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.


Quebec’s Politics is Holding its Cities Back

Amid the heated debate around cultural issues in Quebec’s election, I’ve been thinking about how it will affect the province and its cities. In today’s Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson put many of my thoughts on the immigration issue into words. Political leaders are fighting the trend that has made so many places throughout the west more dynamic and successful in recent decades.


The Progress That Has Been Made
I previously wrote about how Quebec politics has shaped me. Quebec remains one of my favourite places, and I think I have some appreciation for it.

The shift in power that has resulted in greater Francophone participation in leadership roles (particularly in business) is the right thing, both from a social justice and human capital perspective. However, many measures that have been enacted, or are proposed, go too far, and prevent the province (or a given city) as a whole from prospering.

Immigration from Abroad
Last week, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the son of immigrants who arrived in Toronto before settling in Calgary, gave a speech in Prince Edward Island. There, he warned about traditional insular culture, and extolled the benefits that an open culture has brought to Calgary.

The point was made in respect to the Atlantic provinces, but it could just as easily be said about Quebec. With its restrictive rules around immigration, Quebec is closing itself off to potential future Naheed Nenshis, who will instead settle in Ontario, British Columbia, or (increasingly) Alberta. Ibbitson points out the lack of success Quebec is having in meeting targets, and keeping many who do arrive. The critique of Quebec’s immigration policy is not meant as a slight against people who do settle there. Rather, the point is that by effectively limiting your pool of immigrants, you’re excluding many who would enrich your community.

Migration from Across Canada
Montreal still attracts migrants from across the country, though it seems its permanent anglophone population is increasingly concentrated in industries where the French language is less central – arts and culture, media, English-language higher education institutions. Yet, it’s not the (permanent) destination that Vancouver, Toronto, or Calgary are. My generation is far more bilingual than previous ones, yet this hasn’t made us more likely to settle in Quebec. I’d strongly consider any opportunity to live and work there, but I’m not sure I can say that for most of my peers. Given the vibrancy and quality of life Montreal in particular offers, this shouldn’t be the case.

Looking Back Through History
It’s worth wondering whether the measures were necessary to allow French to flourish. I subscribe to the founding culture theory in Colin Woodward’s American Nations, which states that subsequent waves of migrants will tend to adapt to the norms already set out, not vice versa.

It’s also worth noting that if you go all the way back, Champlain envisioned New France being a pluralistic society. He actively sought cooperation and integration with the Indigenous populations, to an extent that New France stands out in retrospect compared to most Anglo-led settlements. That spirit has been lost, and Quebec is a less rich place than it should be because of this.

What Does This Mean for Quebec’s Cities?
A snapshot of the present shows good and bad news. Quebec City is home to a handful of large companies, and Montreal edges out Calgary for being home to the second most companies in the FP500 – though less than half compared to Toronto. Both cities can boast thriving arts and culture scenes, and Montreal is a leading center in the video game industry.

Yet, for much of the country, Quebec City is more of a playground. It’s a place you go to have fun, not a place you think about living or doing business.

Montreal, for its successes, is nonetheless on a 40-year (if not longer) trend of seeing its influence wane, as companies and people have exited to head west or south. It lags other big metros in productivity, and my initial rankings of Canadian cities last month saw it come in virtually tied with Ottawa, and noticeably lagging the other two biggest metros (and Calgary).

There’s no reason for this to happen. French is firmly established as the local lingua franca. Non-pure laine go there because of the vibrant culture and opportunities that want to exist. They do not wish to assimilate the former, and they have much to offer in increasing the latter. By all measures of what attracts creative, talented professionals, Montreal should be a magnet city, and it should be a hotbed of entrepreneurship. Provincial leaders are working against this happening. If they envision a pure laine society, they need to be ready to deal with the economic ramifications that likely means.

More to the point, though, there is no reason to believe they need to go in this direction. Has English culture dissipated as London has become more cosmopolitan? Did New York cease to be New York as it embraced being a global hub? Did people stop wearing Smithbilts at Stampede because of migration to Calgary? No, no, and no.

Quebec is home to great cities that could yet be so much more. Citizens and civic leaders would do well to see (im)migration as a benefit, and a way for their cities to further prosper, rather than a threat. The longer they put off doing this, the more likely it is their leading cities will fall further behind.

Canada’s Indie Music Hotspots

This is the first part in a series examining Canada’s music scene, with a focus on which cities have thriving scenes and where artists launch and sustain successful careers. This stems from my interest in music, particular Canadian (indie) work, and from many discussions with friends about which cities support good music scenes.

