Bianca Wylie and Jutta Treviranus on housing and homelessness!
Arezoo: Hello, and welcome to the 16th episode of quantization!
Arezoo: Returning to the topic of housing and living places, we invited Bianca Wylie and Jutta Treviranus to talk about housing and homelessness. The subject itself is broad and touches many areas, including government policies and roots and its history. As a result, this conversation will come in two parts; the first part is on the background of the complex issue, and the second one will focus more on homelessness. You can also listen to our previous related episodes or read the full transcripts; Episode 11, Built Environment and Public Health, and Episode 14, Aging, Inclusion, and Homelessness.
Kaveh: Bianca is an open government advocate. She is the co-founder of Digital Public, a co-founder of Tech Reset Canada and is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. She worked for several years in the tech sector in operations, infrastructure, corporate training, and product management. She is also a columnist, guest lecturer and speaker on open government and public sector technology policy.
Arezoo: Jutta Treviranus is the Director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) and professor at OCAD University in Toronto, formerly the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre. She also established an innovative graduate program in Inclusive Design. Jutta has led many international multi-partner research networks that have created broadly implemented technical innovations that support inclusion. The IDRC conducts proactive research and development in the inclusive design of emerging information and communication technology and practices.
Arezoo: Hello Jutta and Bianca, thank you for being part of this conversation and welcome to our podcast. Let’s start by introducing yourselves.
Jutta: Hi, I’m Jutta Treviranus and I’m the Director of the Inclusive Design Research Center at OCAD University.
Bianca: Hi, I’m Bianca Wylie and I’m the co-founder of Tech Reset Canada.
Kaveh: This is episode 16; volume 13th of signal, Fungi Network-part 1
Jutta: So Bianca, I’ve wanted to talk to you about so many different things. I mean, so much of what you’ve written, so much of what you’ve said resonates with what we are grappling with and struggling to find ways to resolve within the Inclusive Design Research Center. There are some really gnarly, complex issues that we haven’t yet found ways to resolve. We have some sense of what might be a promising direction and a sense of what are really dangerous directions that things are sliding in or on sort of this collision course. And you touch upon many of those. I really welcome this opportunity to perhaps struggle in finding some directions with you, because I think collectively adding up what you’ve been considering and giving careful thought to are also some of the directions that we have.
Jutta: So I’m hoping through this conversation, we can find perhaps some new insights that might progress in the more promising, rather than the risky directions that we’re going in. And today what we wanted to talk about was the issue of housing and place and home, and who participates in the planning of that, who benefits, who’s marginalized and talk a little bit more about homelessness and statelessness, the participation in the decision-making about who has the right to space, who has the right decisions about what happens to place and home and living. That’s what this conversation hopefully is about.
Bianca: Thanks for setting that up. There’s a lot of kindness in that offer to have this conversation, and I’m very excited to have it because I think when you talk about risk and opportunity, I think the gnarliness and the messiness, if there’s only one thing to say before we get into it, it’s that we need to, I think be wrangling with that more and differently. I think like for me, the idea that we just, I don’t know, I’m stuck between this tension of we know very well what we should do, and we don’t do it, but also how are we pragmatic in the face of that?
Bianca: So how do we evolve? How do we adapt? I’ve just recently been thinking a lot about salvage. We have these institutions and they touch many of the topics you talked about, they’re not working for a lot of people, but they’re there, they’re big. And there has to be to my mind some reuse or adaptation that we in terms of collectiveness of governance and discussions of building and power, we can’t go from zero either. So what to do tomorrow is really my question always. What are we supposed to do when we wake up tomorrow about these things and honor all of that history, but also be ready for the messiness that we’re sitting in and make that messiness joyous enough that people want to join us in that work. I think that feels like such a common theme right now is these things we have to have a different tone. We have to get back to knowing what collectiveness is.
Bianca: I’ll just end on this one point of profound alienation, loneliness and expecting people to be politicized anew when their starting point is so grim because of how all of these systems have treated them which these are systems, I shouldn’t depersonalize it. The humans that have designed and implemented these systems are treating them. How do we get at that? And that’s much more to me, emotional and human challenge and psychological. I have also been struggling with how we think about different worldviews. What are the words and stories that we tell to make it possible, to think really differently than we maybe doing the last year, whatever.
