Mapping Montréal’s wild greenspaces

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Have you ever been moving through a familiar urban environment in Montreal, only to be surprised by a piece of land you’ve never really noticed before? Perhaps upon closer examination, you find faint footfalls in the snow, or a dirt path crossing the space. You might see native grasses flourishing, or a colourful yarn-bomb wrapped around a tree. A rustle in the shrubs might indicate a rabbit or squirrel foraging for food. Most of all, you probably notice the silence – a feeling of removal from the adjacent bustle of city life. Wild City Mapping is a new initiative started by a collective of “artists, green space enthusiasts and geeks”.

Wild City Mapping

Photo courtesy of Wild City Mapping

Their aim is to document Montreal’s wild greenspaces through the eyes of the communities that use them, and to propagate similar mapping activities in other cities by providing a replicable model using open-source programs like MapBox, as well as highly detailed, hand-drawn maps like the one below (for more on la cartographie éphémère, see here).

Wild City Mapping_map

Cartographie éphémère in Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie (photo courtesy of Dominique Ferraton)

Wild City Mapping’s approach to documenting and adding stories to terrains vagues in Montreal strikes a chord with our views on cultivating resilient and livable cities. Firstly, infusing urban spaces with personal stories can change the ways in which we understand space beyond their development value. It also illumines possibilities to use these spaces in ways outside of sanctioned activities (such as transportation or commerce) which is important to urban resilience. One element of resilience, particularly in cities, is adaptability: when spaces are flexible, they can be adopted by different people and for different uses. If we can agree that undefined spaces are resilient by nature of being open to anything, then perhaps this kind of work can be placed in a broader recognition of the value in maintaining fluidity in spaces as the urban context changes over time. In fact, one of the key components of Wild City Mapping is a temporal dimension to show the physical changes in wild greenspaces, as well as documenting activities within these spaces.

Parc des Gorilles

Map of le Parc des Gorilles in the "Mile Ex" neighbourhood: coloured icons denote different years and activities

Given the dominant narrative of growth and economic development in Montreal, there is something almost subversive about deliberately preserving spaces in an unplanned state. Wild City Mapping brings up big questions, like: How do we explain the urban realm, outside of the current growth- and development-centred discourse? How can we plan spaces outside of this discourse, and develop narratives around differently-planned spaces? How can we better understand and thus develop value systems for those complex, sometimes disorienting “spaces left over after planning”?

Verdun 2

Pathways in Verdun (photo courtesy of Wild City Mapping)

While Wild City Mapping’s work is fairly unique in Montreal, one can draw links to international work in a similar vein. For example, Lara Almarcegui, a Spanish artist who creates large-scale installations that often involve reconceptualising elements of the built environment, also questions the way in which we care for space. Her Portscapes installations along Rotterdam’s post-industrial harbour is salient for this discussion. Rather than creating an installation which would impose built structures onto these environments to alter their meaning, she created an inventory of fallow grounds and negotiated with city council to preserve these spaces as they were. The idea of “un-designed” spaces is foreign in planning, as they may be associated with abandonment or lack of care – and yet there are choices and actions behind this freedom. It is valuable for those involved in city building to consider how consciously “unbuilding” can contribute to healthy, livable, and resilient cities.

Leave it alone

Le champ des possibles: "For me, the most important aspect of this space is that it is NOT manicured, controlled, landscaped....LEAVE IT ALONE!!!" (Photo courtesy of Wild City Mapping)

Click here to read about the Wild City Mapping team and collaborators. If you’d like to know more about the process of mapping wild greenspaces, dive into stories from founding members Maia Iotzova, Igor Rončević, and Dominique Ferraton. Do you know a wild green space in Montreal? Share it with Wild City Mapping. And, look out for Part Two of this series: an interview with Dominique Ferraton and Maia Iotzova.

Cities for People Internship Opportunity

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Dates: January-June 2015

Location: Montreal, QC

In cities across Canada, people and organizations are finding ways to address complex challenges and creatively shape the future of their communities. They are greening neighbourhoods while producing local food; creating social enterprises to reduce poverty; mentoring immigrants and making spaces for them on community boards; and using community arts and sports to mobilize and celebrate civic participation.

Cities for People is a collaborative experiment that explores the following question: How can we enhance social, ecological, and economic well-being and help civic cultures thrive? It engages multiple stakeholders – citizens, community organizations, policy makers, municipalities, universities, private companies and foundations – in taking collaborative action to create more resilient and livable cities.

