Urban Studies co-operatives advocate for inclusive social sustainability

City in Colour and Citopia work towards feminist and racially-inclusive urban planning

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Six women sitting next to each other on a couch
The founders of City in Colour and Citopia, from left to right: Dionne Co, Ghazaleh Akbarnejad, Rahil Adeli, Farina Fassihi, Fiorella Pinillos, and Aman Chandi. Photo courtesy of City in Colour and Citopia

By: Yelin Gemma Lee, News Writer

Six migrant women of colour from SFU’s Masters of Urban Studies program founded City in Colour (CiC) and Citopia, two sister co-operatives tackling barriers for socially sustainable urban planning. The Peak spoke to members of CiC and Citopia to find out more about their ongoing work.

Rahil Adeli, co-founder of CiC and Citopia, discussed the exclusion of marginalized communities and the impact from lack of diverse opinions in urban planning. “City in Colour aims at engaging communities that are often not engaged.”

When talking about the motivations for founding these co-operatives, the members mentioned being informed and impassioned by their personal experiences within their own racialized communities.

“We saw our perspectives missing in how our cities are shaped and wanted to create a place where we felt inspired and supported to create cities where we felt belonging,” said Aman Chandi, co-founder of CiC. “We want to empower communities so that they feel that they are able to shape their cities and not find city planning a daunting exercise!”

According to the founding members, the two sister urban consultancy co-operatives are separated due to differences in focus areas and the large scale of their collective mission. 

“City in Colour is focused on developing community-led planning solutions to create more equitable cities and Citopia is focused on data-driven strategic planning in addition to participatory planning and community engagement and design,” explained Chandi. 

In November 2020, CiC formally began operations under Solid State Community Industries. According to their website, this network of co-operatives based in Surrey, BC aims to “address the economic immobilities of racialized migrant youth.” 

Although they operate separately, they share many mutual interests and frequently work together. CiC and Citopia are currently collaborating on Towards a Feminist City of Surrey, a project funded by the Federal government’s Feminist Recovery Grant. This three-year project supports Surrey’s public institutions including SFU Surrey “in their efforts to hire, retain, and support racialized women in the workforce.

“The collaboration between City in Colour and Citopia allows us to draw on each other’s strengths and networks while at the same time allowing each co-operative the freedom to pursue each of our own mission and vision,” said Dionne Co, co-founder of CiC.

Ghazaleh Akbarnejad, co-founder of CiC and Citopia said the two co-operatives will continue to work closely together to achieve their mutual goals including “system change initiatives and engaging underrepresented communities for positive impacts.” 

Akbarnejad explained CiC will continue to center inclusive community forward engagement in their work using creative methods like workshops to achieve their goal of spatial equity. Citopia plans on using data-driven community engagement towards its vision of socially sustainable urban systems in areas such as housing, transportation, and economic development.

“Our dream is to live and work in cities and workplaces that acknowledge the existing race and gender-based discrimination and attempt to be inclusive and thriving for all community members including BIPOC,” said Adeli. 

To find out more about City in Colour and Citopia, check out their website and one of their recent video projects for community engagement, 2020 in 3 words.