Disruption through the arts

An event I helped organize (in 2009!).

An event I helped organize (in 2009!).

I believe deeply that the purpose of the arts is not simply to drive economic development, though they do that, too. The arts are much more foundational to communities.

At a recent forum in Waterloo on Strengthening the Arts Economy one of the panelists supported this belief. They referred to how important the arts are for a city’s functioning and encouraged (potential) city representatives to “treat the arts like the sewage system; if you don’t have it your city is going to stink.

In Chapter 10: Create Something, Warnick, too, describes the essential role the arts play in cities. They promote well-being and personal happiness, increase attachment to place, and create a sense of belonging.

More importantly, though, the arts can and in many cases do have an even more substantial impact. According to Alain de Botton in his book Status Anxiety, the arts have long been a way to challenge and disrupt status and structures of power. He states,

Given that few things are more in need of criticisms (or of insight and analysis) than our approach to status and its distribution, it is hardly surprising that so many artists across time should have created works that in some way contest the methods by which people are accorded rank in society. The history of art is filled with challenges – ironic, angry, lyrical, sad or amusing – to the status system (p. 126).

It would seem, then, that using the arts for economic ends subverts the arts’ disruptive potential. Maybe that’s partly the point.

Politics and place attachment

Inside Breithaupt Park. Getting a photo of the perimeter of the park from the expressway is a tad difficult.

Inside Breithaupt Park. Getting a photo of the perimeter of the park from the expressway is a tad difficult.

"Would you run for office where you live? The truth is, you have to be incredibly dedicated to your town to want to, but once you're elected, there's an enormous place attachment effort (p. 185)."

Yup.

Ever since putting my name forward to run to become a city councillor I've become even more connected to Waterloo and its surrounding communities. I'm already very involved in and committed to this community and I have fallen even more in love with its people and places while running for city council.

Many of the people I meet are quick to share what they love about this community. The people I hope to represent especially love the parks and mature trees in and around Ward 5.

So do I. 

Still, it wasn't until last night on my drive home from the grocery store, which is a drive I have made countless times, that I really noticed, or rather felt, Breithaupt Park's tree line. I was stunned by its beauty and magnitude. I've spent a lot of time walking our dog through that forest, playing on the playground there, and I've driven by the park countless times. Still, it had never before taken my breath away.

I believe I can win this election and become Ward 5's next city councillor. Regardless of the outcome, though, this journey will be worth it in so many ways, especially in the subtle ways it is deepening my attachment to this place. 

Are there any places where you live that take your breath away?

Food and memory

The Goulash!

The Goulash!

Six years ago most of my extended family and I travelled to Velke Pole - the village where my maternal grandparents were born – to celebrate the village's 680th anniversary. After five days there my immediate family ventured to Serbia. That's the country where my dad was born.  

I can still smell and taste the Goulash from Velke Pole, Slovakia and the cevapcici from the first restaurant we visited in Belgrade, Serbia. 

It seems true what Warnick says about food and memory: "Food is impossible to divorce from the welter of emotions it evokes. More than fuel, food is culture, history, memory."

Even though I was born in Canada and have only visited each of these places once I still feel connected and rooted, especially through the food. The next step is to learn more about the countries' histories, which is why I'm currently reading "Yugoslavia: Peace, war, and dissolution" by Noam Chomsky. 

All this to say I'm pretty pumped for the KW Serbian Food Festival this weekend!

Some of the other things this chapter made me want to write about: 

  • My favourite local bakery when we stayed in New York.

  • A couple of my "third spaces" in Waterloo: Seven Shores and DVLB.

  • Bailey's Local Foods - a online local food market – is 10 years old! I love them and what they do. I also love that I have access to another market like this just around the corner from our house: The Sustainable Market. Ordering online ahead of time takes a bit of planning and it's one of my goals over the next year to get more organized about this, so I can eat local more and support these local businesses.

  • Just plant some Basil and Mint already, Jen!

  • That trip to Europe.

I know I've got some local food lovers reading - what memories, thoughts, and emotions did this chapter bring up for you?

Informal acts of service.

Left: The friend who came to our rescue!

Left: The friend who came to our rescue!

We signed our kid up for Gymnastics. He loves it and he's good at it. We've always known – and anyone who meets him will nearly instantly learn – that he is a very capable kid, in many ways, but especially with big body movements.

It shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, then, when he took to doing back flips on the rings and summersaults as quickly as he did. 

You can imagine how badly we felt last week when Matt and I got our schedules mixed up and there was no car at home for Matt to drive our kid to what has become the favourite part of his week (after watching Magic School bus, I'm sure).

Enter a long-time friend and neighbour. She was working when I messaged her to ask if we could borrow her car. She would be arriving home just as Matt would have to leave to get to gymnastics and said we could borrow her car. She even dropped the car off at our place and walked home!

