Moving past diversity towards inclusion and racial equity

Moving past diversity towards inclusion and racial equity

Organizations have had diversity, inclusion and equity departments for a better part of two decades. While much of the focus in our workplaces has been on the varying definitions of diversity, there has been inaction or very little action towards inclusion and equity. So how can organizations move towards inclusion and equity? We must look at the present state of diversity.

Diversity isn't about the cultural theatrics of hosting a "Caribbean Day" or a "Filipino Day" at our workplaces or sporting events. Nor is it about "improving the numbers of traditionally underrepresented people in your workplace". It does not provide benefits as Ely & Thomas mention in their Harvard Business Review article Getting Serious About Diversity: Enough Already with the Business Case. Furthermore, taking a "diversity and stir" approach while continuing business as usual will not spur leaps into your organizations' financial performance or effectiveness. What matters is how an organization harnesses diversity and it's willing to disrupt the power structure.

Sarah Mayorga, a professor of sociology at Brandeis University concluded that diversity was an ideology that enables whites to superficially commit to achieving racial justice. She states diversity dictates that intentions only really matter as opposed to outcomes and taking specific actions towards inclusion and equity. Diversity becomes about inclusion and tolerance yet not having the uncomfortable conversation of how one group is systemically privileged over another.

Mayorga mentions that diversity is a held as a commodity and pluralistic in that the latter tends to focus on representation rather than equity. There must be discussions on how equity relates to an organization's values and culture. It is about naming oppression and racial harm, especially Anti-Black racism, in the first place rather than avoiding it.

What areas must leaders focus on?

Moving towards equity for organizations must have has multiple actions - class, building a cohesive culture, role-playing, expression, actively working against discrimination and subordination, and being open to different cultural communication styles.

Don't be afraid to discuss social class

First, organizational leaders must talk about anti-racism and class simultaneously. The first point is obvious because it identifies the structural racism that exists and looks at ways to address it head on. The second characteristic is not so obvious to many because diversity tends to solely be focused on race, gender and ability.

In Ingram's article The Forgotten Dimension of Diversity, "a person's social class origins leave a cultural imprint that has a lasting effect, even if the individual gains money and status later in life". Ingram states, for example, that those from lower-class origins are 32% less likely to become manager than those that come from higher origins.

There is a class disadvantage in management. Research has shown that representation from equity-seeking groups among their managerial peers produces more effective advocacy. Inherited privilege in the promotion process can therefore be a source of long-lasting inequities.

From an organizational perspective, while companies like Google, Facebook established employee resource groups to support employees from underrepresented groups but none mention social class.

Building a Cohesive Culture

Workers from lower social classes are more likely than those from higher ones, as Ingram posits, to "understand that their outcomes and responsibilities in the organization are interdependent with those of the people around them. Therefore, organizational culture can be strengthened by implementing strategies of social active inclusion. An example from Ingram's article where one organization, Televerde, introduces employees to the organization through an intense socialization process. The process promotes values of caring for people, trust and courage to change, which resonates to those with social class origins.


Second, Ingram mentions role playing works to build organizational culture that support and integrate workers from lower social class origins. When those transitioning between classes, they can offer guidance to new employees from lower social classes and can make up the know-how deficit.


Third, leaders should be building trust where people can express themselves freely. This reminded me of a recent TEDx video from Jodi-Ann Burey where she states why you should not bring your authentic self to worth.

Near the end of the video, Burey stated:

Black people don't need to be any more authentic. I will not be bringing my immigrant, disabled authentic self to work. Those of you with the power of position and the protection of your Whiteness and other societal privileges that are not earned to take that risk instead. Close the gap between what you say and how we are treated. We are told that we are to bring our whole authentic selves to the workplace.

Many publicly expressed their support for Black Lives Matter. They posted "blackout" images or posted books on Instagram promising to educate themselves on the oppression Black and other people of colour face on a regular basis, but not truly listening to their lived experiences or doing anything about it. Many fear that speaking truth to power would appear biased against whites. Instead Ruchika Tulshyan states to invite buy-in from Blacks and people of colour and listen with humility. All-white panels at conferences or in meetings to discuss racial equity is not the answer. Listen to those with the lived experiences then demonstrate how you've taken action.

Actively working against discrimination and subordination.

We need to confront the relationship between class and race when moving towards inclusion and equity. Leaders must learn how privilege and systems of oppression - racism, ableism, classism - operate in the wider culture. Educating themselves is on step towards transformational change. The other, as Ely and Thomas mention, is for leaders to use their personal experience to spur collective learning and systemic change. But those efforts stall. This "nervousness"that Susan T Gooden mentions in her book Race and Social Equity: A Nervousness in Government is what stifles progress.

As Gooden states in her book "it is the racial equity commitment of senior leadership that shapes and defines organizational culture, provided socialization to employees across the agency, and establishes clear norms and expectations of racial equity performance and accountability" (p 190-1).

Be open to a broad range of styles

We are aware of the stereotypes. The meek Asian woman who is told to speak up. A Black man who is told to smile more. A Latina woman who speaks with passion as someone who is too loud. Leaders who create trust and break down those barriers of discrimination, embraced the broad range of styles


Diversity must move past the business case and its pluralistic definition. Getting to equity is a long process with plenty of mistakes to be made throughout. These mistakes have been happening for the past two decades. There will be challenges from the status quo. Those who are the privileged, higher class few. In the end, organizations must innovate or they die. There are clear economic, psychological and societal benefits for organizations to become more equitable. The reckoning is here and the path to equity is surmountable, but only if leaders are willing to work to bring transformational and adaptive change towards equity.

2020 Year In Review. It was one of transition.

Every year, I would write a post reviewing what transpired over the year and plans to move forward. Last year it did not happen because of a major upheaval. This year, I decided to return to the long standing tradition.

