What this is all about?

Grameen means "rural" or "village" in Bangla, so literally this translates to 'Stories from the Village.' I travelled to Bangladesh in 2010 and did an Internship with the Grameen Bank and was amazed by the people there especially in its rural villages. The 'desh' and its people are an inspiration and will always have a special place in my heart.

Since then, I continually see how important villages are, be it in rural Bangladesh, or in urban core neighbourhoods in Canada. A strong village is what brings people together and welcomes newcomers and supports those in need. Villages are what I fight for and this blog is how I do it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Apparently, I work in the "rough" east end of London. I don't just work there, it is in fact my job to promote the Old East Village! When ever I tell someone from London that I work there, the first thing I get asked is "Isn't that a bad part of town?"

Most of these people are students, often at Western University, who have never even been down to that part of the city. This preconception of the neighbourhood is likely formed by things they hear from their professors, classmates, the media and friends.

I guess I haven't quite been able to figure out how best to respond. All I know is that many of my favourite restaurants, stores and venues are all down there. And there is nowhere better to be on a Saturday morning than at the Western Fair Market. Part of it is what I mentioned in a previous post, it all depends on what you want to look for. If you go there for the unique tea shop or antiques and collectables, then you will certainly find them. But if you go looking for people loitering and vacant buildings then you will also see that. It is all up to you!

In the future ill go with:

"Have you been down there to see for yourself? Because you need to check where you get your information."

Also, check out my instagram picture album, I try and feature some of the neat things in London, many of which are in the Old East Village!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Yes You Can!

It does not matter what others say, the truth is yes you can!

I am going to keep this short and sweet, because you have better and more important things to do than listen to other people telling you what to do. If you have read the title and these first three sentences then you have read enough, the rest is just me explaining myself.

I went to the City Symposium today and that was a slap in the face to re-awaken me. It reminded me of all the things that Graham Smith had been telling me the last two years in his classes. Enough with the pessimism, enough with the fighting between each other. Lets be optimistic, lets work together, lets help each other out.

I know I am just some idealistic kid who is ranting on his blog, but someone somewhere might read this and actually be motivated to do it. So if I give just a tiny push to get them on their way then I will be happy.

In light of some of the battles I heard about today at the Symposium mine seem like minor disturbances however my point still stands. I have fought through different organisations where we were told no we can't and why would you even suggest that. I work in a neighbourhood which has been told that no they can't. But at the end of the day we did get what wanted in a different way, but we got it. And good things are going on where I work.

Its all about the attitude you have. Have an open mind, be innovative, the more we share, the more we have. You can do it!


Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Occupy Movement, Systems and Arts and Culture

Couple Questions:

I have been busy lately and have not had much time to put together a coherent post. But there are a couple things I am struggling with right now:

The occupy movement: I get it, 99% vs 1%, but what is camping outside of banks going to do? There are more productive ways to get things done. This leads in to my second issue:

Systems: A mentor to me made the point that systems are great at collecting resources to keep the system going, and they are good at protecting themselves from losing those resources. The people who have the resources that the system needs to continue benefit, while those who do not have the resources, are pushed aside.

I know that one person benefiting does not mean that others are being pushed down, but no attempt is being made to help them start to benefit more. We need to create new systems, which represent and collect resources for those who are currently excluded. They need to be able to sustain themselves, while supporting those who need it, and still be able to rival the existing systems. It is a big ask, and I don't know how to do it. the resources of the 1% might be immense, but so are the resources of the 99%. So there needs to be a way to pool all that, and create a significant impact.

Arts and Culture: The Arts and Culture community is, almost by definition, incredibly varied. That is its greatest asset and also its greatest weakness. No one wants bands who all sounds the same, or artists which paint the same picture. However, this differences also mean that every creative person has different ideas, different priorities, different audiences and different needs. This makes it almost impossible for arts and culture to pool their collective influence and importance so that they can have a stronger voice.

I was at a meeting recently where a group from the arts and culture community were talking about what they think needs to be done to grow the arts community. The discussion struggled with how we reach to people who are not currently coming out to our events. Primarily this focussed on the lack of youth at the meeting and at their events.

Tom Borrup discusses here about how people are most engaged when they are respected for who they are, what they believe, and what they bring to the table. I think currently the youth and their artistic interests do not feel respected and therefore they are not going to be engaged with the culture of, as they perceive it, the older generation. There needs to be a shift, as Borrup indicates, towards practicing the idea of cultural equality and not privileging one group or form over another.

Too often it is thought that the youth, or any other group which is not participating in the established culture, needs to be educated about the importance of the arts. Once they are educated then they will come, we just need to tell them why to come.This superiority attitude needs to change, or else that art which people are fighting so hard to keep alive is going to be lost for good. Someone needs to remember the youth when we talk to the community, they may not be the current community leaders, but they are the future leaders.