Bianca: I really have been rooting myself in the eighties on, like if we’re going to talk about anything, we have to start, to my mind at least, 40 years back. I mean, ideally you go all the way back to the beginning of shared history of humans. But I think there’s something really specific about the last four decades and what they’ve done to our capacity to operate as people together in our governance and our democracy. I’ll stop there. I think those are the high level, some of the themes that I think we’ll probably touch on, but I’d love to get it grounded in the particulars of what you’re thinking about.
Jutta: Yeah. I mean, you touch upon this notion of trust and willingness to engage and having burned by saying your piece, but not being heard or being sidelined. I think one of the largest, most egregious collateral damage of the last four, it has been that idea of trust and engagement. I mean, one of the things that, what you just said triggered in me is this concern that I’ve had that one of the things we’ve lost is the ability for self-critique. The polarization that’s happened has made it such that we are so defensive that there’s no opportunity to actually improve or to evolve or progress things like democracy and evidence and truth and the processes of knowledge.
Jutta: We’ve reduced them to these very, very simplistic, very shallow senses of what they are. That to some extent has robbed us of those tools. The problem is, of course, that it’s this vicious cycle, or there’s a chicken and egg concept because in order to actually salvage, we have to rethink how we actually do the processes. How do we not lose the value of democracy by virtue of critiquing democracy and rethinking what we mean by democracy or what we mean by non-ideological decision-making, how we arrive at things like consensus, and I’m probably getting too theoretical here, but-
Bianca: No, but I think to make some of that very personal, one of the things that I have experienced and continue to think a lot about is when everyone is as ragged as they are because of circumstance that has been over decades. Again, imagine for people to want to engage in our democracy, to engage in advocacy and activism and collective action, after perhaps a day that has drained them and robbed them of energy in the first place, you have to think about what you’re inviting people to. And the ways that we talk to each other right now, even the conversation about how we have conversations, doesn’t feel right to me. For the most part we’re getting into this cancel culture woke. There’s a polarization even in there, which in some ways doesn’t allow us to have the conversation that feels like it needs to be had, which is more about, who’s allowed to make a mistake?
Bianca: And I think we know this. It’s like, who’s allowed to fail? Who’s allowed to be in public and say the wrong thing? Who can afford their narrow group of colleagues or allies to be upset with them. And I think this is where this all gets very dangerous is that everybody has such, in some cases, limited access to support and kindness and love in their journey as a human. That when you get into these really emotional spaces, they’re not generally creating the space we need to have hard, messy conversations where you’re going to screw up multiple times in a day. That is not the kind of space that we’re creating. For the most part, everything we say now is too broad brush. There are places that are exceptions to this rule, of course, but there are so many days where I stop and I think, my job is to politicize net new people.
Bianca: We don’t need, to my mind, to keep reshuffling the partisan debt, because that’s what for me our political leaders. Everybody knows generally how they can gain who’s involved or not. And if we need to politicize net new people, there has to be a good, compelling reason for them to come and join a fight with us. And a lot of the spaces that I see or I’m adjacent to, and I try my best not to be doing this thing I’m talking about, but it’s hard because we are all ragged. And I think this is the problem is that the institution of the state is supposed to be doing so much of this lifting without. I think the bar is so low that even some of the things that are up for consultation, should not be.
Bianca: There was a consultation in Toronto about poverty reduction years ago. And I remember thinking, this is grotesque. We are asking people to come out to prioritize and rank which of their poverties they would like to have at the bottom or the top of the list. Is it access to transportation? Is it housing? Is it childcare? Which of these indignities would you like inflicted upon you in a priority order? The fact that that could happen to me, this is why I always go back to the eighties. There’s so much that’s now, and this is Wendy Brown’s work, Undoing the Demos is a really good book. David Murakami Wood recommend it to me and lend it to me.
Bianca: We’re having to show up for fights where we’re not informing things, it’s peer defense. It’s mitigation of the worst thing. That’s not what co-design, you know this better than I do, but I mean, that’s so different than the work we need to be doing together. That’s why I’m not ready to let the state off the hook because we can’t do this all on our own. There’s types of infrastructures that are big capital investments that we can’t just do on our own. We can’t just come together and figure it out ourselves and just give up on the state. But there was a lot in there, but I’ll stop there, but I’m just saying that piece of how we need to do our work is highly unresolved to my mind. And we’re even struggling with the language to, I don’t know where we even … It’s great that we’re talking about this, because I don’t even know where this particular conversation can live.