This year it is a year of transition, while remaining consistent with others. The biggest accomplishment this year was the recommencement of graduate school in September to complete the Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program in Local Government at Western University. The last time I was in school was March 2016. Tragedy stuck where I lost my mother and took a lot of out of me emotionally. Now I return with greater confidence and purpose.

My research interests have slightly changed. I initially went into the program concentrating on regional transit governance. Those who have followed my blog, or those on social media, noticed my constant defense on the subject. I have been out of the transit profession for a while and the planning profession for three years and have been more focused on strategic and equitable leadership in local government. While governance remains a subject of interest from an organizational perspective, the majority of recent blog posts concentrated on racial and social equity.

This year's international and national events surrounding addressing and eradicating racism after the deaths of innocent Black people with of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet was one factor. My post Enough is Enough from May highlighted my frustrations with systemic racism and my lived experiences navigating through White spaces in the professional world, and my own personal lived experiences from childhood to today.

Another factor was highlighted by the COVID pandemic that exacerbated the existing anti-Black racism and income gaps surrounding transit, public health and housing. Earlier this year, I contributed to an article to The Local Health Magazine where I spoke about my experience on the Jane 35, a Toronto transit bus route that traverses low-income neighbourhoods and where the hardest hit communities with COVID.

The plethora of Zoom webinars and meetings came with some positive results. One of them was meeting Carlton Eley, who provided me with some input on successfully maneuvering through the professional world focused on racial equity. I am forever grateful in him suggesting a book from Susan T Gooden titled Race and Social Equity: A Nervous Area of Government. I summarized the book in a post from the summer related to disrupting the status quo in the public sector. I will be incorporating some of her thoughts into my major research paper.

During this pandemic, I took up running as a form of physical activity in lieu of gyms being closed. As novice runner, it was more for exercise as well as visiting new neighbourhoods such as Oak Ridge and Birch Cliff in Scarborough and trails like the Finch West Hydro Corridor and the Beltline Trail.

But my social justice conscience went into high gear where I witnessed such disparities between the aforementioned Jane Street corridor and the Swansea neighbourhood as well as my experience seeing a makeshift encampment in Alexandra Park in Downtown Toronto. It was my last post on addressing the housing inequities in the City.

Finally, I started Urban Equity Consulting as a stop gap to find a way to work on contract developing solutions in strategic and technical urban planning and policy. But work has been scarce. It will be a placeholder to add racial and social equity to my practice once I complete graduate school and gain more experience in that area.

I predict the first half of 2021 will be more of the same, even with the discovery and distribution of vaccines among the general public. I will be graduating with a MPA degree in hand with a paper that hopes to carry me forward in my career, running a consistent 6:30 minute per kilometre pace, either continuing my practice with greater fervor or landing a full-time job - which the latter is preferred, and volunteering for causes with a strong racial equity focus.

I am looking forward to completing this transition in 2021 with greater purpose and success. Who's ready to come for the ride? Drop me a note in the comments or follow me on my various social media channels.

The Effect of Black Businesses, Arts and Culture on Toronto’s Economy

Economic drivers in local communities relate to the diversity of talent that exists. Diversity of talent ranges from entrepreneurs to those in arts and culture, particularly from Canada's immigrant population's contribution, as a positive influence on city-regions (Gertler, 2009, 120). What makes Canadian cities like Toronto flourish is its "distinctive cultural capital" that is felt in key sectors such as food, arts and culture (Gertler, 121). While Richard Florida distinctly refers to the Creative Class (2003) in that diversity and creativity, including artists, are basic drivers of innovation (Florida, 2003, 8). However, with that assessment of the creative class, the theory becomes problematic in that Florida realized a "new urban crisis" was on the horizon. There was a decline of middle-class neighbourhoods, gentrification and economic segregation (Florida, 2017) in major cities. There is no better example of this than one currently happening in Toronto along the Eglinton West Corridor in the City of Toronto, particularly in the Little Jamaica area. The City of Toronto's Anti-Black Racism Unit addressed the current effects on Black businesses and initiatives. The purpose is to uplift areas such as Little Jamaica to reverse the trend and bring back economic prosperity.

With this article, I will highlight the significance of the Little Jamaica area and its prominence of the diversity of Toronto and its decline because of past policies that neglected such areas. From there, I will use Gertler's explanatory power when it comes to the immigrant contributions on cities. I will then explain how Florida's creative class and new urban crisis harbours on a social dilemma regarding race and class.

Diversity is its Strength
Economic success rests on an increasingly global and connected world that bring out the social qualities of cities and city-regions (Wolfe and Gertler, 2016, 7). The success is based on the quality of place and community characteristics that promote strong cohesion (Wolfe and Gertler, 7). Securing talent is influenced by local levels of liberality to diversity and is brought by inclusivity and belongingness towards immigration.

Diversity rests in the openness towards immigration. Immigration changed both mature inner suburbs' social character, such as Eglinton West and Rexdale and suburbs like the ethnic enclaves found in Brampton and Markham. Immigration has a strong positive economic influence in two ways. First, skilled workers and entrepreneurs are a significant source of new human capital or talent. Second, immigration flows enrich cultural economies through creativity and dynamism located in various sectors, including food production and the arts (Gertler, 2001, 120).

Placemaking is based on the premise that cities make investments into the public realm to become more inclusive, welcoming and dynamic cities where people want to live, work and play. Creating those equitable and inclusive spaces though becomes a challenging endeavour. For cities to compete based on quality of place, quality of life, and innovation, social polarization and spatial segregation must be prevented by accommodating diversity and cultural pluralism (Wolfe and Gertler, 7).

Where there is diversity within cities, there are a flow of ideas through innovation and culture. While Wolfe and Gertler refer to innovation through collaboration and the relationships with post-secondary institutions and research centres (Wolfe and Gertler, 123), there is subject of cultural dynamism that I referred to earlier. The success of entrepreneurs of cultural products rests on a common attribute of their "originality, distinctiveness, creativity and imagination" (Wolfe and Gertler, 124).

