Gervais Nash graduated from Ryerson’s school of Urban Planning in May of 2020. During his time both there, and working in the field, he noticed he was among a small minority of people of colour in the planning space.
In response to this experience, he joined a team of like minded planning professionals, and together they founded the Mentorship Initiative for Indigenous & Planners of Colour (MIIPOC) in the summer of 2019.
The intention of the group’s work is to decrease the barriers experienced by planners of colour in the field of urban planning, through facilitating mentorship opportunities. They aim to support new graduates in expanding their network within the professional space, and ultimately, finding meaningful work. The initiative also aims to influence more equitable city building practices.
The first cohort started in October 2019, with eight pairings. Since then they’ve held regular meetings, collecting feedback from, and checking in on participants’ wellbeing to strengthen and improve processes for the next cohort.
“It’s bigger than a mentorship program,” said Nash.
“I’ve been on big project teams of up to 15 people and I’ve been the one of two Black people in the room…and the other was my colleague, both of us in entry level roles. There should be the opportunity to have all black development teams, building for our communities. That’s what I want to build toward… It could happen in my lifetime.”
He believes that with more Black led development firms and consultant teams, there will be fewer incidences of the kinds of gentrification and displacement experienced by people of colour in areas like Eglinton West or Regent Park in Toronto’s downtown, or other majority new-Canadian neighborhoods throughout the city.
With more people of colour at the table bringing their lived experiences and the experiences of their communities, he and the team at MIIPOC are confident it will lead to more thoughtful, equitable, and inclusive planning in the city.
“There are so many different inputs that make up how a project will proceed…but at the core, equity is the government’s responsibility,” said Nash.
“ Private firms can show leadership….real estate and investment trusts, national developers, pension funds, they can lead–but city planners are beholden to politicians, who represent the people.”
He believes that from the federal level down, there needs to be a more equitable lens applied to planning and development, and thinks having more people of colour in the space will facilitate that progress. He also feels that Black people, and their representative organizations, need to be part of the decision making process at the planning level if we’re to see better outcomes for housing in Black communities.
“ If you go around Bloor West Village, you don’t see much high density buildings — why is that? Politicians have the power to protect and prioritize certain neighbourhoods and allow others to fall by the wayside…they listen to the squeaky wheel: privileged resident associations, not those who don’t have the same access to power.”
Despite the continued disenfranchisement in communities of colour, he’s been encouraged by the solidarity of this moment.
“Black interest organizations are forming and spreading the message that we need to change how things work. We need to demand better… The world at large is expressing that they’re aware, and want to make change to remedy the injustices that have been done to Black people in North America and Europe… I need to see the follow through though. Rhetoric is just that until it’s backed up with action,” he said.
He’s hopeful that organizations like MIIPOC will continue to open doors to professionals of colour and ensure the planning space–and the outcomes that happen as a result of the decisions made in those spaces–better reflect and represent the cities and communities they serve.