Volunteering – whether it's with an official organization or informally by helping out a friend in small and meaningful ways – is what one Indigenous man referred to as "a way of life" in this CBC article after his family was awarded the Nova Scotia's Family Volunteering Award.

"It's in our culture," said Tom, who said he was "surprised" to learn the family had been singled out for their efforts. "You know, you're always asked to help out your fellow man, your elders, other people. You don't even consider it volunteering, it's a way of life."

A message I will remember. 

An added bonus to doing these acts of service is in something Warnick talked about earlier in the book: Feeling like we can rely on neighbours can increase place attachment and help us feel at home wherever we are! 

Was there a time when an informal act of service saved your day or just made you feel a bit better?

Loving nature: Guest post by Jessica

Me hiking in  Switzerland  about 10 years ago. Photo credit:  Tim Carr Photo

Me hiking in Switzerland about 10 years ago. Photo credit: Tim Carr Photo

I don't tend to think of myself as outdoorsy or as a nature person. When I told this to my friend Jessica she thought that I probably do like nature, but that I also like modern conveniences. She's right and her saying this brought me back right back to a day-long hiking trip up a swiss mountain. It was exhausting, terrifying, and exhilarating.

We celebrated at the end of the day in a cabin at the bottom of the mountain eating potato pancakes, drinking beer, and falling soundly asleep in a large room with rows of bunk beds. I have other examples – local ones included – to prove Jessica right, too.

It's the hot meal cooked inside and the sleeping under a solid roof I crave, not the outdoors I dislike. However, I still don't think I'm the best person to write about the outdoors and that's why I asked Jessica to answer a few questions. 

You'll see she was the right person to write something this month. She generally inspires me, but how she writes about nature has made me want to do more outside, for myself and my family – I've got a partner who's good at it and a kid who loves it. I might even have to suck it up and start to find a way to enjoy camping. 

What is your favourite kind of nature?

Big nature is my favourite kind. The natural places that have little evidence of human impact, isolated canoe routes through Temagami, a hike with no trail, places where I feel little, lost, and a tiny bit scared. I love mountains, dry arid climates, and the ocean. My last outdoor adventure was a three week Arctic river canoe trip. Along the river we stopped and scrambled up mountains on our rest days, and tromped around on discovering missions. We saw wild sheep! I didn't even know they existed! I never felt so small, and so free; it was human existence in the right proportions.

Describe how it feels to be in nature - the emotions you feel and the senses that are activated.

I feel like I can breathe more deeply, that I have space. I feel my eyes move into their sockets and my shoulders lower 3 inches.  Nature also provokes feelings of awe and wonder. For example, the first time seeing the northern lights, or when the street light reflects off of softly falling snow, an owl in flight, and every single sunrise and sunset.

Tell me about a time nature failed you. 

Nature has never failed me. I am often disappointed in myself that I don't take better care of the nature around me; I wish I tried harder to live more lightly on the earth.

What is one beautiful place in the town where you live and what makes it beautiful?

I love the Grand River and the trails that follow the river through town. I love the sound of the water, how it bubbles over rocks. I love how varied the trail is, where some areas are forested and others are wide open, parts are dirt, others gravel, some paved. Most importantly I love how many access points there are to the trails and that I keep discovering new ones. Last Friday I found an access point at River Road and Lackner. It was a natural trail through a treed area and then became a gravel trail along the river. My favourite part was climbing a hill and at the top of the hill was a vista of a new housing development, which was hilarious. The people who live there are so lucky to have the river in their backyard.

What makes loving nature possible?

Preparedness makes it possible, good snacks, water, and gear. When it's raining, a decent rain coat, and rain boots will keep you dry and happy. In the winter, you can spend the entire day outside wearing a warm cozy jacket, snow pants, a good hat, mitts, warm boots that are light. Get good shoes, always good shoes. (Or no shoes at all in the summer.) If you dress for the weather and love to play, falling in love with nature is possible.

What are your thoughts on nature?

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Having more fun

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This post is in the spirit of checklists because I'm a bit checklist inspired at the moment – Warnick has made such good ones at the end of each chapter; I'm going to be getting one of these spring checklists from a friend of a friend; and, I love checklists. I've even been giving bullet journalling a try. 

After what has felt like a long winter, I'm especially grateful for the prompt to do something fun this month. It got me out to do a few things I might not have otherwise done. I went to see Black Panther (I cried imagining that future) and, as a family, we went jumping on trampolines at Skyzone.

This month's fun, combined with checklist inspiration as well as a conversation with my aunt got me thinking about what more fun I want to have. That's why I made the have more fun checklist that's in the photo! And, when I'm looking for other fun things to do that aren't on this list I'll look here, here, and here (these are Waterloo Region specific websites). 