Cities for People is offering a 6-month (full-time) internship to support the coordination of its network and communication activities.  This is an opportunity to learn about and contribute to fresh, innovative approaches to working together to make cities more resilient and livable, and to develop a range of professional skills. In addition to experience gained on the job, the intern will be supported in developing a learning plan to help realize his or her learning goals.

Job Tasks

Communications (network and public-facing)

  • Web site: Manage and maintain website, write and post content (blogs, events, resources, updates), and provide support to others in the network on their posts
  • Social media: Tweet and post based on Cities for People network activities and other relevant items
  • Newsletters: Write and assemble a weekly bulletin for the Cities for People network and prepare regular e-newsletters for the broader mailing list
  • Network communications platform: Organize weekly meetings, set up and run calls via WebEx; respond to partners and general enquiries; manage network web site
  • Other communications activities:
    • Webinars: organize, promote, and manage technical production ofa Webinar series
    • Create presentations (prezi and powerpoint) and reports as needed
    • Video/audio production: support creation processes
    • Input on thinking about and experimenting with collaborations and initiatives to enhance resilience and livability in cities in Canada and beyond

Administration/coordination

  • Travel bookings for guests; planning, organizing, and logistics as needed
  • Event planning and coordination (g. bookings, catering, speaking tours, site visits)
  • Expense reporting and processing
  • Note-taking, summarizing, and sharing documents
  • Additional support as needed to the National Curator and National Coordinator

 

Requirements

  • Demonstrated interest in and curiosity about social change and improving cities
  • Ability to self-direct; good judgment about decision-making and when to ask for guidance
  • High tolerance for ambiguity and openness to new ways of working and problem solving
  • Well-developed organizational skills
  • Strong capacity to work both independently and collaboratively
  • Excellent IT skills (including experience in managing a wordpress website and using mailchimp)
  • Social media savvy
  • Excellent communications, writing skills, ability to copy-edit and communicate complex information in an accessible and compelling manner.
  • Fluently bilingual (English and French; flawless written English in particular)
  • Desirable: education (preferably Masters level) and / or equivalent experience in a field related to urban planning, sustainability, urban resilience, or city livability.
  • Desirable: education and / or work experience in communications or administration

 

Location: downtown Montreal with occasional travel

Salary: $2400 per month

Please send CV and cover letter to Jayne Engle at jayne@citiesforpeople.ca.

Deadline for applications: 15 December 2014 (Interviews will be held starting 17 December). Please address any questions to Jayne Engle, National Curator: jayne@citiesforpeople.ca or by phone: 514.235.7824.

What Bike Sharing Says About Our Cities and Our Values

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By: Michaela Kramer, Evergreen CityWorks, Intern

Bike sharing programs have gained immense popularity over the past decade. There are variations in over in 500 places around the world. Yet their presence often sparks controversy- with advocates pointing to their popularity and social value while critics object to their economic instability. Both positions speak to wider questions about what we, as a city, consider to be a public good, how new programs should be paid for, and how we can improve access to services among low income communities. The dialogue around bike sharing is important in order to improve these programs as they continue to grow, but also to explore what this global trend says about our cities more generally.

What is bike sharing?

A bike sharing program is a transportation system in which bikes are available to the public at stations around a neighborhood, or across a city, on a short-term basis. Usually these systems offer yearly or one-day subscriptions, both of which allow users 30-45 minutes of riding time between stations, with additional costs attached to rides that exceed this time limit. The systems are geared toward city residents or tourists travelling from one destination to another rather than those interested in taking leisurely cycling trips.

While the idea was originally developed in Paris, the largest system now operates in Hangzhou, China with a total of 66,500 bikes available. The first Canadian city to receive a bike sharing system was Montreal, whose BIXI program launched in 2009. This was followed by Ottawa a month later, and Toronto in 2011. In 2015, Vancouver is expected to launch a bike sharing system as well.

Bike.Share.PhotoA Hangzhou Public Bicycle station, Source: Flickr 

For most, the appeal of bike sharing stems from its ability to provide users with mobility and flexibility. Bike sharing can be added to car or transit trips to make commuting more seamless or to reach places where transit does not extend to. It allows people to cycle to their destination and then take transit back if the weather, or simply their mood, changes. And unlike owning a bike, users don’t have to worry about the initial cost of purchase, storage, maintenance expenses, or theft.

