Sweden ahead in social sustainability, Canada in diversity

Canada has seen considerable improvements in the building sector with respect to environmental issues. But what about inclusiveness, equity and social justice?

Viktoria Walldin, social anthropologist and social sustainability expert at White, held a keynote speech in Quebec at an event organised by Architecture Sans Frontières Québec. Viktoria was invited to talk about White’s perspectives on the social aspects in architecture and urban planning.


We sat down with Viktoria to hear her thoughts on what we could learn from Canada and vice versa.

What can the architectural profession do to address social inequalities?

We can make a significant contribution. Urban development and architecture are tools that can address social inequalities. It’s where politics and architecture meet and create answers to real issues. At White we have become adept at digging deep, analysing the findings and translating them into architectural solutions that correspond to users’ needs. In Canada they are very good at addressing environmental issues, but they think they may have lost the social aspects along the way. The event highlighted that it’s time to get social sustainability to the top of the agenda.

Who else needs to participate?

The people who live, work and use a place! In Sweden, the planning process doesn’t require listening to the people affected by a plan before planning starts. Instead, the consultation happens at the end of the planning process. It takes place during office hours, which means that very few people can attend to make their voices heard. At White we work differently. We reach out to the intended users at the beginning of a project. We get on the bus or go to the local youth club to hear – straight from the horse’s mouth – what the youngsters would like to see in their environment. That way we can make recommendations and designs based on several perspectives.

Is the Canadian approach to social sustainability similar or dissimilar to the Swedish approach?

It differs between the regions. The English-speaking regions, such as Toronto and Vancouver, have worked with social sustainability longer than in Quebec. Having said that, I met a woman who works at Convercité, a nonprofit organisation that gathers and involves local communities, urban developers and decision makers. Convercité’s working methods are similar to White’s and when we met we realised that we’d like to work together and share knowledge through projects. Groups who share that way of thinking are marginalised and we need each other to champion the social aspects in urban planning and architecture.

What can we learn from Canada?
Canada has great experience of being a multicultural society. The North American and the European – and to some extent African and Asian – influences are obvious. Looking at diversity and integration, I believe Canada is miles ahead of Sweden. Of course, they’ve had more ‘practice’, but I think we can learn a thing or two from them if we want to continue to call Sweden multicultural. There are two sides to integration: minorities learn from the majority and vice versa. The knowledge gained has an effect on urban development and planning. We’re not there yet.

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