Placemaking for Peacemaking

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This is the third in a Placemaking Profile series in which we will share short conversations we’ve had with urban innovators – from those who are actively building places that foster social inclusion to those who listen, engage, and tell stories from the communities.

For more information about placemaking, please click here.

Rony Al Jalkh: Placemaking for Peacemaking

As part of a panel discussion on strategies to go beyond Habitat III at the Placemaking Leadership Forum (Vancouver, BC. September 14-16, 2016), Rony Al Jalkh shared his work on Placemaking for Peacemaking, a two-way process for intervening, activating and improving public spaces as a way to promote inclusion and interaction in socially fragmented cities, particularly with immigrant and refugee communities.

We had the chance to chat with Rony before his session to get a glimpse on his approach to placemaking and ways to promote civic engagement in marginalized neighbourhoods.

What is placemaking for you?

To me, it’s about making place with the people, for the people. And it’s for all the people. I started working in Beirut. The project was about promoting placemaking because it’s not something known in Lebanon. We don’t have the culture of public spaces and we don’t have the culture of a participatory approach. In Lebanon we have a proverb that says “kill two birds with one stone.” This means that I want to make placemaking for two reasons: I want to tell people that they have the right to have public spaces and to claim them. But also I want to tell municipalities that people must participate in these projects.

Who would be the mediator in this process of placemaking for peacemaking?

We have to find someone who can be the link between community and municipalities. Someone who can play this role, someone who is dynamic and a catalyst. I believe universities can help. University students are young, dynamic, open and capable to play the linking role between the community and municipal authorities.

What has been your experience working with university students as mediators?

I started by providing workshops at universities. I implemented a pilot project at the American University of Beirut. I took placemaking because to me it’s a flexible process, we can always adapt it to local contexts. So I prepared a syllabus and I taught these courses for free. I wanted to test what I prepared to connect students to the community. Timing was good because we had municipal elections in Lebanon and the municipality was open to new ideas.

What challenges did you experience working on this project?

It was not easy because the students have never been to these communities. The students came from middle- to upper-income Lebanese families. I focused my work on marginalised neighbourhoods, mostly in the suburbs. Some of these neighbourhoods had immigrant populations (predominantly from Syria). The cultural shock experienced by students helped us screen their level of commitment to the project.

How did you bring students closer to the reality of residents in marginalized communities?

I included anything related to communications as part of the syllabus of the courses that I organized. The students often did not speak Arabic because they came from upper class families.

We also implemented a listening process among students. We explained to them how to ask questions in Arabic and introduced them to the cultural reality of these communities. For instance, we explained to students that it’s not enough to speak the language, they need to understand the slang and be sensitive to these nuances so that they can come closer to their reality. We worked a lot on communication skills. We also helped students learn how to negotiate the design and co-creation process with the community and told them that every opinion counts. I gave them an example. I said “You are architects. When you graduate you will build a house for your clients. So you will prepare the design and you will have to negotiate with your clients the number of floors. For public spaces the client is the people. You cannot build public spaces without negotiation. The community is your client. You must make something that is feasible, tangible and accessible for everyone.”

What was the scale of this project?

During three months we worked on 21 designs prepared by 21 students for different locations in Beirut. We are talking about small spaces because publicly accessible land is scarce in Lebanon. These are little land pockets where we could plant a tree to make people come. We worked under the idea that public spaces must remain open anytime and for everyone.

How can we use placemaking to bring peace in fragmented communities?

Placemaking is about connecting people in a space. And peacemaking is also about connecting people to each other. And for me peacemaking cannot succeed if it is not in a concrete place. It means we have to bring people together but how, where? So, the place should be a tool to bring peace. Placemaking for peacemaking is an approach, they reinforce each other. Placemaking is a participative approach. When you let people participate, the participation will bring trust and when you build trust you can have peace. So if I work with you, we will have to trust each other. If we make peace together, we will be more encouraged to work together.

But how do you engage people to work together?

Trust. In Beirut we learned that when we co-create neighbourhoods you don’t bring contractors, you work with the community. I asked students to identify skilled people within the community: carpenters, construction workers, plumbers, and so on. We invited students to work together with these people and friendships were made. These interactions facilitated teamwork.

While working with Syrian communities in Beirut, I explained to them that if they wish to be accepted they need to contribute to city co-creation. We saw Syrian and Lebanese residents working together in creating public spaces.  I’m not saying this is magic but if the public space is a place where we all wish to come, we could begin by building peace through the public space. If we have playgrounds for Lebanese and Syrian children we can facilitate interaction and parents might begin talking to each other.

Once I worked on a tree-planting project in a marginalized neighbourhood in Beirut. We designed the streets and we told residents “This is your tree and it’s up to you to take care of it. Tomorrow we will plant it, please be ready to help us.” It was the residents and not volunteers who were involved. Ten years later, I observed that trees grew and provided shade to residents. Working with communities takes time and requires patience. Trees, like communities, do not grow up in one day, they are the result of patience.

