What I Really Learned in 4th Year Geography

by Gina Johnson

When I began University two years ago, I had never heard terms like colonization, BIPOC, and LGBTQ2+. A friend of mine posted something life-changing for me on Facebook about how people of color had it harder than those of European descent. I had not understood why the movement was ‘Black Lives Matter’ and not ‘All Lives Matter’. There was a lot I had to learn and I was in for a surprise, the world as I knew it would never be the same.

A small child with a surprised face

I called my friend and asked her to help me understand her perspective. She sent me literature about residential schools and slavery and they deeply disturbed me. I was so shocked to learn that I had been ignorant about the truth of what happened, and it happened right here in Canada, as well as all around the world. After speaking with her, I signed up to take a course about the formation of Canada and learned about residential schools. I am now on the path to become a Social Worker. Once I finished that course, I signed up for Geography 464 – Urban Design Planning Studio and learned about Social Justice, placemaking, tactical urbanism, and the Black Lives Matter movement. I now fully understand the importance of these issues and would like to share them with you.

This blog post is my last assignment of the course. It is to write about what I learned in class, and I want to share it with you. I think it is important that we all have open minds and take steps to help achieve a world where everyone is valued and loved.

What is Placemaking?

There are many definitions to define Placemaking and one that speaks to me is from Rethink Urban, “Placemaking is the process through which we work together to shape our public spaces. Rooted in community-based participation”. We learned that planning emerged as a formal profession with Victorian cities that experienced sanitation and disease. I learned that Tactical Urbanism is short-term change, and an example is how patios popped up, literally overnight when the pandemic began.


People sitting outside at Robson Square in Vancouver in 2012
Robson Square 2012


An example of Tactical placemaking was Robson Street, in Vancouver. During the Olympics, they closed traffic along Robson street and Granville and created an outdoor seating area, an arena in the winter, and a walkway that connected to the Art Gallery. It was a place that people came to dance to music, eat with a friend or enjoy a safe and quiet space to get away from the traffic. To learn more about how the city of Vancouver has used placemaking visit: Click here. To learn more about Tactical Placemaking visit Here.

Black Lives Matter

In this class, we planned a live and virtual event called the BLM Social Justice Art Project. It was a huge collaborative project that started in past classes. In our part of the project, we had to plan most of the pieces to put on the art exhibit and bring together the community while following the Covid guidelines. This was our opportunity to use all the theories and planning techniques that we had learned through the class. As I am in school to be a Social Worker, I was interested in learning about Social Justice and the history of the movement itself.

Crowd with a person holding a sign that reads: Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter

We learned about “Wicked Problems” in class by reading Wicked Problems in Design Thinking, by Richard Buchanan. In his paper, he talks about wicked problems in design but what I found most interesting was his mention of several disciplines including crediting a definition to Rittel to say “a class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision-makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing”. When we talk about Black Lives Matter as a movement, this concept is relevant. Let’s look at the movement more deeply.


#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer.  https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/.

A powerful quote from Timon Cline that explains the importance of the words Black Lives Matter:

“Black lives matter is an important thing to say right now because we are seeing in our country the evidence of specific injustices that many of our black brothers, sisters, & friends have been telling us about for years…And, by the way, let’s not respond with saying, oh, ‘all lives matter.’ Of course, all lives matter…We are saying that we understand that our black brothers and sisters have perceived for many years that the processes, the due processes of justice have not worked for them for many years.

A picture of the art exhibit at UFV

The BLM Social Justice Art Project displayed art made by: Michelle Msami, Faria Firoz, Rain Neeposh and Dona Park. Desiree Dawson was the Cultural Mentor and is a queer recording artist, songwriter, and producer from Vancouver, BC. Shelly Stefan was the Art Mentor and is an artist and associate professor of Painting, Drawing, and Community Arts Practice at UFV. You can find more about each artist and the project here: Here.

Social Justice Art

One of the readings our professors assigned was the Design Thinking Handbook. We learned about how to develop a point of view and dig deep into an understanding of who you are creating for, what their unmet need is, and why it matters. This was important because as we began to create our event, I needed to get out of my own head and into the community to learn about others’ points of view and experiences. Being a person of white skin, with ancestors that came from France, England and Ireland, I was very unsure if I could help or make a difference. I learned to listen and make sure that everything that I did was through the lens of someone in the BIPOC community. BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous, People of Colour.

We learned about Wicked Problems in Design Thinking.  This is a powerful concept as wicked problems are a nightmare to try and solve. A few of the key features of a wicked problem shared in this article are that they are unique, there are several explanations for wicked problems, and they are difficult to define. Florida State University has a blog titled Black Lives Matter – Wicked Problems, Wicked Solutions.  They explain Wicked Problems as:

The Social Justice Art Project Logo
The Social Justice Art Project Logo

“Wicked Problems are issues that are very difficult, if not impossible, to solve because they are highly complex, with no readily apparent solution; intricately interconnected with other problems;  entrenched in political arena, culture and environment; and consequential, effecting in real time the lives of millions of everyday people.” HTTPS://WICKED-SOLUTIONS.BLOG/ABOUT-OUR-BLOG/

This is the heart of this course for me and what I have dedicated my entire life to. Being a part of planning an event to feature the work of local artists that are brave and fierce in advocating for all Black Lives Matter is a start. It was my first chance to take everything I learned in the classroom and put it to use in the real world.

What I learned

A check list
A checklist

In the class, we learned many hands-on tactical skills such as:

What I really learned!! What mattered most!

A picture of a crowd and a person holding a sign that reads No Justice No peace
A person holding a sign that says No Justice No Peace.

The Abbotsford News shared the event and you can read it here: https://www.abbynews.com/entertainment/black-lives-matter-art-exhibit-opens-at-ufv-in-abbotsford/


Photo Credits: