Social Movements and Black Lives Matter

Cities are living systems, made, transformed and experienced by people, Urban forms and functions are produced and managed by the interaction between space and society, that is by the historical relationship between human, consciousness, matter, energy and information. While the structure of the urban dynamics can ultimately be described in such terms, the decisive input of purposive social action in the shaping of space and material conditions of everyday life has been highlighted by historical experiences (Castells, 1983, xv).

In The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements, Castells document the relationship between urban environments and urban social movements. In this book, he asks a series of questions regarding social movements, why they take place, who the actors are, how they relate to spatial form. It is imperative to understand Castells work on social movements and organizations due to its focus on urban environments and the relationship they have with urban crises.

Social movements have always occurred in the histories of cities. Some may be familiar with the movements that took place in the 1960s in American cities; civil rights, feminism, anti-war, gay rights movements and more. However, social movements have a deeper history dating back to the 16th century, where citizens of the Castilian cities revolted against the royal authority of Carlos V (Castells, 1983, p. 6). This was a movement by citizens that were challenging the feudal order, they were not pleased at the power Carlos V had on the cities, and the privileged people who sat in the assemblies. They wanted better representation in government and they did not want only people of privilege to sit in the assembly. They wanted elected officials, wanted it to be a free city and the decentralization of municipal powers at the ward level (p. 6). It is intriguing reading these demands from the 16th century and comparing them to municipal and federal governments of today and seeing how those demands influence future governance.

Castells (1983) identify three major themes related to urban protest movements:

  1. Demands focused on collective consumption, that is, goods and services directly or indirectly provided by the state.
  2. Defense of cultural identity associated with and organized around a specific territory.
  3. Political mobilization in relationship to the state, particularly emphasizing the role of local government (p. xviii)

These themes remain constant and present in both urban protest movements in the past and movements that continue to take place.

Moving forward, social movements have always challenged the norms that are created by people or groups who hold the most power. There is actual meaning behind activists and groups that protest for demands and rights, it is not for amusement. These movements often get dismiss by those who are ignorant to issues that they are fighting for or part of that group that is ‘benefiting’ from these policies.

That last statement is very reminiscent of the social movements that have taken place in the past 10 years, Idle No More, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring. All were movements that were challenging political authority and economic inequality. What set these movements apart from movements in the past is that they all used technology to help raise awareness and communicate with others. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have allowed for these groups to not only communicate with members but present their message to a wide and diverse audience. Black Lives Matter (BLM) has successfully used technology to their advantage, by discussing police brutality cases, educating others, and the planning of protests and marches.  Some may be familiar with the hashtag on Twitter, #blacklivesmatter, the hashtag is commonly used after a case of police brutality, anti-blackness, and organizing.  Those unfamiliar with Black Lives Matter, it is an organization that was founded in 2013 by activist Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi (Clark, Freelon, & Mcllwain, 2016, p. 9). BLM “demands specific forms of redress for one relatively well-defined political/legal/policy issues…[it] aims mainly to improve the everyday lives of oppressed racial minority – Black people in general and black youth in particular (p. 9)”. Castells remind readers that “movement develops not only in relationship to its own society, but also in relationship to a world-wide social system (p. xviii).” This is the case for movements like Idle No More, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the environmental movement, that have a global reach. Urban social movements play a critical role in not only highlighting issues being faced by a particular group but attempting to create change.

Castells summarizes the power structure and the reasoning for urban crisis and revolt beautifully:

Random individual decisions are supposed to affect public policies according to some abstract rationality aimed at optimizing profit or power. Either way, people and the state, economy and society, cities and citizens, are consider as separate entities; one may dominate the other, or both may behave independently, but the logic of the analysis never allows them to interact in a meaningful structure. As a result, we are left with urban systems separated from personal experiences; with structures without actors, and actors without structures; with cities without citizens, and citizens without cities (p. xvi).

There is an abstract rationality for these decisions, whether it be for profit or power or both. We see this misuse of power especially in the judicial system, where there is bias in laws that are created and how some of these laws specifically target marginalized groups. Two cases immediately come to mind, one in Ferguson, Missouri and one in the Greater Toronto Area.  In Ferguson, the police were targeting a predominately black community with violations and offenses. These charges range from the grass being too tall to driving with a broken taillight. (Shapiro, 2015)  Most community members could not afford to pay for these fines and offenses, so they would increase to the point there would be a warrant for their arrest. This leading to the cycle of mass incarceration. The Depart of Justice did an investigation and concluded that the county was giving out these offenses and fines so that they could generate money for the city (Shapiro, 2015).