Rony will be joining us as part of The City as a Commons, a series of conversations in Canada with international innovators who are advancing transformative change in participatory city building and thinking. He will be giving talks open to the public (RSVP required) in Montreal on March 20 and 24; and in Toronto on March 27.

About Rony Al Jalkh

With nearly 16 years of experience working with UN-Habitat and other international organizations, Rony has extensive knowledge managing and monitoring projects relating to governance, civil society and working with the public sector. As an activist and practitioner of Placemaking, he provides lectures and workshops throughout Lebanon and abroad. As a senior fellow at the Project for Public Spaces, Rony is currently leading research on “Placemaking for Peacemaking” with the objective of creating placemaking resources and tools to promote urban equity and inclusion.

Participatory cities grounded in practical, everyday acts

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This is the fourth in a Placemaking Profile series in which we will share short conversations we’ve had with urban innovators – from those who are actively building places that foster social inclusion to those who listen, engage, and tell stories from the communities.

For more information about placemaking, please click here.

Tessy Britton: Participatory City

In conversations about shaping our cities, we often talk about public participation as a crucial element of decision-making. But how does this translate to people’s day-to-day lives? Are there enough opportunities to get involved in local governance? What factors are necessary to achieve power shifts rather than tokenistic public input?

These are questions that Londoner Tessy Britton and her Participatory City initiative have had on their minds for many years. While we intrinsically know that cities should be places for all (and therefore shaped by all), it can be difficult to concretize this ideal. Tessy, through her deep work in practical participation in UK cities, has answers. Last month, we had the opportunity to chat about supporting networks of citizen-run spaces, connecting everyday acts with larger goals like social inclusion and enterprise creation, and how neighbourhoods can be created by and for everyone.

We began our discussion by sharing what our home cities - Toronto, Canada and London, UK - have in common when it comes to citizens shaping city spaces. In both cities, placemaking is happening on a micro-scale (think tool libraries, 100in1Day, laneway crawls, and myriad other examples), and though it makes a difference to the immediate community, these projects are often disparate and don’t reap the kind of measurable results that influence decision-makers. In other words, small, citizen-led initiatives certainly have localized benefits, but are not adding up to a more supportive society.

What if participating in planning your community didn’t have to involve taking time to attend a formal public meeting or filling out an online survey that doesn’t allow for communicating the nuances of lived experience? What if your regular activities, from gardening on your front porch to preparing food to repairing your bicycle, were recognized as contributing to the collective experience of folks in your neighbourhood? While these support systems exist, they tend to be exceptions to the norm, where we are connected mainly for purposes of financial transactions. In a Participatory City, decisions about place are actually structured around these everyday acts. So what does this look like? Who is involved? How can we harness the know-how, creativity, and passion of citizens into a city that takes care of its inhabitants?

Starting this year, Participatory City will transform one London neighbourhood into a Demonstration Neighborhood - of around 200,00 to 300,000 residents - that will become a model for wellbeing, sustainability and equality. Here is how this impressive initiative is taking shape:

  • It is built on an open-source environment that allows all users to share what they’re doing and collaborate with others.
  • It doesn’t have to involve a lot of new inputs; instead, it makes better use of spaces, resources, skills, and knowledge.
  • It recognizes the potential of essential, everyday acts to effect change, when connected and supported.
  • It supports an ecology of mutually dependent and supportive collections of activity in common places like cafes, schools, and gardens (the goal being 1,000 ideas to transform one’s neighbourhood).
  • It gets unlikely allies working together, resulting in more social capital and greater resilience.

Our conversation kept coming back to power and the ways in which city governments value certain assets and undervalue others. In order for our cities to become places for all, not just for those with certain powers and privileges, change must be rooted in building social capital in a way that is available to all. The Participatory City is different from one-off citizen engagement because the projects within, by their nature, attract people of different socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, and interests. Why? Because the projects are social, practical and productive”, and allow for different ways to participate, unlike many traditional volunteer or charity activities. Since they are built on activities which appeal to a variety of people, they provide easy opportunities to collaborate without much external intervention, resulting in an immediate sense of ownership, and often a tangible outcome.

This is something that we could learn from in Canadian cities. From coast to coast, there are fantastic grassroots projects that demonstrate new possibilities for using city spaces, from Montreal’s Ruelles Vertes to Open Streets projects happening yearly in several cities. However successful these 'temporary activation' projects are, it seems like momentum is slow to build, and that arguably, these projects have not yet shifted dominant practices of city building or community enterprise creation. Perhaps one solution for city governments and private funders lies in emulating what is being done with Participatory City: rather than funding localized projects and then leaving them to fend for themselves, a solution could be a more self-sustaining system of connecting, scaling up and out, and reinforcing community-driven projects and enterprises for long-term impact. Participatory City does this through a cycle of listening to people in ways that enable citizen experimentation and co-creation of projects and social enterprises.

Want to know more about Participatory City? Tessy will be sharing her work at a public discussion series, The City as a Commons, starting next week in Montreal (March 20 and 23), Toronto (March 27), and Ottawa (March 28). All events are free, but please do register.