Jutta: And my additional worry to all of that is that the salvage or the renovation, the rebuilding needs to go, I think far before the eighties. And just even this notion of, what is planning? What’s decision-making? We’re denying that people are diverse. We’re still basing our decision making and even our consultation process on trying to find the one thing, the priority, the ranking, the rating. One of the other things we’re asking people there to do is to make just untenable compromises that are going to unravel the whole thing anyway. We are pitting one person against the other, one critical need against another. And so just at the very, very core or foundation of those consultations or engagements or whatever we want to call it, even co-design or participatory design, is this sense that there is a dominant view or there’s one priority or there’s a winning system.
Jutta: One of the things that I’ve found solace in is to think more and more about these very, very tiny, small, bottom up community things where we rebuild right from the ground up. Where it starts with a few people and their concerns and the kindness and generosity to each other and co-constructing something that starts very small and grows slowly from there. But the other silver lining to the current disruption is, is there an opportunity to get that far back to really rethink right to the point of how we make decisions, how we arrive at how we plan, how we move forward with our planning?
Bianca: Well, I think, two things. One of them is that I’ve been on long overdue rapidly accelerating understanding of the reconciliation. I always have to say, without truth, there is none. In terms of the Canadian history, looking at what the idea of treaty offers in this country, because the shakiness even of the sovereignty of this country, when you talk about how far back you go in history. When I mentioned worldview, this is one place where I really have hit a wall in how you describe different worldview, because I think one of the things I’m concerned about in Canada, and it will get back to the micro, but just to touch on the historical, the core, core, fundamental piece of anything in terms of relationship to land, is then turning around and thinking about relationship amongst people and animals, planet, everything, but it’s relationship, this idea of relationship.
Bianca: And I think in Canada, the thing that I see a serious tension in is those that have put in a lot of work to understand Canada’s long history, sometimes to my mind, in treaty and treaty is not everywhere in Canada, just to say it, but in the idea of a relationship, I think to my mind is remembering there’s two parties to it. And that it’s not about trying to convert to a different worldview. It’s understanding that you’re in relationship in Canada through the crown.
Bianca: My responsibility is to uphold my end of the deal. And I need to look through my institution no matter how much I want to be frustrated by it, and that’s the work that I think, it can’t be left behind in this sort of like whatever our new way of doing our work is, we always, to my mind, have to still rehook it to the state because through all of what is being done that’s wrong in this country is done in our name. In myself as a settler, I identify all the harm that’s happening all the way through and back to the land that it’s being done in my name, which means I’m okay with it basically. If it’s being done in my name, I co-signed and I’m complicit.
Bianca: And I think the reason I bring this up is because the wall for me that I’m hitting is that, for better or for worse, tomorrow morning, this democracy in the state and the city and the planning department and all of it, that’s what we do have to contend with. And so how do we map? And here I think, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Sheila Foster’s work?
Jutta: A little bit.
Bianca: So she’s been doing this work long study over the last years of the idea of co-creating the city and thinking about Elinor Ostrom work as the commons. And how you hold that up versus the right to the city, because they’re different. They’re interesting, different thinking. When I bring this back down to the practical and back to the land and back to these conversations of a place and a few people and a project and a something, how do we salvage what’s useful of the interface of the state and map it to what you talked about? Those few kind individuals who are willing to work together to do something helpful, how do those two things talk to each other?
Bianca: That’s for me, this real space of opportunity, but who has the time and the energy to dig in, to do that? And even if you think about the funding of that work or the support of that labour, there’s no such thing. And one of the reasons that I do go to the eighties a lot is I don’t know if people have fully viscerally understood the damage that the nonprofit and philanthropic sector has done to the idea of volunteerism, and volunteerism comes with a whole politics of trouble. So not just like who gets to participate. But my, my, my, the last 40 years have been utter failure in terms of what this civil society piece is supposed to be supporting and bringing to the table.
Bianca: There’s something in there that is particularly germane to this discussion. Because all of these civil society places where the people can show up, because it’s part of their job to the consultation at 10:00 AM, they’re still hemmed in because of the economics and the politics of that model. I don’t see the identification of that particular slice happening enough because it gets us right back to what we were talking about earlier. It’s uncomfortable to talk about the dynamics of power and money when it’s people saying, no, I’m here to do the right thing. No, I’m here on behalf of civil society. No, I’m here on behalf of people. And I think you know like I know, I know a lot of people who are not well-represented by civil society, so what do we salvage from that? Because that to me is less salvageable than the state.
