comments 17

Two tragedies

A friend of mine called me out today for not using my online presence — both social media and this blog — to share my views on the horrible tragedies that are taking place right now in the United States and the world. She is right. And it is certainly something that I have been thinking about. But as I mulled it over in my head, it just didn’t feel right to glibly share a few social media posts and consider my contributions complete. For almost 7 years, this blog has been my public voice and this blog is where I figured it should show up when I was ready.

My view is that there are really two tragedies taking place right now. The first started with the murder of George Floyd. It was truly awful, and it is symptomatic of some fundamental issues that remain in our society. I support the demonstrations that have ensued and I am pleased to see people and companies taking action. To give one example, Goldman Sachs today announced the creation of a $10 million fund for Racial Equity. If any of you know of any causes that should be supported or of any actions that you believe should be taken, I would encourage you to share them in the comment section below or to email them to me directly.

The second tragedy is the looting that has followed tragedy number one. Whoever is doing it, I think it is counterproductive and I think it serves to obscure the systemic problems that we know need to be addressed. I was reading through this Journal article today about the impact that looting is having on small black-owned businesses in Philadelphia — a city that is near and dear to me. It makes me both sad and frustrated that these businesses are scrambling to post up “Black Owned” signs in their windows in an effort to be spared from the chaos.

The article goes on to quantify the number of US small businesses in mostly black areas that have enough cash on hand to survive 14 days or more. Very few do. In fact, almost none of them do. The number for mostly black areas is only about 5.3%. This is compared to 70.4% for mostly white areas and 97.9% for mostly Asian areas. This is a scary statistic that only amplifies the severity of tragedy number two. This looting is delivering a second blow to small businesses that were already reeling on the ground from COVID-19.

Tragedy number one and the push for racial equity and positive change is the focus here.

Update: Minor edits were done to this post in an attempt to clarify its original intent.


  1. Parambir Keila

    Hi Brandon,

    I’ve been reading your blog faithfully for the past three or four years. I respect your take on city building, design, and urban living.

    What we are living through is complicated and messy.

    It’s bad that there’s been $1 billion worth of damage to public and private buildings during the protest, but the racial inequity In our society and the killing of black and indigenous youth must stop.

    When you spend one paragraph discussing George Floyd [and no mention of the many many others that have been killed similarly to him but simply not caught on video] and then two paragraphs talking about damage to property, your first point gets muddled and lost.


    • Thanks for your comment and for raising this. I don’t profess to be an expert on the many wrongs that have been committed. But I am with you 100% that it is something that must stop.


  2. Sarah Fleming

    This is seriously the most tone deaf thing I have seen written on the subject at hand. You are so beyond privileged that you see material things as more important than the countless lives that are lost, imprisoned, threatened, suppressed, mocked for the last hundred years… the list goes on.

    But much greater than that you are missing the point and the facts about how these riots and looting are coming into fruition. The protests were peaceful. They did not bring weapons, they knelt, they laid on the ground.

    Did police shoot rubber bullets, tear gas, run cars through white protesters with AR-15’s literally protesting not getting a hair cut? NO. Because they are white. They scream in cops faces. They point their guns at them. Are they tear gassed? No. Because they are white. But black people must be put in line. Black people must be suppressed, have a curfew.

    Black people have continued to try and make connections with the cops surrounding them, have protected cops who have been separated from the rest. They are trying to be heard for REAL problems, plain and simple.

    There has been much evidence to show that the majority of looting is being started by white males insistent on making the peaceful protesters look bad (not the first time). There is evidence that the piles of bricks are being dropped off in areas of protest with the *hopes* that people will use them. And I am sorry but if police are going to use military style warfare on citizens (illegal), it is their right to fight back. Black people have tried peaceful protest in MANY MANY ways over the years. The government has done whatever they can to literally ban it. Kneeling wasn’t okay – so that was banned.

    The entire country (both US and Canada) are founded on a colonial capitalist system meant to keep people of colour and native american/Canadians in poverty. Revolution and progress may have a cost, but lets all be happy if that cost is material goods (that’s why white people invented insurance?) and not more lives.

    Since you love stats so much, here are some Canadian stats on crime and race:

    How about the fact that 25% of property tax in Toronto goes to the Police force? Do you really think that is necessary when mental health, social services, community services, shelter services, etc. continually get cut, which most crime can be traced back to?