Why does it matter?

Bike.Share.Photo(3)Bike sharing programs have numerous benefits, including environmental, health, and economic effects. They are important drivers of urban sustainability, helping to lower greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and traffic congestion. In Denver, 34 percent of B-Cycle members use bike sharing to replace trips otherwise taken by car. Also, bike sharing promotes healthy living by providing exercise to users, lowering their stress levels, and helping them to feel happier. 31.5 percent of Capital Bike Share members in D.C. saw their stress levels go down once they started bike sharing. They also help attract tourists, they can serve as a local employer, and boosts the business of bike-related shops.

BIXI riders in Montreal, Source: Flickr

Yet these benefits are not without costs. Bike sharing programs, alike most public transportation systems, provide the predicament of being expensive to implement and run while needing to be relatively cheap to the user, in order to ensure accessibility and to dissuade people from driving. Subscriptions, normally at a cost of $60-$100 per year or $6-$10 per day, despite their popularity, are not enough to finance the operating costs that bike sharing demands.This means that the revenues from subscriptions must be subsidized, either through tax dollars, by a local community group or nonprofit organization, a public-private partnership, or a corporation.

Is bike sharing a public good?

There are two ways of looking at bike sharing: either as a public amenity that the city has interest in maintaining but seeks private funds to run or as a public good that should be financed through city revenue due to its public value. The former was adopted in New York City when proposals for Citi Bike were endorsed as a privately funded project.

But what makes bike sharing any different than other transit systems or other public goods? Many argue that bike sharing programs are an extension of public transit and should be publically financed because of their essential value to the city. These are the questions that some New Yorkers are asking as Citi Bike endures another year of financial loss despite its overwhelming popularity among users. . Similar concerns were raised when Montreal company, BIXI, filed for bankruptcy last January.

Bike.Share.Photo(2)BIXIs outside a Montreal metro station act as an extension of transit, Source: Flickr 

Some claim that the model of financial self-sufficiency was not only overly optimistic when Citi Bike was proposed but possibly unnecessary as well. If sustainability and healthy living are goals that city governments endorse, why shouldn’t more support be given towards bike sharing systems?

This is the thinking that has been adopted in Washington D.C. where Capital Bike Share is partly funded by the United States Department of Transportation and in London where Barclay’s Cycle Hire is largely subsidized by Transport for London. In Minneapolis, Nice Ride is operated by a nonprofit with money from a federal grant and the Blue Cross. In these cities, there is an understanding that the public good generated from bike sharing systems far exceeds their financial loss.

Can bike sharing systems be improved?

Accepting that bike sharing programs are a worthwhile expenditure of tax dollars is one thing, but the work doesn’t end there. There is a major problem of inaccessibility for low income communities around the world that needs to be addressed, especially if public money is going to be funding these projects. One reason for this is that in many places bike sharing stations are clustered in the commercial centers of wealthy residential neighborhoods (usually where an abundance of transit exists anyways) with disparities in low-income areas. For example, this has been a critique of Bike Share Toronto, which barely reaches beyond the city’s central core. Another problem is that low income residents are more likely to have longer commutes that might exceed the 30-45 minute time limit of most systems.  Furthermore, bike sharing programs require users to have credit or debit cards, which restricts some people from accessing these services.

These maps illustrate the differences in accessibility between various bike sharing systems, Source: modified from Quartz 

Unfortunately, these limitations stand in the way of bike sharing being accessible to the people who could benefit from it the most. Low-income neighborhoods are usually not as well served by public transit compared to other areas, so bike sharing can be an important tool to mitigate the inadequacies of transit. The person who finds it most difficult to manage the upfront cost of purchasing a bike would benefit greatly from having a bike sharing membership. Low-income residents are more likely to spend a greater portion of their income on transportation costs so developing more transit options can work to alleviate this burden. Overall, there is a need for bike sharing networks to be designed in more accessible and inclusive ways so to benefit the city as a whole.

