Public Display of Democracy: The Three Cities Dialogue


Democracy is an art.

At Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2011, Diaspora Dialogues and Toronto-based engagement firm MASS LBP invited the public to explore the implications of growing polarization in Toronto through an interactive exhibit designed by Toronto artist Mitchell Chan of Studio F-Minus and an extensive public dialogue facilitated by MASS LBP.

During the all-night Public Display of Democracy: The Three Cities Dialogue, the public’s participation in the dialogue served to help 44 randomly selected members of Toronto’s first Residents’ Reference Panel prepare for their deliberations, when they considered and proposed public recommendations to reverse this difficult trend.

New research in The Three Cities Within Toronto report from University of Toronto, written with J. David Hulchanski, shows that the gap between rich and poor across the city has been growing for more than thirty years, with surprising implications for the health and well-being of all Torontonians. The geography of this gap formed the basis for Mitchell Chan’s exhibit.

The public’s contributions during Public Display of Democracy: The Three Cities Dialogue was used to inform Toronto’s first-ever Residents’ Reference Panel. Members of the Panel met during three daylong sessions in November and December 2011. Panellists were randomly selected in October from respondents to a 5,000 household ‘Civic Lottery’—where randomly selected households received an invitation encouraging a member of the household to volunteer. The Panelists were selected to match the age and gender profile of the City, and one member was selected from each of the City’s 44 wards.

MASS LBP is a new kind of advisory firm which works with visionary governments and corporations to make better decisions while deepening and improving their efforts to engage and consult with citizens. Fundamentally we believe in people. Given the opportunity to participate in a thorough, fair and inclusive process, citizens are ready to provide constructive advice, offering officials the intelligence, perspective and sensitivity that difficult public issues require. Our work goes far beyond polling and focus groups. From conception to execution to evaluation, MASS LBP designs and delivers highly innovative engagement strategies that increase public understanding, legitimacy and support for complex decisions and policy choices.

Public Display of Democracy was made possible with the support of the Metcalf Foundation and Citizenship and Immigration Canada through Inter-Action.

Mitchell F Chan is an installation and new media artist whose work explores the edges of human perception and intuitiveness. Working in this vein, Studio F-Minus made their American museum debut in 2010, exhibiting a large installation at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. as part of their retrospective on photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge. Back home in Canada, Chan’s work continues to attract national media attention for its innovative approach to materials and technology, and their ability to sculpt new human experiences and concepts. Most recently, his sculptural work in the medium of water vapor was exhibited in the iconic John Hancock Tower, as part of an exhibition re-imagining the possibilities of public artworks in the city of Chicago.

Neighbourhood Change and Building Inclusive Communities from Within is a community-university research alliance based at the University of Toronto. Supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, with a focus on how neighbourhoods are changing and how community development initiatives can improve urban life, our work is focused on four themes: 1) trends, how neighbourhoods are changing since 1970; 2) processes, how the trends can be explained; 3) consequences, what the implications are; and 4) policy options—what policies and programs can effectively address undesirable trends. The website provides access to our research papers, summary reports, and related maps, as well as an online version of the 2010 report, The Three Cities Within Toronto: Income Polarization among Toronto’s Neighbourhoods, 1970-2005.

Deeper Dialogues has been made possible by the Metcalf Foundation

Metcalf is 50 years old this year, and to mark this anniversary it has made a small number of special one-time grants designed to celebrate and strengthen our city. Over its history, the Foundation has made sustained contributions to the vitality of our urban life, most recently by focusing its efforts on enhancing the vibrancy of the professional performing arts, addressing issues of poverty, and ensuring the ecological integrity of our natural and working lands. Building on this tradition, and its long and close relationship with Toronto, Metcalf invited a small group of organizations to give their best city-building idea. Metcalf was and is interested in the potential inherent in unleashing ideas not possible under ordinary circumstances. How “city building” was defined was entirely up to them, Metcalf asked only that each organization’s approach reflect their unique mission and contributions to our landscape.

East Scarborough Storefront, a partnership of residents, community groups, and social service agencies in the dynamic, low-income neighbourhood of Kingston Galloway Orton Park, will build an eco-food hub that will act as the foundation for a range of environmental and food-security focused initiatives. With creative leadership from local youth, architects, and designers the Storefront’s building will be transformed resulting in, amongst other things, a commercial grade kitchen, composting systems, new green spaces, and a rainwater management and irrigation infrastructure. The eco-hub will be a model of how linking economic justice, green issues, and food can contribute to community wellbeing, neighbourhood renewal, and a stronger urban fabric.

Theatre Passe Muraille will present an exciting slate of events designed to break down the walls between the theatre and its surrounding neighbourhood. This city-building initiative is grounded in the belief that institutional arts organizations need to change the type of engagements that they have with audiences—going out into the community and building relationships with people who might not attend traditional theatre performances. To this end, over an 18-month period, artists will create and perform work with the general public on the streets and community spaces around the theatre building, on public transit, in taxi cabs, walking and dancing down Queen West, and in many other locales.

Sustain Ontario, a province-wide, cross-sectoral alliance that promotes healthy food and farming, will undertake “Good Food Ideas to Feed a Hungry City,” an initiative aimed at engaging the broader public in a discussion about sustainable, socially just food systems. Using social media strategies and locally based events, Sustain will advance a series of ideas about how Torontonians, in partnership with rural communities, can work together towards a food system that is healthy, ecological, equitable and financially viable.