What would be on your checklist? What fun thing(s) did you do this month?

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My neighbour's guide to being neighbourly

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Our neighbour has seen a lot of change in this neighbourhood over her five decades of living here - farmer's fields have turned into subdivisions and a high school; the expressway was built; two two-way streets have each become one-way streets; Towers turned into a Zellers which turned into a Wal-mart. Admittedly, I'd never heard of Towers. My earliest memories are of Woolco and the many bright red and blue Icees I consumed from there. Another change she has seen mirrors a quotation Warnick included in this month's chapter: 

"being neighborly [in the mid 20th century] meant reaching out to the people who lived next door...over the years, however, the term came to denote almost exactly the opposite. Today, being 'neighborly' means leaving those around you in peace...The sense of warmth once suggested by the term...has been replaced by a kind of detachment" (p. 71).

After I read this month's chapter, I wanted to know what my neighbour, who, by definition, is mid-20th century neighbourly, thinks being a good neighbour means. 

For her, it's pretty simple:

  • Say hi.

  • Help others, especially if you see they're in trouble, but first ask if they'd like your help. If they say no, respect that.

  • Go out of your way to help them - shovel their driveway; offer them extra chocolates you bought, especially if it looks like they're having a tough day.

  • Be generous. For us, this has meant that she has single handedly gifted our kid nearly his whole Robert Munsch storybook collection.

Similar to her mom, who also lived in this neighbourhood, my neighbour loves where she lives because there are walking trails close, shopping that is close, and there are good schools. Mostly, though, she described her love for her neighbourhood as something intangible: "it's my home", she explained, it's like"that feeling you get when you go away on a trip and come home and feel happy because you know you're home".  And I swear didn't even mention to her that I get that same feeling and I know she didn't read my blog post stating something similar!

What does being neighbourly mean to you? Have you been the giver or receiver of acts of neighbourliness and if so, what were they?

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How developers can be good neighbours.

Photo from the City of Waterloo's  neighbourhood strategy website

Photo from the City of Waterloo's neighbourhood strategy website

Between the City of Waterloo's recent wrapping up of the public consultation phase on their draft neighbourhood strategy and being in the midst of reading this month's book club chapter which talks about how our sense of place attachment is connected to the quality of our relationships where we live, I have been thinking about neighbours and how to be a good one. 

It's not too surprising, then, that a recent segment on CTV news got me wondering about how real estate developers might be good neighbours, too. This community is gearing up for a lot more growth, which will likely mean more development, so what responsibility do developers have beyond creating buildings for the growing population to live in? How can developers be good neighbours, too?

Consultation

Developers can actively seek input from community members and this type of conversation happens best face-to-face – by going door to door or hosting public consultations, for example. Following consultation, the original plan can be revised accordingly to show community members that their voices do, indeed, matter.  

Most importantly, consultation with various Indigenous persons in essential. Development would be happening on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishnawbe, and Haudenosaunee peoples

Art

I have been a member of the Region of Waterloo's Public Art Advisory Committee for the last five years and some of our conversations have been about the private sector's contribution to public art in this community. Developers might think about how art - both within and outside of their developments - enhance the look and feel of their building, as well as add to the Region's public art collection and vision. 

Relationships

New developments could broker relationships between generations, or across socio-economic status through mixed-income housing. Both ideas come with challenges, but the opportunity here is that bringing people together who might not have otherwise been neighbours has the potential to promote understanding and compassion among community members. 

What are some of your ideas about how developers can be good neighbours?

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More on Buying Local

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There are three things I love that are related to buying local: decluttering (please don't hate me!); people and the community they live in; and, falling asleep right after getting home from a very satisfying meal that someone else has cooked (not that I do much cooking; I leave that job mostly to my partner).

Decluttering

I'm quick to jump on any decluttering and organizing bandwagon, though my stamina for sticking out the ride tends to be low. Almost every year I sign up for The January Cure even though I've never come close to completing it. This year I signed up for the Joyous Health Kitchen Challenge and got through one day of seven. I read all of the tiny book The Magic Joy of Tidying Up and got rid of some of my clothes and books. For those of you who know the book, this would not have been the result if I followed the method exactly!

I'll probably keep signing up for new and popular decluttering fads because they post pretty pictures of homes and organizing systems and well, kids stuff abounds no matter how hard one tries to limit it and it's nice to think of it getting organized somehow.

However, the single best method I've found for decluttering my space has been not bringing stuff into it in the first place. Shopping local helps me do this - I think more about which purchases I really want to make because it often costs a little more to shop locally. Also, buying less means you have less to give away and most of our old clothes are not needed or wanted anyway.  

