Matt Hern

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Matt Hern
Born 1968
Victoria, BC
Occupation Writer, activist, community organizer
Language English
Nationality Canadian
Subject Urban Studies, Alternative Education

Matt Hern is a community organizer, writer and activist based in East Vancouver, British Columbia (Coast Salish Territories) who is known for his work in radical urbanism, community development, ecology and alternative forms of education. He has founded the Eastside Learning Centre, the Purple Thistle Centre, Car Free Vancouver Day, Groundswell: Grassroots Economic Alternatives, as well as many other community initiatives and projects. He is currently developing a creative production centre with and for gang-engaged youth called 2+10 Industries. He teaches at multiple universities, lectures globally and his writing has been published on all six continents and translated into twelve languages.

Early life and education[edit]

Hern was born in Victoria and grew up in rural British Columbia. After attending Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, he briefly worked in journalism in New York City before moving to East Vancouver, in Coast Salish Territories . Hern was a student at the Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont where he completed an MA, and shortly after became a faculty member, working closely with Dan Chodorkoff, Murray Bookchin and others. Hern holds a PhD in Urban Studies from the Union Institute & University, completed in 1997.


Hern is well known for his books, articles and lectures, and he speaks widely in various forums and media. His forthcoming book (MIT Press) is called What a City is For, which interrogates and charts the ongoing aggressive dispersal of Portland’s black community trying to make sense of it in the context of perhaps North America’s most liberal, and certainly whitest, city. The book is largely a grappling with sovereignty: an attempt to reconcile Agamben/Deleuzian notions of post-sovereignty with arguments in favour of Indigenous sovereignty in the context of racialized histories of dispossession. Hern has published seven earlier books, including: One Game at a Time (AK Press, 2014) which is a radical critique and defense of sports, Common Ground in a Liquid City: Essays in Defense of an Urban Future (AK Press, 2009) which explores participatory urbanism in the context of his home city, Field Day (New Star, 2003), and Watch Yourself: Why Safer Isn’t Always Better (New Star, 2007). He has also edited three collections including: Stay Solid: A Radical Handbook for Youth (AK Press, 2013), Everywhere All The Time (AK Press, 2008), and Deschooling Our Lives (New Star, 1996).

Community organizing[edit]

After running a small alternative school for low-income elementary-aged children just off Commercial Drive, Hern and his partner Selena Couture worked at Windsor House Alternative School, then opened the Purple Thistle Centre in 2000 in East Vancouver with seven teenage friends. The Thistle since flourished and expanded significantly into a major community center for several hundred participants, run collectively by a group of youth. Hern acted as mentor, fundraiser, friend and organizer who worked closely with the collective. Building on this experience, Hern founded Groundswell: Grassroots Economic Alternatives. It is a project with three parts: the first is a training institute for low-income youth to develop their own ethical enterprises: co-ops, collectives, non-profits and social ventures. The second aspect links these projects together in an economic and social network of solidarity. The third piece is a social space and café. The project derives inspiration from co-operative and autonomist movement and much else, and seeks to build an alternative economic logic with youth. Currently Hern has founded a new initiative: 2+10 Industries, a creative production co-operative and creative hub with gang-engaged refugee and immigrant youth.

Hern has also founded a number of other community projects and initiative, the best-known of which is Car-Free Day Vancouver. In 2005, Hern co-founded the Commercial Drive Car-Free Festival. Quickly the project expanded into a huge event, closing down a major arterial street with a celebration of radical politics, urban sustainability and social ecology, drawing up to 50,000 people per day. Then in 2008 Hern founded Car Free Vancouver, which has spread the festival to four major Vancouver neighbourhoods, draws 250,000 people annually to call for a sustainable city with fewer cars and more community.

Hern also runs annual major trips with teenagers – up to 25 teens camping for a month at a time in Montana, Utah, California and elsewhere. In 2002, Hern, his partner and a colleague started a Youth Exchange Program between East Vancouver and Fort Good Hope (Radeli Ko) in the Northwest Territories. The exchanges are organized explicitly around difference, with the goal of getting native and non-native kids together to travel and stay in each other's homes. The central goal of this project is to move past simple tolerance and towards comprehension, hospitality and solidarity.


Hern lives in East Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories with his partner, daughters, adopted children and extended family.

Selected publications[edit]


  • "What Is a City For: Remaking the Politics of Displacement," MIT Press, 2016
  • One Game at a Time: Why Sports Matter, AK Press, 2013.
  • Stay Solid: A Radical Handbook for Youth. AK Press, 2012. (Editor).
  • Common Ground in a Liquid City: Essays in Defense of an Urban Future, AK Press, 2009.
  • Everywhere All the Time: A New Deschooling Reader, AK Press, 2008. (Editor).
  • Watch Yourself: Why Safer Isn't Always Better, New Star Books, 2007.
  • Field Day: Getting Society Out of School, New Star Books, 2003.
  • Deschooling Our Lives, New Society Publishers, 1996. (Editor).

Selected Articles, Essays, Interviews