Further reading:

 About Tessy Britton:

Tessy is the founder of Participatory City and has been developing the Participatory City practice for six years, researching and prototyping new ways to support widespread practical participation. Tessy works on a number of international projects, including supporting Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayor’s Challenge, judging the New Radicals 2016 with Nesta and The Observer. She is also a British Council Fellow for the Hammamet Conference in Tunisia. Tessy is a guest lecturer at: Saïd Business School (Oxford), LabGov at LUISS University (Rome); Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University; Rhode Island School of Design (Providence. USA).

Cities as Places of Transformation

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Last May, Jayne Engle gave the keynote presentation at the Montreal Urban Sustainability Experience (MUSE) Symposium on the enormous transformative potential of cities - and the thorny obstacles that are preventing the kind of wholesale changes that would allow cities to be liveable, resilient, and inclusive.

Here is the introduction to her presentation: Cities as Places of Transformation.

1. City Song Lines

Has anyone heard of something called ‘Songlines’ in Aboriginal culture?

Songlines are the long Creation story lines that cross landscapes and put geographical and sacred sites into place in some Aboriginal cultures. They are both inspiration and important cultural knowledge.

I’d like to start by reading a ‘City Songline’ by Leonie Sandercock, from her book Cosmopolis II.

“I look into my crystal globe, and I dream of the carnival of the multicultural city…. I don’t want a city where everything stays the same and everyone is afraid of change; I don’t want a city where young African Americans have to sell drugs to make a living, or Thai women are imprisoned in sweat shops in the garment district where they work sixteen hours a day six days a week. I don’t want a city where I am afraid to go out alone at night, or to visit certain neighborhoods even in broad daylight; where pedestrians are immediately suspect, and the homeless always harassed. I don’t want a city where the elderly are irrelevant and ‘youth’ is a problem to be solved by more control.

“I dream of a city of bread and festivals, where those who don’t have the bread aren’t excluded from the carnival. I dream of a city in which action grows out of knowledge and understanding; where you haven’t got it made until you can help others to get where you are or beyond; where social justice is more prized than a balanced budget; where I have a right to my surroundings, and so do all my fellow citizens; where we don’t exist for the city but are seduced by it; where only after consultation with local folks could decisions be made about our neighborhoods; where scarcity does not build a barb-wired fence around carefully guarded inequalities; where no one flaunts their authority and no-one is without authority.

“I want a city where people can cartwheel across pedestrian crossings without being arrested for playfulness; where everyone can paint the sidewalks, and address passers-by without fear of being shot; where there are places of stimulus and places of meditation; where there is music in public squares, and street performers don’t have to have a portfolio and a permit, and street vendors co-exist with shopkeepers. I want a city where people take pleasure in shaping and caring for their environment and are encouraged to do so; where neighbors plant bok choy and taro and broad beans in community gardens. I want a city that is run differently from an accounting firm; where planners ‘plan’ by negotiating desires and fears, mediating memories and hopes, facilitating change and transformation.”

This ‘love song’ as Leonie calls it, is about naming existing narratives and expressing desired ones.  I’ll come back to the topic of city narratives a little later on.  First, I want to share a hypothesis based on the title of this talk -- that is that Cities can be Places of Transformation.

Read on! 

CLICK HERE to see the accompanying slides.

​Montreal subway cars get new life and revitalize public space

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*Lead image from the Société de transport de Montréal: stm.info

Crafty placemaking with Brussels-based Urban Foxes

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This is second in our Placemaker Profile series. Read Part 1, an interview with Victoria Dickenson, here.

We first heard of Urban Foxes, a Brussels-based collective, when one of its founders reached out to us, sharing their “Saint-Cath-sur-Mer” project. We found this to be an unassuming yet impactful approach to bringing people together around a common space that was previously underused. After doing further investigations, we learned that we share a name with Urban Foxes’ placemaking labs, as well as common interests in playful and participatory approaches to animating urban spaces. Two elements struck us: 1) a method of placemaking that is rooted in understanding a community’s assets and needs, and 2) an attention to inclusion, especially in the face of re/development that often puts private interests first. Keen to learn more about their background, approach, and on-the-ground projects, we asked Urban Foxes member Bram DeWolfs to answer a few questions.

All photos are courtesy of Urban Foxes.

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  1. Can you describe Urban Foxes' approach to placemaking?

As a fairly young collective with no structural funding nor employees, we have chosen to focus on relatively smaller actions in our city, Brussels. Most of the time we target enhancing urban wellbeing by using creative and playful interventions. We don’t differentiate between age groups or cultures. Everybody can play or participate, and we always make sure that activities are free of charge. When it’s more than a [small] intervention, e.g. like Canal Park BXL where we crowdfunded a small part of an urban wasteland (thanks to that pressure, now a large park of four hectares is being “installed” by the government), we aim to involve all stakeholders. We also organize annual placemaking city labs called “Cities for People”, funded by the Erasmus+ program, where 30 participants from all over Europe are immersed for eight days in the world of placemaking. During this time, participants visit places showing good practices, analyze public spaces, communicate with locals, take part in theoretical and practical workshops and in the end come up with their own ways to improve urban wellbeing.