Jutta: Yeah. Even before you got to the point of representation, I was going to talk about the difficulty of representation and who represents and who is representable even by virtue of being so unique and different from the conception of who is being served. Of course, we’ve been working in the disability space and this is such a tangled and messy domain. Just even the ‘of’ and the ‘for’ issue has been there for some time.
Jutta: One of the biggest enemies, I think of equity and dignity within that space has been charity, which was clothed as something that was for, and that had good intentions, but the charity ecosystem is so destructive that the power imbalance that’s there, the implicit notion that … And of course that also has echoes in Canadian history where you have something clothed in this notion of doing good, when in fact what it’s doing is extracting your power, your say, the relationship of needing to have gratitude towards someone that is in fact really not thinking about your best interest in the long term.
Bianca: Yeah. And we don’t talk about efficacy and we need to, because this stuff has not been working. When I say this stuff, I mean, philanthropy in so many spaces in the nonprofit sector. And I don’t mean to belittle the holding back the worse, but we’ve solidly entrenched the status quo in ways that it makes it so difficult to understand where you break, like how you break through it. And that gets, again, the worldview piece. That’s a very Victorian world. That is the founding notion of some of this country is that Victorian looking down on the world. If you can’t make it work, there must be something wrong. So let me help you. That is so destructive.
Bianca: And I think if I fast forward this to something very current in terms of how it manifests, compliance is a terrible space for creativity, opportunity, home, joy, beauty. And what I’m concerned about in say the disability and the design space is that when people come into maybe advocacy or activism without a deep grounding of the understanding of these histories and worldviews, is that they turn around and start hollering about compliance. And that is not it. That is such a short sell of the beauty of what could be designed differently.
Bianca: And if you come into the world with a compliance mindset, you’re cooked because that’s where the state is fantastic. So we have to be so careful where you line up for things that have a compliance mechanism as what success looks like and that I’m sure, you know specifics of the way that has manifested in the disability space in ways that I don’t. But I know that just generally, it doesn’t invite either. A very, very tiny, this is the tiniest example, but when I have started to write alternative text for images, when I’m writing, for some people might be a drag, because it slows them down, for me, has given me this reason to pause and stop. I’m like, “Wow, how am I going to describe this?”
Bianca: And I’ve had beautiful, wonderful moments of stopping and sometimes going, this is not worth it, first of all, because it slowed me down enough to think, what am I doing right now? And speed is something we should talk about. But just that tiny, tiny version of realizing, wow, if we have to … Doing the work to make things accessible, is a creative opportunity. And I don’t think most people when they interact with things related to disability communities, I don’t think that’s their first or second or third, maybe, even thought. I think somehow they line up behind something that has to do with compliance for equity. And there we go, we’ve just lost such a huge surface area for really thoughtful, beautiful creation that would invite people in. So this feels like one of these internal places of trouble.
Jutta: Yeah. And compliance denies diversity as well. I mean, it was a strategy of a group that felt marginalized. And so I know very well, very intimately that weird unintended consequence. And of course by the things like the web content accessibility guidelines, which I was complicit in helping to develop, has become the sacred thing that if I … And having critiqued it and the direction that it has taken, to some extent, I’m being disloyal to my field is how it’s viewed.
Jutta: And I’m currently involved in a number of initiatives where I’m representing accessibility, universal design, inclusive design, and it’s so disheartening to see the reaction to it being a legal liability risk. So it’s viewed as a risk assessment and seen as something that is antithetical to the other good values of the design, which is so sad because, of course, inclusive design as we see it, would be to honor and understand the value of diversity that here is the opportunity to create something that works for the full range of individuals. And with that comes adaptability, creativity, innovation, and new ways forward.
Bianca: This to me strikes at the heart of something that never ever goes away, which is, and it’s part of the Western worldview problem. You have to be able to hold on to two truths at the same time. And our brains, when you grow up in a Western worldview culture, don’t like that idea and to how to get out of that idea. Because it’s not to say that there shouldn’t be compliant, of course, there should be. But if you put all your energy into this mitigation, raising the bar, and this is why we also have to talk about, we are at the end of such a wild wreckage decline mode. You can’t invite people into this work without describing, we’re holding back some wildly powerful forces, and that’s not even the full extent of the work, but that energy and that labor is undoing people.
