The Intersection of Indigenous Studies and Urban Planning

I have been thinking a lot about the applications of city planning in Kelowna.  However, when we briefly discussed it in class, I felt there was a very large and important component missing.  British Columbia is unceded land.  Indeed, we attend school on the the unceded land of the Syilx Nation.  So what are the implications of this for settler society and city planning?

In this TedTalk, Dr. Jeannette Armstrong speaks about Indigeneity.  Dr. Armstrong is an Okanagan knowledge keeper, Indigenous scholar and head of the Indigenous Studies department at UBC Okanagan. During her talk, Dr. Armstrong calls into question our ethics of development.

What motivates city planning in Kelowna? In short, resource exploitation, exploitation of the land, and depletion of natural capital are driving many mechanisms of planning in Kelowna.  Dr. Armstrong suggests moving beyond this form of human-centric sustainability.

Re-Indigenization is about reconnecting to a specific place.  Dr. Armstrong explains, Indigeneity occurs over a long period of time in a specific place, where people and organisms adapt and become interrelated.  Living in a particular place, or being Indigenous, means participating in relationships that help regenerate the land and systems of that place.  This idea stresses relationships or relationality.  We have come across relationality and connectedness in urban planning through several different avenues.  (Animation in the grands ensembles, systems rationale, and Jane Jacons emphasis on community relationships to place).

Vine Deloria, Jr. examines the place and power based conceptualization of American Indigenous people in “Power and Place Equal Personality” (2001).  For Deloria, Western paradigms are unable to describe dynamic relationships (2001).  Western knowing is based primarily on taxonomic identification and nomenclature, where objects are sorted out through a system of binaries (Deloria 2001).  These naming hierarchies are viewed as infallible, however; they also accrue anomalies that cannot be explained by simple naming (Deloria 2001).  Deloria writes, “American Indian knowledge of the world does not suffer this structural handicap” (2001:21).

Power is the animate energy that makes up the entirety of the universe while place is the “relationship of things to each other” (Deloria 2001:23).  When these two concepts are understood in tandem, they create a sense of personality (Deloria 2001).  That is to say, a person’s identity and role in the universe is equivalent to the energy of the universe combined with place or relationship.  For many Indigenous people, these relationships have a moral component (Deloria 2001).

Furthermore, the moral component extends to prescriptive frameworks.  Deloria postulates, “Thus, the Indian people were concerned about the products of what they did, and they sought to anticipate and consider all possible effects of their actions” (2001:23).  This is extrapolated to create a sense of what is appropriate: How will relationships be impacted by actions and what is the appropriate respect and protocol (Deloria 2001)?

Relationships can be further defined and understood by examining Yale D. Belanger’s Ways of Knowing: An Introduction to Native Studies in Canada.

“To better understand the personal, interrelated nature of Creation, the oft-used example of the spider web is instructional.  The web and all of its beings-be it the fly, the strands of the web, or the spider itself-merge to create one living organism.  From a personal perspective, it may seem possible to travel to any part of that web without coming into contact with other relations such as the spider.  From a distance, however, the web is an organism composed of a network of relations, and just like you the spider is itself an intrinsic part of the environment-it represents a relation within the web of life” (Belanger 2014:13).

Belanger goes on to explain that relationships exist as part of an interrelated whole, where constant change and interactions define “each person in relation to the surrounding environment and all of the beings inhabiting that territory” (2014:13).  When considering city planning in Kelowna, perhaps Indigenous epistemologies should also be considered.

Belanger, Y. (2014). Ways of knowing: An Introduction to Native studies in Canada. Toronto,Ontario: Nelson Education.

Deloria, V. (2001). Power and Place Equal Personality. Power and Place: Indian Education in America. (21-28). Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing.

The Modern City and Metabolic Rift as Symbolic Displacement

Metabolic rift was initially posited by Karl Marx (Foster 1999).  Metabolic rift occurs when food and fibre from the countryside are shipped great distances to be consumed and processed in urban spaces.  Consequently, soil nutrients are depleted from the countryside while waste is accumulated in the city.  In other words, the spatial separation of country and town ensures that natural systems do not replenish themselves through waste recycling.

