Two tales of a city: converging realities of culture in Toronto

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 in Colorado. 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

“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)

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.

The Future of Evergreen: never changing, never staying the same

After starting a series of small businesses in university, Geoff Cape fell in love with big ideas and mustered the courage to explore these ideas, learning much along the way.

This is the story of Evergreen.

On September 25th, we were fortunate enough to have Geoff Cape, Founder and CEO of Evergreen, join us for our Inspiring Action for Social Impact lecture series. As we listened, it is clear that it has never been a straight path for the organization, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, but it continues to be guided by a simple idea: we need to integrate nature into cities by engaging people in transforming the urban experience. From the very beginning, Evergreen brought this idea to life on the ground with activities like tree planting, but it has always played with complex issues as well, working with unusual partners to spark creative projects.

The Urban Century – what is happening to our cities?

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Calgary’s 2013 flood showed Canadian cities were vulnerable to natural disasters. Photo by Stuart Dryden/QMI Agency

In 1990, environmental messaging was about saving the polar bears, saving the rainforest or thinking about wilderness landscapes – none focused on cities. While Evergreen didn’t have the capacity to tackle the full complexity of urban issues at the time, they were always focused on the urban experience. It is at the heart of their work.

A nightmare scenario is now playing out globally in cities as a result of urban sprawl and population growth, creating sterile and isolated urban communities. Combined with the intensifying impacts of climate change, cities have also seen damaging fires, extreme weather storms, and water damage that have the ability to cripple industries and local economies. The 2013 Calgary storms caused billions worth of damage.

From a simple idea to radical innovation

Before receiving permits from the City of Toronto, Evergreen commissioned an artist to create an art project that would symbolize Evergreen's vision for the Don Valley Brick Works.

Before receiving permits from the City of Toronto, Evergreen commissioned an artist to create an art project that would symbolize Evergreen’s vision for the Don Valley Brick Works. Photo c/o: Ferrucio Sardella

Innovation has always been at the core of Evergreen’s DNA; they were one of the first organizations in Toronto to  have an internet connection and email addresses. Evergreen continues to push for innovation while staying true to its mandate through creative and often grassroots programming, such as its work to transform children’s learning environments.

By literally bringing nature to children in their playgrounds and other learning environments, Evergreen ignited the re-design of children school grounds across Canada. This fresh approach resulted in changes globally and has inspired similar projects in California. The concept puts civic engagement into the hands of community, allowing them to transform their shared spaces leading to empowered communities and, often, introducing a way to bring the interest of both corporate and political partners to the table. More recently, Evergreen transformed the Toronto city landscape with Evergreen Brick Works. The Don Valley Brick Works Factory helped literally build the city, including landmarks like Casa Loma and Massey Hall, but once it closed, it left a heavy industrial footprint. Evergreen had the vision to reimagine what it could mean for the city – before it even had permission to do so. Combining bold artistic statements and creative thinking, they found an architect who could help realize their vision, while also keeping and retrofitting the original industrial structure.

Photo provided by Diamond Schmitt Architects

Photo c/o: Diamond Schmitt Architects

Unusual Partnerships and Bringing Funding to the Table

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Logo from Evergreen

When Toyota officially came on board as a partner 15 years ago for Evergreen’s school landscape program, this kind of partnership was rare.  In 1998, when talks around partnership began, no environmental organization would partner with a car company and Geoff was heavily criticized for suggesting the idea – many staff nearly resigned.

Feeling his way forward, Geoff created a partnership strategy that incorporated the strong values of the Evergreen staff. He drew up a charter, which was signed by the CEO of Toyota and Geoff, holding both partners accountable to be leaders in their respective fields. As of 2010, the partnership has worked with 2,200 schools and has had a direct impact on almost 900,000 students across the country.

Through the years, Evergreen learned that by connecting externally and building unusual partnerships they could foster creativity, but with unusual partnerships, there was also a need to listen carefully to the community, ask for help, and ask good questions to navigate the unknown.

What’s in the future for cities?