For our last project “Saint-Cath-sur-Mer” we involved locals, restaurant owners, the local youth theatre, the three youth centers and a retirement home from a few blocks away. We tried to facilitate the process of starting up a common project, of which every stakeholder would be a part and where ideas could be proposed.

  1. How is placemaking around water different than on land? What are the benefits and obstacles to transforming water-scapes rather than landscapes?

At times with nice weather, the basins of the old harbour attract people looking for tranquility and relaxation. We wanted to preserve this sensation but we believed we could get more out of the unused space, which is approximately 3000 square meters, on the water. The water brings a natural feeling of poetry and triggers feelings and memories linked to the sea and water. It gives us something to look at, like the glistering and the movement of the water, but also the people around it. The obstacle of the water is that you cannot bring the people on that exact spot, like you would do on an empty market place or old parking lot, but you need to gather them around the water. But we used this disadvantage to our advantage. In order to facilitate encounter around the water, we opted for sailing boats that are controlled by the wind instead of radio-controlled. The wind took the boats across the water, which encouraged people to walk around, interact, and play, asking each other to “send” the boat back. Remote-controlled boats might have kept the people in their own private world, as happens a lot in our smartphone age.

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  1. With your Saint-Cath-Sur-Mer project, you refer to "Transforming the Fish Market into a place of wonder, playfulness and encounter." How did you go from their vision to a concrete action plan?

After the terrorist attacks and with the increasing acts of urban neoliberalism by the municipality, the people of Brussels needed playfulness and poetry more than ever. We had a vision of people of different social classes and origins would come together around the water. We wanted to facilitate encounters regardless of age or background. By winning the local competition make.brussels, an open-call to improve the image of Brussels and the wellbeing of their inhabitants, we won the necessary funds to buy the miniature sailing boats, construct the bike trailer and compensate the “vulnerable” youngsters that helped us with logistics (e.g. distributing the boats, maintenance, transporting the trailer, etc). We created a financial plan, a communication strategy, and a participatory process involving residents, local schools, youth centers, local businesses, neighbourhood committees and a retirement home. We bundled the ideas and concerns and came up with an action plan with ideas and proposals. After this process we launched the opening event were we invited all the stakeholders, and where everybody could enjoy the boats, a drink, and a jazz concert. We wanted a mobile and minimal intervention respecting the surroundings and [neighbourhood] identity, and involve all the stakeholders.

  1. The photos of your public space animations clearly show the potential of play to activate and encourage gathering around a public space. What other forms of play would you like to see in public spaces?

It is our dream that there would be an abundance of playing/sporting possibilities for all ages in the Brussels. One important thing that is missing in our municipality is a (soft) running track, but we would also love to see more public benches, parks, playgrounds, pétanque lanes, permanent ping-pong tables (on the newly pedestrianized Anspach boulevard, reclaimed by disobedient interventions of Picnic The Street, from which Urban Foxes sprouted) and of course fewer cars so we are able to breathe clean air.

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  1. You mention the importance of free programming in public space (for example, providing residents with small sailboats, free of charge). What tensions do you perceive around financial access to public space (e.g. patios that are only available to paying patrons), and how do you see you work addressing these exclusions?

Currently we are dealing with local policy makers who focus on attracting tourists and increasing consumption by allowing restaurant holders to expand their patios, thereby sacrificing public space and benches. Several protests have been held, with some success, to reclaim the public space that was temporarily lost. We think it’s crucial that the City act as a smart and ethical buffer between the private sector and the city [as public space]. [We need to] keep in mind that the city should be for everyone, not only for those who consume. This is why that we will stay vigilant for matters dealing with public space and we will continue to strive for activities that are free of charge and thereby aiming at inclusiveness (like our mobile pétanque, mobile cinema/fablab). We believe that a city that is good for its people is good enough for tourists as well.

Placemaker profile: Victoria Dickenson

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This is the first in a Placemaking Profile series in which we will share short conversations we've had with leaders in Canadian cities - from those who are actively building places that foster social inclusion to those who listen, engage, and tell stories from the communities that make up our cities. For more information about placemaking, please click here.

Victoria Dickenson: City Conversations (from the Placemaking Leadership Forum in Vancouver, BC, September 2016)

As part of a panel discussion on understanding and designing cities on a human scale at the Placemaking Leadership Forum, Victoria Dickenson shared her work organizing and facilitating in-depth, cross-Canada ‘City Conversations’. These semi-structured conversations surfaced city-dwellers’ values, hopes, and concerns about the place in which they spend time, from smaller, coastal communities like St. John’s, Newfoundland, to bustling cities like Toronto, Ontario which along with opportunities come a host of challenges, namely economic and social inequalities. 

We had the chance to chat with Victoria after her session about her learnings when it comes to seeking out, listening to, and sharing diverse perspectives about cities.

