Social Inclusion in the Urban Forest: Injustices and community connections


Since the development of early settlements, aesthetic purposes of gardens and green spaces such as forests were meant for the enjoyment of the wealthy. Things have changed... or have they? Researchers are finding disparities in urban forest distribution, access and public participation that correlate to socio-economic inequalities, lack of respect and justice for all community residents. It is imperative to identify the various forms of injustices that can manifest in urban forests. As more people find themselves living in urban centres, these nodes are most important to ensure residents will maintain their connection to nature and derive its benefits equitably. Research exploring access and distribution, citizenship, intercultural and multi-ethnicity and their ties to urban social justice are some suggested topics.



Moderator: Jinthana K. Haritaworn, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University



Keynote speaker: Dr. Nik Heynen, Department of Geography, University of Georgia, US - “Toward an Abolition Ecology of Planetary Urbanism”


In this presentation I intend to develop the notion of “Abolition Ecology” as a means of more centrally locating white supremacist and patriarchal ideologies within the existing context of Urban Political Ecology.  I anticipate this idea will enrich the scope for understanding the metabolization of urban nature in the face of planetary urbanism and its highly uneven history and future trajectories .  Starting with the ideas of W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglas to complicate the existing ideas of planetary urban political ecology, I will specifically discuss the importance of abolition ecology for understanding planetary urban forestry.


Dr. Nik Heynen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography, Adjunct Associate Professor in Anthropology, and is an affiliate with UGA’s Center for Integrative Conservation Research (CICR), Institute of Women’s Studies, Institute for African American Studies and Law School Land Use Clinic.  He is an editor at Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography and a founding editor of the University of Georgia Presses book series Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation. His research interests include urban political ecology and environmental justice, social theory, and social movement theory with specific interests in environmental and food politics. His main research foci relate to the analysis of how social power relations, including class, race and gender are inscribed in the transformation of urban nature/space, and how in turn these processes contribute to interrelated and interdependent connections between nature, space and social reproduction.



Laura Reinsborough, Founder and Director Not Far From the Tree, Toronto - “Not Far from the Tree: A Forestry Project to Address the Urban Food Crisis”


The paper explores the project Not Far From The Tree that was launched in its first full season in 2008. The project assists homeowners who can’t keep up with the abundant harvest produced by their fruit trees by mobilizing volunteers to pick the bounty. The harvest is then split three ways: 1/3 is offered to the tree owner, 1/3 is shared among the volunteers, and 1/3 is delivered by bicycle to food banks, shelters, and community kitchens in the neighbourhood. The paper evaluates the project's potential to address the urban food crisis.


Laura Reinsborough is the Founder and Director of Not Far From The Tree, Toronto’s very own fruit picking project. She comes equipped with a Master’s degree in Community Arts through Environmental Studies from York University. Laura has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Gaea Environment Award and a Women of the Earth Award, for her fun and creative approach that enables a joyful environmentalism.



Sadia Butt, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto - “Community Participation and Urban Forest Distribution in Mississauga: Citizens’ Access to Urban Forests and Local Level Decision Making”