With a majority of the world’s people living in cities, it is estimated that $50 trillion will go towards building urban infrastructure in the next 15 years.  Evergreen knows we need to build something fundamentally different to the status quo and wants to be part of bridging and developing the ideas that support sustainability, resilience to climate change, and efficiency. The future of our cities should not just deliver more infrastructure, but engage citizens with equality to create a higher quality of life.

Lasting Lessons

Evergreen has and continues to evolve as an organization by running a diverse variety of programs, being comfortable working with ambiguity, and operating with both distributed leadership and constant restructuring to make sure the organization reflects its priorities.

It is rare for a founder to continue as CEO after 25 years, a fact that is not lost on Geoff. He admits he is not sure it makes sense for him to lead Evergreen in the future – although at this stage, he would like to. This is not the talk you hear or expect to hear from a CEO whose job security relies on the board of directors being confident in a CEO’s vision and leadership.

This is also not the first time Geoff has voiced these exact worries.

Back in 2008, just as Evergreen Brickworks was starting to secure its funding and bring new partners to the table, the organization was experiencing a pivotal point of growth. At that stage, Geoff expressed concern that he would become an institutional bottleneck that would stifle creativity in the organization.

Seven years later, we know this couldn’t be further from the truth. During his 25 years, Geoff has handled controversy and risk taking, continuing to earn the support and confidence of those at Evergreen.  Every challenge is faced with Geoff’s trademark of open leadership. Being self-aware of himself and the organization, and transparent with his staff, he is committed to doing what is right for the organization and the urban communities they seek to inspire and empower.

These values are now at the roots of Evergreen.

For Geoff’s full talk, watch below!

Greening Cities, Healthy Planet with Geoff Cape – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Microtainer: lab resources (July 2015)

SiG Note: This article was originally published on July 7, 2015 on the MaRS Solutions Lab Blog. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.
Launched August 2013, the Microtainer series was created and curated by Satsuko VanAntwerp of Social Innovation Generation. The MaRS Solutions Lab is excited to take on this legacy to spread information that will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. To access the whole archive of Microtainers, please visit the Microtainers series page.
Interesting resources that came across our desks in the month of June 2015 (in no particular order):

News: Thursday, July 9th, is the global labs gathering in London with LabWorks! Follow #LabWorks for this exciting conference and the latest learnings from 50 labs globally. 

1. WISIR’s Social Innovation Lab Guide is out!

This long-awaited lab guide presents a step-by-step process in designing and implementing your social innovation lab, with tips and advice on how to iterate and adjust design based on the context. We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with WISIR’s team, including Frances Westley and Sam Laban, and to share our learnings within the Prologue with Joeri’s “Testing a Lab Model”.

Social Innovation Lab Guide

2. Kennisland’s Publication: “Lab Practice: creating spaces for social change“

How to organise and run a social lab? Lab Practice aims to share experiences from doing a social lab with elderly people in Amsteldorp by sharing methodologies and stories from both changemakers and social lab facilitators.

3. Participate in RSD4 Symposium on Systemic Design in Banff, September 1-3

The RSD series has advanced an agenda for a strong integration between systems thinking and design to take on the most important challenges facing our planet today. The theme of this year’s symposium is At the Frontiers of Systemic Design.

Confirmed 5 extraordinary keynote speakers over the three day event:

  • Mugendi M’Rithaa, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa
  • Don Norman, University of California, San Diego, US
  • Lia Patrício, University of Porto, Portugal
  • Ann Pendleton-Jullian, The Ohio State University and Georgetown University, US
  • Ursula Tischner, Agency for Sustainable Design, Cologne, Germany
4. Service Design Berlin’s “Prototyping Public Services” slidedeck:

A great slidedeck on the difference between prototyping and piloting and  3 approaches to prototyping in the public sector.

Service Design Berlin prototype

5. Thoughtwork’s blog on Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling adapted for UX:

As relevant for UX as for public + social innovation labs. Inspirational and interesting.

