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March 30, 2017 at 10:00 AM

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SCARP’s Audacity symposium celebrates bold ideas in planning

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PlaytheBox, an interactive game fostering empathy and community collaboration

By Devon Harlos, master’s candidate, SCARP

On March 3, the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) held its ninth annual symposium. Attracting students, academics, politicians and professionals across a variety of disciplines, this yearly tradition provides an opportunity to discuss the planning issues faced in our region and beyond.

A culmination of five months of preparation by first-year master of community and regional planning (MCRP) students, this year’s event focused on the theme of “audacity,” aiming to challenge the status quo and encourage bold ideas that have the potential to shape future planning initiatives.

Sounding the keynotes

The morning’s keynote featured Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Earth Charter commissioner and a board member of the David Suzuki Foundation. She’s currently pursuing her Ph.D. at UBC with the goal of using language research to help revitalize the Haida language. Her speech focused on three fundamental requirements for planners wishing to create systems change:

  • an energy revolution
  • diversity
  • reconciliation

Cullis-Suzuki argued that in the (proposed) Anthropocene age, we must “start being who we say we are,” which means fighting for climate justice and converting to renewable forms of energy. She followed by stressing that “diversity is how we’ll survive”: diversity of biology, culture, people and ideas. Just as important is reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Cullis-Suzuki emphasized that reconciliation is not only about people but about land also, and she called upon participants to recognize that even attending UBC is a deeply political act and part of an ongoing colonization. Most importantly, she asserted, we must work toward reconciliation by building relationships. We cannot do this through one-off conversations but instead need to “keep showing up” and move through difficult dialogue.

Mingling at the ninth annual symposium at SCARP

Mingling at the ninth annual symposium at SCARP

The event’s second keynote was delivered by Kaye Krishna, general manager of development, buildings and licensing at the City of Vancouver. Relatively new to Vancouver, Krishna spoke of some of her key accomplishments from her previous work at New York City’s housing department. Her passion for working in government was clear, as she stated that despite popular belief to the contrary, “governments can be audacious.” She used New York’s microunit housing developments* as examples of bold and innovative solutions by government to affordability issues. She stated that a change from antiquated application processes to more human-centred service can allow more eligible applicants to get access to affordable housing. Her speech provoked discussion about the potential for similar solutions here in Vancouver. 

Panel play

The day was interspersed with panel sessions on various topics including one called “This is not an open house,” which invited experts to share innovative approaches to public engagement. One of the most memorable involved a placemaking game called PlaytheBlox, presented by Mitra Mansour from Vancouver Design Nerds.

In this game, players adopt the identities of fictional people living in the designated neighbourhood, which is printed on a large map in the centre of the table. With their new personae, participants identify places they value in the neighbourhood and make suggestions for placemaking interventions using the colourful stickers, symbols and markers provided. The goal is to foster empathy and encourage communication among community members. Accessible to all ages, PlaytheBlox provides a fun, interactive way to get people thinking about the potential of public space around them. The result: an animated map representing the different interests that make up the community.

SCARP students and faculty are already looking forward to the symposium’s 10th anniversary next year. In the meantime, those interested are invited to attend the school’s year-end Planning Studio event on March 31. Master’s students will present their work on planning projects conducted under the guidance of municipal, community and institutional partners.

*More information on New York’s microunit housing is available here.


Top photo: PlaytheBlox, an interactive game fostering empathy and community collaboration

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