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.

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.

Placemaking Leadership Forum LIVESTREAM

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From September 15-17, 2016, watch a LIVESTREAM of the Placemaking Leadership Forum, taking place in Vancouver, organized by New York City-based Project for Public Spaces.

This is a hugely important gathering of practitioners around the world to chart the futures of placemaking - as we look ahead to global gatherings around cities and sustainable development, including Habitat III in Quito, and the 22nd annual Conference of the Parties in Marrakech.

As founder Fred Kent put it, this is not a conference - this is a campaign to broaden our conceptions of public space planning to include the myriad ways in which we interact with the city - what we give, and what we get back from the places that constitute our cities. We have to think beyond the individual elements of what is traditionally known as public space - benches, fountains, signs - and move onto a feeling: how do we want to be in a place? How does place affect our mood? How does it shape our interactions with others, our broader connection to our city?

We will be sharing short blogposts with our thoughts, ideas, and questions around some of the themes that are discussed during the Forum - stay stuned!

What is placemaking?

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This article was originally written for the McConnell Foundation blog by Alex Gillis.

Ten years ago, if you walked along sections of the Toronto ravine system that follow the Don Valley, you’d have likely noticed an abandoned, 100-year-old brickworks, surrounded by an expanse of tangled brush and marshland. Today, thanks to the creative vision of the Evergreen Foundation, the support of three levels of government, and a host of public and private donors,  this long-neglected 40 acres has been transformed into a thriving community asset, replete with yes, brush and marshland, but also children’s gardens, hiking trails, a brick works transformed into gallery and conference space, a farmers’ market, outdoor classrooms, a LEED platinum-certified office complex, workshops, and a restaurant. Evergreen Brick Works is today a global showcase for ‘placemaking.’

With Vancouver hosting Placemaking Week, September 12 to 17, and numerous other activities and projects underway, the placemaking movement has never been more prominent in Canada.

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“Brick Works is a living laboratory now, an example of a large-scale public space that re-connects people to a civic asset that was underutilized,” says Robert Plitt, executive director of Evergreen’s CityWorks. Plitt has been involved in placemaking initiatives with Evergreen and Artscape for about 20 years, and helped to create Evergreen Brick Works along with hundreds of others who worked to realize a vision that made this place beautiful, useful and meaningful.

‘Placemaking begins with citizens working together to improve their local environment. More than just promoting better urban design, placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution. This inclusive process emphasizes the collaborative ‘making’ that builds local capacity and leadership to empower communities.’
– Co*Lab and Project for Public Spaces

Placemaking is about reimagining and repurposing buildings and spaces whose original purpose has become redundant or obsolete. The term was coined about 40 years ago by Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces (PPS),  a New York-based nonprofit organization. Now it is coming into vogue in cities across the US and around the world. ‘Placemaking’ sounds elementary, but the making part involves high levels of civic engagement and social innovation, and the places themselves generate surprise and delight.

Placemaking is about public spaces. “It can be privately owned, but the place is accessible to anyone,” says Mary W. Rowe, Senior Fellow with both Evergreen and PPS. She also worked with Jane Jacobs, who wrote the influential book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), which helped to create the concept of placemaking. “Part of what you’re seeing today is a broader definition of ‘shared space,’” Rowe explains. “As a city becomes more and more privatized – private housing, private clubs, private commercial activity – there’s a push to claim back aspects of the city that were once shared and publicly owned. You see that along waterfronts, on streets and with institutions that open their doors to the public.”

You also see it in Montreal. In winter, Village au Pied-du-Courant is a site for dumping snow near a six-lane boulevard. For five months in the summer, however, it transforms into a village beach and boardwalk used by 100,000 people for concerts, family events, festivals or simply relaxing, thanks to tons of sand and a contingent of community volunteers.