In the case of the Greater Toronto Area, we have the practice of carding by a number of police departments. Carding is “the police practice of arbitrarily stopping, questioning, and documenting a person – then entering their information into a database – to which young black men are disproportionately subjected (Goldsbie, 2015).”  Carding is a policy that criminalized black and brown bodies. It says a lot when the police assume that you are either a threat or may know of illegal activities taking place because of the colour of their skin.

Dr. Rinaldo Walcott, an associate professor at the University of Toronto in the Women and Gender Studies Institute had this say :

We have yet to be provided evidence that carding impacts crime in any shape or fashion. We have yet to be provided evidence that the database developed from carding impacts crime and its resolution in any way. Instead, we have been offered anecdotes from a police perspective. We have been offered fear. We believe that by ignoring the available evidence, that the mayor, the Toronto Police Service, and its board have clearly declared black communities collectively a public safety threat. The only way to think of such a declaration is to call it anti-black racism (Goldsbie, 2015).

Both of these cases highlight decisions made by people who hold power to either optimize profit or power. And even with one group telling the other that these policies are unfair and specifically target marginalized communities, those in power either ignore these comments or fail to have a meaningful discussion. Also, in both cases, Black Live Matter organized and protest for both of these issues. In Ferguson, it raised attention not only city wise but throughout the United States and resulted in the Department of Justice to investigate. In, the Greater Toronto Area the work of Desmond Cole and Black Lives Matter lead to some discussions on anti-blackness in Canada. A ban on carding was made by the Ontrio government, yet many police and police unions believe that this practice was beneifical and not racist.

As I have shown, social movements are critical in urban environments, they are able to identify the issues that are at hand and attempt to repair them. Some movements are successful and their demands are met by authority or some form or negotiations are made. While other social movements fail for having too broad of demands or a lack of leadership. One item that remains important is social movements have always and continue to shape cities and challenge societal norms. The Black Lives Matter movement is a prime example of urban protests movements that address a series of issues, one including the criminalization of black bodies.

Castells, M. (1983). The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements – Manuel Castells – Google Books. Berkeley : University of California Press. Retrieved from

Freelon, D., Mcilwain, C., & Clark, M. (2016). Beyond the Hashtags. Washington. Retrieved from

Goldsbie, J. (2015, May, 13). Police Carding: Racist, Anti-Black, and Useless. Now Magazine. Retrieved from

Lorio, B. C. (Photographer). (2014). Millions March NYC [Photo], Retrieved from

Shapiro, J. (2015, August, 25). Ferguson, Mo., Judge Withdraws Thousands of Arrest Warrants. NPR. Retrieved from

Recommend Readings:

The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements – Manuel Castells

Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Freire

End of War on Black People – The Movement for Black Lives Matter




Public Health Urban

On the Carding Controversy


I have been closely watching the exchange between Mike McCormick, the head of the Toronto Police Association and Desmond Cole, activist and writer. Since the discussion they are having around crime and carding is related to my major research paper for my master’s degree.

The comments coming from McCormick are erroneous and absurd, there is absolutely no data linking carding or street checks to the reduction of crime. It was cringe worthy to see him debate with Cole on CityNews and just repeat false information. During a previous interview, McCormick made an outlandish statement on the provincial ban on carding and how to due to the ban this is the reason for the current spike in gun violence in the city.

Here is what we know, “racial discrimination has long been an issue within Canadian society – particularly with respect to the operation of the criminal justice system” (as cited in Mosher, 1998, p. 305)

Carding and street checks are the manifestation of racial discrimination in the justice system due to that these processes are solely used on marginalized communities; those who are disabled and are visible minorities. So to say that the practice of carding does not discriminate is inaccurate. Skolnick (1966) discover that “police in the United States tend to perceive young, black males as ‘symbolic assailants’ and thus stop and question them on the street as a means of ‘crime prevention” (p. 402). From this observation, we can already see the criminalization of black and brown bodies. In a Canadian study about stop and search practices in Canada, Owusu-Benmpah & Wortley (2011) note that similar practices and racialization exist within the Canadian police environment. Through a survey, they discovered “blacks are over three times more likely to experience multiple police stops than whites or Asians and are three times more likely to report being searched during these police encounters” (402).

Simply, carding does not reduce or prevent crimes from taking place

What is more troubling is, the police forces and the government have not released data around carding and crime prevention. This creates a lot of question around the practice and what it being done if there is a lack of data. Are they simply practicing this due to the criminalization and black bodies or is there evidence supporting this? Henry and Tator (2005) refer to this as democratic racism:

An ideology that permits the emergence of two seemingly conflicting sets of values: a public commitment to racial justice and equality on one hand, but a refusal to seriously investigate and address racial inequalities and potential racial bias when these issues emerge (p. 349).

Owusu-Benmpah and Wortley (2011) state that the government and police forces withholding information on carding and street checks are a form of democratic racism. They go on to say that police forces, government, and the criminal justice system continue to ignore questions around carding because there is no empirical data. For all we know, the criminal justice system and carding are inherently racist.

