Social Determinants, Diversity + Inclusion


By Jacob Komesaroff + Yunbo Lou

Week 5 commenced with a powerful and integral discussion with guest panelists at the North Richmond Community Health Centre. The panelists included:

  • Hatice Yilmaz, Board Member of the HRCHC and Turkish Community Elder
  • Dr. Nico Clarke, Director of the Medically Supervised Injecting Room, NRCHC
  • Demos Krouskos, CEO, NRCHC


Hatice shared her experiences living in North Richmond, describing the neighborhood as friendly, communal and well resourced. Her narrative also includes the tragic death of her son, who began using drugs at the age of 16. Hatice’s personal anecdote reflects the real impact of drug use, referencing the manner in which social determinants of health are highly impactful. As Nico articulated, the high availability of heroin, in conjunction with concentrated, unemployment, poverty, trauma (from domestic violence and fleeing persecution) and drug use manifests in increased rates of drug use and fatal overdoses . Hatice’s account of her son included his charm, selflessness and love of his parents. Humanizing the experiences of those using drugs is necessary in supporting the individual and facilitating an environment by which all members of the community are included, safe and equal. Further humanizing the identities of those using drugs, Demos communicated his observation of those using and affected by drug use in the area. He said there are many people who congregate in public spaces with their friends, bonding and maintaining meaningful friendships with one another (image 2). Associating drug use to criminality voids this humanity.


Demos celebrated and welcomed diversity, inviting all users to engage, occupy and exist within the Lennox Street Corridor. Refuting displacement as a solution, Demos advocates for community participation and involvement. The solution, he claimed, is multi-faceted, requiring all stakeholders to voice their concerns and feelings surrounding the public space. Having witnessed the progress of the community in North Richmond, Demos affirms the notion that the community has progressed and evolved.


Prompted by questions amongst the group, the panelists identified their main concerns/threats to inclusion in the site. Demos is most concerned about the social isolation of residents living within the Public Housing Estates, recommending more services and programs facilitating community cohesion and inclusion. Nico echoed these concerns, communicating his current considerations of a community event to activate the area. A measurement to assess the success of the MSIR trial looks at community responsiveness and support. By facilitating events that connect and unite the Lennox Street residents, Nico believes this assessment would be very successful.


In relation to the school, Nico shared how the school’s leadership is supportive of the MSIR however, to his knowledge the parent body is torn, with concerns of the location. Factually, there have been less syringes in the public space, and following opening of the MSIR, concern has dissipated rapidly. With injecting facilities, public injecting and injecting waste has reduced.

We are also interested in how the children inhabit and use this public space. How do young children and those using drugs coexist in a public space (image 3)? Is there a tension? How are perceptions of safety impacted by drug use in shared public spaces?

Concluding the panel discussion, Demos reiterated the importance of challenging internalized bias and fighting stigma to best support those using drugs, creating an environment that facilitates inclusion, cohesion and community belonging.


Reflecting upon this experience, I was greatly humbled by the opportunity to hear from people with a vested interest into the subject site. Humanizing people who use drugs was a particularly powerful and meaningful discussion. Demos’s unwavering compassion and call for the inclusion of all people was simple, strong and important. Shifting the issue from drug use in public to social isolation was an important transition for the development of our project (image 4). As planners, we ought to act with our values, and respond to barriers of exclusion with compassion and care.

In planning for an inclusive public space, it is necessary to consider how to engage with ‘hard to reach’ residents. Difficulties may relate to sole or intersectional barriers of age, gender, income, ability, education, race, geographic location etc. Brackertz et al (2005) assessment of institutional barriers whereby ‘communities may simply appear to be hard to reach because consulting authorities have not yet sought their involvement in an appropriate manner.’ This speaks volumes to institutional oppression. How can community members be heard or participate if institutional systems silence their contribution? It is absolutely necessary to use diverse approaches to respond to inclusion for diverse populations.

Identifying the various barriers for kids, migrants and those using drugs was useful in looking towards methods of engagement. A mixture of methods, using photographic interviews, street surveys, play, three-dimensional mapping, modelling activities, diverse expressions, informal meetings and first language surveys were raised as tools to create accessible and engaging community conversation.

In the second half of the studio, we organized our first data collection site visit. We delegated responsibilities for the behavior mapping, identifying favorable areas to observe how people are using and interacting with the Lennox Street Corridor. In planning as a group, and sharing resources, we will have greater scope and insight into the corridor. Consolidating our shared knowledge of behavioral mapping, we prepared for the 3 hours, allowing for additional time for other observation. We are now entering the practical and tangible components of the studio. We look forward to collecting data, which will inform our diverse, and complex inclusive public space plans.

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