Immigrants do not Simply Settle

STUDENT Bindya Lad, University of Toronto
LOCATION Mississauga, Ontario

Today, one in every five persons of the total Canadian population identifies themselves as being an immigrant. Of particular importance are the landscapes where these immigrants choose to settle, as they form part of their adaptation to life in Canada. The province of Ontario receives over half of Canada’s immigrants, with a particular concentration in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), within which there is a growing trend for immigrants choosing to settle in surrounding suburban municipalities such as Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, Richmond Hill, and Vaughan rather than the city of Toronto. First conceived during the postwar period, these suburban landscapes continue: they are designed for a particular “white” nuclear middle-class family; they separate and segregate land uses; they are sparsely densified; and, they are based on metrics associated with the automobile. The result is the production of homogeneous, inefficient built fabrics that contribute to creating barriers to settlement for immigrants.

However, immigrants do not simply settle. In the manner in which the North American landscape has been shaped by certain ideals, upon immigrating these individuals bring with them different social and cultural attitudes and sensibilities about the practice of everyday life and the use of space. To accommodate their own needs, immigrants assume the role of designer, choosing to modify these suburban landscapes using tactical approaches and their own programs of use. Though innovative and resourceful in their execution, such informal approaches are frustrated and criminalized by strategic frameworks such as bylaws, regulations, and policies even though they produce the conditions that architects, landscape architects, planners, and urban designers strive to achieve.

The research here explores the tactical approaches immigrants have undertaken in customizing the suburban environment in Malton, Mississauga. The community of Malton is the residential community most proximate to the airport, with an immigrant population that accounts for over 60 percent of its total population, with South Asians being the prominent visible minority.

Taking the South Asian community as a case study, an examination of cultural, economic and social factors shaping the modification of three types of space–small-scale retail development, places of religious assembly, and domestic space–is pursued. The result is a set of “virtual” interventions that guide rather than define how a space could be used, allowing any user to customize its design to suit his or her particular needs. Together, the interventions suggest how conventional strategic frameworks could be redefined to encourage an alternative urbanism promoting the practice of everyday life.

GH: The project challenges our traditional perceptions of both zoning and what is expected of immigrants to this country. Imagine a true mosaic where we could layer each new culture onto our physical landscape. Imagine an inclusive approving authority, which would embrace such diversity. This is an important piece of cultural commentary.

JPL: The student’s approach to this project certainly demonstrates a remarkable amount of optimism and hope. Creating a place in architecture that addresses cultural diversity, allowing immigrants to express their way of life through the buildings they occupy when living in Canadian cities is a joyful and rich idea. It is a new way to work with a growing segment of contemporary Canadian society.

PR: The thesis explores a very large, real and oft-neglected reality, particularly here in Canada: the use of public space, particularly older suburban streetscapes, which could stand to be revisited and intensified–and is where a healthy percentage of the immigrant population lives. It’s given a new vision and a new vitality, and it’s an exciting, colourful reinvigoration of intensification brought to a fairly banal suburban condition. The majority of buildings are single-family, and must be rethought in terms of multi-generationality, accessibility, and adaptability to suit the demographic and cultural realities of our changing social fabric.