Reflections on Spur

At the end of May I had the pleasure of attending Spur, “a festival of politics, art and ideas,” as a RBC scholar. Spur is an annual event held in 5 different cities, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver. Each event includes discussions, readings and panels that focus on local, national and international themes. While the topics of each event varied there was a central theme that tied them all together. This year’s theme was Silence and Noise.

What I found striking throughout the event was the commonalities between many of talks regardless of their diverse content. One of the themes that I found most compelling was the concept of Identity.

As a community builder I’ve always viewed identity as integral to a strong community. One theory of community building is that it isn’t until people know themselves that they can give themselves to the community. Many of the SPUR talks and the discussions that followed, touched on different aspects of identity including how we define who we are, how we see ourselves in relation to our city and how we want to present our identity to others.

Spur opened with a discussion of what needs to be done to make Vancouver the greenest city by 2020. It was clear from the panelists and audience that being a ‘green city’ is key to the identity of most Vancouverites. That being said there was also a clear focus on how unaffordable Vancouver is becoming for my generation. How can you build ownership of a city in an individual if that person knows that they could never afford to live in that city? This was another thread that was felt throughout many of the talks – how could Vancouver keep its creative young adults? One of the comments that has continued to swirl in my head since hearing it is – where is Vancouver’s Brooklyn? Where is our accessible, affordable, funky neighbourhood?

In Taras Grescoe’s talk on Movement of People, in which he discussed being a car free resident of Montreal, the themes of identity and unaffordability appeared again. Taras himself had moved out of Vancouver knowing he couldn’t afford to raise his family here. He self identified as someone who does not own a car, which he pointed out was made easier by Montreal’s metro and bike-sharing systems. A laugh was shared when Vancouver’s own bike-sharing system, or lack thereof, was brought up. Vancouver’s stringent helmet laws are standing in the way and solutions such as bike helmet washing stations have been floated. How can Vancouver aim to build sustainability into our identities if the residents do not have the tools?

Other talks that highlighted the theme of identity included a panel discussion on punk rock. Many of the panelists stated that it was punk rock that gave them ability to feel comfortable with their own identity. A discussion on quantifying culture swirled around the ideas of how much do we want our online identity to say about ourselves and what right do we have to that information once it's online.

Shanti MooToo spoke about her new book Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab which features a transgender character. The discussion on identity in this talk was very compelling. One question from the audience spurred great discussion on the issue of language, on not knowing what to say or how to say it. Often while people want to say ‘the right thing’ it’s difficult to know exactly what that 'right thing' is. I found that I left the discussion with a real sense of hope; even if you don’t know the exact words to use it’s so important to get these conversations going. While Vancouver may be unaffordable it is clear from this discussion that it is trying to be a welcoming community for all.

Identity is all about being able to find yourself and, if desired, give that self to your community. Spur gave it's attendants a perfect opportunity to reflect on what it is that makes us who we are and what we need from our city to helps us be who we want to be.