“No society can understand itself without looking at its shadow side.”
Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

I recently had the opportunity to work with individuals experiencing marginalization through factors such as homelessness, addiction and prostitution. While forming relationships with these people, I documented their stories, struggles and dreams. These conversations led to further research into the idea of community, city, experiences of space and the power relations innate in an urban environment. The stories I was told were sobering and horrific, yet often peppered with humour and a distinct resilience. I heard stories of the continued trauma of the residential school system, ongoing battles with crystal meth, frustration with schizophrenia, domestic abuse and incest. Behind the center where I worked, I would find an entire tent structure hidden in the alleys of neighbouring buildings, the tent owners meticulously sweeping their front step and setting up rotting lawn chairs to watch the squirrels nibble in the dumpster. I accompanied a woman to the hospital after she confided in me that she had been raped, I saw the face of the doctor harden when she told him what neighbourhood she was from and what indigenous group she belonged to. The very concept of the city is turned against these people, as they are swept away like unwanted trash. Those already fighting their own personal battles are hidden away into the darkest corners.
    Justified in the interest of “health,” “safety,” and even “development,” people groups become transient objects, moved around and hidden. In The Production of Space, John Lefebvre explores how space both conceals and reveals power dynamics, asserting that space is not merely a container to be filled but an active idealization of our social relations. Under colours of modernity, space has become both product and production, taking on the characteristics of homogeneity, fragmentation and hierarchy that underpin our economic and social relationships. Transitory homes, addiction programs and soup kitchens become bandage fixes that allow the public eye to rest on “clean” streets and “safe” neighbourhoods. As we look down disdainfully at cardboard signs and plastic cups of change, we continue to form the spaces we inhabit, even as they filter our perspective. The city becomes a frame we construct together, one we look through, letting people slip out of focus and out of picture.
    The “disinfection” of public space continues to bury history and story, perpetuating a homogenization of difference and a division of space. Through developing their idea of spatial justice, David Harvey and Edward Soja call for a renewed collective consciousness. They highlight the need for social movements that celebrate the unique ways individuals inhabit space, reclaiming the city from its functionalist allocation. Reforming space doesn’t just require justice, it requires love. This starts with listening rather than speaking over, offering dignity rather than charity. It starts with deconstructing hierarchies built through fear, creating what Jean Vanier refers to as “true freedom” through learning to embrace weakness and to trust. Through an urban dystopia, I present my social archeology and allow the viewer to participate in discovering the hidden stories beneath the gleaming urban structure. These portraits point to a revived community, a city built on the foundation of story rather than progress, a city where every individual has the space to belong.