My research will focus on how costs and benefits associated with urban forests are unequally distributed among actors (human and non-human) in the city of Mississauga, how these reinforce existing socioeconomic inequalities, and how these inequalities are further shaped by unequal political powers among citizens. This research will use a political ecology approach to understand how injustices can be perpetrated in an urban environment. Urban forests are vital connections for urban dwellers to nature. This research will profile communities and explore citizens within community groups that become political entities with power to influence the urban forest in their neighbourhoods. Furthermore, this research will investigate how citizens through community groups can also lead to unequal distribution of urban forests through their varying access and expression of power. The development and the role of public participation in urban forest issues, in a city like Mississauga, will be highlighted through this thesis. In the first phase of this research, GIS will be used to map the distribution of the urban canopy cover composed of trees in established parks, planted trees, and pre-existing woodlands that make-up the urban forest in Mississauga. The second phase will probe how citizens impact decision-making regarding management and conservation of urban forests. The goal will be to understand the role of community in influencing the distribution of urban forests and to help refine the degree to which various factors play in producing the current state of an urban forest. Central questions are: What are the equity and justice issues pertaining to differential access of citizens to green spaces and venues for decision-making? What is the level of awareness about these equity issues, and how are these being addressed? How do communities find meaningful spaces to participate in issues that relate to urban forestry? To answer these, the key research questions are: 1) What is the spatial distribution of the urban forest in Mississauga, and how does this spatial distribution signify equitable access to green spaces by different neighbourhoods?; 2) What are the available venues to participate in decision-making relating to urban forests as a community? Are there any differences amongst these associations such as resident groups in access to decision making venues for urban forestry in terms of privileges? 3) How are spatial differences in access to green spaces and to venues for participation (if any) perceived by the citizens and by the policy makers?



Kathleen Vaughan, Assistant Professor, Art Education, Concordia University - “A Step, A Stitch, A Sense of Self: Woods Walking as an Artist's Path to Creating Identity”


My proposed presentation examines the theoretical and visual underpinnings of my artwork, Le Bois Summit/Summit Woods: 31 Walks, one of a series of textile maps exploring the significance of urban woods as public space and private refuge. Positioning this work as a project of research-creation, my presentation will unpack ways in which artwork can embody knowledge, based in critical visual methodologies. For instance, by exploring the site of production and visual content of Le Bois Summit, my presentation will identify how the artwork celebrates the personal and social significance of the urban forest by ritually representing a month's worth of walk in the woods. Juxtaposing digital embroidery of 'official' maps of urban woods with hand stitched walking routes through the landscape, this series aims to bring together the map and the territory (as the saying goes). In other words, this series distends the official, static representation of space with the traces and inscriptions of personal lived experience, celebrating the uncanniness of city-sited woods and touching on multiple interwoven thematics: the role of urban woods as identity touchstone in a city's otherwise denaturalized space; questions of privilege and access, given that many of these sites are remote from the city centre and most transit routes; the role of the more-than-human in the city, with specific reference to urban wildlife and companion dogs, the latter being humans' regular walking partners and the reason that many seek out urban woods. This series mapping woods' walks also takes up both mapping and walking as knowledge practices, invoking some of the many kinds of languages (linguistic, visual, kinesthetic) with which we represent our experiences of space and time. Cloth, with its puckering, softness, warmth, and frailties, is used deliberately to summon the senses and reference the body. Colour is given meaning -- the green monochrome of the ground against the colours of the hand stitching, each one articulating a specific day's route through the various pathways. Wonderfully, it takes as long to stitch a typical walk as it does to traverse it on foot. And of course the impossible regularity of the machine stitching plays against the variable work of the hand. Le Bois Summit/Summit Woods: 31 Walks is the first of a larger series of works that will also include Morgan Arboretum Morgan: 28 Walks, Le Bois Angel/Angel Woods: 30 Walks and Glendon Forest: A Fortnight's Rambles.


Kathleen Vaughan is an artist, academic and art educator whose work has a particular orientation to questions of place and belonging, often explored through versions of mapping via a walking ethnography. Using multiple forms of art, text, and collage, Kathleen's artwork has been shown in museums and galleries in Canada and the Netherlands. Recent projects have mapped Toronto ravines and city streets; her current series uses digital and hand embroideries and other textile practices in a representation of habitual walking in urban woods. Kathleen holds a BA in English and Art History from the University of Toronto, a diploma in Drawing and Painting from the Ontario College of Art and Design, an MFA in Studio Arts from Concordia University (Montreal) and a PhD in Education from York University (Toronto). She is Assistant Professor of Art Education in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University, Montreal, where she teaches courses in studio practice, community art, and photography. More about her work can be found on her website at http://www.akaredhanded.com.

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