Written by Pranav Sidhwani
Pranav Sidhwani is an ELN member and works as a management consultant and sees cities as his natural habitat. Connect with Pranav.
As a newcomer to Canada, I’ve been looking to build my community and meet people who share not only my concerns for the world we live in, but also my optimism for being able to make a change. I found this community in the form of CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network and plugged in by attending the ELN’s first ever dinner party: ELN’s CivicDish.
CivicDish is part of a series of conversations initiated by CivicAction across the GTHA about pressing urban issues in the region. At the ELN’s CivicDish dinner party, I grabbed dinner, joined a table of interesting individuals with diverse backgrounds, and spent the evening discussing what it means to build an inclusive city. In addition to being a pressing issue in our region, it is a topic that is close to me both professionally and personally.
I have lived in some of the most diverse cities in the world: Delhi, Mumbai, Boston, Chicago, and now Toronto. Despite many challenges, these cities see diversity as one of their defining features and strengths.
I grew up in India, where I was part of the majority. Partly due to my career starting out as a public policy researcher focused on urbanization at a leading think tank, I was aware of my privilege. I researched and wrote extensively on residential segregation in big Indian cities and the difficulties it creates for certain sub-groups of the population, despite not having faced those difficulties myself.
Moving to North America posed an interesting challenge. I was suddenly put in a situation where I was being told that I was a visible minority. I still remember filling out my first official form after moving to Canada five months ago where I was asked if I identified as a “racialized” person. I didn’t know how to respond to that question – even though I looked like a “racialized” person, I had never really felt like one.
This challenge, for me, has shed light on the difference between diversity and inclusivity. While diversity is reduced to numbers, inclusivity is about creating a sense of belonging. Unless we build inclusive cities, our diversity will never be our strength.
And this was the main theme of our discussion at my table at CivicDish that evening. All participants, irrespective of their backgrounds, had experiences to share about their struggles with belonging, especially in professional spaces. These struggles are accentuated by the lack of representation in leadership positions, trickling down to firm cultures. One of the participants shared an anecdote that really resonated with me, and which I’ll attempt to capture here. He grew up in a predominantly immigrant suburb, and the first time he experienced wine and cheese nights was at a professional event. He used the term “socially underdeveloped” to explain how his experience thus far was very different from the experiences of his other colleagues. No one should feel “underdeveloped” because they had different experiences.
So how do we build inclusive cities? I don’t have the solution – all I have is my lived experience – but by sharing our stories in forums like CivicDish and participating in similar organizations we can contribute towards developing and implementing solutions that rise out of all of our experiences.
If you’re interested in learning more about this issue and contributing to finding solutions, you can host your own CivicDish by April 14 or participate in CivicAction’s Design Jam on April 28.