Kofi Hope has been working to make Toronto a better place since his student days at U of T when he organized a citywide coalition on combating gun violence. After earning a PhD at Oxford, 1 he founded CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals, which helps foster the careers of black youth in Toronto. Hope (BA 2006 Innis) has returned to the university for a semester to engage with grad students as a Bousfield Distinguished Visitor in Planning. He talks to U of T News writer Romi Levine about his views on how to make a city stronger.
What do you hope to accomplish this fall at U of T?
For me, it’s about adding new voices to the conversation: bringing in city-builders from marginalized communities to enrich the student experience. We get better policy solutions when people with lived experience and a connection to inequality are at the table.
As part of Progress Toronto, you’re interested in getting new faces elected to municipal office. How will you do this?
People in this city are worried about employment, pedestrian and community safety, the environment, house prices. The key for new candidates is to speak to the issues folks are experiencing day to day and say “we can collectively do something about this.” This isn’t easy. It means analyzing the issues well and communicating what you’ll do about them with a deep understanding of the local community.
Using this approach, how should we deal with the housing affordability crisis?
People get upset about all the condos being built, but we need density and we need housing. The question is how to build in a way that actually creates homes for families and not just assets for foreign investors. How do we preserve communities that have been historically rooted in certain parts of the city? There are ways to blend old and new and manage change at a much more equitable pace than has been happening here. 2
Who inspires your own leadership style?
People like Martin Luther King Jr. or political activist Cornel West in the States, who made their faith and values central to their leadership, along with a rigorous intellect and an inclusive approach to organizing. What I love about Dr. King, who is not well understood in popular culture, is how radical he was. He died planning a poor people’s march on Washington, and his main adviser was an openly gay communist man – at a time when it was extremely difficult to be either of these things.3