Envisioning a feminist city of Surrey

In July 2021, as part of their COVID-19 recovery initiative, the Government of Canada announced 237 projects that will be receiving funding under the $100-million Feminist Response and Recovery Fund.

One such project called ‘Moving towards a feminist city of Surrey’ is spearheaded by the City in Colour Cooperative, a multidisciplinary consultancy co-founded by alumni from SFU’s urban studies program.

Established in 2020, the City in Colour Cooperative is composed of six immigrant women with varied professional backgrounds in architecture, design, communication, community engagement as well as arts and culture.

“We work on issues related to racialized people in urban areas, be it social equity, community engagement, design or participatory planning. We want to bring the perspective of women of colour into urban planning, which is an otherwise white male dominated field,” says Rahil Adeli, co-founder of the cooperative.

Fiorella Pinillos, who is also a co-founder, hopes that the cooperative can help other people feel like they belong in the city. City in Colour wants to create spaces of equity, belonging and joy.

The story behind the co-op’s creation

“We were brought together by our goal to create a space for women like us where we could make a difference by applying our skills, while also engaging with people who are often left out of the planning processes,” says Pinillos.

City in Colour Team. | Photo courtesy of City in Colour Cooperative

Adeli shares that the co-founders are all alumni of SFU’s urban studies program and were part of a BIPOC group, which is how they were introduced.

“When I first started my masters in urban studies, I couldn’t really envision myself doing this work. It seemed very foreign and inaccessible to me,” says Aman Chandi, a co-founder of the cooperative. “I haven’t had people who looked like me as examples or role models excel in this work, so it just seemed really out of reach.”

Pinillos and Chandi both had feelings of imposter syndrome, which was something that they bonded over. They saw themselves as part of the field but questioned how to get in.

“However, soon we found other folks that were feeling the same way and decided to come together as a BIPOC resource group,” continues Chandi.

While they started off as a resource group, the members later decided to formalize it into a co-op with the help of Solid State Community Industries, a non-profit that supports young firms and startups.

“We approached Matt Hern, co-director of Solid State and faculty at our program, and he was very receptive and open to us starting the cooperative,” says Chandi. “From there, it just grew and snowballed into something bigger.”

City of Surrey project and plans for the future

“So far, we have focused more on establishing the co-op and applying for grants,” says Pinillos.

The co-op has recently been awarded a three-year grant with WAGE (Women and Gender Equality Canada) to work in the city of Surrey. Pinillos is excited at the opportunity to start the real work.

“Our goal is to look at the upward mobility of racialized women,” she says.

The project is taking place in partnership with local community organizations like the city of Surrey, SFU Surrey, DiverseCity and the Surrey library. Although the team is still in the early stages of this project, they hope to create some tools that can be used by their community partners. This toolkit will include workshops, ideas for public engagement and also a set of recommendations developed after researching gaps in policies.

“We’re directly impacted by these policies, and we have a greater stake in getting things right. There is a lot of emotional labour that goes into doing this work. It’s very personal, and it is attached to our experiences and identity,” says Chandi.

The team is not sure when these initiatives might come to fruition, but their website indicates that more information is coming soon.

Learn more here: www.cityincolourcoop.com