Keyan Ye – Current Graduate Representative of the Race | Space Reading Group
Keyan Ye (she/her) is an M. Arch. Student at McGill University (Graduation 2021), with a B. Arch. Sci. from McGill University (2019). I joined the Race | Space Reading Group in Fall 2020 along with thirteen other McGill students from different departments and levels. Throughout the meaningful discussions we had, I had the chance to participate and engage in challenging topics in a horizontal way while continuously learning beyond the boundaries of our virtual group. As a representative of the group, I wish to continue to make this group representative of the student body and a platform for ideas, resources, and plans for action.

Genna Kalvaitis – Current Graduate Administrator of the Race | Space Reading Group

Genna Kalvaitis (she/her) is an M. Arch. Student at McGill University (2020), with a B. Arch. Sci. from the University of Waterloo (2019) and a B. Eng. from McMaster University (2014). I first joined the Race | Space reading group over the summer before I officially became a student at the McGill School of Architecture. A year later, and I am grateful to assume the role of co-administrator, working to facilitate the continuation of these conversations. As an administrator, I work to curate and connect our conversations with the work being done by exceptional BIPOC thinkers and creators. I am here to put in the day-to-day work to facilitate the continued action of this Reading Group.

Laura Di Fiore – Current Graduate Editor of the Race | Space Reading Group

Laura Di Fiore (she/her) is a M. Arch. Graduate at McGill University (2020), with a B.A.S from the University of Waterloo (2018). Her thesis, “Drawing Publics,” designed four didactic, site-specific public art/architecture installations with the collaboration of Indigenous community members that gave further visibility to the site’s founding Abenaki People on a 19 km landscape in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. As the blog’s editor, she works with our social platforms to communicate with student-led groups and guest contributors from Architecture schools globally to promote collective awareness and participation in ongoing panels, events, and discussions. As well, she edits all reading group and guest contributions for the blog.

Tara Selvaraj – Graduate Co-Founder of the Race | Space Reading Group

Rachel Law – Graduate Co-Founder of the Race | Space Reading Group

Rachel Law (she/her) is an M. Arch. Graduate at McGill University (2020), with a B. Arch. Sci. from Ryerson University (2016). Her capstone project considers Montreal’s Chinatown as a site for “community reclamation,” exploring how themes of post-colonial identity and cultural memory among contemporary Chinese diaspora can be manifested through material construction. Beyond her position as the 2020 President of the McGill Graduate Architecture Students’ Association (GASA), Rachel has also engaged in advocacy serving on the national board of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA). Her combined experiences have led to an ongoing appreciation for the power of architecture and design to activate communities and empower social advocacy.

Race, Green Space, and the Limits of Design

Week 20 Race, Green Space, and the Limits of Design

Curated by Talha Awan

November 27, 2020

Required readings

Wolch, Jennifer R., Jason Byrne, and Joshua P. Newell. “Urban green space, public health, and environmental justice: The challenge of making cities ‘just green enough’.” Landscape and Urban Planning 125 (2014): 234-244.

Larson, Scott M. “Imagining social justice and the false promise of urban park design.” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 50, no. 2 (2018): 391-406.

Further readings

Plumer, Brad, and Nadja Popovich. “How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering.” The New York Times, August 24, 2020.

Dannenberg, Andrew L., and Heather Burpee. “Architecture for health is not just for healthcare architects.” HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal 11, no. 2 (May 2018): 8-12.

Indigenous Healing

Week 19 Indigenous Healing

Curated by Christopher Clarke McQueen and Rachel Law

November 20, 2020

Required readings

Garrett, Michael Tlanusta, Edil Torres-Rivera, Michael Brubaker, Tarrell Awe Agahe Portman, Dale Brotherton, Cirecie West-Olatunji, William Conwill, and Lisa Grayshield. “Crying for a Vision: The Native American Sweat Lodge Ceremony as Therapeutic Intervention.” Journal of Counseling & Development 89, no. 3 (2011): 318–25.

Verderber, Stephen, Jake Pauls Wolf, and Erik Skouris. “Indigenous Ecohumanist Architecture for Health in Canada’s Far North.” HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal 13, no. 4 (October 2020): 210–24.