There are various ways of going about this, some of which have been implemented and others that have only been proposed. One strategy to expand the accessibility of bike sharing is to more evenly distribute stations in low income neighborhoods or next to strategic locations like social housing. Another method is to make memberships more affordable by offering discounted rates, payment plans, or waving the temporary insurance fee that most systems charge. In Boston, qualifying low-income residents get a $5 membership and a free helmet. Capital Bike Share in Arlington County, Virginia developed a special marketing campaign in Spanish aimed at reaching Latinos with limited English proficiency. Ultimately, one of the biggest barriers is the credit card requirement. To solve this, some have proposed that local organizations or nonprofits could recommend people they trust who do not have access to a credit or debit card.

What bike sharing teaches us

Bike sharing is not about making a profit and it’s not about providing a novel amenity. It is about leading positive change on the critical issues facing local cities today. Supporting bike sharing programs illustrate the values of a local government, prioritizing health, sustainability, and livability. It improves the environment of the city and the experiences of the people in it.

Bike.Share.Photo(5)Citi Bike riders in New York, Source: Flickr 

Urban Installations and the Element of Surprise

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By: Michaela Kramer, Evergreen CityWorks, Intern

Something that cities offer is unlimited access to surprise, to unexpected interaction, to a blending of different people and ideas at any moment. The anticipation of this is a reason why people are drawn to cities, and especially to their public spaces. Think of the feeling we get when we stumble upon a musician playing on the sidewalk, when we notice a freshly painted mural on the side of a building, or when we taste food at festival like nothing we’ve tried before. It is the possibility for these experiences that makes living in the city so attractive.It’s not just about doing something exciting, it’s also about the potential that these experiences have for people to interact, engage, and to change their city for the better.

But these occurrences don’t need to be left completely up to chance. Instead, designers have an opportunity to develop spaces and places awaiting surprise. It is possible to plan for these kinds of spontaneous experiences by creating spaces in the city that nurture social interaction in creative ways, and in doing so, tap into the unlimited potential for joy and transformation in the city.

One way this can be achieved are through installation projects that temporarily alter the city landscape- using design to encourage play and civic engagement. Unlike major infrastructure, installations can be time and cost effective. There are examples of this kind of design intervention across Canada, which can serve as an example to inspire future projects with these same goals.

Pop Rocks, Vancouver

Capture(2)-poprocksSource: David Niddrie Photography

Pop Rocks was a project in downtown Vancouver during the summer of 2012 that temporarily transformed a street into a social space using a collection of pillow-like boulders. The installation reshaped the street in order to encourage play and leisure among pedestrians. It also incorporated an aspect of environmentalism, not as an obstacle, but as a catalyst for innovative work- the boulders were made entirely of re-used material and were recycled once the installation came to a close. This information was displayed for users, incorporating an educational element to the project.

Cardboard Beach, Toronto

Capture-Cardboard.BeachSimilar to Pop Rocks, Cardboard Beach was a temporary installation placed in the downtown that used whimsical urban furniture to create social space and promote civic interaction. Created as a hub for the 2014 Luminato Festival, it was made up of an array of beach-style lounge chairs and umbrellas all made of cardboard. The project transformed a normally empty public square into a new, exciting place. The unusual cardboard forms attracted unprecedented interest from city dwellers.

Source: BlogTO

 

Pink Balls, Montreal

Capture-pink.ballsSource:Claude Cormier and Associates

Unlike the previous projects, Pinks Balls served more as a decorative installation, marking a street in Montreal’s Gay Village that becomes pedestrianized during summer months. The project involves strings of pink balls suspended above the street, which embellishes the landscape and designates this social space. The piece introduces the temporary pedestrian space to the city and calls upon new visitors with its celebratory design.

What these projects exemplify is the power that temporary installations can have in shifting the everyday landscape of an urban space into a new, dynamic stage for civic enjoyment. Cities, by nature, foster the melding of ideas and the production of culture, but it is up to people involved in design and planning to celebrate this, through the making of creative public spaces. Installations are useful not simply because of their novelty but in the way that they tune into the public’s desire to participate in play and develop community. The city is open to surprise and design can be an important tool in inspiring joy and engagement in the public.

Sparks of the New Economy at 100-in-1 Day

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On Saturday June 7th, citizens in Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax and Montreal created acts of urban change as part of 100-in-1 Day, a movement uniting people across the nation to make cities better. Each Canadian city hosting the event was fortunate to witness an outpouring of engagement. Two numbers tell the story: A total of 460 interventions took place across Canada - many more than the stated target of 100. Halifax had five times as many actions (on a per capita basis) as any of the other cities. Go Halifax!