One of the aspects of placemaking that came up in your overview of the City Conversations you hosted was hearing about people’s immediate, visceral reactions to place. What are some of the strategies you use to surface those personal meanings and connections [that may not be heard or given undue attention in public consultations) so that they can be made more widely known? 

VD: [In my work as a curator] I was originally working in a museum in a beautiful, wooded site. When people came they would say: “This place is so beautiful; it feels so good!”. One day I had some Anishinaabe elders from Winnipeg visiting and I asked them: “What do you think about this place?”. They said: “There’s a real sense here that you’re on territory”. And it really struck me that we don’t spend half enough time exploring what it means to feel good in place. I went and looked at the literature, and  almost all of the authors - the geographers, the anthropologists, the historians, the architects - they all said that [feeling good in place] is indefinable, we don’t know how to describe it - but we feel it.

It’s the whole issue of respecting feelings. In Montreal, the conversations [touched on] when you’re talking about place, it’s not just a photograph - it’s a sensory experience...you can feel it in your body. So to get at that - what are these places - you have to listen to people tell you about the places that are important to them.

What might this process of surfacing these personal meanings and attachments to place look like?

First, they identify places...then you pull back and ask: Why this place? What is about it about this place...Is it a memory? Is it because you grew up there? In what way is it important to you personally?...Do you feel the significance of geological features [like two tectonic plates coming together]? Yi-fu Tuan, a humanistic geographer, talks about how the Grand Tetons of landscape don’t need interpretation...but other sites need to be [brought to the surface]. In literature or in the way that artists work, you find that they identify significant places...there’s a Newfoundland photographer, Ned Pratt, who takes photographs that make place happen in the spots he takes them in..

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Photo of the Grand Tetons from www.popphoto.com

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Portrait by Ned Pratt, www.nedpratt.com/portraiture

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Proposed M T L iconography atop Mount Royal in the heart of the city - a form of placemaking for the texting generation? Photo: www.montrealgazette.com

Listening to people’s memories of what makes a place significant, understanding traditional communities and why they are where they are...many communities are resistant to giving up their sense of place. They say: “No you can’t change this - we want it to stay the same”. Well, why? We need to get at that Looking at how artists communicate place - whether it’s visual artists, authors, poets, songwriters - they identify places that are significant. Stan Rogers, a folksinger and songwriter in Atlantic Canada, sang about bays and harbours, the small places along the coast, and influenced a whole generation of Maritimers to celebrate their place.

You have to listen and look at how people have used literature, art, and [other means of creative communication] and their lived experience in place to identify those significant places. I think one of the questions, now that we’re such a globalized society, is: do we all recognize the same place? Do we have to [agree on significant places]? And what’s the role of place - if certain places have power, which is what Aboriginal people [might say], when we’re all together in that place, does it inform who we are as a people? Does the narrative come from the ground?

From a land-use planning perspective, I don’t think these personal explorations of place are taken enough into consideration, or even considered at all.

If you don’t think of place when you start a [planning process], and you only see the ground as either commercial value or a groundscape - and you don’t ask “What are the characteristics of this place?” before thinking about [how you might intervene]...the meanings are lost. That’s one of the goals of these [City Conversations]: to get place as a category of analysis.

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Dr. Victoria Dickenson is an independent scholar and museum consultant. Her experience in museums - very special places - and her interest in cultural landscapes, have led her to develop the Conversations about Place project. She lives in, and has written about, Montreal, a city whose peculiar geography ensures that the past is always present; in summer, she lives in Newfoundland, where people belong to the place, not the other way round. She presented highlights from conversations held in St. John's, Montreal, and Toronto in a breakout session on The Human Scale at the Placemaking Leadership Forum. In the new year, she will host conversations in Victoria, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Ottawa.

Students bring their talents and skills to community projects through Vancouver’s LEDlab

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Cities for People + getting to collective impact

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Read the original article, Ten Key Ingredients for Collective Impact: Powering Town Halls for Societal Change, by Indy Johar, Imandeep Kaur, and Orestes Chouchoulas on Dark Matter Laboratories.

One of the goals set out by the Cities for People initiative during its inception over three years ago was to shake up the ways in which we work in cities. How? By approaching big issues from a thematic, collaborative, multi-sectoral angle, rather than on a project-by-project (setting out objectives and following a linear timeline to tackle one facet at a time) basis. The ‘experiment’ laid out in the first phase of Cities for People, which wrapped up in summer 2015, was to see how taking a thematic approach would enable us to identify ways to scale up, out, and deep – on the kind of ‘wicked problems’ cities are faced with, from inequality to housing to public spaces. Underpinning this effort was the belief that lasting change comes from individuals and organizations, often in different sectors (public, private, nonprofit), working deeply together to drawing out commonalities and symbioses that lead to breakthrough moments. This concept is easy to agree upon, but can be difficult to put into practice: how do we actually work in this way to transcend traditional partnerships that quickly become removed from the problem with which they’re trying to address? This article lays out ten essential pieces of the collective impact puzzle necessary to develop a practice of deep collaboration.