Ambtman-Smith, Vanessa, and Chantelle Richmond. “Reimagining Indigenous Spaces of Healing: Institutional Environmental Repossession.” Turtle Island Journal of Indigenous Health 1, no. 1 (October 12, 2020): 27–36.

Adelson, Naomi. “Health Beliefs and the Politics of Cree Well-Being.” Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine 2, no. 1 (January 1998): 5–22. of_Cree_Well-Being.

George, Julie, Melissa MacLeod, Kathryn Graham, Sara Plain, Sharon Bernards, and Samantha Wells. “Use of Traditional Healing Practices in Two Ontario First Nations.” Journal of Community Health 43, no. 2 (April 2018): 227–37.

Murals. Bikes. Patios. Racism and Bias in White Urbanism and Placemaking, by Sarah Gelbard

August 3, 2020

[Reading List]

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Black urbanists, activists, community leaders, and scholars who have been doing and continue to do this work. I have learned so much from the experiences and perspectives they have shared. I am grateful for their generosity and courage. Please see the following resource list on Anti-Black racism in planning & urbanism, read and share widely.

During the early months of Covid-19 lockdowns worldwide, the need for access to outdoor public space for safe, physically-distanced exercise and mental wellbeing had many urbanists excited by the silver-lining opportunity to further promote open street solutions. Many of the designs and policies offered made references to Tactical Urbanism, Vision Zero, Cities for People, and European examples of urban design innovations that support bicycle culture and street life that have inspired a growing urbanism and placemaking trend for the past decade. Liveable, walkable, and sustainable urban living and lifestyle National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), for instance, was one of many organizations quick to publish aggregate guides and resources for street redesign practices. Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery (2020) notes: “In a time when we’re required to maintain physical distance to protect public health, streets need to do more than ever. Streets must be configured so that people are able to move safely around the city.”1

Examples of open streets, parklets, and outdoor dining from around the world began to flood social media. As more local urbanists pushed local planning authorities to implement similar responses in their cities, critiques of these practices were being published by Black urbanists, community organizers, activists, and scholars. What does it mean to “move safely around the city” and for whom? Their critiques revealed privilege and bias of mainstream urbanist responses that centered white comfort, leisure, and consumption while ignoring how structural racism has made the same streets spaces of violence and danger for Black folk. These promotions of revitalized urban street lifestyle failed to acknowledge the risk posed to low-wage workers required to reopen businesses or that the closed street further restricted mobility of essential workers, many of whom are racialized minorities who rely upon public transit or private automobiles to access their place of work. Allowing businesses to flow out onto the sidewalks failed to acknowledge the tradition of street vendors in many cities or the fierce opposition and restrictions their businesses have faced.

With the mounting evidence of the disproportionate and tragic impact of Covid-19 on racialized communities in Canada and the US, it seemed urban interventions and priorities were in serious need of redirection. Ariel Ward addresses many of these issues in our first reading, A Tale of Two Truths: Transportation and Nuance in the Time of COVID-19. Ward discusses how mainstream urbanists dismiss these issues: “When transportation professionals, particularly Black women, sought to call nuance into the conversation and policies around open streets and equity, responses ranged from the standard ‘not yet, not right now[…]’”Following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the urgency of the call of Black Lives Matter demands a response and action right now.

In response to the Call to Courage: An Open Letter to Canadian Urbanists by Jay Pitter, both the readings and discussion in this session are intended to help us to collectively take three of the tangible steps that she outlines towards addressing anti-Black racism and urban inequalities:

  • Research the history and untold place-based stories related to all urban design and development projects;
  • Reflect on how your implicit biases – unconscious thoughts and stereotypes – may influence how you view an individual, group or entire neighbourhood;
  • Acknowledge that urban design is not neutral; it either perpetuates or reduces social inequities.

Researching Untold Place-Based Stories

This week’s readings tell the place-based stories of Black and Indigenous urban communities in Canada and the US. The authors offer perspectives and experiences of urban development that unsettle the mainstream narratives that planners and cities rely upon to present themselves and their policies as progressive. They expose how through the racializations of urban space, contemporary urbanism participates in the displacement of and violence against non-white bodies. Progressive urban policies are not presented as a break from racist and settler colonial legacies of urban renewal, segregation, violence, and land theft, but instead continued reproductions of structural injustices.

