Toronto(s): the city from the inhabitant’s perspective


The representation of the city as a whole is differentiated in the existence of different images of the city based on the different practices of inhabitance of their dwellers. Individual’s images of the city reflected the coexistence of multiple social and cultural identities within the global city.  In the present chapter, we will focus firtsly on the concept of lived space and social production of city space; secondly, we will introduce the concept of homeless city, finally we will point the ecological dimension of homelessness as condition of living “out of space”.The urban sociologist Henri Lefebvre, distinguishes different types of space: perceived space refers to the relatively objective and concrete space that a person reacts to in her daily environment. Conceived space refers to ideas about space, creative mental constructions and representations of space. Lived space is the complex amalgamation of perceived and lived space (Lefebvre, 1991b: 39 in Purcell). In the city, it is `the space of inhabitants and users’; it is fully imbricated in a person’s everyday life routine, which embodies the urban as a cognitive map of meaningful places where social rituals are performed. So that, the city – a complex of infrastructure, transportations, open/closed spaces that are signified by the social actions perfomed: movements, breaks, work, free time, shopping, entarteinment and so on – it is not just a stage on which social life plays out but represents a constituent element of social life. Usually, the image of our hometown is a familiar image; one that we may even say reflects our identity.  When we live in space that “talk our language”, we can “feel at home” there. Because our identity is reflected in the space we inhabit and in return this is reflected in the way we navigate the city. We know how to orientate there because we have acquired the knowledge that is the outcome of our history of routinary movements in the city. We know how to orientate our body in space, where to get food, where to have fun, where to find the grocery store, where to buy clothes and gifts, where to read a good book, where to watch a movie, where to get money, where to find a hospital, where to invite a partner for a date.  When we have a good image of the city the space appears uniform, controlled and full of meaning.  “A good mental image gives an important sense of emotional security to the person who has it that allows to establish a harmonic relationship between the self and the surrounding world. This form a feeling: opposite to the sense of displacement of who has lost his orientation, the sweet feeling of having a home is stronger when the home is not only familiare, but also distinctive” (Lynch, 1960)Accordingly, each dweller does not have a clear image of the city (Lynch, 1960), full of symbols it its prime core and blurred in its margins, but a representation that mirrors its own map of movement in the city (Cambini 2004:105). Above all, it is through a spacialized experience in a web of places that it is possible to perceive the city. In fact, only  the practice of movement between the places of the city do the dwellers give meaning to it, hence they signify it. The lived city space is made by all the routinary action of all the individuals identitities that, with their interwined paths and itineraries, produce the city space.But when we move to another city, another neighbourhood, an uncharted space, we fell disorientation because the local categotization of space according to its social uses, is still invisible to the eyes of a foreigner. In global cities, it is sufficient to move from one neighbourhood to another to experience a similar process of displacement, that is, to loose one’s own image of the city. Because of globalization, diverse people frequently live within the same political boundaries, and thus in the same area of the city different identities and discourse can enter in conflict to define the nature of the space that remains in the end a terrain of battle. From a cultural point of view, a place is to be considered the crossroads of structures, people, spaces, identities, and narratives in conflict. Class, racial, and ethnic hierarchies mark urban space with differential meanings. Also, these spatialized identities are communicated through visual signs that codify inhabitants’s identity through the local culture of the neighbourhood, so they are an important component of social agency. In the context of urban neighborhoods, people create expressive signs in the course of their everyday practices when they enact rituals of identity. Among the most visible of these practices is the use of flags, national colors, or place names to proclaim origins (Shortell, Krase 2010:10). Accordingly, every particular space of the city is the outcome of a sum of actions, each of them bringing the signs of human intention; the inhabitant of the global city does not live Toronto, but one Toronto.
As D’Aloisio notices, “the use and the values given to the space enter in the everyday construction of the subjects and of their horizon of meaning; this concurs to perform, when not properly to transform, spaces” (D’Aloisio 2007: 187).  This whole idea reads the whole city throughout the particular spatialized experience of inhabitance of its dwellers.  Hence we need a holistic perspective that takes into consideration this interplay of fact. As a result the urban, as Lefebvre argued, is an “oeuvre” (Purcell 2003:584) – a work in progress, thus, the city, rather than a settlement, it should be thought of as a work of art. The artist is the collective daily life routines of urban dwellers.  Therefore, urban space should not be valued as a commodity for exchange; it should be valued as an oeuvre that is created and recreated day-by-day, by the everyday practices of its urban inhabitants.In conclusion, our argument is that if we ignore the image of the city of the homeless Torontonians, which is competing with the one of the rest of the housed population, our knowledge of the city is necessarily incomplete. Consequently, to talk about homelessness in Downtown Toronto we have to engage with a discourse about the city spaces as well as their narratives, which express the meaning associated with it. An exhaustive analysis of Downtown Toronto as a lived city space by its housed dwellers cannot be completed without the map of the homeless city, which is the city  daily experienced by its homeless inhabitants.

Extract from “The Other Side of the Street: stigmatization, displacement, counter-narratives of Downtown Toronto’s  homeless persons“. Thesis of Francesco Tassi for MA in Anthropology and Visual Languages, at Università degli Studi di Siena (a.a. 2012/2013)

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