    Given the amount of evidence of news outlets trying to control the narrative, which I am guessing is how you formed your opinion, I would suggest you do some actual digging and soul searching on the subject. (For example CBC posted a clip of police driving into protesters, but cut it off before the cops sped up. Or the fact that there are TONS of amazing peaceful protests that are going on but they choose to concentrate on a few bad cases of ‘looting’. Even the words they use to describe the scenarios are chosen VERY carefully to bring on negative connotations)

    There are so many other things you could have focused on as a developer and planner in this situation. I am really shocked. I don’t intend to keep following this blog after these remarks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment. My intent was not to put material possessions ahead of people’s lives. Lives come first. You are very right about the wrongs you list. The intent was simply to say that this is a double tragedy. The looting, whoever is doing it, is impacting people’s livelihoods.


      • kacimtaylor5

        It is more than a double tragedy. Yes the looting is affecting peoples livelihood, but being killed by a police officer also affects people’s livelihood. Being harassed, discriminated against, threatened, being treated different because of what you look like all impact people’s lives. Why are you not addressing those things as well?

        I think the messages above share my exact sentiments. Your comments fully disregard the actual issues. This comment is a perfect example of how you ARE NOT LISTENING.


      • I completely agree with you. These are the “fundamental issues that remain in our society” and the “systemic problems” that absolutely need to be addressed and must stop.


  3. Hi Brandon,

    I don’t read your website, but I read this post because Parambir told me about it. Previously we have met through our mutual friend Gabriel Fain.

    I think you start strong, but fall short of proposing concrete steps you can take in your industry to create equity.

    Based on what you’ve written, here’s what I think creating equity could mean for you personally, and your industry (which I understand is development and urban planning):

    You write: “The article goes on to quantify the number of US small businesses in mostly black areas that have enough cash on hand to survive 14 days or more. Very few do. In fact, almost none of them do.”

    With that in mind, why not research black-owned businesses in your neighbourhood, share that list here, and publicly commit to buying from some of them?

    Secondly, within your place of employment, why not review your executive and associate lineup, and publicly commit to hiring:

    1. A Black person,
    2. An Indigenous person, and
    3. People of Colour,

    And repeating this until your executives and associates mirror Toronto, which The Economist calls the most diverse city in the world?

    I understand it’s hard to publicly commit to this, have a paper trail, and possibly be held accountable for it in the future, but this is truly what each of us needs to do in our neighbourhood and in our place of employment to create equity.

    Thanks for reading.



  4. I really appreciate your blog and your contributions to Toronto and the development industry. I think you came up short with this one. While it may not be how you feel, your post puts more emphasis on property than on Black Lives. First and foremost, Black Lives Matter. It should be the main focus right now.
    Looting is 1) a consequence of centuries of frustration and 2) in many cases done by white people who are using the protests for their own gain or trying to delegitimize them. It’s not a tragedy. black deaths, centuries of oppressions and the police brutal response to the protests are.


    • Hi Michael, thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it. My intent was not to focus on the property at all or make any judgments as to who is doing the looting. The intent was to point out the impact on 1) lives and 2 ) livelihoods. What happens when somebody loses their business and they can no longer afford to put food on the table?


      • It’s a good question, especially combined with COVID. But I feel like it should be secondary since people losing their business have ways to recover, whereas dead people don’t.


  5. IK

    As a reader I am greatly disappointed in this post. The double tragedy is actually for the reader to realize your position of privilege.

    I echo much of what was said by others in the comments. There is always room to educate ourselves. I hope you will address this in a following post and use your platform as a place for evolving, along with action.


      • Parambir Keila

        YES support black and indigenous businesses. Hire BIPOC employees (in roles with authority) and be careful of Alison Roman types!

        Liked by 1 person

      • IK

        Yes, absolutely. I don’t think that is the question here and if that was your intent, it is not clear when you comment that protests can and should be done “peacefully”. Despite good intentions, your narrative of a non-black person telling black folk how they should feel and how they should protest in the face of racial violence, comes from a place of privilege. I understand the context of the article you refer to, but the part that sounds like, let’s all play nice so black businesses don’t suffer, sounds patronizing and tone deaf. Are you choosing what black experience is worth more? That is where the question of property being more valuable than people comes into play, as many have echoed as well.


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