Instead I think we need to be looking at what these other groups are doing and looking for new creative to combine their different creative interests. Creative ways where all forms of art are treated equally. Globalization and technology are making it easier and easier for different cultures and different ideas to come together, so why don't we embrace that? Have a little respect for each other and together we can do so much more.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Attitude of Development

In every community I have been to which is trying to redevelop itself or get through a hard time there has been one overriding commonality in the way they think, and it is something a lot of people don't get.

They don't need other people to feel sorry for them, or tell them what is wrong and how to fix it, they just need other people to listen to them. They live in their community everyday, they don't need to be reminded what is wrong with it. This is something that everyone has trouble getting over when they go to a new place.

Think about it another way.

If there is something you think is really bad, then there must be a ton of things that are really good for the local residents to still want to live there! Those are the important things that should be focused on and built on. They may not be things that you can see right away. You can easily see crumbling buildings, or vandalism, but you can't immediately see a strong supporting community, friendly neighbours, cheap rent or diverse opinions and ideas. It is not until you start talking to people and actually listening to what they say that you can begin to see those things. Too often people come in to a community, take a quick look and do too much talking and not enough listening.

What do you like best about your community? What do you want to see happen?

The reason this is so important is because everyone is taught the Type-A solutions to problems. We are taught the status quo, the prevailing thoughts, the consensus in school and university. Now if a community appears to be struggling it is probably because the prevailing ideas are not working, and a change is needed. Be dynamic! Innovative ideas are needed which you can only discover by talking and listening to what different people have to say. Only then will you broaden your perspective.

Its the difference between "you should do this" and "what can I do for you?" or "what do you think of this?" It is something that everyone struggles with when entering a new community, but I think the faster you can change that mindset the greater the impact you can have and the more help you can provide.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Creating Culture to Create Development

Right now I am interested in how arts and culture relate to community development. How can it be used to stimulate local economic development, create employment and build a community?

So often the things I have been reading have been about how thriving arts and culture scenes make those cities the need-to-be places. Or how important arts and culture is to a city for attracting businesses and people to want to locate in the city. Recently in my spare time I have been reading Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class. This is his first, widely cited and hugely influential book on the development of many cities. In it he develops a Creativity Index which is based on three indexes: a Bohemian Index, a Gay Index and an Diversity Index. These are used to predict a cities standing in the creative economy. Essentially the cities with the highest concentrations of the super creative bohemians - artists, writers, musicians, designers; strong LGBT communities; and open to new immigrants are the cities that will be the most creative.

It all makes sense that cities and neighbourhoods with more people from different backgrounds with different perspectives will come up with innovative new ideas that wouldn't develop in a more homogeneous environment. I also realise that creative people like local musicians or artists attract people who want to walk past a mural painted by their neighbour be able to go to their local bar and hear the guys down the street play.

I get all that but then so what? What am I supposed to do with that?

It seems that we are too busy talking about the importance of Arts and Culture, rather than looking at how to create, foster, and grow it. There seems to be very little on this. Florida's indexes show where creative cities are, but what came first? The creative economy or their or the gay bohemian immigrant? From my experience so far, politicians and planners and great at saying 'Oh look! We have a cool arts scene. We need to use it to promote our city.' It seems like something that cities stumble upon, rather than consciously build themselves.

Florida an member of the creative class who says that "We want a place that is not done". Creative types don't want something that is already done, they want to be able to create it and shape the area that they live in. That is part of who they are.

To me the conclusion should be that cities need to realise that they can't force a vibrant arts and culture district to happen. It has to be created by the creative people who are in it. If I had the answer I would write a book and travel around giving speeches, but I don't unfortunately.

In the long term I think it starts in schools and with kids. There needs to be more effort to encourage students to be creative and come up with innovative projects, answers and solutions. Right now the focus is on getting "the right" answer. Beyond that I think the most can be done at the community level by community leaders. For example: adaptive uses of schools and other public facilities in off hours to allow arts/ cultural groups access to space.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Population Densities

I just drove the two and a half hour drive from Toronto to London, Canada and a couple weeks ago for the Canada day weekend I drove all the way to Ottawa. These trips reminded me just how vast, and sparsely populated Canada is.

Consider these two trips: A) Toronto to London, Canada and B) Dhaka to Tangail District, Bangladesh.

A) Toronto to London is 200km approximately and it takes about 2 hours 30 minutes.
B) Dhaka to Tangail is about 85km, and it takes between 4 and 5 hours.

Part of the difference here is traffic, part is the state of the road and cars. Traffic is horrendous in Bangladesh, almost all the time, while in Toronto is only bad at certain times. The traffic problems are based purely on the number of people.

A) South-Western Ontario has a population of 2.5 million and an area of 37 thousand km squared.
B) Meanwhile, the Dhaka Division (which both Dhaka and Tangail are located within) is roughly the same size, at 31 thousand km squared but has a massive population of 46.7 million!!

The difference between those is almost incomprehensible. SW Ontario has a density of 6.7 people per square km, while Dhaka Division has a density 22 times greater at 150 people per square km. This is the problem that I had trying to describe the rural areas of Bangladesh. It is rural in the sense that it is mostly agriculturally based, and it is less dense that the cities. But in terms of people it is not rural by Canadian standards.

