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The Inclusive City: On Language and Culture

Last week, I wrote about the importance of urban design in promoting inclusiveness, and helping people change their circumstances for the better. This concept can be expanded to other characteristics as well, in terms of putting forward a message of cultural – and linguistic inclusion.

On one of my first visits to Portland, I was struck by the fact that MAX Rail announcements are made in both English and Spanish. Don’t believe me? You can hear an example here (at Pioneer Square, a flagship stop and destination downtown)

Portland, unlike cities in the southwest, isn’t known for a large hispanic community, and sure enough, the census data confirms that, with 9.4% of residents of Hispanic or Latino origin. MAX Rail is regional, so if any suburbs contain significantly higher numbers, that may boost the regional share to the state level of 11.4%, but it’s unlikely. Nonetheless, the metro average does appear to be significantly lower than the national share of 16.7%.

The point, however, is not about at what share of the population does a linguistic group command service in its native language. I’m on the accommodation side (yes, I do support official bilingualism in Canada), and see a broader point behind the language issue. It speaks to how welcoming and open to diversity a city (or, at least, its decision makers) is.

Contrast this to the proposed approach of Quebec’s government in waiting. In a province where only one major city – Montreal – is really multingual, nevermind bilingual, it proposes to further restrict the use of English and other languages. Some stats on Montreal – 66% of Montrealais identify their mother tongue as French, 13% as English. Any arguments that other languages need restriction for French to thrive ought to be debunked as mere rhetoric. I covered the long-term threat this approach poses to Quebec’s cities in last week’s post.

Now, to end on a positive note. Edmonton has the fastest growing urban Aboriginal population in Canada, and may soon have the highest in total numbers (though not proportion). Zoe Todd has previously written about the Aboriginal marks on Edmonton’s urban landscape, how other cities like Winnipeg do, and how much more can be done to honour the area’s history.

I thought about this with the unveiling of Aboriginal art panels that will line the city’s South LRT line. It’s a small gesture, perhaps, but one that takes the city another step towards putting forward a more inclusive message. In today’s world, I think that matters a lot.


A photo of the panels, via Don Iveson on Twitter.

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Dear Chicago

Chicago turns 175 today. It’s a city that feels younger. Some of that is borne out of necessity – the great fire of 1871 destroyed much of the city. Much of it, in my observation, comes from a culture of innovation and openness, a willingness – common to most successful enterprises – to constantly reinvent itself.

The signs of reinvention are everywhere – in the repurposed buildings and spaces, to those, like Millennium Park, that turned utilitarian spaces into great public ones.

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Former warehouses brought back to life with new businesses and residents northwest of The Loop.

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Navy Pier. Not my favorite, but a repurposed space that has become a popular attraction.

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Millennium Park and the Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion, truly one of the great public spaces, in my opinion.

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Admit it, we all love the bean (that’s me taking the photo in the middle).

You’re always looking up in Chicago. The birthplace of the skyscraper, the skyline towers over you. Waves of glass and steel, celebrating generations of style and design, crowd alongside the Chicago River, vying to capture your attention.

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Buildings loom over Michigan Ave and Millennium Park.

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Skyline, as seen from the Chicago River near Navy Pier.

Chicago is a city you experience from above – from the heights of its tallest buildings, or from the El that rises and travels above the city.

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The El, traveling above you along State Street.

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The second-story high station in Wicker Park.

Yet, the city doesn’t overwhelm you. It’s also a city you can disappear in. Being mere steps away from the glass and steel forest can feel like an entirely different world.

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Finding solitude amidst the business district is easy with amenities like this pool

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The beach along the Lakefront, steps away from the skyscrapers in The Loop.

Further out, as you travel along the El, you find what is still a bustling city, but one that exists at a more human scale. It’s easy to get lost on a sunny afternoon at Wrigley, or a peaceful morning in Wicker Park.

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Afternoon baseball at Wrigley Field.

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The farmers’ market in Wicker Park.

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Peaceful Sunday brunch, in the secluded courtyard at Jam, just off the beaten path in Wicker Park.

Every moment can be an adventure. The character, and spontaneity which so often make cities so great, is abundant. It keeps drawing you back, not just to the city, but to the same places.

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People having fun at Millennium Park on a hot summer day.

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Alternately, many of buildings have details and touches you may not appreciate if you don’t stop and truly explore.

At 175, Chicago doesn’t feel old. It feels like a city that is constantly evolving, and will keep you coming back to see what’s next.

Happy birthday, Chicago. Until next time.

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