Spaces of Difference: Reflections from Toronto on Multiculturalism, Bourgeois Urbanism and the Possibility of Radical Urban Politics


What explains the lack of what Mike Davis famously called ‘magical urbanism’— referring to the increasingly influential and potentially radical role played by Latino immigrants in US politics — in such diverse Canadian cities as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver? This article points out how the Canadian legacy of multiculturalism constitutes one key cause of the failure of left urban politics in Canada to produce yet anything approaching the promise of ‘magical urbanism’ south of the border, especially by underlining how this bulwark of liberal ideology lends itself so readily to some resilient variations of bourgeois urbanism — including the commodification of difference, most recently under the auspices of Richard Florida’s ‘creative class’. Against the pluralism of the food court and the shopping mall, both in its official multicultural and seemingly oppositional ‘hybrid’ forms, are radical approaches to difference in the city still possible — in Canada or elsewhere? The authors argue that the concepts of ‘maximal’ and ‘produced’ (vis‐à‐vis ‘minimal’ and ‘induced’) difference and the politics of ‘the right to the city’ elaborated by Henri Lefebvre — in conjunction with the reflections on subaltern experiences of difference by critics such as Himani Bannerji and Ambalavanar Sivanandan — indeed provide a starting point for radical urban politics.