In the introduction of “Black in place: the spatial aesthetics of race in a post-Chocolate City,” Brandi Summers frames how aesthetic emplacement of blackness in Washington DC H Street neighbourhood is “marketed to sell a progressive, ‘cool,’ and authentic experience of being in and moving through the city,”3 while effectively excluding and displacing black business and black residents from its reimagined urban landscape. Summers offers perspective on how the city is continuously shaped both by the Black presence and by anti-Black racism: “it is equally important to acknowledge that geographies of gentrification, displacement, and market-oriented urbanism are just s racially inflected as the racialized geographies of segregated communities, and divested urban cores of the Jim Crow through post-Civil Rights eras.”4

In “‘Welcome to Winnipeg’ Making settler colonial urban space in ‘Canada’s most racist city,’” Heather Dorries offers a critical reading of a Maclean’s article denouncing racism faced by Indigenous people living in Winnipeg’s North End neighbourhood. Dorries argues that the article and responses to it only further reinforce negative perceptions about the neighbourhood and the Indigenous people living there, ultimately reproducing settler colonial urban space, in particular, the narrative of the death of Tina Fontaine: “Having established the degeneracy of Indigenous space and life in the city, the Maclean’s article narrated Tina’s life in ways that ask the reader to accept the dangers she faced as simply a consequence of her presence in the city, without questioning the ways that structural racism produces vulnerability.”5 She concludes: “the making of settler colonial urban space is bound up with settler colonialism’s desire for life and its never-ending requirement for space, which is in turn predicated on Indigenous death.”6

Group Exercise for Reflecting on Bias in Urbanism

Implicit biases can be found in design solutions and urban improvements, in part because they depend on how the problem is defined, who defines and “solves” the problem, and for whom. Using “50 reasons why everyone should want more walkable streets” as a case study, breakout discussion groups reflect on the implicit biases found even in socially and environmentally progressive urbanist practices. Groups are organized into three subthemes: (1) Culture, Identity, and Belonging; (2) Mobility, Health, and Wellbeing, (3) Environment, Sustainability, and Land Use.

Five reasons related to their theme are identified and discussed for how they reproduced white bias by (a) Centering White Comfort, Aesthetics, and Benefits; (b) Failing to Recognize or Address Structural Barriers, i.e. sexism, racism, ableism, settler colonialism, etc.; (c) Failing to Recognize the Non-White Experience, Meaning, Use, or Value of Space and People.

Reflections Shared by Discussion Groups

Many of the reasons for walkable streets place value on the “vibrancy” and “attractiveness” of the street without reflecting on the socio-cultural determinants of those values and whether they are shared by diverse users or benefit diverse users equally. The image of what makes a desirable, walkable street is often modelled on euro-centric design and aesthetics. The image of who is occupying these streets is also usually white, middle-class, able-bodied folk. Additionally, these and other promoted values were found to be propped up by economic, commercial interests that commodify the street and the people using it by measuring the ability to generate revenue and profits, and the return on investing in the urban design and development of the street. Social and economic determinants also impact where urban improvements for walkability are likely to happen, with more affluent white neighbourhoods (or those that have the potential to be gentrified) where a lot of investment in creating walkable streets goes. Even when reasons addressed diversity and equity, it is unclear who has been consulted, whose needs are served, whose experiences are valued, or whether they simply participate in “diversity optics.” Overall, the focus on the aesthetics and the desired use of space too easily assumes the universal benefit of a well-designed, walkable street. There is a failure to address the deeper systemic and structural factors determining who occupies space, when, how, and why.

Reminder to Make Space for Care and Flourishing

In concluding our session, it is important to remind ourselves that critical and anti-racist urbanism is possible. It is not by avoiding but rather through this difficult work where we will find space for joy and flourishing.


National Association of City Transportation Officials, “Rethinking Streets in a Time of Physical Distance,” August 12, 2020.

2Ariel Ward, “A Tale of Two Truths: Transportation and Nuance in the Time of COVID-19,” Medium, May 14, 2020.

Brandi T. Summers, “Introduction,” in Black in Place: The spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City, (University of North Carolina Press, 2019), 4.

Ibid, 15.