Public spaces like these encourage healthy, mixed-use, culturally diverse neighbourhoods and can sometimes raise larger issues, changing city policies and budgets along the way. “In these grassroots movements, people actually have the chance to change their alleyways, vacant lots and neighbourhoods, but also to make requests to the city to change big things and urbanism itself,” says Maxim Bragoli, co-founder of Pépinière & Co., which has helped to create Village au Pied-du-Courant and other placemaking initiatives.

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At its core, placemaking proposes processes and partnerships that empower communities. As Evergreen’s Plitt puts it, “How do we create equitable, creative partnerships that, in the end, contribute to health and equity and that empower citizens to be involved?”

placemakingA recent report, “Canadian Placemaking: Overview and Action,” by Halifax-based Co*Lab, nails down this idea.  Citizens become more involved in their communities, guiding professionals and municipalities to make sure that places are affordable, equitable and vibrant.

The environment is another critical part of placemaking. Transportation and housing are created to be sustainable – to decrease carbon emissions, to create green spaces, to increase access to bike lanes, pedestrian-friendly spots and anything that makes a place healthy for people and the environment. Sophia Horwitz of Co*Lab  mentions a number of such green placemakers in Nova Scotia: Morris House (a 250 year-old wooden house that was saved from destruction and turned into a community project for youth);  Common Roots Urban Farm (a community garden and park in Halifax);  and a series of annual placemaking projects support by the city and community groups in various neighbourhoods in Halifax.

“We’re seeing placemaking pop up in new venues,” says Mary Rowe of PPS, which is organizing Placemaking Week in Vancouver, September 12-17. “We see it with the re-claiming of streets. Around the world, we’re using our streets in more imaginative ways. And our waterfronts, too. And many large institutions want to transform as well. They want to knock down the walls and be more accessible.”  The convening will focus on Canada’s place in the emerging global map of the future of the placemaking.

 

Recipients of placemaking grants from The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation include Co*Lab in Halifax; Evergreen Brick Works; Artscape in Vancouver and Toronto; and Pépinière & Co. and Ateliers créatifs in Montreal.

[Guest post] Two tales of a city: converging realities of culture in Toronto

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This blog post was written by Kelsey Spitz, a Senior Associate at Social Innovation Generation. It has been reproduced with the author's permission.

Before the real city could be seen it had to be imagined, the way rumours and tall tales were a kind of charting – Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of the Lion

How do we imagine this city?
What are the rumours and tall tales charting…?
Tale One: The Soho Effect

Artists bring vibrancy, cohesion and activity into our neighborhoods – Yorkville (1960s); West Queen West (1990s); Regent Park (2000s). Real estate prices go up. Artists – often renters – get priced out, along with other low-income residents. Artists drive the yuppification of our communities, inspiring demonic growth and displacement, the hapless victims of their own success. We are more shallow, disconnected, and cold for the loss.

 Here’s where the wrecking crew tore out the heart of the ward
No street signs remind you that a neighborhood died here before 
But things are working out well
Don’t believe what you see on the streets
No threadbare armies of men broken and dead on their feet 
No more bending your back to the weight of the world
No more sorrows, no setbacks, and no more diving for pearls in the ditches and drains
All our history’s remade and no memory remains of us now
- “History Remade” by The FemBots (2005)

“Evolution of Graffiti and Revolt” by EGR

Tale Two: Artistic Antidote

Artists are the antidotes to the homogenization of place. We have the knowledge and practice to leverage the power of the arts to both help artists and inclusively build the city. We can leverage ‘growth’ – the dynamism of a growing city – to counteract the displacement of artists and low-income Torontonians. We can not only creatively ‘make place,’ we can creatively keep what artists and neighbours have already made, through a combination of tenacity, collaboration and strange bedfellows, charting a real city imagined over time through deep connection and relationships.

Talking about a new way
Talking about changes and names
Talking about building the land of our dreams
His tightrope’s gotta learn how to bend
We’re makin’ new plans
We’re gonna start it again

(Rise up rise up) Oh rise and show your power

(Rise up)
Everybody
Time for you and me
- “Rise Up” by The Parachute Club (1983)

ᐱᓕᕆᖃᑎᒋᓐᓂᖅ - Piliriqatigiingniq Mural Project (Follow on Instagram @thepasystem)

On November 26th, Tim Jones, CEO of Artscape, shared both of these tales of Toronto during his MaRS Global Leadership and SiG Inspiring Action for Social Impact talk.