Microtainer UX

 6. Fast Co.Design’s “How Google Finally Got Design

A quick history to how design proliferated the DNA of Google. “Google has come so far, despite years of self-defeating battles over what constitutes good design. ‘When we brought up design at Google, people used to scoff,’ says John Wiley, a designer who, in nine years at Google, has seen the company transform. ‘It made it hard for us to hire great design talent because it didn’t seem like we had the full measure of respect for design.’ Here’s how an organization that once crowed about testing 42 shades of blue and called that design created a user-savvy organization that even Apple could learn from.”

7. Video: “Why Design Matters

A quick 3:42 minute video on why design matters, taking a historical approach on design through exploring politics and religion. Interesting!

Microtainer Why Design Matters

8. Business Insider’s “Art schools have minted more mega-unicorn startups than MIT”

“The most surprising finding in this list is that MIT has produced fewer mega-unicorns than two tiny art schools — the Rhode Island School of Design and The Art Center School of Design. […] Two of Xiaomi’s founders were design majors. RISD, an art school that isn’t even included in the U.S. News & World Reports rankings, educated two of Airbnb’s founders.”

9. News: “Google creates Sidewalk Labs to redesign city living with technology

…”Google CEO Larry Page says Google will focus on improving city living for everyone by developing new technologies to deal with urban issues like cost of living, transportation, and energy usage. The new company, based in New York, will be headed by headed by Dan Doctoroff, formerly New York Deputy Mayor of Economic Development and Bloomberg CEO.”

10. Recap of last week’s Civic Design Camp via Storify

We hosted Canada’s first Civic Design Camp on June 26, with an audience of 120+ designers, programmers, and civil servants to design responses to 5 real-life challenges submitted by the Canadian government and research organizations alike.

Microtainer: social innovation & lab links we’re following (June 2014)

C/O Archivo Diario

C/O Archivo Diario

This mini blog, or bloggette, is part of our ongoing effort to spread information that we think will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. Below is a collection of resources that crossed our desks over the month of June 2014. In no particular order:

  1. Recognizing that the physical environments we work in affect our levels of creativity and imagination, Nesta is commissioning a study and paper on “Innovative Spaces” that will explore how the design of our work spaces affects innovation (Also on the topic of how to design spaces to encourage creativity: “Make Space,” a book by Stanford’s D.School ).
  1. The “Systems Changers” website, a project led by The Point People, is full of excellent resources and thought pieces. Of particular interest is their piece on the Character Traits of System Changers, which include: 1. Not being afraid to think big – really big; 2. Comfortable with change and uncertainty – more than that, they embrace it wholeheartedly; 3. Do not have the personal/professional divide that has underpinned industrial models of working life.

  1. Blog post about a seminar — “Redesigning public services: cases, methods, challenges” — that Christian Bason (Director of MindLab in Denmark) conducted in Bilbao, Spain. The author shares his insights and personal takeaways.

  1. Lab to watch: London-based “Civic Systems Lab,” a part incubator/part accelerator working to alleviate & systemically prevent poverty and its many side effects. Led and run by a group of seasoned social innovators, the project launched a set of prototypes that are testing the conditions, tactics, tools and wider platforms needed for supporting civic change and seeding local civic economy (And, they are/were hiring! Applications closed mid-May).

  1. Short write-up, 1-hour video, and slides from the presentation, “New governance models for effective public service delivery in the 21st century,” by MindLab’s Christian Bason to the UNDP’s Knowledge, Innovation & Capacity Group. Christian discusses: the future of governance, emerging governance models, the nuts and bolts of design approaches, and important points on leadership for public managers.

  1. Blog post by Forum for Social Innovation Sweden, “France is modernizing the public sector with design and social innovation,” explores a new program in France — “Réacteur Public” — led by Paris-based social innovation lab, La 27e Région. Over four years (until the end of 2017), the program aims to scale-up methods, processes and approaches that have been developed over six years, in previous projects across the country, with a particular focus on: Education, Community, Future of Public Administration, Publications.

