Learnings from The City as a Commons series

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In late March (20-28), Julian Agyeman, Tessy Britton, Gorka Espiau and Rony Jalkh joined us for The City as a Commons conference series in three Canadian cities. Throughout these two weeks of activities they participated in meetings on how to advance transformative city building and thinking.

Below are some takeaways from these gatherings:

  • To strengthen the City as a Commons, we need to incorporate multicultural thinking in our day-to-day work. This can be achieved through dialogue and reciprocal understanding between residents. Developing inclusive cultural practices will help us advance toward more inclusive cities.
  • Creating a truly participatory city means making sure that city neighbourhoods are made by everyone and for everyone. Neighbourhoods are places that can fuel social transformation; they can o
  • perate as platforms, laboratories, schools, models of sustainability and models of equality.
  • An inclusive city is one where participation has been mainstreamed (embedded in local values and beliefs) and scaled up. An inclusive city is participatory by nature.
  • Participation can be mainstreamed and scaled up if we make it attractive, accessible, and convenient - and with concrete benefits.
  • There are two different systems that work together to create a participatory city:
    i. participation opportunities that facilitate civic engagement in practical projects that align with residents’ daily lives
    ii. support systems that make it easier to maintain or grow collections of projects.
  • Placemaking is nourished by participation and trust; it encourages residents to find a place where they feel welcome. Like peacemaking, placemaking requires courage, compassion and collaboration.
  • A shared narrative has the potential to transform communities, attitudes and behaviors.
  • An understanding of a community’s social fabric and its waves of transformation is required to create a shared narrative (incorporating questions of who we are, who the neighbourhood is, what is possible and what is not). The deeper we understand the waves of transformation and the processes that happen within a community, the more the impact we can achieve through our initiatives.
  • Stories for social transformation are not controlled by a central command. They are connected in terms of value systems and the impact we wish to achieve as a collective.
  • Understanding the city as a commons involves going beyond quaint notions of the gift economy  - it requires engaging in systemic restructuring. The commons are not only about asset building but also about the processes of creating and producing together.
  • To strengthen the commons, we have to go beyond top-down and bottom-up approaches. Conversations should be framed around how citizens and institutions can work better to transform places, moving the centre of gravity out of the town hall and into neighbourhoods.

A list of practical ideas to support placemaking for social inclusion:

  1. Create places for children.
  2. Organise exhibitions and competitions where new residents can showcase their food.
  3. Support cultural and art fairs: music, fashion, dance, instruments.
  4. Conduct gatherings that foster a sense of caring among newcomers.
  5. Conduct activities for space appropriation (such as murals).
  6. Create community gardens using plants familiar and useful to newcomers.
  7. Use public spaces for book clubs and intercultural conversations.
  8. Create informal playgrounds where children can use their imagination in public spaces.
  9. Develop art therapy activities: public spaces can be used as a platform for residents to express their feelings through art. Contemplating these art expressions helps people to better understand each other.

Got any learnings to add to the mix? Please share them with us by commenting or on Twitter #civiccommons.

CIRM Lunch discussions at McGill University: March 21, 23, 24

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On March 21, 23, and 24, hear from innovators from academic, private, public and non-profit sectors, all of whom are seeking to ensure that 21st-century urban development balances economic, social and environmental concerns. These sessions will be bilingual (FR/EN), with no simultaneous translation.

March 21st, 10.00-11.30: Julian Agyeman, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning - Tufts University, Medford, USA

  • Respondent: Prof. Hoi Kong. Faculty of Law - McGill University
  • Location: 3438, rue McTavish, Room 100 (McGill University)

March 23rd, 12.00-13.30: Tessy Britton, Director – Participatory City – London, UK

  • Respondent: Prof. Pierre-Emmanuel Moyse. Faculty of Law - McGill University
  • Location: 3438, rue McTavish, Room 100 (McGill University)

March 24th, 12.00-13.30: Rony Jalkh, Visiting Fellow – Project for Public Spaces – Beirut

  • Respondent: Prof. Richard Shearmur, School of Urban Planning - McGill University
  • Location: McGill Faculty Club, 3450, rue McTavish (McGill University)

Discussions will be moderated by Gorka Espiau, J.W. McConnell Professor of Practice (McGill University).

RSVP required: xavier.phaneuf-jolicoeur@mail.mcgill.ca (CRIEM)