We The City: 2015 Community Summit

I’ve been meaning to make it out to Vancouver for years and have a strong interest in the role of creative culture in citybuilding, so when Impact Collective offered to send me to We the City, a weeklong community summit hosted by SFU’s Public Square, I jumped at the chance.

The conference took place throughout Vancouver including SFU’s Surrey and Burnaby campuses along with public venues and theatres; it covered topics ranging from sustainability, to housing, to guerilla placemaking; and included a variety of formats, traditional panel discussions, hands on workshops, but also guided discussions on busses between events and tours focused on various experiences of the city.  The main day of the conference was focused on the role of Universities in citybuilding.

The way the discussions that took place at Campus to City framed the role of Universities was really refreshing. Universities were discussed as hubs of innovation, as places that could provide platforms for students to teach themselves the skills they needed to succeed rather than offer solely traditional lecture formats. One of the programs in Vancouver I was really impressed with is CityStudio (citystudiovancouver.com), a partnership between SFU, UBC, BCIT, Emily Carr and other academic institutions in the area, and the City of Vancouver itself where students can get up to 15 credits a year for participating in research and implementation of projects throughout the city focused on topics such as green buildings and economy, active transportation, and local food. The program is directly supported by advisors from the City of Vancouver.

Despite the variety of topics covered, there were a number of common themes amongst the various discussions that took place. Some of these that stood out to me were:

1. PERMEABILITY - increasing openness/interconnectedness of institutions and communities

2. ADAPTABILITY - building flexibility into policies, processes and programs to better serve emerging needs and increase capacity for evolution

3. The need for ongoing dialogue and a variety of means to engage rather than consultative or prescriptive processes

4. The importance of utilizing design to shift consumer trends and movements, in order to provide solutions that are more sustainable in ways which are desirable to the variety of stakeholders involved

One of the most hands-on events was TILT’s Engaging the Streets. We were divided into twelve teams and began the day by throwing darts at a map of the downtown core to select our sites. The brief was simple: “Activate the Site”. Each team received a small budget (ours was $70) and a couple of hours to create their intervention. Our location was the steam clock in Gastown. As it was already an active site, our focus was on how to shift attention from the current singular focus as a tourist site creating positive interactions between tourists and locals, and building a sense of connection to the rest of the city and the trajectories of those moving through it. Twenty rolls of duct tape later, we’d marked out simple arrows pointing away from the clock. We asked passers by where they were going/coming from or places they would recommend going and wrote these out on arrows indicating the direction these places were in and how long it take to get there. Responses ranged from typical tourist sites, to the Ramen place someone was heading to for lunch, to someone who said they were going crazy and were getting there now. Several people asked if they could write the labels themselves in other languages and later we saw tourists looking at these tags in particular and pulling out their maps to use these arrows to help orient themselves.

Take a look at some of the other projects in a video that was made that day and shown at the We the City: An Evening at the Centre event later that night.


Written by Miranda Corcoran, OCAD University Industrial Design student; Former Undergraduate Design Representative of OCAD U’s Board of Governors; member of 115 McCaul Working Group

About the conference: 

We The City: 2015 Community Summit

From October 30th to November 7th, 2015, Simon Fraser University Public Square hosted its fourth annual Community Summit. Through a series of imaginative and interactive events, it explored the theme of city-building, reflecting on the important role of creativity, arts and culture in building and sustaining our cities and our neighbourhoods. 


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