Bianca: And that’s not even the other side of, and already two is too few, but this is this two truths piece. And this is why in the pandemic, I will say personally, one of my big struggles has been on one hand, I want to roll in a ball and just say, I need to rest because we’re in a fight and flight persistence that is not right and we’re going to have fall out. At the same time, the safe power is accelerating and entrenching itself. I’m watching technology procurements flying through the political offices and I’m thinking, well, no one here seems to be slowing down. And so that’s like in this moment, we’re never going to stop having to contend with this two truths of this mitigating defensive work and holding it. It’s like always having two feet, and one foot in a different place, is the other.
Bianca: I think all of us need to have this mindset of, how do you honor and critique the defensive work and keep enough energy and space to do the productive building work? And that is, of course both are productive, but productive brings its own plethora of trouble. But you follow to my mind at the heart of this thing is this inability to hold on to multiple things at the same time. Because it’s a worldview thing to me, in my read of the world, I have a Western worldview. I have that Victorian mindset. I have that scientific, and the amount of energy I have to take every time I write something to say, one of the solutions, one of the problems, one of the ways we could do this, that we have to thread together tens and hundreds of approaches, diversity of tactics.
Bianca: So how do we do that meta organizing? Because what happens in our activism and our advocacy is that binary thing kicks in again. And it’s also why transgender discussions have been so informative. That is a place where I see, although it’s fraught and people’s learnings are all over the place, there’s a thing happening of expansiveness, where there is a visibility and a discourse that applies to our relationship to so many other things. All the way into the building and the land, all of it. It’s all in there. And so I think part of this may also be, how do we get out of the literal and into more of the figurative abstract storytelling stuff that lets us take some of these issues and reorganize them to our work?
Bianca: I mean, mushrooms, I don’t know how much you trip around that we see right away. Mushrooms are one of the species, this place between plants and humans, where there’s so much language and so many graphics that help people see these really deep systems composed of … In fact, I just want to go back to your point about a few people. In fungal systems, I know nothing of this. This is a tiny anecdote. I don’t know about mycelium. I don’t know this stuff. But when you think about the tiny, tiny, tiny pieces of systems that hold soil from eroding into the ocean, that you have these tiny, tiny, tiny little things that together are so strong and they’re holding back major physical occurrence, it’s like, how do we be more like fungi? That’s one of the ways I’ve been thinking. How can we be more like fungi together?
Bianca: And there’s a lot to borrow from decentralized governance in systems like that. And I feel like I’m very laid down on the bus of this, but there’s this film called Fantastic Fungi. And it was one of the ways I started to learn about mycelium. And look, when I go and I turn to the tech networks that are doing cool things, they’ve been on this forever, of course they have. Of course they have. They know. They understand salvage. They understand different ways for governance and decentralized systems and how things that are very small and far apart work together.
Bianca: And so these natural opportunities for learning and converting into our advocacy spaces feels like there’s some there, like that’s a space where I feel a little excited and happy when I look at it and think, okay, there’s some language here. There’s some actual science in here. It can relate for analogy and for storytelling. And it doesn’t throw away, this is really important. Western science doesn’t all go into trash bin because it has all kinds of problematic elements.
Bianca: There is value to quantifying it to math and decide, of course there is. But how do we find these spaces where there’s the abundance of thinking around systems, but it’s practical enough because I can’t sit for more than an hour in like a design thinking abstract system’s conversation. I can’t, because I start to get antsy. And then I think, how does this manifest in life? That’s just a place where, again, gnarly, messy, I’m not sure, but just trying to point to something that has helped me think a little bit, and I’m definitely reading a lot more of mushrooms this year than I was last year.
Jutta: Yeah. Of course. Ursula Franklin talked about earthworming. We have to act like earthworms as well. And I’ve gone through that evolution of thought. I mean, I was quite enamored by Kevin Kelly’s notion of a collective mind, et cetera. Tying together of networks for a very short period of time. I love the idea of the role of fungi in creating a communication system among trees. It’s a way of being generous to another tree or collective survival where if you have drought in one tree or if it’s not getting the right nutrients or the interaction between the deciduous and coniferous trees in terms of the seasons where they feed each other through the fungi, those are lovely models.