 

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Apollo 10 Mission Control. Photo by NASA.

The energy behind collective action (referred to variably as Collective Impact, Collective Innovation, and Collective Change) is fundamentally rooted in the understanding that meaningful change is increasingly not in the hands of any single organisation. No single actor is able to bring about structural impact in terms of addressing life outcomes, health outcomes, alleviating poverty, or even creating new connected products and services. Whether seen from an interventional perspective or a political and organisational legitimacy perspective, the complex interdependencies at the heart of our largest challenges are not addressable by agents acting in isolation. It is increasingly recognised that impact at these scales requires us to build open, large, diverse, multi-sector coalitions committed to a shared mission, common accountability, allied political intent (small “p” politics), and change at a systems level. These open movements seek to work beyond individual agendas, missions, and activity to leverage our collective capacity for organised and coordinated agency but also to manage and moderate the “unintended aggregative consequences” of our siloed individual decisions.

When many citizens and organisations band together in pursuit of common objectives they generate new kinds of power, agency, and innovation.

Some see Collective Impact as nothing new — just partnerships rebadged and rebranded. We would argue that this misses the point. Collective Impact is not about partnerships between a handful of key institutions sitting in a closed board room but rather about a new architecture for movements of citizens and organisations numbering in the hundreds. Collective Impact is a fundamentally different social scaling theory that changes everything. Collective impact represents a different politics of change that transcends partnerships between a sample of stakeholders and looks to all-embracing movements.

Therefore, inevitably Collective Impact requires new models of planning, organising, and financing. While we continue to invent them, we have identified a few key ingredients:

1. An authentic invitation to a shared challenge

The core momentum behind mobilisation en masse comes from a genuine and authentic invitation to address a shared challenge that many of us face consistently. There is beauty and great potential in the energy generated by individually motivated participants joining forces.

2. A love for the outcome, not the attribution

The people this authentic invitation attracts are most often interested in the outcomes, the mission, and the higher purpose. They care less about being recognised for their individual contribution and measure their own success by the collective progress . Attaining the shared goal trumps any thought of individual status.

3. Open whiteboarding, open planning

The words “collaboration”, “co-design”, co-anything are too often thrown around these days. But truly unlocking the potential of collective wisdom starts with openly planning and whiteboarding the challenge. Asking people to share their thoughts and insights and collaboratively testing, prototyping, and learning engages participants with the process, giving them a sense of ownership, responsibility, and authorship of the shared narrative.

4. Invest in collective capacity and shared learning

Abundance is a core value for Collective Impact. Whether it is being generous with your time or contacts, growing the collective capability, or even imagining the possible requires an abundance mindset. That means understanding that ideas, agency, and impact grow richer and deeper the more widely they are shared. This moves beyond the idea of a sharing economy and towards an economy of collective abundance empowering moonshots — an economy where the more each gives the more we all have.

5. Many-to-many accountability

Accountability is too often thought of as a checking process, betraying an underlying power hierarchy tasked with ensuring that things progress as planned. A many-to-many model reframes accountability into a relational, reputational, and educational process. It retains the structure of a movement for change whilst adding the capacity to learn from the collective strategic agency and peer-to-peer interventions.

6. Mission goals

Shared goals are essential for social change. Collective Impact calls for measurable (even if by proxy) shared goals—be it the well-being of citizens, educational attainment, local economic multipliers, or the long-term GDP growth of the city.

Mission goals create the accountability framework for multiple organisations and institutions, allowing them to respect, align, collaborate, and hold each other mutually responsible. In addition, they provide the extrinsic framework to align internal metrics and incentives and to consciously organise supply chains to act as collective impact multipliers.

In order to be effective and structural shared goals in a data-driven age must be open, machine-readable, measurable, institutionally hardwired (embedded into the Articles of Incorporation), and socially and reputationally networked (part of an annual citizen reporting cycle).

7. “Brand” the mission, not your organisation

In a Collective Impact mindset the brand for the movement is not attached to the organisation but the shared mission. It is a #hashtag, not an @attribution. It is an open framework for enquiry, conversation, and contribution — not an asset.

8. Open data

Uniting multiple actors under the banner of a common mission removes the incentives to protect and conceal proprietary information. Collective Impact benefits from a shared data landscape, where all actors offer their collected data and intellectual property openly to the commons. This kind of data freedom upgrades the value of everyone’s metrics and predictive models, helping prevent the “unintended aggregative consequences” of dissociated activity. An open data landscape, interpreted with the help of emerging artificial intelligence techniques, can provide the evidence base for collective action.

9. New models of financing

Collective Impact also requires third generation Impact Investment models which build upon the ideas explored by Social Impact Bonds. They allow investing in the preventative economy whilst recognising the structural need to connect multi-actor efforts and steer collective investments for social change into collaborative efforts led by outcome-driven strategies.

These third generation investment models recognise that there are no silver bullet solutions for sustainable impact and therefore go beyond startup and intervention financing.