Heather Dories, “‘Welcome to Winnipeg’ Making settler-colonial urban space in ‘Canada’s most racist city,’” in Settler City Limits: Indigenous Resurgence and Colonial Violence in the Urban Prairie West, ed. Dorries, Henry, Hugill, (University of Manitoba Press, 2019), 36.

Ibid, 41.

Colonial Urbanism and the Question of Race

Week 11 Colonial Urbanism and the Question of Race

Curated by Michelle Brais

September 25, 2020

Required readings

Bhabha, Homi. “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse.” October 28 (1984): 125-33. doi:10.2307/778467.

Chopra, Preeti. “Refiguring the Colonial City: Recovering the Role of Local Inhabitants in the Construction of Colonial Bombay, 1854-1918.” Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum 14, no. 1 (2007): 109-125.

Further readings

Singh, Amardeep. “Mimicry and Hybridity in Plain English.” Lehigh University (blog). May 8, 2009.

Beverley, Eric Lewis. “Colonial urbanism and South Asian cities.” Social History 36, no. 4 (2011): 482-497.


Monuments and Memory

Week 10 Monuments and Memory

Curated by Keyan Ye

September 18, 2020

Required readings

Upton, Dell. “Monuments and Crimes.” Journal 18 (June 2020).

Baker, Courtney R. “The Loud Silence of Monuments.” Dilettante Army (Spring 2019).

Further Readings

“All Monuments Must Fall.” Accessed September 13, 2020.

Namakkal, Jessica. “Re-Naming as Decolonization.” Counter Punch (June 2015).

Meloche-Holubowski, Mélanie. “Doit-on retirer les monuments confédérés des lieux publics?” Radio-Canada, August 15, 2017.

Upton, Dell. What Can and Can’t Be Said: Race, Uplift, and Monument Building in the Contemporary South. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.




Racism in the University, by Ipek Türeli

July 6, 2020

[Reading List]

Colleges and universities in North America, except the historically Black colleges, are institutions of whiteness. In the face of mounting pressure, some have been confronting their racist pasts and vowing to tackle their institutional racism in the present.

The recent protests against anti-Black racism, which began in the United States after the Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, led college and university leaders to make statements in solidarity. Many of these statements failed to identify the issues and the demands of the protestors.McGill University’s Principal Fortier and Provost Manfredi issued statements, respectively on June 30, 2020 and July 3, 2020. McGill announced that a “plan for addressing anti-black racism” will be revealed in September 2020 with five key areas: 1) student experience 2) research and knowledge 3) outreach 4) workforce 5) space. What is missing among these five areas is the acknowledgement of past and current racism in our institution. In response, the McGill Black Faculty Caucus has issued a public statement addressed to the university to take a number of very specific actions, namely, to address the university’s connection to slavery, to establish targets and timetables for the recruitment of Black faculty, students and staff, and institutionalizing equity and representation across the university and its administration.

Architecture remains a white, elite, male discipline and profession: Architecture has a whiteness problem.

Many schools of architecture in North America have also issued solidarity statements and their student bodies and alumni have demanded change and action from their administrations with open letters and calls for action. Our disciplinary associations, e.g. the US-based Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) and the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH), have made statements and organized roundtables and webinars tackling issues of race.Inspired by this momentum, our students and faculty at the School of Architecture have come together to establish this reading group to educate ourselves on the topic of race as it relates to our institutional, disciplinary and professional contexts, and to arrive at actionable steps. We are a diverse group of undergraduate, graduate students and faculty, but we lack Black representation in this reading group. Since we exist first and foremost in a research university, and physically in a campus setting, our first session focused on “Racism in the University.”