Jutta: The two ideas that I’ve been trying to hold is this notion that stasis is not, if we take the WCAG [Web Content Accessibility Guidelines] or the conformance and compliance, and it’s funny that I’m tying those two words together, but I think to some extent it is the same thing. The one thing that we can’t do there is ossify something and cause stasis. I think that’s the point at which it’s arrived at, the accessibility legislation. It also has a industry capitalist notion there because what’s happening is it has sprouted an industry that wants to self-preserve and grow.
Jutta: So if we look at what actually could have been legislated, a lot of the things that didn’t have an industrial motive or a profit motive to it, are not growing as they should. So it’s supporting this idea of WCAG compliance because that’s something that can be sold. Where the fear or the risk of non-compliance is something that can be used to motivate someone, to hire someone to test whether it’s compliant. As where the authoring side of it, which would mean that people with disabilities would be able to also be producers and it would decrease the amount of profitable testing that would happen because the tool itself would create accessible content wherever possible. That has not made it as far. It’s a really interesting analogy to see where is there public support, just ecosystem support for certain types of good policy and where is there not.
Bianca: But I think in here when we talk about, let’s say homelessness, housing, the idea that people should, and I think this also brings us back to rights. And when you talk about the right to the city or housing as a human right, good access to justice thinking is your rights are only as useful as your capacity to exercise them. I think there’s something that we have to say, like it’s, again, there’s an obscenity level here with what people have to come and consult on and debate and fight for. And how is it possible? Because that to me, the kind of stasis piece of what the state represents is like, this is where we should be showing up.
Bianca: And I’m going to again reference, Wendy Brown’s work is really interesting and she’s stuck on the neoliberal piece of this. And the reason it matters is, there’s many reasons, but one reason is that so many people have come to accept their democracy and their rights within a democracy only as like economic, like they have to be tied to economics. She mentioned back to, Barack Obama had a speech where it was all about people coming to the United States and you always hear this one. Well, this person was a refugee, or this person was an immigrant. You don’t have to produce to have rights. And I think the idea that somehow our rights as political people are now always framed, and there has to be some economic piece. You have to come to the table with a narrative that response to the economic incentive pressure.
Bianca: We need to show up to the state in a non-economic capacity, because we have other rights related to these things and we need to exercise, and this is where I’d love a broader group of people, newly politicized, to show up because the demands for housing is for everybody in Canada to have housing, come on. I know there are people who would say you don’t deserve housing if you don’t know how to have a job, or if you can’t be productive. I don’t think that’s the majority of Canada. Now, Canada surprises me on a daily basis. What if we get everybody out, I’m ready to be disappointed. I’m disappointed all the time. But that fight is one that so many other people to be picking up because you don’t have to think a lot of that, honestly, it’s like, where are we creating false complexity in the fighting?
Bianca: That piece of it, to ask people to show up for other people’s human rights, was probably the one, I don’t know if you saw that speech, the only thing in the last American electoral cycle running up to now was that speech of people holding hands and a man saying if you’ve had this happen to you, squeeze your hand. Have you been housing insecure, I’m not going to get what he said. But it was this physical intervention to say, you’ve had that pain, you’ve had that pain, you’ve had that pain, this person, two people, I’m only holding two people’s hands and they’ve had this pain.
Bianca: How do we remember to show up for each other, for these things that don’t require more than a 15 minute conversation to explain why you’re showing up? Let’s save the complexity and the consultation and the design and the activism, and the advocacy for that other side of the fight. And I think there’s something in there that that’s part of the work of how we reorganize this because, again, we’re at this such a fundamentally broken place. And I know that’s again by design of asking people to engage in too much. It’s too much. Right?
Jutta: Yeah. And I want to just back up and clarify what I meant by producers not just consumers before. What I meant there was participating, having the capacity and being empowered to participate. So it was more a producer of the voice because what we were talking about was the web. I think the participation needs to be to some extent on our terms. There is the organized collective, whatever. But even before that, there has to be the opportunity to be able to reflect yourself and to prepare yourself and to be able to have the tools and to have the space and to have the luxury of being able to think, who am I? What is my position? And to express that in some way, and to play with it and get feedback, and then come to that collective conversation.
Jutta: And you’re right. Often when I said production, it seemed to go to that monetizing place. And yes, everything is being monetized. The one thing that I’m also so worried about is that our technical systems which are taking over, the only two values that are there are popularity and money. Those are the only two values that are measured, reflected. The data that we’re gathering is about the popular, there’s no way to express values that are not part of those metrics. It’s either one person, one vote, and we tally them up in the largest number wins, or it’s on how much, what’s the impact monetarily?
