During our visit to Toronto we took part in the Maximum City project, a project on sustainable cities and urban planning. The challenge we were faced with was to create something to help newcomers in the city of Toronto, like an app, a specific service or something completely different. When we started thinking about a great way to help immigrants, refugees, and tourists when they first come to Toronto, we quickly realized that it’s important to consider three main aspects: empathy, creativity and sustainability. The different tasks and excursions helped us create our projects.
The first thing we had to do was to put ourselves in the shoes of a newcomer. What do you need as a newcomer? Of course you need food and a place to stay, a job to earn your own money, a possibility to get around in the city and someone who knows the city and can answer your questions. But there are also some barriers that make the new experience difficult. A different language, a different culture, separation from your family and friends, no money and help. These were problems that we might solve with our projects.
On Monday, we visited Kensington Market. A welcoming place, where you can find many different cultures next to each other. The houses and shops were all full of colours and art, you could taste different specialities on every corner, there were many different smells, and you could see people from many different countries. As a newcomer it’s a good place to go because it combines different cultures, religions and languages.
Scadding Court, a community centre near Kensington market, is another great place to go to as a newcomer. You can spend your free time there, get something to eat, have Internet access and meet other people. There are many different projects, for example, they offer you a little area of cultivable land to grow your own vegetables, you can cook and sell your products in a food market, there is a sustainable fish farm (the fish is sold to local restaurants to earn money for their work), a bike repair service, a skateboard workshop and school for younger people and many other opportunities. The best thing for newcomers with less money is, that the community centre offers you all this for a low price, so everybody has a chance to take part.
Our visit to the Aga Khan museum focussed on the function of water in a community. One of the buildings had an arch representing somebody who opens his arms to show that you are welcome. The outdoor area had a nice garden and lots of water. Inside the exhibitions, our guide told us a lot about the history of the Islam and we recognized that you can find the same pattern everywhere in the museum, another aspect that made it welcoming. Finally, our task was to build a fountain on our own.
The next day, an immigrant from Eritrea, named Dawit, came to tell us about the escape from his home and his first experiences in a different land. This included his concerns, hopes and what he wished he had to start his new life. For him the most important thing was the relation to a family living in Canada. This relation was the bridge between his old and new life, and he could ask for information, which made his experience a lot easier and better.
On Wednesday afternoon, we discussed how people can understand things without speaking the same language. On a little tour through Toronto we searched signs that express important information in different ways: some with words, everybody understands, some without words and others only with numbers. A sign everybody could understand was, for example, the red traffic light, which meant “do not cross the street”. Other symbols were arrows, which help with directions, house numbers which define a specific house and the letter “i”, where you can get information.
On Thursday and Friday morning, we worked in little groups on our projects, collected more ideas, and got feedback and tips from the experts, how to improve our ideas. Then we started working on our presentations and texts and finished a productive week with our final presentations.
by Nicola K.