The observations from Gertler and Wolfe on the role immigrants have played on Canadian cities continues today. Urban theorists such as Richard Florida have similar viewpoints, especially on the creativity factor of immigrants on the economic success of cities. In the next section, I will discuss Richard Florida's theory of the creative class and how he believes they shape cities.

The Creative Class
Richard Florida's thesis on the creative class (2003) asserted cities that were prosperous were doing so because of the success of those in the creative economy. These are the talented and educated professionals who worked in knowledge-based industries like business and finance, technology, healthcare and medicine, law, and education. In a 2005 paper, Florida stated what makes "an enduring difference in a city's quality of life are small low cost, community-initiated, and bottom-up improvements like parks, bike paths, neighbourhood improvements, and so on" (Florida, 2005, 202). Consequently, they would find themselves more substantial and more prosperous than other municipalities because the impact would trickle down to all sectors of the urban economy.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated, to which Florida quoted, "the most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity, and offer a bunch of cultural opportunities" (Florida, 202). Consistent within Florida's work is that while his definition of cultural diversity refers to the Gay and Bohemian indices (Florida, 12-13), there was no mention of the role ethnic diversity plays in his creative class theory. Florida's theory then becomes problematic in the context of Toronto's immigrant population, including Afro-Caribbeans, to which even Wolfe and Gertler (2016) were in disagreement. I will speak about this later in the paper.

The Rise and Displacement of the Little Jamaica Cultural District
Africans have made a significant contribution to Toronto's economy contributing their talents its cultural mosaic. Yet the Toronto CMA has the highest proportion of immigrants of any major centre in North America. Immigration is a strong positive economic influence on city-regions. They have played prominent roles in skilled labour and as entrepreneurs, as seen in Little Jamaica. While cultural diversity is meant to drive economic opportunity among immigrants and the creative class, the benefits have not trickled down to Toronto's Black population. Blacks comprise of 9% of Toronto's population according to the 2016 Census, yet have an unemployment rate of 13% (Vincent, 2018). In addition, Black residents are often concentrated in precarious part-time work that is inadequate to meet their basic needs and fails to leverage their talents (City of Toronto, 2017, 29).

Currently, the heart of the Black business has been centred around Little Jamaica. Little Jamaica is a commercial business district located in the former City of York on Eglinton Avenue West and between Marlee and Oakwood Avenues. While this strip is the heart of Little Jamaica, Black business extends south on Oakwood Avenue and further west on Eglinton to Keele Street. The neighbourhood has been the distinct cultural hub for Afro-Caribbeans for nearly 50 years. Immigration policies had favoured White immigrants up until the 1960s. There was a rise of new immigrants from Caribbean countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. Early enclaves gathered around Bathurst and Bloor. With opportunities rising in Toronto's inner suburbs, the Black community dispersed throughout the City like in Lawrence Heights, Jane and Finch and Rexdale, and Eglinton West (Black Urbanism TO et al, 11-12 2020).

At the height of Little Jamaica's prominence in the 1970s, it became a destination for a variety of activities related to food, arts, culture. This is where patrons and residents from outside the neighbourhood would purchase specific products and clothes when traditional stores would not cater to Caribbean culture's diverse needs. The barbershop and salons are well-known spots for the Black community where residents from all over Toronto gather. Besides, there are celebrations such as the Junior Caribana parade, otherwise known as Kiddie Carnival, and the celebrations of Trinidad and Jamaica's participation in FIFA World Cups in 1998 and 2006, respectively.

The community has been faced with business displacement and rapid gentrification. With the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail construction, scheduled to open in 2022, and political inaction by way of a lack of government support, many small businesses along the corridor have been forced to shut down (BUTO, 15). This displacement has been caused by lax city planning policies that "cater to the interests and tastes that align with a larger neo-liberal plan…that has been a culmination of a deliberate set of actions and inactions" (BUTO, 27).

Systemic racism and Anti-Black bias are prevalent in housing, transportation, health and economic development which "trickle down" to the community level which marginalizes Torontonians of African descent. This has resulted in a lack of economic opportunities, poor health, precarious employment, and service delivery discrepancies. To take steps to reverse these discrepancies and provide a level playing field for Black Torontonians, the Action Plan for Confronting Anti-Black Racism is a leadership initiative to operationalize equity. The next section will outline specific initiatives in the Action Plan related to economic development.

Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism
In 2017, the City of Toronto introduced the Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black racism. A 5-year plan focused on corrective action to address historically embedded municipal services, programs, and policies. The Action Plan includes recommendations in 22 recommendations and 80 actions. There are 5 key areas focused on operationalizing racial equity, including child and youth development; health and community services; job opportunities and income supports; policing and the justice system; and community engagement and Black leadership. For the purpose of this paper, I will focus on the recommendations in supporting Black-owned businesses (Recommendation 15) and investing in Black arts and culture (Recommendation 21).

Several actions within The Plan were proposed. These actions involved targeting Black-owned business and social enterprises, supporting startups and incubations and business supports for women, Francophones and those who were previously incarcerated (Toronto, 32). Furthermore, concerning community engagement and investing Black culture, the actions recommended included reporting on the economic impacts from community festivals, engaging the community in increasing the sustainability of festivals, and outreach to African descent regarding City grant processes (Toronto, 38).