Jutta: We really need to think about ways of making manifest within. What you’re talking about in terms of the hand, that’s manifest. It’s something that is grounded. It is real. We need to make manifest other values and popularity and money, and the coming together collectively, and being able to represent yourself collectively and knowing who to trust and who not to trust and understanding means that you need the tools and the space and the security to be grounded in yourself before you join that collective space and make decisions together.
Bianca: And I think that’s where, when I think of it from a reconciliation perspective, for example, the idea that I’m listening to people thinking about how you would deal with sovereignty. What I’ve learned in using that word lately is it resonates with the Quebec conversation. It does not necessarily resonate in a country of so many different nations, which is what Canada is. Canada’s own sovereignty is definitely contestable.
Bianca: So the point there is that this thing that I don’t see enough to my mind understanding of is, we need to split up who’s fighting which piece of a fight. And in terms of anybody being able to manifest sovereignty, the needs save the institution of Canada as a state, making sure that those infrastructures, whether they’re housing, water, all of this, fighting that fight to make sure that some of those promises are kept and that relationship is more supportive of people being able to engage in their sovereignty of their nations say, or of a liberal democracy in Canada. Your point it’s so important.
Bianca: And I think what happens is people skip over that piece of their responsibility to fight that fight and get mired in some of the more specifics or more granular pieces of maybe it’s design and maybe it’s this, or maybe it’s that, and that baseline isn’t there. That foundation for people to be able to participate isn’t there, and the politics of how to engage with that. I think this goes back to this tiredness of so many who know if you show up in Ottawa and say, we need everybody to have a home, they’re not doing it. It’s not happening. Like this thing where I think, well, of course you would think there’s some moral in a country as small and as rich as this one. This Canada, for me, frustrates me in a way that I can’t believe. It’s so different than anywhere else, because it’s what we could be doing instead.
Bianca: We could be leading so many different things for others to see because we have that capacity. And that’s why getting all mixed in with the United States is a cultural problem we have on so many levels. But Canada is, again, grotesque in the opportunity cost of how we could be operating differently. And this is it. We could set those baseline conditions so easily here. So that that next level up would be just thriving. This is where Canada, it’s so wrong with that context. We can’t get those conditions set as a baseline, because it’s hard for us to talk about different collectivism advocacy, activism, co-creation, co-design, when as you say, who has the time to reflect and come out and be themselves in a slow way?
Bianca: And when you talk about metrics, we have no metrics for listening. The high premium that should be on inactivity right now, like when you don’t do a thing that makes things worse, or when you actually listen long enough to even maybe change your mind, there’s no metric there. That’s recorded as inactivity in a lot of the ways that we collect data. And that’s really problematic because how are we going to move through that? So I like that you brought it back to that sort of like on a data level, where are we recording and how are we identifying value and how we value things like silence and slowness, which are inefficiency is fundamentally vital to good relationships. I am sure of it. You have to be inefficient with relationships, because that means you even have space to screw up. You have space to say the wrong thing to each other. You’ve space to cool off and come back and know that you care more about each other and what you’re doing, then that thing that happened in the heat of the moment, say in the conversation.
Bianca: So how we value that item, I mean, that’s not what’s happening in our technical systems. It’s not supposed to solve what’s happening in our political systems. And it would be really interesting to creatively try to understand that problem, but maybe this is where it goes back to your example of a few people doing a thing together. And I think that inheriting the idea that scale is a necessary piece of stuff. It’s another problem. But where do we pull the capacity if we think about terms like centralized and decentralized? I think one of the things that a colleague of mine, Sean McDonald, has been really good at helping me understand is devolved. Like decentralized, we know we’ve got no shot at holding it all together. When if things are fully decentralized, I think we lose the chance to salvage the institutions that could be the devolved layer of some of these.
Bianca: So I’m just trying to put some of these words in, because I know that they live both in the planning and other communities of centralized, decentralized planning, but what does devolved stuff look like? Can we think about what’s the adequate middle, and it’s not exactly going to be middle, but there’s something there when we want to think of a governance structure to make sure that we don’t over-index to the decentralized models. Because I think when I think about whether we think fungi or others, I think people, they go over too far to the completely decentralized models, and I don’t see how we can do our work that way either.
