Penser créer l'urbain

The Project

The MIL Campus of the Université de Montréal belongs to a new generation of qualified urban university campus projects. These new urban programs, however, emerging from the attractive vision of “creative” and “intelligent” cities, question the concrete forms of integration and collaboration between universities and local actors.

Starting point: Integrated urban campuses

In recent years, several university campuses have emerged (for example, on the outskirts of the city, the Rolex Learning Center of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne in 2010, or at its heart, 22 @Barcelona since 2006). Several others in North America are nearing completion: Laurentian University’s School of Architecture in Sudbury; in New York, Columbia’s Manhattanville Campus and Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island; in Vancouver, Emily Carr University of Art+Design; not to mention the Campus 2 of Apple, dreamed by Steve Jobs in 2006 and which will be inaugurated in 2017 in Cupertino, California. The Université de Montréal will, for its part, bring to light on the vacant lot of an old railway yard in Montreal, the MIL Campus in 2019.

Always more architectural and housing innovative forms of knowledge in a more responsible ecological and sustainable environment (LEED certified), these “new generation” universities arouse a real enthusiasm. These, often flamboyant, illustrations of the “knowledge economy” as part of the current deployment of highly competitive “centers of competence”, these 2.0 campuses are seen as essential factors in local development. Generally located in popular neighbourhoods, close to warehouses or vacant lots, they take profit of inexpensive land and have the ambition to contribute to the redeployment of local culture and identity. However, the construction of the community does not necessarily involve the blend of architectural projections, engineering plans, or urban planning projects on abstract grounds. It also unfolds by taking into account local surroundings precisely with their landscape and imaginary contours specific to the crossing of these places and of those who live there.

Some studies on the subject … and some questions

What is the impact of the setting up of these campuses in urban areas?

Is it possible to invest these areas in the process of requalification and to invent, together with local actors, the modalities of an inclusive living together?

What can we learn from the Montreal case, the future MIL Campus?

These questions are at the origin of the project “From waste land to an integrated urban campus” (2015-2016). Current knowledge developments provide relevant answers to the stated issues. They can be grouped according to the angles of disciplinary approaches and associated themes:

– In Sociology and Humanities: knowledge in networks and the economy of the intangible, (Castells, 1998; Ingallina P. (ed.) 2012) on the one hand; the place granted to the co-production of knowledge (Monceau, 2012; Tillard, 2010; Équipe Praxcit, 2011), on the other hand.

– In Urban Studies and Architecture, researches have focused on the effects and limitations of gentrification (Hamnett, 1991; Donzelot, 2004; Bourdin, 2008; Charmes, 2011; Harvey, 2011; Minnaërt, 2014), the future of cities (Lemire, 2007; Ascher, 2010; Paquot and Younès, 2012; Theatrum Mundi (coll.), 2014; Le Monde, 2015, special report), their redeployment in the era of “design thinking” and open innovation (Brown, 2009; Chesbrought, 2011; Almirall, Lee and Wareham, 2012).

– Some interdisciplinary studies overlap these different concerns and also question the place and power of actors in urban transformations (Von Hippel, 2005; Lemoine and Samira, 2010; Paddison and Ostendorf, 2011; Darre, 2011). Methods of research in urban space are also well documented (Grosjean and Thibaud, 2008), even in their phenomenological and creative dimensions, in particular with market maintenance (Kusenbach, 2003) or geo-poetics (Bouvet and Bordeleau, 2012).

In this general theoretical context, the specific question about the place of integrated urban campuses – already rare in the scientific literature (Mattei, M.-F. and Aust, J. (ed.) 2015; Dang Vu H., 2013) – has not, until now, been questioned in terms of the capacity of creative approaches to be involved in urban transformations by allowing the invention, through the means deployed, of new forms of cooperation in the spaces that are considered.

Building on existing literature and on the knowledge that researchers and members of the project have regarding interventions in the urban space (Levesque, 2013), the narrative of experiences (Uhl, 2015), workshops of ideation (Abrassart 2013), mediation and citizen mobilization activities (Racine et al., 2012; Lamoureux, 2008; Gaudet, 2012; Goulet-Langlois, 2015), as well as regarding Montreal fieldwork (Harel, 2013); we therefore focused on the following question: How to mobilize the creative approaches of the Arts, Design and tools of Cultural Mediation as levers towards a common future, and a vector of social inclusion.

These approaches are conceived here as methods of knowledge and action to identify and explore possible forms of relations between the campus and its immediate environment, in particular because of their potential to promote, through the prism of citizen reflection, the appropriation by local actors of urban transformations.

A pilot methodology

In designing and carrying out the project of the future MIL Campus, the challenge faced by urban planners and decision-makers is indeed the appropriation of urban spaces dedicated to knowledge by local populations, mostly non-native. It is therefore a question of designing a campus in the city in other words knowledge integrated with the urban environment, but also a city on the campus, that is to say, an urban sociality in a space of knowledge. It’s the dialectic, which has animated this multidisciplinary and innovative research project.

In order to meet the challenges of this perspective, social scientists, designers, urban planners and social innovators had to invent, together, creative ways of thinking and acting with local populations and the knowledge they have, in order to collectively imagine common fates both innovative and adapted to lived realities.