This problem was also articulated by the leading German agricultural chemist Justus von Liebig (Hardy 1991).  During the 19th and 20th centuries, Europeans needed to increasingly rely on fertilizers to renew the soil depletion of the countryside (Hardy 1991).  Meanwhile, the scourge of urban sites became mass quantities of waste and an inability to safely deal with the waste.  In short, the natural cycle of food and resource extraction that occurred more locally was disrupted by the rise of industrialized capitalist metropoles.  Populations moved from the country to the town in great numbers and exacerbated the problem of metabolic rift.

Metabolic rift can be understood then in a fracturing of humans from natural cycles.  Modern cities and industrialised capitalism ensured that this fracture would deepen and lengthen over time.  Nonetheless, Ebenezer Howard postulates a meaningful solution to metabolic rift through the creation of garden cities in Garden Cities of To-morrow.  

The cities would contain 5000 acres of agricultural land that rings a 1000 acre heavily gardened city centre.  Thus humans and human society would be reintegrated into a living system where soil depletion is slowed because of waste recycling.  Therefore, Howard’s garden city is an answer to the problem of human society existing outside of natural systems.

Metabolic rift could be applied in a broader sense to multiple systems.  That is to say, the modern city and capitalist practices created multiple rifts in natural human systems.  The film Metropolis explores these issues through filmic imagery.

For example: Freder Fredersen, son of the overlord of Metropolis, ventures into the depths of the worker’s city.  There he witnesses a giant machine explosion and he hallucinates a large monster in the smoke and ruin that sacrificially consumes the workers.  This imagery reflects the dehumanization and dismemberment that comes from industrialization.

Freder immediately rushes to his father’s office to explain how his brothers, the workers, have been consumed by the monstrous machine.  Freder realises that the great class division between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is not a natural division, but rather one that removes humanity from the mechanistic doom below the utopian city.

Industrialized capitalism created a world where rifts opened up in multiple systems.  Soil depletion and recycling became disjointed while class divisions deepened.  Ebenezer Howard seemed to be answering these problems of class rift and metabolic rift.  Similarly, other city planning seems also an attempt to reintegrate fractured systems and heal the fractured human psyche in the modern city.


Foster, John Bellamy. “Marx’s Theory of Metabolic Rift: Classical Foundations for

Environmental Sociology.” American Journal of Sociology 105, no. 2 (1999): 366-405. Accessed October 14, 2015.

Hardy, Dennis. From Garden Cities to New Towns: Campaigning for Town and Country Planning, 1899-1946. London: E & FN Spon, 1991.

Howard, Ebenezer. Garden Cities of To-morrow. Memphis, Tennessee: General Books LLC, 2012.


‘What was Hell ever for?’ Lancashire within Spatial and Cultural Contexts


“Life in a Tenement Square” By Flogging Molly

Well I kissed the day, I was on my way 

From those cold gray blocks of stone
For seventeen years of squalor filled tears
A time now with innocence lost
As the sun split the room
With its rays filled with gloom
Turnin’ all hope to despair
And the only thing left
Was to flee from the nest
That was Life In A Tenement Square:

I remember the song where the rats sang along
And danced for their daily bread
While the damp washed the walls
That were twenty feet tall
Not a child in the house was fed
On the porter filled face
Of the men left a trace
Of the coin they had already spent
While our mothers asked God
What was Hell ever for
When you lived in a Tenement Square

Grab what’s left of the coal
From the ol’ cubbyhole
These cinders need more to be a fire
While the ghosts of the soldiers
That lived there before us
Laugh with their guns by their side
I hear them laugh, with their guns by their side

Now politicians they dwell
In that forgotten Hell
Our misery’s been turned into mews
Where the fat of the land
Now hog, hand-in-hand
A crime now of life was ever true
As the sun split the room
With its rays filled with gloom
Turnin’ all hope to despair

And the only thing left
Was to flee from the nest
That was Life In A Tenement Square…

(Lyrics retrieved from:

“And our Mothers asked God/What was Hell ever for/When you lived in a tenement square[?]”