The City has been willing to listen to Blacks across Toronto. Through the Mayor's Roundtable, facilitated by the City's Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit and the Economic Development Division, some action has been taken. For example, the Unit's priorities for 2021 include:
• Enhancing supports to the Black arts and culture through increased investments in festivals that preserve and promote Black Heritage; and,
• Supporting Black-owned Businesses to better recover from COVID-19 to compete and thrive as part of City Programs such as Digital Main Street (City of Toronto, 2020a).
In the summer of 2020, the City of Toronto announced a commitment to over $1 million in investing in the arts and the business sector to address the systemic economic, social, and cultural exclusion facing Black communities (City of Toronto, 2020b). Some of the announcement included:
• Supporting Black heritage organizations
• Re-opening the Toronto History Museums with a focus on philosophy of anti-oppressive practice, advocacy and storytelling to connect the public to art, creativity and innovation to work with Black communities and creatives in reshaping culture and build room for self-reflection and accountability.
• Ensuring that City funding for arts, heritage and cultural organizations is prioritized for organizations that reflect the diversity of this city in their leadership and operations, supports smaller and often newer organizations to increase their reach and impact, and addresses social and economic exclusion.
• Developing a five-year community economic development plan for Black communities while continuing to support established initiatives such as those in Weston Mount Dennis, Golden Mile, Little Jamaica and East Downtown (2020b).

Bringing it All Together
Wolfe and Gertler, and Florida have similar thoughts regarding the importance of knowledge and creativity and where human capital shapes economic activity geography (Wolfe and Gertler, 16; Florida, 6). Economics is tied to human capital, where immigration is a crucial source. Immigrant talent is a key source for creativity. Florida concurs that immigration is a significant factor to regional growth. However, he asserts that the effects of openness on immigration are mixed. There is a strong association with high tech sectors, but not with innovation (Florida, 12). He believes that gays and bohemians are key indices when it relates to the creative class.

Where Florida and Gertler (and Wolfe) differ is on the assessment of the creative class. The creative class theory is elitist in nature. Some of have questioned the "claim that particular qualities of place such as coolness, openness and social diversity exert a causal influence on the flows of talent on city-regions" (Wolfe and Gertler, 17). There also has been growing criticism to his theory in that it is based on a "greater bifurcation in the distribution of jobs within the occupational structure of urban centres and the income flows that flows from that bifurcation (ibid, 17). As a result, there has been growing income inequality and economic segregation in cities.

Florida recognized that his theory was problematic and addressed those flaws in his book "The New Urban Crisis". He recognizes an increasing inequality and segregation in the formerly stable middle-income neighbourhoods, (Florida, 2017, 9), similar to what has occurred in Black suburban neighbourhoods like Little Jamaica. Wealth has only dominated in individual pockets of Toronto. They have the resources to gain access to the more desirable neighbourhoods leaving those middle-class neighbourhoods behind. In the end, businesses like Rap's, the beauty shop or music store either struggles to survive or is gone.

Wolfe and Gertler mention the dynamism and growth of the creative industries and production of cultural products are vital to the Toronto economy. Black immigrants' contribution from the establishment of the Little Jamaica neighbourhood, and by extension several kilometres along Eglinton West corridor, has been vital.

Systemic discrimination and anti-Black bias exacerbated through planning policies such as gentrification and the Eglinton Connects study which neglected to mention the historical importance of the Little Jamaica neighbourhood. Multi-level government inaction such as economic assistance to help Black businesses thrive during the Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction. Also, while Florida recognized that there were flaws in the creative class theory in the New Urban Crisis, the effects of income inequality and economic segregation reverberate throughout the community. Yet, Florida still ascribes to and refuses to detract from his theory. Immigrants play a minor role in contributing to the city's economic vitality. His generalization of immigrants and lax policies from an economist standpoint is considered as an anti-Black bias.

Black Urbanism TO's hard work and efforts TO, with the support of Toronto's Anti-Black Racism Unit and several councillors, shone the light on the hurtful discriminatory policies that have besmirched the Black community for decades. With the recent announcements of grant funding from the Federal and municipal governments, it ensures that there is corrective action is made and that Black entrepreneurs and the Black arts and culture are uplifted to allow for the Eglinton West corridor and for Little Jamaica to thrive and preserve its history for years to come.

In conclusion, Wolfe and Gertler's theory was inclusive. They solely recognized the contributions immigrants made on the Canadian economy – Black immigrants included. Richard Florida's creative class theory is problematic. It does not recognize the contributions of Blacks on the economy of the city-region. Black leaders' efforts should be recognized and incorporated by public administrators and academia alike as a template on how an inclusive economy is vital for society.

Black Urbanism TO, Soca and Open Architecture Collaborative Canada. (2020). Report: A Black Business Conversation on Planning and the Future of Black Business and Residents on Eglinton Avenue West. Retrieved on February 20, 2021.
City of Toronto Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit (2021). 2021 Work Plan Priorities – Year Three (January to December 2021). Retrieved on February 21, 2021.
City of Toronto (July 24, 2020). City of Toronto commits more than $1.2 million in cultural and economic investments to confront anti-Black racism. Retrieved on February 20, 2021.
City of Toronto (2017). Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism. Retrieved on November 15, 2020.
Florida, Richard (2017). Canada's New Urban Crisis. Martin Prosperity Institute. Retrieved on February 22, 2021.
Florida, Richard (2003). Cities and the Creative Class. City and Community 2(1) 3-9.
Gertler, Meric (2001). Flows of People, Capital and Ideas. Isuma. Autumn 2001. 119-130.
Vincent, Donovan (November 8, 2018). Census map shows Black people live in 'segregated' Toronto, professor says. Retrieved on February 21, 2021.
Gertler, M. S., Wolfe, D. A., & Tremblay, D. (2016). Growing Urban Economies: Innovation, creativity, and governance in Canadian city-regions. In Growing urban economies: Innovation, creativity, and governance in Canadian city-regions. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Organizational change must include equity and inclusion

I am nearing the end of completing graduate courses in the Masters of Public Administration in Local Government at Western University.  I began the program in 2015 having taken a sabbatical in 2016 due to personal circumstances only to return in 2020. Although I have saved some money from not travelling back and forth to London, learning in an online environment has been highly challenging.  Certainly, several of the other students in my cohort have felt the same.

