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Wpg Free Press: Racial peace through architecture

February 9, 2015 — 

Brent Bellamy, an architecture columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press, recently wrote about how urban design can help enable greater social and cultural inclusion of Indigenous communities “by exploring new ways of injecting our city’s architecture and urban design with indigenous values that allow aboriginal people to see themselves in the spaces and places we inhabit.”

In the article he praises the efforts of the University of Manitoba:

Following its Visionary (Re)Generation International Design Competition for the development of a new community on the Southwood Golf Course, the University of Manitoba has challenged itself with becoming a global leader in the exploration of urban and architectural design principles that are inclusive to indigenous cultures. The university’s research and real-world implementation of its work may become a model for development in the rest of Winnipeg and other cities looking to heal cultural divides and empower their indigenous population.

The university has begun creating a framework of principles and methodology that will inform and guide the development through design and construction over the next 20 years. The process begins by reinforcing the vital importance of listening. An elders council has been established to inform and guide decision-making with the goal of creating a collaborative partnership that enriches the design with cross-cultural ideas shared through traditional storytelling methods and ongoing dialogue.

Building on the work of Cardinal, the U of M hopes to create a unified community by establishing a sense of belonging for indigenous people that is also a welcoming and inclusive place for those of all cultures. To achieve this, designs will incorporate indigenous cultural principles in ways that will build a sense of harmony and well-being for all. The design will celebrate connections to the surrounding landscape and rivers. Parks will engage people with active green space used for growing and harvesting foods and medicines in traditional ways. Natural wildlife habitat and drainage patterns will be considered, and buildings will be oriented to maximize access to the sun and shelter from the winds.

Indigenous lifestyle and tradition will be supported through the development of public and private spaces that are designed for cultural celebration and ritual as well as multigenerational interaction that will be reinforced by extended-family housing and daycare options.

Overall development will be guided by the Seventh Generation Principle, an ancient indigenous philosophy that teaches to think beyond the immediate needs of today and consider the impact our decisions have on past, present and future generations. The message reinforces the fundamental value of sustainable development and environmental stewardship, restoring balance between the economy, the environment and human well-being.

The work being done by the U of M shows with strong leadership and dedication to finding creative solutions, we might be able to develop a process for urban and architectural design that empowers our indigenous population and begins to heal the racial fracture in our city.

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