The New City by John Lorinc: How the Crisis of Canada’s Cities is Reshaping Our Nation
I picked up THE NEW CITY by John Lorinc about two years ago and I still find myself referencing it once or twice a month. So many fantastic books on urban and city policy are American in scope, but this book examines everything through a uniquely Canadian lens. From aging populations to immigrants to crime to transportation issues to productivity– you name it– Lorinc touches on all of the pressure points affecting our communities and makes a convincing case that the future of our nation sinks or swims with our large urban centers.
I was immediately magnitized to his focus on LEARNING CITIES and the important role that public education plays in building strong cities. His LEARNING CITIES chapter gives an excellent synopsis of pressures facing public education– English language learners, school closures, growing urban aboriginal populations, lack of local control of funding, and much more.
His writing is as enjoyable to read as it is informative.
If healthy neighbourhoods are the building blocks of cities, strong public schools are the glue that holds diverse urban communities together. Besides their core educational function, the public school system remains the only institution in our society where children, teens, and adults from vastly different cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds can come together in a non-comercial environment for extended periods, during which they’ll learn at least as much from one another as they will from their teachers. Their parents may be set in their views, comfortable with their prejudices, and redesigned to their limits. Not so for their children: Canada’s urban schools are social combustion chambers brimming with the energy that has long typified the cosmopolitan culture of international trading cities.
Nor can their role as public spaces be underestimated. School playgrounds and sports fields double as local parks. Community associations, ethnocultural organizations, and adult education programs will use the facilities in the evenings for their own programs. Youth groups rent their gymnasiums and swimming pools. Some school libraries provide public internet access. Parents form networks, webs of casual social relationships that exist somewhere between friendship and nodding acquaintance. (It was a network of outspoken parent activists, People for Education, that played a pivotal role in toppling the Mike Harris regime, with its stridently anti-public-education policies.)
Schools bring neighbourhoods out for fun fairs, concerts, musicals, sporting events, cleanup days. Local businesses proudly sport signs showing that they’ve donated to a school fundraising drive. Children gather in the auditorium to listen to a local police officer, firefighter, or public health nurse.
In short, a lot goes on in and around big city schools besides schooling and their well-being is intimately connected to their surrounding neighbourhoods.
As Trustees, we must seek to understand and work with other municipal partners and agencies to try and address the plethora of factors impacting student performance and achievement. The challenges and pressures that come with municipal and provincial socio-economic pressures in our changing city have significant impacts on our public education system.
During my November results review, I met with a Principal from a school in a poorer area of the North East. I asked her what might help the kids in her school succeed. She indicated that they were from a “harder” part of town with more substance abuse, more violence, and learning was often the last thing on their fragile minds.
Little things she said, like making sure the kids had breakfast that morning made a significant difference. It was a stark reminder that there is often more behind the achievement test scores than gets reported.
John Lorinc nails how strong schools and strong communities go hand-in-hand and anyone concerned with the future of our city, province, or nation should read this book.