Community and the People In It

The story in this month's chapter about the town rallying to keep the local grocery store in business got me wondering about how well I and the community I live in support local businesses, and especially how we support these businesses during tighter times, like during construction of Waterloo Region's light rail transit system. I know first hand from speaking with some business owners how challenging construction was for their businesses financially. Recently Eating Well Organically, a longtime uptown store, shared they will be closing down

I think the book gives a lot of concrete and fun examples for supporting local businesses that I'd love to be a part of in this community going forward! Which of the ideas from this chapter's checklist do you like best?

Like Warnick said, local business owners care about their communities and the people in them, too. One recent example I can think of is that on the day of the Women's March, Open Sesame in Downtown Kitchener not only provided hot apple cider and donuts for people participating in the walk, but also donated 100% of their day's sales to the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region and Male Allies. 

Sleeping on a Full Stomach

The first time I remember experiencing that satisfied feeling I get that comes after eating a full and delicious meal and then promptly falling asleep afterwards was when I ate at a restaurant called Fonduementale in Montreal. This restaurant was exactly as sensational as the name implies - fondu for appetizers, fondu for the main course, fondu for dessert.

This practice does make for a short date; I'm sure no dietician in the world would endorse this as a step towards achieving optimal health; and dentists would surely be concerned that on the nights when I experience this kind of satisfaction I usually skip brushing my teeth. But, these reasons won't stop me because, of course, I want to keep supporting local restaurants like some of my favourites Classic Indian, Public Kitchen & Bar, Arabesque, The Lancaster SmokehouseThe Berlin KW where I went last night with a friend in support of a fundraiser for a local family services organization (dessert pictured above), to name only a few.

What did you think of this month's chapter? What other things did this month's chapter get you thinking about?

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Going slow. Shovelling snow.

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My biggest goal and greatest challenge is going slow. When I have succeeded at stopping my body from moving my mind goes on. And on. I don't think this experience is a unique one. This seeming need to be in constant motion is a function of my nature, I'm sure, but is also no doubt spurred on by the pace we are expected to keep in today's world. In doing my best to keep up, I walk and bike less than I would like to. 

This month's chapter talked about the effects of biking and walking, especially for increasing our sense of place attachment. Combining this knowledge with my ongoing goal to go slower in general I decided to end as many work days as possible a half hour earlier than usual. I would walk, rather than drive, to pick up my kid from daycare.

This was hard, mostly because I like to think in thirty minutes I can produce a lot – send more emails, write more words, get caught up on the news (i.e., scroll aimlessly through social media). In the end, thirty minutes at the end of the day wasn't much to give up. I realized, though probably already knew, this time of day is not productive for me at all – my brain is moving slowly and it's a real slog to get much done. So, a walk at the end of the day might actually be the best thing for me - our dog gets out for a walk, I listen to a podcast or some music, and I also spend a little bit of time by myself, something I love to do. 

Frigid temperatures and the snow accumulating on sidewalks made walking difficult some days, though. The challenge of navigating a stroller and our 60+ pound dog along snowy sidewalks has been an important reminder of how difficult it can be for older adults or people with physical disabilities, for example, to get around during the snowy months and how this restricted mobility can result in feelings of isolation that could contribute to anxiety or depression, as this article describes.

While snow removal on residential sidewalks in Waterloo is the responsibility of the homeowner, chapter two has me reflecting about alternative possibilities for sidewalk snow removal. In this Twitter thread I chatted with a few people about alternatives (like heated sidewalks!) including Robin Mazumder, a University of Waterloo doctoral candidate whose expertise lies in strengthening urban communities, including improving infrastructure so that cities become more walkable and bikeable. Snow removal can be a matter of life and death in his view and even if "citizens must do their part", as he said on Twitter last year, he also believes "cities should take responsibility for sidewalk maintenance".

What were your thoughts while reading chapter two?

More on going slow

I'm currently taking a long time to read a very short book that encourages going slow in an academic environment.

On a favourite podcast of mine, Edit your Life, they talk about going slow a lot and this recent episode talks about the benefits of doing so during the holiday season, like for seeing Christmas lights and how moving slowly can help you discover your neighbourhood differently, mirroring what Warnick says about walking around where she lives:

On foot, going slow, I saw its details. Attic windows made of old-fashioned wavy glass. Gold stone lions keeping vigil outside the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house. I entered a narrow alleyway I'd never seen before, which revealed Secret Garden style, a tiny church across from a miniscule park (p. 42)

More on city infrastructure

Live in Waterloo? Sign up for the City's new upcoming newsletter about active transportation.

Examining snow removal and other policies through a gendered lens.


Still want to join the book club? It's okay if you have yet to start the book. Don't even want to get the book, but still want to follow along? Sign up for my newsletter for book club updates and my musings about how I'm putting what I learn into practice. 

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