This new generation of impact investment recognises that the most challenging social issues (like poverty, social exclusion, inequality in health outcomes) and global challenges (such as ageing, climate change, welfare systems sustainability) are systemically interdependent. This class of “wicked challenges” cannot be addressed in isolation or by selecting single points of intervention. There is no single intervention or investment that can effectively address these complex and social issues. In response, the new financing models must drive synthetic value creation.

For instance, if we want to increase educational attainment, the question is not simply one of whether more funding should be allocated to public or to private schools. It is necessary to simultaneously work in multiple domains affecting education in the area.These might include investing in prenatal nutrition, establishing breakfast clubs, setting up reading clubs to mentor pupils, mums’ associations to support young mothers, youth circles to provide peer support, and developing new technology to facilitate communication between parents and teachers.

Or take healthy ageing in a neighbourhood. Rather than focusing on the quality of nursing homes or starting a “befriending service” to reduce loneliness, healthy ageing may depend on creating opportunities for intergenerational contact in schools and in the public realm; on reducing fear of falling through early morning snow clearing; on a support network to assist older people with household chores, repairs, and navigating the digital age; on new forms of collective housing or skills-sharing programmes; and on maintaining and reinventing affordable social gathering places like libraries and cafés.

Importantly, this also means that change can no longer be the responsibility or within the remit of a single actor, organisation, institution, or enterprise. In the example of ageing, the involvement of the snow-clearing company (whether public or private) is as important as that of the residential developer. Involving networks of energetic creative young people is as vital as involving schools.

This type of investment is can be thought of as funding movements for change. Another way to think of them is as structuring Impact Derivatives — contracts based on the performance of investment contracts — working together and virtuously for Collective Impact. Allied movements of actors on both the supply and demand side of innovation are required to address these sticky challenges.

10. New organisational infrastructures

While it is sexy to focus on the human part of the Collective Impact story (the relationship building, the love, the empathy, the collaboration) we need to recognise that Collective Impact is really an organisational theory. It is a platform for empowering hundreds of actors with a shared mission, powered by the near-zero marginal cost of digital administration. This needs us to fundamentally reimagine contracts, embracing smart contracting for its ability to openly and asynchronously enable agreements for massively multi-actor movements. Open contracting driven by realtime data can achieve this in a viable way, without introducing unmanageable overheads.


While we continue our work in these fields we would like to invite you to participate in what is an urgent and necessary mission: to reimagine, build, and test the new institutional infrastructures to empower Collective Impact.

Written by Indy Johar, Imandeep Kaur, and Orestes Chouchoulas.

 

Digital technology as one pathway to social inclusion in placemaking

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As part of the Placemaking Leadership Forum in Vancouver, we had the opportunity to attend several breakout sessions on approaches to placemaking. One session that has stood out so far centred on Digital Placemaking - defined in the program as learning how to build in and wisely use technology in authentic ways that reinforce the place-based and community-centered approaches inherent to placemaking.

Moderator: Daniel Latorre, PPS, Digital Placemaking Institute (New York, NY)

Panelists: Cath Carver, Colour Your City (London, UK); Glenn Harding, UrbanScreens (Melbourne, Australia); Karen Quinn Fung, Vancouver Public Space Network (Vancouver, BC); Teeko Yang, Northern Spark (Minneapolis, MN); Yuri Aritbase, Strong Towns (Vancouver, BC)

While integrating digital technologies into our practices of placemaking was the focus of the discussion, themes like bridging online and place-based communities; thinking holistically about the environmental impacts of digital technologies; and the issue of who gets to tell and receive stories through digital technologies, brought up questions about how we can thoughtfully refine our concept of placemaking as new tools and technologies inform our practice.

In this blogpost, we summarize and reflect on three of the five excellent speakers whose work was thematically linked through explorations of the tension/synergy between the physical and digital communities that comprise placemaking.

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It was wonderful to hear from a Vancouverite, Karen Quinn Fung, who has experience working deeply in Vancouver's neighbourhoods through the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) and other groups. The VPSN is a citizen-led grassroots organization working in many facets of urban life in Vancouver, from open space design to ownership of and access to place - hugely important issues especially in cities with income inequality and the accompanying social and economic exclusion from place. They also work to bring to light the social use of public spaces - in fact, they were one of the organizers of this week's Placemaking Leadership Forum, putting together a fantastic #POPCrawl (Power of Place Crawl) to encourage participants to discover some of downtown Vancouver's underappreciated public spaces.

Karen raised thought-provoking questions around the ways in which we use digital tools and technologies to augment public participation, and the need to be conscious of different populations' comfort and trust of these technologies, especially with concerns about ownership of data. This was timely given all the praise and critiques of Pokemon Go, the location-based augmented reality game designed for mobile phones, and how it enhances or detracts from our experiences in public space. Karen also addressed an important question about the environmental impact of the manufacturing, use, and disposal of digital technologies. As a placemaker, she aligns with a "fixer" (rather than strictly "maker") state of mind, which involves a cultural shift towards understanding how things work and fixing/adapting/improving them; in other words, a shift away from planned obsolescence (something that moderator Dan Latorre also honed in on).

