'Fringe Benefits: Cosmopolitan Dynamics of a Multicultural City' is the name of an exhibit open now at the Design Exchange in Toronto. Urban designer Ian Chodikoff explains his inspiration for the show.
"'It started in 2001, when I decided to go back to school to study urban design at Harvard,' Mr. Chodikoff said. 'A couple of teachers there really sparked my interest in how all the social activities in our urban environment link up into making progressive cities. Back home, I started to see peculiar things and mutations happening in our own cities. The suburbs in the Greater Toronto Area allow ethnic and cultural groups with links all over the world to manifest their ways of doing business, of living, or recreating, of socializing - things that I had not been aware of.'
Following his curiosity into Toronto's suburban settlements, Mr. Chodikoff found new immigrants using the previously orphaned lawns around apartment blocks for picnicking, families gathering by day and by night in ravines long derelict, people creating an active street life in high-rise neighbourhoods widely believed to be dangerous and forbidding.
'I went wow! Something is going on here. Then you start digging deeper, and you discover this Sri Lankan draftsman in Scarborough, designing the first Tamil mall in North America. Ostensibly, it's a strip mall. It's not going to win a Governor-General's award for architecture. But his dream is to create a night market in Scarborough, where families can gather, bringing their parents and grandparents to eat food and have a nice time. All of a sudden, you're introducing something very meaningful into the great indigestible landscape of the suburbs.'
But the novel uses of public space by immigrants, Mr. Chodikoff found, are still little understood by official planners.