Jutta: Yeah. I think that you were mentioning the state before and the importance of the state. And I think one of the roles that the state should have is to defend us, or to create a space where we both can have those deliberate, thoughtful self-reflection, but then the smaller reflections. And you were mentioning Canada. I’m an immigrant, so Canada is something that I’ve done more conscious reflection of what is Canada versus all the other countries I’ve lived in.
Jutta: And the one thing that bothers me about Canada is we abandoned things at the point when they become successful. So having been involved in things like VolNet and SchoolNet and all of those collective efforts, the minute they reach any sort of sustainability and survival, thriving, we drop them because there’s this idea that … I haven’t completely analyzed why that is, but we tend towards paternalism. I mean, the desire to do good turns to paternalism too often. And collectively we let that happen as opposed to taking our right to participating in the decision-making.
Jutta: And you’re right about the values. We have demonized so many things that are so valuable, like mistakes and failure, especially in education and learning. Our notions of scale are that it has to be formulaic, replication, as opposed to scaling by diversification, which would make it more dynamically resilient. I’m conscious Kaveh and Arezoo of the time. And I’m glad you have some post-production opportunity as well. Oh gosh, there are so many things I would love to continue with this discussion.
Jutta: Kaveh, we probably haven’t been talking so much about homelessness or community or homes as much, but I think it all undergirds this, in order to create a space that is home, that makes space for everyone, I think these are issues that we need to at least consider and salvage of course means that we accept some of the things that we can’t currently change. I think it is a process of evolution where we need to build those fungi networks between each other that will allow each of the trees to thrive.
Bianca: Yes, it’s not a yes, but it’s a yes and. When we talk about housing and homelessness, I think it’s one of those areas where so long as we … Who’s we? Those of us who might be involved in, I’ll say people who are involved in city building or urban issues. If we don’t shift the frame into some of these structural things, I feel like we’re just going to enter the fifth decade of replicating this neoliberal governance structure problem, where you participate in a system and it’s our own imagination that’s causing this constraint. And so long as we don’t go back up and out of this a bit more and more broadly and wider.
Bianca: I was watching this wonderful conversation with Dionne Brand and Rinaldo Walcott. And they talked about anti-blackness in Canada, which of course we have to talk about when we talk about planning and homelessness and housing. Like, let’s just see there. One of the things that they mentioned, which is so persistent when we think about time is the CBC, for example, reporting and Canada being, racism in this town. Oh, wow! This sort of maintaining this persistent innocence of the State of Canada. And I mean, I can say to you as someone who’s watching Canada trying to be a leader in artificial intelligence and ethics, and I’m sitting there thinking, this myth of Canada in the world is so pernicious as any kind of a human right leader in anything. It’s wild. It’s not wild in terms of the fact that it’s happening, because you can see how all the institutions were only ever set up to do such a thing, including the Canada council of the arts. You can go all over the place here.
Bianca: All of these colonial institutional pieces are components of the discussions about urban issues, homelessness, housing, rights, racism, all of it. And so long as we don’t go and find new language to talk about all of those issues together and to … That’s why for me, salvage, it came to mind recently because someone shared an article about Hong Kong and how you had all kinds of arrests happening. It was basically a backlash to any kind of democracy recently. And someone who is quoted in a piece saying, as long as we have heartache, Hong Kong calling is salvageable. I’m not quoting them exactly right.
Bianca: But in the face of just such a complete shut down of democracy to hear someone say, as long as my heart hurts, we can salvage this because I still care, is inspiring to me because that’s, when we think about democratic decline or problems in Canada, we have to put this in. We do need to think about the world and context and everything else. So in Canada, the responsibility people should feel to show up everyday on this stuff, because we could be doing so much better, like it’s bad here, but it’s also as long as we cannot call out these pieces of why it has been this 40 years of this particular version of stasis, is really important. I don’t want to show up and keep running in a circle.
Arezoo: OK, thank you both, Bianca and Jutta, and we can’t wait for the second part!
Kaveh: It was Episode 16 of Quantization, the Fungi Network.
We want to thank Bianca and Jutta for being part of this conversation.
We hope to hear your opinions and comments on this topic.
For more episodes and full transcripts, please check out our website, quantization.ca, and come back for upcoming episodes.
Marshall Bureau is the composer of all tracks.