Image courtesy of IPAC

At the same time, it has allowed me to focus on professional development racial equity and organizational change management and leadership. The latter has been a passing interest of mine for well over a decade. Now it has become a passion. My purpose is still to lead change with a racial equity lens.  Over the last few months, while being immersed in 5 courses, I attended several webinars related to racial equity and organizational change: the Institute of Public Administration (IPAC) Leadership Summit and American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) Annual Conference.

The effervescent Daniele Zanotti, the CEO of United Way of Greater Toronto, moderated one of the panels at the IPAC Leadership that related to putting an effective EDI Strategy into action.  The panel consisted of Nosa Era-Brown, Dr. Malinda Smith and Nouman Ashraf.

A two-word phrase from Nouman Ashraf resonated with me: culture collaboration.  Cultural fit or adds, have been problematic as they are known to expose conscious or unconscious biases. Some organizations, as part of their inclusion efforts are recognizing the need for collaboration.  There is proof that inclusiveness at an organization enhances performance and employee career longevity. Many organizations rely on multidisciplinary teams comprised of a collective of women and men, those from racialized communities, and are intergenerational.  Organizations should be moving away from partnerships to influencing and shaping cultural collaboration.  Organizations should be paying close attention to their values and behaviours and backup up their commitment to improving their workplace culture by allowing for authenticity.  Leaders should showcase their organizational effectiveness.

The theme of the ASPA conference was Picking Up the Pieces: Protests, Pandemics and the Future of Public Service. 

Image courtesy of ASPA

The streams that interested me, naturally, were related to equity, inclusion and organizational change.  While this an academic conference, several presentations were relatable.  The presentations that interested me centred around the following:

  • Equity in budgeting
  • Representative bureaucracy and organizational performance
  • Employee outcomes of working remotely
  • Structural inequity in the public sector
  • Cross-sector collaboration
  • Diversity and inclusion in city management

 Some takeaways from these sessions were that:

  • The politics-administration dichotomy must be rethought.  There is a disconnect from public value and the politics, especially where inclusion and equity are concerned
  • Reframe budget submissions to include equity.  A perfect example is in policing.  Rather than the full-out “defund the police” narrative, look at each item in the police budget to determine where the most money is spent. Then determine if that money can be spent in other areas such as community and social services.
  • As with my earlier point, organizational performance thrives when equity and inclusion are part of the equation.  It is not about “fit” anymore.
  • Equity initiatives must reach up, down and outside of the organization.  Community engagement is just as crucial as having CAOs/City Managers understand and trained on the importance of equity, inclusion and justice within the various government agencies.

Overall, organizational change that includes equity and inclusion is a long-term process.  It requires the commitment of political and administrative leaders to see this through.  Justice does not end until the nervousness of public managers ceases and when communities can thrive equitably. 

Addressing Housing Inequities by Leading with Courage

Several weeks ago while running north on Bathurst Street, I noticed a homeless encampment at Alexandra Park which is located south of Dundas Street and within proximity of Toronto Western Hospital.  While I am familiar several of these camps already existent including under the Gardiner Expressway, in the Rosedale Valley and at Moss Park, this one was new and is symptomatic of a larger problem in housing in the region.

The evidence is quite clear. The lack of equitable and affordable housing options has been exacerbated by the COVID. With job losses, tenants have been falling behind in paying rents and where some evictions have occurred.

Then there is the continued narrative of leaving large metropolises for the suburbs.  This narrative first played out in a New York Times article from May 17th Where New Yorkers Moved to Escape Coronavirus.  Highlights from this article included:

  • Wealthiest areas witnessed the most movement to Long Island, New Jersey and upstate New York.
  • Black and LatinX neighbourhoods, where most essential workers reside, had far fewer mail forwarding requests.

Roman Suarez said it best: "Whenever New Yorkers go through stuff, the best thing to do is just be there".

So when listened a recent podcast episode of Hello Monday where Jessi Hempel interviewed three people from diverse backgrounds who left their cities for the suburbs, it gave me pause from an equity perspective.

There has been an exodus to the suburbs from Canadian cities, but not widely reported as much as it has been in the US. COVID was the "push" it some families needed, supposedly.

Northwest Toronto being hit hard the most by COVID with Blacks, who are predominantly employed in low paying service sector and health care jobs, and who live in social housing. These health, income and housing disparities have only been exacerbated greater.

While current issues of homelessness and racial and social disparities are occurring, action has been taken in the meantime.

While the National Housing Strategy is two years in, building affordable purpose built rental is playing catch up.  Housing TO Action Plan is playing catch up with its 10 year strategy, but it takes funding from all levels of government and support from the private and non-profit sectors.  While there has been recent initiatives in building affordable housing such ones in London and Hamilton by Indwell, a workforce housing in Toronto , and the recent announcement by the Federal Government with the National Co-Housing Investment Fund, there is a still a long way to go.

The Ontario Government recently passed two legislations that affect housing in the province but not without some backlash.

First is Bill 184 - Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act which took into effect on August 1. 

  • claims it will better protect people facing eviction during the pandemic by increasing fines for unlawful eviction and will push landlords to establish repayment agreements with tenants before considering evictions. 
  • During my time in the co-op sector, several times I negotiated repayment agreements if tenants fell into arrears, so this is not something new, but could be for private landlords.   Of course I was blind to the equity implications of these types of agreements.
  • Those affected by these agreements could be tenants where English isn't their first language, those with cognitive, learning and physical disabilities, etc.
  • Signing a repayment agreement and if breached without going to Landlord and Tenant Board tribunal, could fast track evictions.

The Province also passed Bill 108 More Homes, More Choice Act which made sweeping planning and environmental changes to address the housing crisis, but without deserved opprobrium from municipalities.

