Colgate Alumna Discusses Urban Planning

Colgate Alumna Discusses Urban Planning

Raymond Hua, Maroon-News Staff

Senior Advisor at Artscape Toronto LoriAnn Girvan ’86 led a discussion about her career and how Colgate helped to kickstart her work in social justice and homeless housing. The discussion, held on Feb. 24. in Benton Hall, focused on how she has used arts and culture to solve the many problems in urban planning. She has worked in Africa, Canada and the United States. At Colgate, she was an English major and philosophy minor. 

Through Colgate, she received a Watson Fellowship, a one-year grant allowing her to work in Africa. She worked in Sierra Leone and Namibia, moving to the latter in 1992. She discussed Namibia’s newfound independence, developing institutions and brutal apartheid at the time. These were the conditions she found had shaped the nature of her work. She began working in rural communities and focused on gender issues, setting up one of the very first gender research centers. One area that began to interest her was community based natural resources management, which aimed to combat practices like poaching and overfishing. 

After that, Girvan transitioned to jobs closer to home with greater opportunities for leadership. She began by joining a group that helped create space for social justice groups in Boston. Her work continued in New York, where she shifted her focus to solutions for homeless housing and reuse of the urban landscape. 

“I looked at all these amazing assets- sometimes heritage buildings, sometimes a civic asset that was bagged up and closed- and I thought, ‘how do we create a community built based resources strategy?’” Girvan said. 

She has also witnessed some of the biggest housing disasters in recent times, such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

“I found myself in New Orleans after Katrina at a very interesting moment, when all of a sudden everyone was homeless, and it created a really interesting conundrum because it heightened the sensitivity to the vulnerability of losing your housing. Some people saw it as a chance to have a clean slate,” Girvan said. 

From that, she began her work in supportive housing, providing operative support and services so that people affected by disasters like Hurricane Katrina could live in permanent homes, not refugee camps. 

Her current employer, Artscape, only receives five percent of its funding from the public, making it much more reliant on private, entrepreneurial revenue. 

“That was appealing to me because I know and think that as much as I like our social safety nets and our government dollars to be rich and robust and wholesome and support permanent solutions, we’re seeing less and less of that,” Girvan said.  

After relaying her story, Girvan left the greater half of the hour long lunch to a question and answer session. The questions represented the diversity of those in attendance, including topics ranging from financial matters to social justice. 

English major senior Kaylie Jensen offered her thoughts after participating in the discussion.

“I was interested in hearing about an English major alum’s experiences and sort of her career path,” Jensen said. “It was awesome to see how she combined so many fields with real estate, community building and writing.”