  1. New book Towards a Civic Innovation Lab,” by Delhi-based Centre for Knowledge Societies, is jam-packed with rich content, including: civic innovation case studies from around India; essays on public and social innovation labs by Christian Bason (MindLab) and Giulio Quaggiotto (UN Global Pulse Lab); transcripts of keynote addresses and panel discussions from a public sector design symposium; and other thought pieces on public sector innovation.

  1. Insider scoop on public service design: in the blog post, “Inspiration for Service Design,” Runa Sabroe of Mindlab lays out the process, 10 cases (with lessons learned and hiccups along the way), and top tips from the Danish cross-ministry innovation unit and how it is using service design to improve how citizens and business experience, and interact with, public services.

  1. Crowdsourced google map of the social lab landscape across the globe. The map is still being populated, so please contribute! Zaid Hassan of Reos Partners (and author of the Social Labs Revolution) invites us to add suggestions for any missing public innovation labs and social innovation labs in the comments section.

  1. Blog post by the Knight Foundation’s Carol Coletta about their Civic Studios series: May 12 -14, the Knight Foundation hosted 100 civic innovators at a Civic Innovation in Action Studio in Miami to explore ways to harness talent, advance opportunity, and promote robust engagement.

  1. Blog post by DesignGov’s Alex Roberts — “Innovation and Design Insights – Visit by Christian Bason” – reflects on and pulls out insights from a visit by Christian Bason with Australian public servants (this is a couple of years old, but just came across it and there’s some good stuff in there).

  1. DO NOT MISS: Nesta launched an informative new report — “i-teams” — with a round up of the innovation-teams embedded in (municipal, regional and national) governments around the world. The report includes an overview of 20 public innovation labs across 6 continents, key lessons learned, and how to create a lab in your own city, province, or country. The team will continue to add i-team case studies and news as the project continues.

  1. There is still a lot of buzz from The Labs for Systems Change Conference that took place at MaRS DD in Toronto this May, including: a blog post reflection on some of the big ideas discussed during the day by MaRS Solutions Lab’s Fariha Husain; a video discussion reflection by Delhi-based Centre for Knowledge Societies’ Namrata Mehta and Aditya Dev Sood; a tweet aggregation + reflections/notes by government innovator Meghan Hellstern; a two-part blog post (partie 1 et partie 2, ecrit en français) with video interviews of lab practitioners (videos in English) from La 27e Région’s Stéphane Vincent; and these two reflection memos from Re-public’s Hiroshi Tamura (one and two) in Japanese and some English (日本語と英語で書いています). Also, the live-stream videos are now viewable and downloadable here!

  1. The next international gathering for lab practitioners will take place in Singapore on Oct 7-10, 2014, with a focus on Asia-based labs. Social iCon 2014, hosted by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation, is the Lien Centre’s flagship event, designed to feature thought-provoking developments and best practices in the social innovation space. The gathering will convene a pan-Asian group of social innovation practitioners and intermediaries that are engaging in Social Innovation Labs.

  1. Blog of an interview with Nesta’s Philip Colligan, head of the Nesta Innovation Lab, about why local government is well-placed to solve today’s challenges. Philip talks about the Creative Councils initiative, a program to support local authorities to be more innovative.

  1. Article about how the new Social Service Offices in Singapore utilize Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) tools and focus on enabling public servants and service providers to have more exposure to on-the-ground realities (and assets) within communities. For example, a team of officers from the Kreta Ayer Social Service Office walk through the neighbourhood several times a day, as a way for the officers to learn more about the local residents – and how they could better help them.

  1. New practice guide by Nesta’s Perrie Ballantyne and the Centre for Challenge Prizes about developing competitions or challenge prizes to stimulate idea generation. Also, Deloitte created this useful report, “The Craft of the Incentive Prize Design,” with lessons learned from the US public sector.

  1. And finally, a new report that we at SiG have been drooling all over – “Speaking to the Innovation Population” – by Nesta. The report explores the public’s views on new ideas and technologies and makes recommendations for how policymakers can better communicate with voters on these issues. It is excellent for anyone trying to communicate about innovation and particularly useful for people engaged in public sector innovation.

What have we missed? What lab-related links have you been following this past month?