Cities with affordable housing have economic benefits. They are resilient and will evolve, as this Kinder report stated from earlier this year. Not without becoming cognizant that racial equity, health and housing are interconnected.  Municipal leaders across the country must lead with courage to address these issues.  They must spearhead initiatives to avert and eradicate homelessness such as building modular supportive housing units,  and using hotels as shelters, regulate short term rentals further during this housing crisis  (AirBNB's founder even admitted they made mistakes and they need to rethink their impact on cities).

There must be continued dialogue by building partnerships with other sectors and delivering policies that are resilient, environmentally friendly, economically strong while ensuring housing aligns with human rights by way of addressing health, racial and social equity. 

Disrupting the Status Quo: Breaking Nervousness in the Public Sector

As an ambitious and high-performing professional, "wait your turn", "keep your head down and do your work" were the normative phrases. I sometimes had to "code switch" just to fit in.

My vociferous nature and ambitions, I believe, have prevented me from progressing and succeeding in my career. Seeing how my black peers have had difficult experiences navigating the "system", I have set out on my own journey to figure out why. I just may have the answer.

This coronavirus pandemic and increased racial tensions have brought to the light the racial, social and economic gaps that have been discussed, but never taken seriously. The longstanding inequities include health disparities, lack of high quality education and violence. The highest amount of COVID deaths are from people of colour in cities. As Helene Gayle, the CEO of Chicago Community Trust stated in a recent webinar, "if the general population catches a cold, communities of colour catch pneumonia".

Navigating the public sector for the majority of my career has been challenging. From academic interests in regional governance and affordable housing to spatial mismatch and reverse commuting in transit, my career has spanned years in multiple jurisdictions in planning and policy but never really focused on my true love of applying social equity to those areas. There has been a nervousness that has led to policy inaction and/or status quo decision making that must end. I set out to make the case for a disruption.

Disrupt or Interrupt?

In the public sector space, where change is rather slow and methodical, I am in agreement with Dr. Amante-Jackson in that there needs to be a disruption. The housing and transit industries have already seen it with AirBnb (although pretty much dead in the water now), and with micromobility. With health and social inequities being exacerbated due to the Coronavirus pandemic, a disruption is literally inevitable.

Should policy makers and public sector managers disrupt inequity or should they want to interrupt it? That was the question Dr. Damisa Amante-Jackson posed in a recent Hello Monday podcast.

Interrupting, as Dr. Amante-Jackson states, is about advocacy to consider policies and practices, naming things, but not necessarily going to shift the policies to create and industry standard and to hold people accountable. For disruption to be successful, the required mindset change is for people to be successful in giving feedback and being able to have those difficult conversations. It is naming the elephants in the room. Disruption is an end to inequity.

Nervousness in Government

In order to disrupt the public sector, the elephant in the room is nervousness that Susan T. Gooden spoke of in her book Race and Social Equity, A Nervous Area of Government. From those aforementioned policies and procedures to delivering on diversity and inclusion by not just "checking the boxes", public servants and managers, need to have those deep uncomfortable conversations. This does not mean being reactionary but by doing the deep work, asking the questions and acting on it.

Gooden explained this nervousness in government as it pertains to the conceptualization of racial and social equity is grounded in the application of organizational justice. The issues involving organizational justice involve some person or group benefitting or harmed in a manner that is unfair.

My experiences from a human resources context have concentrated on equality, not equity. Such as recruitment, onboarding, compensation, and attrition. Gooden suggests that understanding the nervousness of government involves an approach that is more systemic instead of that of organizational justice. It prioritizes lived experiences of the public it serves, which is a theme I've mentioned in my previous blog posts time and again. She referred to this as public justice and is defined as the larger organizational value where social equity resides. Where public justice is value oriented, social equity is more concerned with the delivery of public services.

Throughout Gooden's book, she provides examples related to the American experience of structural and institutional racism to the nervousness in government, our Canadian experiences, although more muted, are just as relatable.

Conquering Nervousness in Government

Gooden sets out by listing ten principles in conquering nervousness in government. They are:

