A UNITED NATIONS IN THE SUBURBS - BLACK URBANISM AND INTERCULTURAL SPACES IN GLEN SHIELDS
by Jean-François Obregón
Theme: Advocacy, History & Culture, Diversity & Inclusion
Accessibility: Family - Friendly, Triggering Content
Located in the City of Vaughan’s southern edge and near North York, Glen Shields was built between 1979 and the 1980s. Its residents have reflected waves of immigration, described as a ‘United Nations’ by an original homeowner. It has been home to Marita Payne, a two-time Olympic silver medallist and her son, Andrew Wiggins-Payne, who plays for the Golden State Warriors. The risk of not capturing these stories, particularly that of black geographies, are motivations for this Jane’s Walk.
STOP 1: GLEN SHIELDS PUBLIC SCHOOL BASKETBALL COURTS
Basketball courts at Glen Shields Public School, Credit: Jean-François Obregón
This was Andrew Wiggins-Payne’s elementary school and where he played basketball. (NBA, 2014) He was the 2014 first-overall NBA draft pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Rookie of the Year in 2015. (NBA, 2021) He currently plays for the Golden State Warriors. This court is where a sports drink commercial was filmed in 2014, which included local youth. (BioSteelSports, 2014)
On your way to the next stop, check out the cement benches and tables by the tennis courts. They bear the city’s old coat of arms and name. They may be removed as a redevelopment plan for the park is slated to replace them. Despite the controversy of the origin city’s name, the benches and seats are a rare piece of heritage in a middle-aged suburban neighbourhood.
STOP 2: GLEN SHIELDS PLAZA
Glen Shields Shopping Plaza, Credit: Jean-François Obregón
This retail plaza’s composition is an example of how immigrants breathe new life into areas with declining businesses. (Zhuang, 2018) From the 1980s into the mid-2000s, there was an Italian bakery, but this went out of business as the neighbourhood’s demographics changed. The plaza also had a grocery store, barbershop, pizzeria early in the neighbourhood’s history. Today, Casa Tienda Foods is a Filipino grocery store, which has a take-out counter, sells lottery tickets and provides a remittance service. It serves as a “community hub” similar to stores like Bayanihan Express at Keele St. and Wilson Ave. as I can tell that the owner knows her Filipino clientele well whenever I remind her that I know Eleanor the Personal Support Worker (PSW). (Zhuang et al., 2020; Alcaraz, 2021) Before the pandemic, there was a seating area for eat-in customers to watch TV from the Philippines. There is a daycare, a medical spa, a paramedical facility and a dental office that cater to the Russian community.
How can policy-makers engage businesses like the ones in this plaza to help improve understanding of minority groups’ narratives in order to centre their concerns in decision-making processes? (Zhuang et al., 2020) Filipinos make up a high-number of front-line workers, i.e. retail, PSWs, during the pandemic. Thus, places like Casa Tienda Foods are essential as third places. Planners can engage in conversations in such places to inform policies that ensure these communities are not left behind during and after the pandemic.
STOP 3: MARITA PAYNE PARK AND MARITA PAYNE POND
A park, pond and street were named after local resident Marita Payne after she won two silver medals at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. (Photobyrahim, 2015) Payne immigrated to Canada from Barbados in 1970. (Canadian Olympic Committee, 2021) She had a decorated athletic career, winning medals at the Commonwealth Games. She set national records in the 200m and 400m races that stand to this day. It is impressive that local planners at that time did not let race be an obstacle to commemorating a black woman’s accomplishments. However, it is unclear how much black residents’ concerns were addressed until recently.
Marita Payne Pond, Credit: Jean-François Obregón
STOP 4: DUFFERIN CLARK COMMUNITY CENTRE
Dufferin Clark Community Centre, Credit: Jean-François Obregón
Dufferin Clark Community Centre is a third place and, arguably, an intercultural space as defined by Sun: “allowing different cultures to express themselves in the space.” (As quoted by Galanakis, 2011) Andrew Wiggins spent time honing his basketball skills here. (NBA, 2014) A sentiment shared by Ronnie Rowe Jr., a black actor who grew up in Glen Shields and played basketball here regularly after school. However, he admitted that the security guard would ask youth to leave after the activity hours were over. (P. Communication, 2021)
What do policy-makers lose out on when the state surveils communities of colour who socialize in public spaces? Ronen’s comments echoed Galanakis’ documentation of youth “loitering” in public spaces, e.g. parks, in Toronto. This is a lost opportunity for planners to engage these groups. This community centre’s popularity with young people of colour in the suburbs, where there is a paucity of social spaces, provides potential for creating more exciting public spaces. However, planners lose out on insights that can inform such improvements.
STOP 5: HIGH SCHOOL RENAMING
Hodan Nalayeh Secondary School, Credit: Jean-François Obregón
It was publicized in June 2020 that the City of Vaughan was named after former slaveowner and anti-abolitionist, Benjamin Vaughan. (Javed, 2020) York Region District School Board voted to rename Vaughan Secondary School in September 2020. (YRDSB, 2020) Trustees voted to rename it Hodan Nalayeh Secondary School after a Muslim Somali-Canadian woman who died in a hotel attack in Kismayo, Somalia in July 2019. (CBC, 2021) A former student called it: “A huge step forward in understanding the culture behind coloured people, the struggles they are going through, and embracing black culture.” (P. Communication, 2021)
How do policy-makers continue their engagement with a community after recognizing one of their members? BIPOC individuals account for a sizeable segment of the high school’s students. Roughly 12% of Glen Shields residents identified as Black in the 2016 census. (Statcan) Conversations must continue beyond a school’s renaming. Planners play a role in shaping inclusive policies and supporting local epistemological knowledge that imagines alternative futures. (Kelley, 2002; Brand and Miller 2020)