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Below the Radar: Age of Engagement

By Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement

November 2, 2021

Review By John Belec

Below the Radar is the voice of Simon Fraser University’s community engagement initiative. The host, Am Johal, has been a fixture in Vancouver public affairs for several decades. He is currently Director of SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement and is a central nexus in an extensive network of Vancouver-based arts, cultural and community organizations. The podcast employs an interview format in weekly episodes, with guests drawn primarily from Vancouver, and especially from the SFU community. This is fitting given that the implicit purpose of the podcast is to give voice to the role that SFU supports in community engagement. The tone of the podcast, set by Johal, is inviting to the listener. He has a relaxed and attentive style that puts his guests at ease.

The focus of my review is on “urban issues” content, one of several areas of interest identified on the podcast. My review is based on twenty-two episodes that focused explicitly on urban issues according to their capsule summaries, from a total of 107 that were available in February 2021. Most episodes fall into one or more of the following categories: urban policy (especially housing), Indigenous urbanism and community-engaged research.

Not surprising given that the podcast is based in Vancouver, housing inequity is a dominant theme. The interview with BC’s current Minister of Housing, David Eby (Episode 102), provides a summary, and defense, of the province’s approach. There is room here for a constructive critique of public policy, and Johal does raise the issue of tenant rights. However, for better or worse, confrontation is not the style of the host, or podcast. Instead, Johal uses his extensive experience on the ground to join his guests in exploration of the meaning of their cutting-edge research, much of it informed by critical and postcolonial theory.

In addition to Eby, Johal talks housing policy with Leilni Farha (Episode 74), former UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, Stephanie Allen (Episode 11), associate vice-president of BC Housing and Geraldine Dening and Simon Elmer (Episode 24), members of the London, UK “Architects for Social Housing”. The interviews offer a good balance between critique of existing local, provincial and national approaches, and suggestions for improvement.

Policy issues also appear in episodes focused on Indigenous urbanism in Vancouver. Efforts towards implementation of Indigenous planning are recounted by Kamala Todd, Vancouver’s first Indigenous Arts and Culture Planner (Episode 36) and Ginger Gosnell-Myers, Vancouver’s first Indigenous Relations Manager (Episode 14). Related themes of decolonization and Indigenization are embedded in the podcast, especially with regard to re-creating urban space, both interior (e.g., libraries: Episode 38) and exterior (e.g., urban parks: Episode 20).

Presentation of community engaged academic research is most closely connected to the mission statement of the podcast: knowledge mobilisation and empowerment of both the subjects of the research and, presumably, the listener. A fault of the podcast is scant coverage of the impact of community engaged research. A notable exception is the work of Scott Neufeld and Nicolas Crier in drafting “Research 101: A manifesto for Ethical Research in the Downtown Eastside” (Episode 34). The document is a response to residents in the DTES being “researched to death”. The research focused episodes also often fall victim to the fault that Stuart Poyntz of SFU’s Community Engaged Research Initiative (CERi) identified as one to avoid: “jargon-filled community research language” (Episode 47). This is not to denigrate the quality of research presented. It’s just that in its present form, it will likely remain academics listening to academics.

In sum, Below the Radar provides essential listening for the urban studies community and for anyone wishing a critical perspective on the nature of urbanization in Vancouver.

 

Publication Information

Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, Below the Radar Podcast, podcast. https://www.sfu.ca/vancity-office-community-engagement/below-the-radar-podcast.html