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Social Inclusion: The Foundation of Civic and Community Life

This Article is By: Caroline Andrew Faculty of Social Sciences University of Ottawa    On  May. - 08, 2006

Social Inclusion: The Foundation of Civic and Community Life


A conference in Ottawa, November 8-9, 2001

by Caroline Andrew Faculty of Social Sciences University of Ottawa

My presentation is on the role of space as an element in social inclusion - space in the sense of both social space and physical space.  Communities are spatial entities and my argument is that space has a very important role to play in social inclusion.

I want to look at the ways in which the organization of our collective space - the built environments in which we live - impacts on social inclusion.  How can our use of space facilitate or endanger social inclusion?  Having easy access to all parts of a community is one dimension of being included in that community.  In concrete terms, this raises questions of the links between home, work, voluntary activity and the public spaces of the community.  This is why public transportation is such an important question - it is a factor of social inclusion or exclusion.  Inadequate public transportation excludes a variety of groups within the population - it marginalizes the elderly, the young, the poor, women (as we know, more women use public transportation than men) and all those who do not have ready access to private cars.  It excludes them all the more if their home is far from where they want to go and if they are travelling with dependants such as small children.

Good public transportation facilitates social inclusion.  It is an issue for building community life.  This was brought home to me recently in a project I am involved in - the Working Group of Women’s Access to Municipal Services in Ottawa.  The working group conducted focus groups with very diverse groups of women and it was public transportation that came up consistently in all the groups - independent of the designated topic.  Public transportation is a vital part of creating inclusive social space.

Housing is another socio-spatial policy.  If we let the private market control all housing there will be less and less decent affordable housing in the centre of our communities - and once again, we will be excluding the poor (including a large number of elderly women, female - led households, and certain ethno-cultural groups) either physically, by pushing them out from centre or socially, by housing them in inadequate conditions.
On the other hand, well located services and appropriate services increase social integration.  Services that are located where people have access to them or combinations of services that are co-located in convenient places help to create communities.

So how do we create inclusive spaces?  I think that municipal governments have an important role to play but not municipal governments as they generally operate today.  We need transformed municipal governments in which strong links exist between the grass-roots organizations of civil society and the municipal government - both the elected officials and the staff.  We need space for what Leonie Sandercock has described as in “insurgency planning”- where the visions and the experiences of citizens are listened to and form the base for decisions by the municipality to create and enhance spaces that are socially inclusive.

Caroline Andrew is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Ottawa.  Her areas of research are municipal government,women and local politics, and urban development.She is currently Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ottawa.  Recent publications include: “The Shame of (ignoring) the Cities,” in the Journal of Canadian Studies, 35-4 (2000-2001) and “La gouvernance locale,” Relations, No.  629 (2000).