  1. Public Administrators have a responsibility to operate in the nervousness of government.
    Examining issues of racial equity, which is one such area in the nervousness of government, public service delivery is fundamental in understanding how public sector institutions systematically provides services in structural ways that influence important outcomes.
  2. The legal history of racial discrimination is an important context that cannot be minimized, but rather offers instructive guidance.
    Zoning regulations and planning policies that are general in nature are perfect examples where practices that may appear race neutral would have important implications.
  3. Initial motivators to begin navigation of nervousness typically include some combination of political, moral, legal, and/or economic triggers.
    Gordon referred to the Seattle Race and Social Justice Network which was politically motivated. I touched upon the need to include social equity within transit service standards which included a mention of King County Metro in a earlier blog post. Legal areas include laws, regulation and court decisions. Economic triggers that would advance racial equity could include cost-benefit analyses or improved organizational dimensions that Dr. Amante-Jackson referred to in disrupting the status quo or. With recent societal shifts triggered by both the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter, they will definitely wield pressure on organizational structures.
  4. Senior leadership is a critical important factor in realized sustained progress.
    This reminded me of the book Leaders in the Shadows, a book by David Siegel about the diverse leadership styles of several Canadian city managers and Chief Administrative Officers. While the leaders in the book deserve credit, they weren't innovative. They were emblematic of the systems they led, each had opportunities to promote racial and social equity within their municipal organizations. The model of a new leader should be at the forefront of significant organizational change, define its culture, and "establishes clear norms and expectations of racial equity performance and accountability".
  5. At the individual level, public servants  must recognize and eliminate behaviours that impede racial equity progress.
    As Gordon notes, the individual baseline level of nervousness should provide an indicator of how likely or unlikely a public administrator is to independently promote racial equity in the provision of government services at work. Currently the Institute of Public Administration of Canada's Principal of Values nor the Canadian Institute of Planners Code of Professional Conduct do not mention anything to the lines of racial and social equity, which cover public and private sector services. The American Society of Public Administration includes a statement in their Code of Ethics on social equity.
    4. Strengthen social equity. Treat all persons with fairness, justice, and equality and respect individual differences, rights, and freedoms. Promote affirmative action and other initiatives to reduce unfairness, injustice, and inequality in society.
    Racial equity progress should not only be from overarching professional bodies, but also the municipalities they represent. Also, there should be strategies in place to place increased emphasis on the role that social identities play in the delivering and administration of public services.
  6. At the organizational level, government agencies should evaluate their socialization boundaries and extend them to accommodate a wider range of racial equity work.
    Employees should have the freedom to venture into the "nervous" area whereby there are cultural redefinition of acceptable boundaries that can easily accommodate racial equity work through a reduction of fear.
  7. There are no perfect solutions; however, solutions that embody a race-conscious approach most directly facilitate structural equity solutions.
    The engagement of solutions designed to facilitate racial equity must directly confront the issue of race. As John Powell mentioned in his 2012 book, and quoted in Gordon's book, "In our effort to get beyond race, we have paid too little attention to how it is constructed and to the work of the structures of the unconscious do in creating racial conditions and meaning. Race is not just an idea that we can choose to engage or not". In essence, policy inaction that does not include racial equity is unacceptable.
  8. Racial equity needs to operate in a context of accountability. Performance goals should be linked to the organization's mission statement, values, organizational structure, and its strategic planning. Government agencies should be invested in analyzing racial-equity dimension, which should include procedural fairness, access, quality and outcomes.
  9. If legal barriers to racial discrimination have been largely eliminated, agency leadership, policies, practices, and innovations form the foundation of essential front line racial equity work.
    There must be an examination of the structural inequities with municipal agencies and concerted efforts to achieve racial equity.
  10. Significant racial equity progress in government can be achieved.
    Through the important work of administrators, it can be a less nervous and more equitable one.

One such example was a post on "Budgeting for Equitable Outcomes" from earlier this week Adam Slade from Chicago's Metropolitan Planning Council.

Adam Slade, Metropolitan Planning Council

Slade mentions that significant outcomes must occur to ensure equity is addressed within the budget.

  • Inclusive community engagement
  • Forecasting expected revenues from all levels of government that ensures intergenerational equity
  • Allocated revenues to priorities
  • Development of performance measures.

I would like to thank Carlton Eley who suggested that I read this book. It will be the backbone for my ongoing research during the remainder of the MPA Local Government program. It will focus on race and social equity as it relates to housing, community development and governance.

Enough is Enough


Enough with the systemic racism. Enough for the violence against blacks and other people of colour, regardless of gender and ability. Enough with the constructs that tell us to "wait our turn". Enough with the fact that we have to "code switch" to conform to others' insecurities just to get ahead. Enough with the "angry black woman" prejudices when they have to speak their mind. It is enough it took a pandemic for socio-demographic data to be collected, albeit in select jurisdictions, to determine how people of colour will have been disproportionately affected. I'm tired of it all!

My post has been nearly a week in the making. The events of recent days from Amy Cooper's antics in Central Park in Manhattan, to the MURDER of George Floyd in Minneapolis to the continuing protests prompted me to write this blog post. Ottawa resident Kevin Bourne and Toronto Star reporter Shree Paradkar provided me with the push to write this post today.

While my post will be flanked by those with greater penmanship than myself who have written in the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Globe and Mail, and the Los Angeles Times, to name a few, I could not stay silent on this issue any longer.

Originally, I hastily wrote a Facebook post with random observations - although biased with my own confirmations - on the Jane 35 bus after from my run along a closed Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto.

Passengers on the Jane bus, who were predominantly people of colour like me, were insecurely negotiating their right to space and comfort. Many came from or going to work or grocery shopping. Some had their faces covered while others did not. Even with my earbuds on, it was difficult not to overhear tensions rising. There was constant paranoia between passenger who thought they were too close. There was some choice words even directed at the bus driver. At times, I thought a fight would break out. 

To put this in context, the Jane Street corridor between Bloor and Dundas Streets going northbound starts with the tony Baby Point neighbourhood. North of the railroad tracks lies several kilometres of low to middle income neighbourhoods - Woolner, Mount Dennis, Tretheway, Chalkfarm and Jane and Finch. These neighbourhoods are lined with strip plazas full of local businesses that are struggling to survive, cheque-cashing stores and liquor stores. These, along with public housing and aging infrastructure, are the forgotten densities that Jay Pitter speaks of when she discussed confronting distance between desire and disparity.

Democratization of public space is only part of the issue. I spoke about this in last summer's Spacing post on perceived accessibility based on my lived experiences. Other occurrences over the years included:

  • Being called a "Paki" because of my brown skin.
  • Having personally experienced theft from another black male.
  • Being treated differently by a De La Salle High School vice-principal when I and a white student both skipped school.
  • Hiding my Trinidadian culture from women I dated because their families couldn't accept me for who I am.

It is the institutions and their constructs that have brought us to this point. I raised the issue of a lack of racial equity in planning circles well over a year and a half ago. For this reason, it partially prompted me not to renew my Canadian planning designation.

Reading the vitriolic responses from insecure whites to Shree Pardkar's Toronto Star article in response to the social distancing shitshow at Trinity Bellwoods Park from last weekend was shameful and disgusting.

Anti-black racism still exists. Housing discrimination exists. Spatial mismatch and lack of coordination by Greater Toronto Area transit agencies, which is a topic I raised 16 years ago, continues to exist. The lack of attention towards addressing racial and social inequities in transit service continues to exist. Pay gaps, lack of promotions in the civil service, and lack of diversity on non-profit boards continue to exist. It is the brutal unchecked police violence against black men and women that continues to exist. With all of these situations, there becomes the instilled fear, paranoia, impatience and unrest on both sides of the border. We cannot stand by and watch moment like these pass us by with inaction.

