching a Punjabi candidate on television arguing that the mayoral office should reflect Brampton’s ethnic makeup.

“I had a moment where I felt: ‘Now I’m really going to be a minority,’” she says. “To be brutally honest, it felt like I was being pushed out.”

The moment passed. She remembered she had a stable job, in an ideal neighborhood to raise her five-year-old twins.

However, she struggles with how to integrate into what Brampton is becoming. She feels lucky to teach students with whom she can have “honest, unfiltered conversations,” but does not feel she can approach, for example, the group of older Indian men hanging out at the park, or busy mums at her skating rink.

“Intercultural interaction is a matter of common ground and increased opportunity for encountering each other,” Qadeer says.

In cities such as Markham and Brampton, where suburban sprawl reigns and most people travel by car, those opportunities outside school and work can be hard to come by.

Brampton is trying to address this as part of its long-term vision for 2040.

“The expression of the incredible diversity of the community doesn’t really manifest itself on the ground,” says Larry Beasley, a Vancouver-based planner who spearheaded the project.

To ensure people across cultures can better interact, Beasley says the city needs to create places for them to meet.

After taking more than 11,000 residents’ comments into account, the plan proposes five city centers — walkable communities that mimic Brampton’s downtown area — to facilitate those interactions.

These new hubs would aim to reduce isolation by bringing together parks, government services, retail outlets and restaurants. The centers would also try and bring employment closer to home: 60 percent of Bramptonians commute to places outside the city.

Beasley hopes to convince the city to adopt the plan by arguing that smarter urban design could help swap commuting time for community time.

Creating a place for communities to converge was also Jael Richardson’s intent when she founded the Festival for Literary Diversity, which brings together writers from a variety of backgrounds.

“I wanted to start a festival that gave diverse writers — anyone who’s not typically represented — a space to be the expert,” Richardson says. “We consider having the event in Brampton part of the diversity mandate in and of itself.”

The festival was initially met with skepticism — Richardson says Toronto writers frequently told her the event would do better in Toronto — but her tenacity appears to be paying off.

This year it secured a multiyear sponsorship from digital audiobook producer Audible and publisher Penguin Random House sent a sizeable contingent of staff.

Richardson is creating space for writers in a city where diversity is not aspirational, it is a fact. While it is true that changing demographics have disturbed the mainstream sensibility, Canada’s majority-minority cities also appear to be changing what mainstream means.

For some residents of Markham, such as Chin, the question is not whether newcomers can assimilate into the city, but whether both can adapt together.

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