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Image from the Vancouver Public Space Network

Cath Carver presented a unique approach to expressing values and personal connections to place through colour. Why colour as a means of participating in placemaking? According to Colour Your City, "Colour impacts everything we do. It is a very powerful tool of language, expression, communication and connection. Everyone 'gets' colour, making it an accessible and potent tool." The idea that colour is something everyone can relate to and thus can use to ascribe meanings, values, and aspirations onto public spaces resonated with us, especially in light of concerns about "non-places" - places that are difficult to connect with due to their absence of rootedness in a particular community.

Cath's presentation brought about a few questions for us: How can we, as placemakers, use colour as an entry point to engage individuals to shape public space, particularly those whom 'traditional' public engagement does not reach? Who communicates the stories that inform public space design? How can we broaden the methods by which those stories are communicated so that more can be heard and thus included in the design and programming of spaces?

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Image from Colour Your City

Teeko Yang's work on the Minneapolis-St Paul based Northern Lights, a  a nonprofit arts organization working to transform our sense of what’s possible in public space, touched upon these questions as well. One of their main initiatives is Northern Spark, a "free, annual, dusk-to-dawn, multidisciplinary arts festival that takes place on the second Saturday of June in the Twin Cities and draws tens of thousands of Minnesotans each year". Like colour, light projections have a wonderful capacity to reach everyone who passes through or stops to dwell in a public space. Teeko explained that one of their core principles is not leaving anyone behind, which is a serious concern, especially in communities comprised of diverse migrant populations. Hearing Teeko's emphasis on not taking places away from people to make them more appealing to others was an important reminder as we increasingly work creatively to fuse the digital with the physical in the dynamic process of placemaking.

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Image from Twin Cities / Northern Lights

From all these thoughts, ideas, and questions, we can conclude that digital placemaking must begin from listening to how people understand and use a particular place, then humanizing technology to enable these multiple feelings, stories, and connections to be surfaced and communicated. This begins with acknowledging basic human instincts and desires, like curiosity, status, and search for meaning. Often for people to feel belonging in a spaces, those spaces must provoke an interest in newness in tandem with satisfying our intrinsic need for rootedness/connection/comfort. Our understanding from this rich session is that digital placemaking is a process that can either increase inclusion in placemaking, or push people away from places to which they no longer feel connection. We hope these open-ended conversations around the evolution of placemaking will continue.

Laneway Futures

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This isn't the first time we have written about laneways (see our previous stories on le Parc Oxygène in Montréal and the Laneway Summit in Toronto); they are the sites of an emerging kind of urbanism - one in which communities work together to implement on-the-ground projects that bring to light possibilities for underused or underappreciated sites. This "brainstorm, implement, share, test, and refine" model could fit under the "Lighter-Quicker-Cheaper" approach to placemaking developed and popularized by New York's Project for Public Spaces.

Last month, the Toronto-based The Laneway Project opened up one such project to the wider community by inviting residents to the Danforth East Laneway Crawl: a prototype showcasing myriad possibilities for laneway activation in the Danforth-Woodbine neighbourhood in Toronto.

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The Laneway Project and local partners the Danforth East Community Association invited passersby to "Help imagine a future for your laneway and similar laneways across Toronto!" by experiencing a range of multi-media installations and interactive activities that demonstrated a different vision of the types of compatible uses in laneways - spaces which are often relegated to afterthoughts. This forgetting of or lack of care about spaces has resulted in a situation in which communities are not deriving benefit from laneway, which could act as secondary transportation corridors, meeting spots, places to access services, to play, to experiment with gardening, to create...

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(Imagine this laneway as a destination for...)

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During the Danforth East Laneway Crawl, residents, businesses, and community groups of all stripes were invited to contribute to animating the laneway, from simple actions - like opening their garage doors - to more involved participation, like setting up a food or drink stall, sharing a project they were working on, or painting a mural.

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On August 28th, the laneway was full of colours, sounds, kids playing ball hockey, locals strumming guitars, artists working together to paint murals - all of which contributed to a feeling of liveliness and of care.

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A highlight of Laneway Futures was the incredible (and quick!) injection of art into what was a fairly typical Toronto laneway, dominated by the greys and beiges of ashphalt, fences, and faceless backs of buildings fronting busy Danforth Ave.

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This laneway animation also brought up questions about how laneways could better serve the communities surrounded them by offering alternative sites to fulfill daily needs. What if you could speak to a doctor outside of what could be perceived as an imposing institution of a medical office or hospital? Or perhaps just leave your bike casually leaning against a fence while you caught up with neighbours in a quiet space?

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Want more laneway love? This Sunday is the last of a series of The Laneway Project's 2016 Laneway Crawls Series in Toronto`s Christie Pits Park! Find out more about Christie Crawlfest, happening Sunday, September 25 from 1-6pm.