The drive to Ottawa really struck home this difference. When you turn off the 401 and head north on Highway 416, you are essentially driving through a forest for the next 75km until you reach Ottawa. Now imagine seeing 100-150 people and their homes, livestock, fields and shops at each km marker along the highway. In addition you have just left Dhaka, a city of approximately 13 million people, and are  going to the small city of Tangail (3 million).

Why does this all matter?

All I am saying is think about this when you are about to complain about not having a highspeed railway network or that it takes too long to get between cities. We simply do not have the density of people required to support all these things. Hopefully as globalization continues there will be fewer and fewer limits on the flow of people. Canada can only benefit from having more people to bolster its economy and life in its cities and towns. People from different parts of the world, with different world views, working and living together bring about new innovative and creative ideas. Which is exactly what Canada needs to be competitive in the global economy.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

What Recent Grads Do

So I just had a conversation with one of my friends who is going into the second year of his bachelors degree. He was asking me about the life of an upper year student, and about life after university. Which got me thinking....

Over the past couple years I have met so many people who for whatever reason were breaking out of the mould. Some had dreams of bigger places, some just had a travel itch, but all were fed up with doing what they felt they were "supposed" to do.

This is all about doing something different, something you really want, not what everyone else wants or expects. When you are applying for a job you don't want to blend in, when you are working on a project you don't want to submit the same old assignment as everyone else. Think outside the box, be creative, follow your passion and dream, expand your boundaries...

What we are "supposed" to do usually consists of something like:
  1. Graduate Highschool
  2. Get a Bachelor's Degree and then if needed a Master's Degree
  3. Get a Job
  4. Get Married
  5. Get a House
  6. Get a Family
  7. Put the kids through School and University
  8. Watch the kids move out 
  9. AND THEN travel
It is usually imposed on us by cultural ideas or what our parents did. But honestly, what kid wants to be exactly like their parents, or their grandparents? How about lets do the last step first!

We live in an ever more global and interconnected world. It is easier for us to travel around the world that ever before, it is easier for us to communicate with people on the opposite side of the world. Because of this our world is going to become ever more interconnected. It is so much easier it would be a shame to not take advantage of them.

One of my other friends showed me a link to WanderingEarl's blog:. I loved this article, why don't more people know about these other options? There is more than the pre-prescribed way to live your life. My friend is a huge inspiration since she had the guts to move to a new city and try to find a job, and when that didn't work, she looked somewhere else. Now in a couple days she is off to the other side of the world to teach math for a year on Mongolia!

One other thing that I don't understand is why these alternative lifestyles are often viewed as a waste of time, and escape from reality or a young innocent persons dream? As I said before - we live in an increasingly globalised world. Doesn't that imply that we need globalised people?

What happens in one part of the world (take for example the potential defaults of the US and Spain situations) affects all other parts of the world. What we need is people who are global citizens, people who know how different cultures work, and how innovative partnerships can be formed. When we collaborate we will be more successful than trying to do things on our own. Projects where the community collaborate together are the projects that are the most successful. And like it or not we are a global community now, so we need to start collaborating on a global scale. If you have a job, or are looking for a job, then the ability to bring your experience and knowledge of global examples, how to work with other cultures and people, or even your global connections to the table will make you very employable.

I couple months ago I went to a speach by Dr. Uma Nararyan at The University of Western Ontario. She was speaking about the darkside of microfinance, the side that people don't hear about in the news. She presented all the problems and no solutions. So, after her talk, I put up my hand and asked what we should do instead, and suggested things like working to work to get property rights, and the rule of law actually enforced. Why focus on the negative, focus on the positives and on the solutions (that is one of the most important things Dr. Graham Smith taught me)?

In response she proceeded to essentially ridicule me in front of everyone about how I could suggest ways to change microfinance after all the horrible things she has said about it. I pushed further, asking simply - ok, what do we do instead?A couple more wrinkles appeared on her forehead, and she simply told me to stay where I came from. Why did I think I needed to help the developing world?

For someone who has presumably spent a good deal of her life as a professor and guest speaker, travelling and talking to people around the world, I did not understand how her solution could be that I was not allowed to travel to her part of the world. We are becoming more interconnected, not more isolated, embrace it or be left behind.

Now about me. 

I am a fresh graduate from the University of Western Ontario's Urban Development Program. I was lucky enough to get a one year contract job in my field in community development. I took that opportunity when it came, but I am always looking towards my goal of travelling and seeing the world. I am saving up money and also learning to build a bike, so that I can travel by bike, or work in a bike shop while I travel. I am not writing this from experience, far from it, this is a statement of how I want to become experienced, and the types of experiences I want to have.

I haven't taken the leap of getting on a one way flight to somewhere on the other side of the world, but I know I want to, and I am inspired by my friends who have. Slowly I am working towards it, doing it my way, the way I want to. It is something which I think more people need to look at as a legitimate option and as a way to build valuable experience.