This also intersects with work I’m doing (and will write about) that identifies what makes a city amenable to young adults. A vibrant cultural scene is a key part of this, and the local music scene is a good bellwether for it. It’s more universal than theatre, more social than reading, and more local than television/film, which tends to be highly clustered. I believe it gives a good read of a city’s cultural scene more often than not. The focus on indie music does miss out on some genres (jazz, classical, country), but captures a vast array of different types of artists, with varying amounts of experience, repertoire, and popularity.

Canada’s Indie Music Hotspots
To start, I’m examining which cities are generating activity in their music scene. I used data from CBC Music (where you get everyone from Arcade Fire to A Tribe Called Red to Carly Rae Jepsen). It’s an open site that allows any artist to create a page and upload their music, so this captures everyone from well-known acts like Joel Plaskett (with over one million song plays on the site) to the artists just starting out who have yet to develop a following. It also captures artists creating and sharing original material, not ones just playing covers of Brown-Eyed Girl at local pubs.

Joel Plaskett
Joel Plaskett of Halifax at Edmonton Folk Fest in 2009.

This post focuses on Census Metropolitan Areas, using data on CMA population and municipalities from Statistics Canada. A subsequent focus will look at which – if any – smaller cities (defined as Census Agglomerations) are generating strong music scenes.

Metros with the Most Artists
This table shows the list of metros with most artists, in raw numbers.

Metros with the Most Artists Per 1000 Residents
This table shows the list of metros with most artists, measured per each 1000 residents.

HUGE Caveat
It’s apparent that Quebec artists are not signing up for CBC’s page in huge numbers, as you can see in the spreadsheet. Aside from Montreal (whose numbers I suspect are much higher), other CMAs in the province barely register. Anecdotally, and through research such as this Martin Prosperity Institute paper, we can be confident that this is not a fair representation of Quebec’s music scene. This is best looked at as an evaluation of Anglo Canada’s indie music scenes.

Danny Michel of Kitchener-Waterloo at Wakefield (Ottawa-Gatineau)’s Black Sheep Inn.

The Results
You can see the full data for artists and artists per 1000 residents for Canada’s 33 CMAs here. I found a few trends:

Bigger Metros Have More Artists
This was expected. Toronto, by far the biggest metro, produced the most artists (and narrowly missed the top 10/1000 residents, ranking 11th). The rest of the top 10 followed the population rankings as well with slight variance. Only Halifax (7th vs. 13th in population) and Victoria (9th vs. 15th) stood out as outliers.

Matthew Barber
Matthew Barber, originally of Hamilton, residing in (and credited to) Toronto. Here he’s playing at Edmonton’s Haven Social Club.

The second tier in population (Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary, Edmonton) have near identical numbers. They’re all within 200 artists of each other, and 0.11 per capita. The ranking does go Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary, Edmonton – in that order – in both categories, though.

In the next group down, only Quebec City (as noted) and Kitchener-Waterloo – amongst the 10 biggest metros – miss the top 10 overall. However, of those 10, only Vancouver and Winnipeg – often noted for a strong arts scene – make the top 10 per capita.

The Atlantic and Pacific Reign
Vancouver and Victoria rank high both overall and per capita, and 3 of the 4 CMAs in the Atlantic provinces finish in the top 10 per capita. Given the prominence of live music in the latter’s culture, this shouldn’t be a big surprise, but it does confirm that local artists are generating original content, not just playing cover songs in pubs.

College Towns Often Have Thriving Scenes
College towns in the United States are often known for fostering thriving music scenes, and you see evidence of this in Canada as well. Halifax, of course, is well-known for its music scene, and the 6 colleges and universities in the city play a key part in supporting it. The smallest CMAs that showed up in the top 10 per capita all have a university that’s a prominent part of their community – University of Guelph, Université de Moncton, Trent University in Peterborough, and Queen’s University in Kingston. This will be elaborated on in the post on smaller cities, but two Atlantic Canadian cities outside of CMAs but with a strong college presence post a per capita score of over 1.6, better than all but 4 of the CMAs.

Halifax and Victoria Look Like They’re Punching Above their Weight
Related to an extent – they did well in these rankings, and noticeably outperformed their metro size in my ranking of Canadian cities as well. Halifax’s music scene has also been noted for outperforming its size by MPI, amongst others.

Musical Hotspots
What this post measures is activity, not success. Many of the metros that scored high are producing large numbers, but not necessarily large numbers of successful ones (though Victoria has produced artists like Nelly Furtado, it’s light on recognizable indie acts). A future post will look at where the most successful artists are coming from. In other words, there’s no reason for an artist to think that Toronto and Montreal are not two of their best options for launching a successful career.

Yet, this does identify cities that are producing – or attracting – large numbers and/or proportions of creative people. They’ve fostered a scene where someone gets to a point that they are not just creating music – they’re recording and sharing it. It’s a sign of creative and artist activity, and a music scene that contributes to a vibrant city.