The first tale is a story that happens to us. The power to shape the city lies with amorphous forces of real estate, gentrification, homogeneity and private profit. The city grows itself mysteriously around us, burying the sincerity of neighourhoods with ever-rising towers of glass and concrete, enriched by the cultural roots that others – now displaced – nurtured.

The second is a story that we co-author, where the tools of the arts empower us to be savvy, thoughtful brokers of the value that rich artistic communities create; we know, appreciate and foresee the value of deep, cohesive place-based culture and leverage it to creatively, deliberately and inclusively ‘keep place’ as the dynamism of city-building introduces new energy, offers, interests and investments into neighborhoods.

Both tales are true. Because these stories not only reflect what is happening, they actively generate and construct reality by shaping what we believe to be true and therefore, how we act in response.

Through the experiences of Artscape, a broker in the manner of the second tale, we learn about practical, actionable approaches and prototypes to inch away from lamenting the Soho Effect to embracing and reclaiming the artistic antidote.

While there is nothing simple about the Artscape model, in its simplest form it honours artists’ natural tendencies – to cluster, to collaborate, to invest locally and in each other, and to engage as changemakers – as a critical city-building asset and community development force.

It stands to reason that when a critical mass of people come together in a neighbourhood, everyone is drawn to this, creating a strong, powerful push for residential development – Tim Jones (in presentation)

This powerful push for residential development that follows where artists thrive is the carrot for development deals to accommodate artists, make space for low-income residents and accommodate urban growth at the same time.

In other words, it is an opportunity to innovate urban growth that Artscape first began playing with in the 1990s. Their innovation: work with the city, community members, and developers together to manifest prototypes of creative place-keeping into public-private development deals. How? By taking advantage of a little extra density, inclusive zoning and a new tale about the imperative role of cultural value-creators –artists – to ensure they and other low-income community members remain in community.

You can build all kinds of social capital and social infrastructure, because in part together we are creating a multibillion-dollar market for residential development – Tim Jones (in presentation)

If we understand how culture creates value for urban development (and if we know that the value is predictable, as it has been throughout Toronto), we can shift from advocating for creative place-making as an endangered need to deliberately and effectively appreciating culture as a critical lever for creative place-keeping – a fundamental case for more community and artistic ownership in public-private development deals.

Tim calls this engaging in culture as a form of “urban acupuncture” – engaging in small- scale, neighbourhood-level innovation to have a city-wide (city-building) impact.

There can be healing in cities by stimulating ‘nerves’ (creative, original expression) and ‘releasing pressure’ (through unusual partnership or collaboration) to create transformation…charting a new reality where self-interest compels policymakers, developers, community activists and artists to put culture at the heart of city building.

Let the beat of the drums harmonize with the beat of your soul
And let it travel miles.
Even if you are spiritually drained as you dance, as you dance, just smile.
Smile until you forget sadness and laugh at anger.
Until you can look into the eyes of anyone as a future brother
And not a stranger.
To invest in relationships you don’t need to be a banker.
- “Spectrum of Hope” by Mustafa Ahmed

Art – music, poetry, installations, painting, craft, writing – is “the quickest and easiest way to get back to something that makes you feel tied to where you are, and who’s around you, and who came before you, what they were doing” (Philip Churchill, The Once). It is how we imagine the city, how we engage in it, understand it and connect to a through-line of histories woven into this place.

Converge the realities.
Ice, wind, pain
Love, sun and rain.
Converge the realities.
Past, present and future.
- “Converge the Realities” by Charmie Deller

Watch Tim’s Talk: Culture as Urban Acupuncture (Full Video)

MaRS Global Leadership: Culture as Urban Acupuncture from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.