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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.