Design for Diversity – Bend the rules

ken dance

At OpenCity, we have spent the last seven years learning about what motivates diverse people to spend time in a place and connect with others. Design for Diversity is a new way of viewing, planning and designing public space through a lens of inclusion and diversity. Over the coming weeks we will unpack the Design for Diversity manifesto to ease planners and city lovers into the practice. In this post, we address the importance of “bending the rules” – the final point in our manifesto.

An important aspect of in Designing for Diversity is the ability for people to take ownership and make a public space their own. This often entails bending the rules, and sometimes circumventing bureaucratic process. It gives people a sense that they have a say and a stake in what takes place in their public space.


A perfect example of this is the bohemian neighbourhood of Toronto’s Kensington Market. Kensington Market is a palimpsest of cultures with a rich history of intercultural interactions. Often times, the way that people describe this unique district is that “anything goes”. People will pull out seating on their front stoop and have impromptu concerts while people meander in and out of the streets. Kensington has an important underground arts scene that reflects a diversity of citizens who engage and interact in the space (often without the required permits or permission). This informal permission lets people feel like they can have a say on how the streetscape is shaped transforming it into spaces that are needed for their uses.


Scadding Court’s 707 Container Market is another example of this. What is now a vibrant and buzzing market created from old shipping containers, was once a deadzone in front a busy stretch of road and community centre. Kevin Lee, Scadding Court Community Centre’s Executive Director, along with the local councillor took a risk to create a space which would animate the area around Scadding Court Community Centre and provide affordable food from around the world, while also providing affordable vendor opportunities for small start-up businesses. The transformation of this public space to better accommodate the needs of a variety of users helped foster greater ownership over the space, enabled various ethnic groups to better use and adapt the space to their need,  which helped to further facilitate intercultural interaction.


The bending of the rules governing public spaces, enabled these public spaces to be transformed more immediately to fit the needs and the desires of the users. As a result the transformation of these public spaces have invited greater interactions and feelings of ownership and use amongst different users, sparking a sense of community. This legitimizes people’s feeling of access to a public space, as well as further supports interactions between different cultural groups.

First and second photo by Andrzej Wrotek and Ryan from Flickr CC

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