“We know that poverty is unpleasant; in fact, since it is so remote, we rather enjoy               harrowing ourselves with the thought of its unpleasantness.  But don’t expect us to do       anything about it.  We are sorry for you lower classes, just as we are sorry for a cat           with the mange, but we will fight like devils against any improvement of your condition.       We feel that you are much safer as you are.  The present state of affairs suits us, and       we are not going to take the risk of setting you free, even by an extra hour a day.  So,         dear brothers, since evidently you must sweat to pay for our trips to Italy, sweat and           be damned to you.”[1]

George Orwell reflects the elite attitude towards the working class in his first hand account of poverty.  Orwell’s cardinal sociological/journalistic work Down and out in Paris and London follows his experiences living as a tramp and vagrant among the working class people in two European nations.  The attitude of bourgeoisie towards their underlings is further highlighted by Friedrich Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England.  “We have seen in the course of our report how the bourgeoisie exploits the proletariat in every conceivable way for its own benefit!”[2]

Engels focuses on particular regions and cities within the British Isles to illustrate the abject poverty, despair and squalor experienced by the working class.  When writing of the Great Towns, Engels hones in on Lancashire.  Indeed, Manchester and the surrounding cities are the epicenter of the Industrial Revolution.  Thus the industrial impacts on the land, people, and cities are readily observed in this area.

Engels writes of the beauty of Lancashire that clashes with the industrial slum of the cities and towns, “Again we have beautiful country sloping gently from the watershed westwards towards the Irish Sea, with […] charming green valleys […].”[3]  However; Engels continues, “The degradation to which the application of steam-power, machinery, and the division of labor reduce the working man” cannot be ignored.[4] The reduction of the working man is poignantly articulated through Engels in graphic descriptions of death, disease and malaise.  Moreover, Engels describes the spatial setting of the working class in the context of their suffering.

There can be a tendency to believe that England is a bastion of civilization and high culture.  British Imperialism was founded on notions of inherent superiority and enlightenment.  However, by closely examining the cultural and spatial conditions of Britain’s working poor, it becomes clear that this bastion of civilization is a multilayered structure with an exploitation fueled ‘enlightenment.’

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Image 1. By C. Smith in Lancashire 2005.  The coal blackened stone of factories and mills can be seen on most buildings.

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Image 2. By C. Smith in Lancashire 2005.  Row housing allows for the working poor to live side by side.

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Image 3. By C. Smith in Wigan, Lancashire 2005.  A public square in Wigan.

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Image 4. By C. Smith in Wigan, Lancashire 2005.  A metal and stone fence protects an abandoned building from vagrants.

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Image 5. By C. Smith in Lancashire 2005.  A farmer’s field is surrounded by trees and glens.

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Image 6.  By C. Smith in Lancashire 2005.  The green valleys that Engels referenced are clear on this view from a hike to Rivington Pike.

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Image 7. By C. Smith in Lancashire 2005.  The green of Lancashire.

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Image 8. By C. Smith in Lancashire 2005.  Rivington Pike, a former watch tower used to spot the Spanish Armada sits atop a hill that can see the entire expanse of Lancashire.

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Image 9. By C. Smith in Lancashire 2005.  Rivington Pike, a stark contrast between the deep history of Lancashire, the greenery and the nearby industrialized cities and towns.



“The tendency of mechanical progress, then, is to frustrate the human need for effort and creation.  It makes unnecessary and even impossible the activities of the eye and the hand.”[5] George Orwell.


[1] Orwell, Down and out, 119.

[2] Engels, The Condition, 286.

[3] Engels, The Condition, 54.

[4] Engels, The Condition, 54.

[5] Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 186.


Engels, Friedrich. The Condition of the Working Class in England. Stanford, Calif.:                    Stanford University Press, 1968.

Orwell, George. The Road to Wigan Pier. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958.

Orwell, George. Down and out in Paris and London: A Novel. New York: Harcourt                    Brace Jovanovich, 1961.


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