We’ve taken a closer look at some of the interventions that have new economies at their heart. New economies are about taking a holistic perspective on the nature and origins of wealth, and evaluating the ways in which economies can work for people and the planet through shared, just, and lasting prosperity. This includes fair trade, the sharing economy, collaborative consumption, alternative measures of progress and wellbeing, social enterprise, and social finance.

OVER 460 URBAN INTERVENTIONS ACROSS CANADA IN 1 DAY!

Toronto featured 174 interventions, including one on the reclamation of public space. In the People's Queen Street, people occupied parking spaces on a major street, and filled the spaces with grass, hammocks, back yard patio furniture and games. Similarly, public spaces came alive with people participating in public poetry (Halifax), hosting a piano picnic (Vancouver) and hosting a potluck in a park

In Halifax, 52 interventions took place. In one, people shared ideas for a new tool library...

“Setting up on the street and selling hot dogs was a great opportunity to raise awareness about the Tool Library in the community where it will be located. We received useful input on our lending policies and some neighbours took the opportunity to donate tools. Like many of our engagements, the most fulfilling aspect was watching people come to grips with the concept of a Tool Library for the first time. We hope it will spark other ideas for the resources we can share.” Halifax Tool Library

Montreal was also buzzing with energy as over 87 interventions took place in the urban fabric - even families got into the action, planting a garden that would encourage eating their leafy greens...and plenty of muddy playtime. One of the 83 interventions in Vancouver was the Match Maker booth hosted by Kits Space Projects at Vancouver's Maker Faire. It provided an opportunity for makers to connect with the Strathcona Resource Exchange where business waste is repurposed for creative projects and new economies...and people see what’s possible when waste is recognized as a resource.

Citizen actions explored the links between the economy and ecology in Toronto: people came together to discuss what engineering means to them; they walked through a ravine while pondering the effective integration of nature and people.

Interventions encouraged local and indigenous food consumption, including by designing a First Nations Indigenous Garden, by holding a permaculture blitz, growing an organic food forest (Vancouver), by distributing seed bombs, and by learning about urban beekeeping (Halifax).

And across the border in Boston, Canadian Justin Ritchie (nonprofit The Extraenvironmentalist) recorded a livestream of the New Economy Coalition conference, CommonBound. He interviewed Mike Lewis of the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal. Other speakers from Canada include Béatrice Alice of Chantier de l’économie sociale and Mike Toye of the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDnet). Web: http://commonbound.org/register

WHAT DOES REAL WEALTH MEAN TO YOU?

The One Earth team took to the streets of Vancouver to discuss new economies, talking with people to figure out what “real wealth” means to citizens. Our question, “What does real wealth mean to you?” generated interesting responses like, “people reclaiming their power”, “access to sports”, “being in love”, “accomplishing your goals”, and “kindness”. An 88 year old pensioner we spoke with said that real wealth “is loving what you do”, while a 5 year old girl confidently stated with that “snails” make her feel wealthy.

These genuine responses to understanding wealth brought to light an important aspect to consider while re-evaluating our current economic system. They reveal that wealth is a state of being, and not necessarily a state of ownership. This is what the new economy is striving to highlight through these generative discussions on the roots of value, money, and exchange.

Economics has traditionally been about understanding the allocation of scarce resources - but what we saw on June 7th was an abundance of happiness, enthusiasm and connection, not scarcity. The intangible qualities of what real wealth can mean - creativity, innovation, equality, participation, capacity, and ability - all expand the more they are used. These are important to keep in mind when thinking about what we want our present and future to look like, and how economies should be understood and measured.

Our commons don’t need to become a tragedy - they can, instead, be bountiful and rewarding shared assets. 100 in 1 Day showed that through people coming together to act, express, engage, connect and design what they want to see in the world, we join together on the path to manifesting that reality.

JOIN US CITIES FOR PEOPLE IN FOSTERING NEW ECONOMIES...

Cities for People will continue to explore the different ways in which we all engage with new economies. Sign up on our mailing list to receive updates and invitations to future events, access to insightful discussions, and prizes.

Click the following links to get involved in the upcoming events:

- Sharefest TO, July 16, Toronto

- New Economy Week, 12-18 October

- Cities for People Toronto Leadership Summit, 12 November, Toronto

You can also sign up to watch the recorded livestream from the new economy conference by CommonBound June 4-6th, Boston.

Photo credit: Lucy Gao