Readings to Actions

In this session, we discussed reading selections from Charmaine A. Nelson, Angela Davis, Sara Ahmed, and Kristin Leigh Moriah with an eye to arrive at actionable steps for our School.While they may portray themselves as equalizers, institutions of higher education, including McGill, have historically perpetuated inequality and helped maintain systemic racism. From Nelson and Moriah, we learn that the experiences of Black faculty and students in Canadian university campuses can be difficult and even violent; and that racial violence and systemic racism on campus are extensions of the dominant society outside the campus gates. Our School does not typically attract Black student and faculty applications. The readings pointed to the fact that not only should we proactively recruit them but also support and promote them once they are here. From Davis, we learn about the importance of international solidarity as domestic racism and violence against Blacks and military violence abroad are mutually reinforcing—a perspective that connects directly to the work and position of our global studios and exchange programs abroad and the work of the studios based in Canada—How do our courses address and/or perpetuate racism? Moving forward, can all syllabi address race? Or do we continue to be complacent with monocultural curricula? The ensuing discussion focused on the relationship of diversity on campus, or there of the lack of it, and its impact on the curriculum. When we lack diversity, we lose the richness of available perspectives; our curriculum is impoverished and ends up reproducing whiteness, excluding minorities and perpetuating racism. Following Ahmed, we discussed the lack of value ascribed to diversity work and how we can counter that. The ensuing decisions for immediate action included 1) documenting for posterity the intellectual labor of the group in the form of a blog, and 2) continuing the reading group as a course in the fall.



Jason England and Richard Purcell, “Higher Ed’s Tootless Response to the Killing of George Floyd,” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 8 July 2020.

ACSA: Rashida Ng, Lynne Dearborn, and Michael Monti, “Call to action to seek a more equitable future.” 3 June 2020.

SAH: Charles Davis, Maura Lucking, Sean McPherson, Lynne Horiuchi, Itohan Osayimwese, and Gail Dubrow, “A Statement of Solidarity for Racial Justice at SAH.” 4 June 2020.

Charmaine A. Nelson, “Introduction,” in Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada, ed. Nelson (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), 1-20.

Angela Davis, “Angela Davis: An Interview on the Futures of Black Radicalism,” excerpt from Futures of Black Radicalism, eds. Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin (Verso: 2017).

Angela Davis, “Angela Davis on Abolition, Calls to Defund Police, Toppled Racist Statues & Voting in 2020 Election,” interview by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now, June 12, 2020.

Sara Ahmed, “Introduction,” in On Being Included Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (Duke University Press, 2012), 1-17.

Kristin Leigh Moriah, “How anti-Black racism on Canadian university campuses robs us all,” The Conversation, July 2, 2020.




writing & discussion

Racism in the University

Week 1 Racism in the University

Curated by Ipek Tureli
Moderated by Valentina Davila

July 6, 2020

Required readings

Nelson, Charmaine A. “Introduction.” In Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada, edited by Nelson, 1-20. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010.

Davis, Angela. “Angela Davis: An Interview on the Futures of Black Radicalism.” Excerpt from Futures of Black Radicalism ed. Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin. Verso: 2017.

Davis, Angela. “Angela Davis on Abolition, Calls to Defund Police, Toppled Racist Statues & Voting in 2020 Election.” Interview by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, June 12, 2020.

Ahmed, Sara. “Introduction.” In On Being Included Racism and Diversity in Institutional LifeDuke University Press, 2012.

Moriah, Kristin Leigh. “How anti-Black racism on Canadian university campuses robs us all.” The Conversation, July 2, 2020.

Further readings

Professor Charmaine Nelson’s blog

Nelson, Charmaine A. Slavery, Geography and Empire in Nineteenth-century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica. Routledge, 2016. In Chapter 2, “A Tale of Two Empires: Montreal slavery under the French and the British,” pages 86-92 are on James McGill’s slaves.

Ahmed, Sara. “Institutional Whiteness,” and  “Institutional Racism,” In On Being Included Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life 33-50.  Duke University Press, 2012.

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge, 1994. “Engaged Pedagogy,” p. 13-22.

Davis, Angela. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement. Chicago, Illinois: Haymarket Books, 2016.

Decolonizing the university & Decolonizing the curriculum

Jansen, Jonathan D., ed. Decolonisation in Universities: The Politics of Knowledge. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2019.

Bhambra, Gurminder K.; Gebrial, Dalia; Nişancioğlu, Kerem; eds. Decolonising the University. Pluto, 2018.

“Decolonization” Concordia University CTL webpage. Link
“Tips for decolonizing your pedagogy.” Link

On race and the university in North America, contemporary and historical perspectives

Henry, Frances; James, Carl; Li, Peter S; Kobayashi, Audrey; et al. eds. The Equity Myth Racialization and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities. UBS Press, 2017.

Wilder, Craig Steven. Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. Bloomsbury, 2014.



Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.