Audrey Smith. Andrew Loku. George Floyd. Tamir Rice. Rodney King. Amadou Diallo. Say their names!

I will end with the final paragraph in Kevin Bourne's post:

For those who consider themselves allies, allyship means not only saying something on social media; it means saying something at the office, at church or in the community. Real change won’t come until allyship goes beyond social media and permeates our neighbourhoods, workplaces, and businesses. Until then it’s business as usual.


We can’t rely on the gas tax anymore

Ok I wasn't the only one that said it. Overnight, global markets tanked in reaction to falling gas prices, which affected the North American exchanges and prompted a briefly halt to trading moments after the markets opened this morning.

It is now time to revisit this need to rely on oil.

In 2009, as a green planner, I read Jeff Rubin's book Why Your World is About to Get Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization. In 2012, he wrote a second book, The End of Growth. While it has been a while since I read both books, his wild predictions were interesting. He wrote them during a time when global gas prices were astronomical.

People will not just abandon their cars en masse, but they will use them less and less. If I have to drive to work, I might not be able to afford to use my car anywhere else when the cost of filling the tank is going to run north of $100. And for some 10 million Americans or so, the cost of driving will rise so high that they really will have to get off the road. As people start to park their cars for longer and longer periods, they will increasingly want to get on the subway or LRT. And when they do, the legacy of North America’s past transportation choices will come back to haunt the continent.

Excerpt from Why Your World is About to Get Smaller

The opposite has happened!

Senior governments saw an opportunity to close the gap on already decreasing transit funding by introducing gas taxes. The Canadian and American governments pegged the dollar to the price of oil. Now that peak oil has come and gone, it is time to rethink how public transit is funded.

Over the course of the last year, there have been several shocks to the oil markets - 2 times in a month alone gas prices have been below $1 a litre. Psychologically, drivers will naturally line up at gas stations to take advantage of these low prices. Many will abandon transit in the short term. But change must occur.

Road pricing, when proposed, has literally been deemed political suicide. While for over a decade, London has had cordon pricing in their downtown core. New York City has proposed one for Manhattan, but now New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that the Trump government is holding it back based on technicalities with FHA funding.

The Federal Highway Administration can derail congestion pricing because federal law prohibits the installation of tolls on roads built with federal money — and some of the streets inside the toll cordon, Manhattan south of 61st Street, minus the FDR Drive or West Side Highway, are part of the National Highway System.

Streetsblog February 11, 2020

Late last year, the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario published a report "Ontario's Downward Trend for Fuel Tax Revenue: Will Road Pricing Fill The Gap?" In the report, the points emanated from their analysis:

  1. The growth of fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles will rise.
  2. Behavioural and technological shifts will result in decreasing gas tax revenues even though congestion will remain constant.
  3. The Province should implement dynamic pricing and parking levies, especially in larger municipalities.

In 2015, the Canadian Urban Transit Association put out an Alternative Funding Report, but did not insofar, make any recommendations on the best way to fund transit.

It's not the first time these were proposed. Metrolinx, in 2013, released its investment strategy, years after their first Regional Transportation Plan - The Big Move. There were public consultations throughout the region to garner support for their proposal. Seeing waning support especially in the GTA suburbs, the Liberals kiboshed the plan and the results of the public consultation were scrapped from their website.

In 2018, when Toronto mayor John Tory proposed tolling the Gardiner Expressway to fund transit, GTA politicians cried wolf. The Provincial Liberals panicked and nixed the idea. They lost the election.

Just like this Streetsblog article proposes, it is time for Canadian transit agencies a wage an aggressive campaign and take advantage of the falling gas prices. This has to include, parking levies and congestion pricing as the RCCAO proposes. Also it is time for a carefully administered and equitable regional sales tax, like in California's cities, to fund major transit projects, purchase more buses and to fund operations.

While Jeff Rubin was partially right with his predictions, we both told you so.

The State of Transit Leadership: The Need to Address Social Equity

In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.

Albert Einstein

Shout out to an old colleague Mikel Oglesby who previous was Sunline Transit's CEO and where I attended my one and only State of Transit address several years ago.

As a kid who resided in Lawrence Heights in social housing and in a co-op , transit was a8 way of life. My parents never owned a car. Nevertheless, I was enamoured by the whole experience. The bus drivers on the Ranee 109 or Lawrence 52 were my friends, even though I never knew their names.

I looked forward to every TTC map release and would ask the collector manning the booth for a copy. Sometimes multiple times if there weren't any copies. I always viewed the TTC as an organization I wanted to work for.

I never viewed public transit as a status symbol and always played down the terms choice rider or captive rider.

Transit, to me was about a career with ties to community building and social equity. So when I saw TTC's recent campaign wrapped in messaging, it was the wrong tone to send to their customers.

Image via Sean Marshall

John Lorinc's Spacing article "Just Who is the Face of the TTC These Days?" highlighted the leadership vacuum that exists. There is clearly a stark difference between Andy Byford, who recently resigned as New York City's Transit President after a two-year stint, and the current TTC CEO Rick Leary. Case in point, as Lorinc mentions, Leary was incognito after the second subway derailment this year. In addition, .

Transit providers should treat all individuals with dignity and respect, one of the key points noted in a 2018 APTA leadership presentation on social responsibility. There is also strategic and technical leadership. For example, while transit service standards have evolved over time, including King County where they include social equity measures, Canadian transit agencies do not incorporate them service standards.

It was a mere 3 years ago that the TTC was awarded the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) Outstanding Public Transportation System. Oh have times changed.

The state of transit leadership thus far in 2020 is bleak at best. Andy Byford was a prime example of one who went out of his way to be publicly present and defend transit during some their trying times. The City and region is devoid of leadership and willingness to take risks.

It can only get better from here.