Police forces and the criminal justice system needs to take a different approach when it comes to crime prevention and serving the community. Continuing these practices will create communities that fear the police and the authority due to these practices.


You can watch the debate between McCormick and Cole here.

Politics Public Health Uncategorized Urban

What drives waterfront development?

Kurt Reid

Kurt Reid

This week I had the opportunity to visit Waterfront Toronto head office and tour some of the revitalization projects taking place with my urban planning program. The organization was formed through a partnership of three levels of Canadian government (municipal, federal. and provincial). With the main objective to revitalize the harbour through sustainable developments, building affordable housing, and by redeveloping brownfields. Since brownfields are an interest of mine, the discussion was very captivating. After hearing about the organization and  having them present both their future and completed projects it was time for the tour. We visited the Courus Entertainment Site, the new George Brown Waterfront Campus, and Sherbourne Common. All of which that look amazing and all have some form of sustainable design.

During both the presentation and the tour a question which I wanted to ask came to mind, what drives waterfront development? Now, I am aware of the decentralization of industries which are one of the processes behind the changes the waterfront. The decentralization of industrialization saw industries move away from the city-core and into the fringes. This is associated with  land development, geographic industrialization, and metropolitan planning. Another process is the suburbanization of industry. this is related to decentralization, where industries began to move away due to advancement in technology and transportation. These industries no longer had to rely on ports and  railways lines as a method of moving their goods. These two changes are instrumental for the creating of brownfield sites.


evolution of port - Bird


However, there is another theory by Bird (1963) that examines the evolution of ports. Bird’s model can be used for almost any port transformation in the Global North. The steps involve in the evolution of ports include:

  • Setting (Geographic Consideration)
  • Expansion (Construction of Docks and Railway Lines)
  • Specialization (Ports being specialized for certain activities)

With these spaces now unoccupied and no longer serving use, it’s time  for them to be re-purpose. To me, the driving forces behind Toronto’s transformation are  due to both the decentralization of industries and the need to attract investment. One of the objectives from Waterfront Toronto was to attract the creative class and the tech-based economies to the waterfront.

In summary, the transformation of habour in Toronto and other ports around the world are intriguing. Ports were always a form of trade and economic activity. From the trade of fish and pelts to coal and the shipping of goods. Ports are currently being modernized to fit today’s current economic market, with spaces for the creative class. The transformation of brownfield sites is beneficial since it is a form of reducing sprawl by re purposing these landscapes for residential and commercial uses. My hopes are that these future brownfield sites located in Toronto are equitable.


Further Reading

Lewis and Walker (2001) – Beyond the Crabgrass Frontier: Industry and the Spread of North American Cities 

De Sousa (2001) – Turning Brownfields into Greenspaces in the City of Toronto

Birds (1963) – The Evolution of a Port (The Anyport Model)

The Globe and Mail – Sun Life moving away from Bay Street 


Photos by:

Eric Aranu – Toronto Skyline 

Andrew Badgley – Sugar Beach 





Knocking the Corners off the Square Mile

The Chief Planner of London, Peter Wynne Rees discusses some of the methods use in planning the City of London and the difficulties of planning a historic city. During his presentation he mentions vertical development and comments:

“Building tall is a last resort, it is not a first resort. Only build tall if you run out of land and you still need to accommodate people because you are an amazingly successful. Don’t build tall because you think it will make your more successful than you were before.”

This comment echoes the current condo boom taking place in Toronto, were a majority of these condos are built mainly for economic reasons, than actually solving the problem of sprawl and or housing inequality.


Read more: An urban planner warns: Beware of the too-cheap Toronto condo

Read more: Condominium development and gentrification: the relationship between policies, building activities and socio-economic development in Toronto.

Photo by: Kirill Strax 



Rob Ford and Transit


Rob Ford

I find it hilarious that the first thing Rob Ford did when he got into office was to axe Transit City. As those of you that may of not know, Transit City was a plan to provide public transportation through the means of both Light Rail Transit and improving Streetcar lines. It was also supposed to provide Bus Rapid Transit system to certain routes. This plan would have been completed by 2020. It would have help lessen some of the transit woes most of us are facing at the moment in Toronto.However, this plan was cancelled shortly after Rob Ford got into office. Not sure of the reason, but some stated it was show how much Ford disliked the idea of the transit plan. Rob Ford’s brand new transit plan is not feasible since it cost more to build, develop, maintain, and not all routes would it be ideal or solve the issue by placing a subway.

Picture by: Andrew Louis

Read more: Rob Ford to ‘bore’ his subway plan through ‘until the cows come home’
Read more: Transit City cancellation to cost $65M
Read more: Light Rail Transit (LRT) FAQs

Politics Urban