We chose to go directly in situ. The borders surrounding the future MIL Campus (on three neighbourhoods of Montreal: Outremont, Parc-Extension and Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie) have become our investigative ground. The participative and creative research tool of the Citizen Forum, and therefore the various workshops implemented too, focused on these borders and their surroundings. As an urban laboratory caught up in the tumult of its spatial and identity “reconstruction”, the area surrounding the future Campus, and more particularly its boundaries as third-places (Oldenburg, 1991), has become the field of experimentation, which made it possible to grasp this wider movement of inscription of knowledge in the city with its gentrification effects on the one hand, and renewal on the other. For borders can also be understood as thresholds (Genette, 1987) that accompany, define and singularise places by granting them a “spirit” of their own (Forget, 2011). In this perspective they act no longer as the boundary that closes an area, but as the opening that extends it to a broader and inclusive identity.

The aim of the research tool implemented was to imagine the conditions of a life in common based on sessions of Cultural Mediation and Ideation, on reflection on possible narratives including the inhabitants of the neighbourhoods and the community based organisations that are established in the territory. Based on the assumption that the aesthetic and political experiences of everyday life are the basis of living together (Saillant (ed.), 2015; Lamoureux and Uhl (eds), 2017), we have relied particularly on experienced Montreal community-based, cultural and artistic organizations (Exeko and Mise au Jeu) as well as an innovation laboratory in social design (Le Lab Ville Prospective of the Université de Montréal).

Public Events

Participants in the various workshops were invited during the Forum to work around two poles – Cultural Mediation and Social Design – to discover neighbourhoods by walking, photographing and interacting with residents according to specific methods (forum theater, intellectual and bodily contexts); to create artefacts (eg. prototypes of design), to write other scenarios (eg. stories of space or pathways). This commitment, through creative approaches, was concluded every day by plenary sessions, which, through the blending of reflections and proposals developed in the workshops, made it possible to enrich the collective work.

The originality of the Forum was thus to mobilize these creative approaches as methods of knowledge allowing to reveal forms of potential relations between the Campus and its environment, to formulate local common goods as well as to explore possible areas of cooperation between actors of the neighbourhoods. Indeed, contrary to the classic investigation models which are not conducive to prospective reflection, contrary also of ephemeral models of animation which produce little knowledge because they are directed towards immediate satisfaction, these creative approaches are situated in a logic of public action that relies on the intellectual and artistic competences of the citizens and uses scenography, prototypes, animations and “framed” pathways as collective exploration vehicles.

The innovative nature of the project also resided in the following articulation: the Forum, based on the pre-existing research findings of the team members and the citizens’ knowledge collected, was the prerequisite of the International and Interdisciplinary Symposium entitled “Integrated Urban Campuses: Sharing Knowledge and Territories”, held a fortnight later. An international scientific summary on integrated urban campuses has thus taken place – by mobilizing all the elements of the reflection-consultation related to the citizen approach carried out upstream around the MIL Campus, in order to confront them with other projects and similar experiences at the international level. The social objectives of the project were thus enriched by specific scientific objectives.

A reflexive and visual feedback

The different actors of the project then took the time to consider this experience in a reflexive way. The objective of the website penser créer l’urbain is to communicate their findings. Transmitting, as widely as possible – in the research community but also to citizens, city stakeholders and decision-makers – the scientific and social results of the project remains the priority here. Moreover, the presentation of the results in visual form (videos, photographs, drawings) concludes this project with the creative and open dialogue that these mediums facilitate.

Some ideas

1. Social mixing through space. As the future Campus takes place in the heart of a mosaic of neighbourhoods, each of which has very contrasting problems, this type of methodological tool makes it possible to experiment, by means of space – that is to say, by playing with its borders, by besiege them as potential third places – different forms of diversity, supported here by a program that promotes social inclusion (but which could, on another scale, be implemented by public development).

2. Social mix through projects. By encouraging citizen initiatives based on linkages between the various local actors, actors coming from the surrounding neighbourhoods or the campus, social and economic entrepreneurship is encouraged. This could, if borne by concrete projects on a campus scale, go so far as to contribute to local development, particularly in the Parc-Extension area, by promoting the agentivity of its inhabitants.

3. Sharing of artistic and cultural practices: cultural dialogue. The exchanges with professional artists and the links with local cultural organizations allow a sustainable anchoring in the community. Public speaking and intercultural dialogue enrich the urban experience and strengthen lasting ties in the heart of local communities while fostering cultural and territorial appropriation. Offering local artists and art centers the opportunity to invest in the venue, not just for short-lived projects, creates a pathway to the inclusion of the Campus in its environment.

4. Integrated urban campus concept. By contributing to the reflection on what constitutes a campus integrated into the city of the 21st century in terms of openness, inclusive potential and social innovation, it is also a question of defending a positive vision of a knowledge that is opened up. A campus in the city, of course, but also a city in the campus; because the latter, while interacting with the neighbourhood that shelters it, the future campus can also offer its land to the citizens.

5. Reproducible procedure. By proposing a protocol of mobilization activities in an urban context combined with a collective reflection on the heuristic and transformative potential of creative research methodologies, we have also developed a modus operandi that can be adapted elsewhere, in other sites, in other latitudes, for other similar projects. It is thus necessary here to share an emerging methodological framework carried out and thought in situ. What we propose can be resumed, shared, and remixed: such is our wish!

By Magali Uhl

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