Social Innovation and Cities – Les Jardins Gamelin, Montreal

Posted on:

This blogpost by Social Innovation Fellow Lyndsay Daudier was originally written for the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation blog. It has been re-posted with the author's permission.

Definition: An influence process leading to social change that rejects existing social standards and proposes new ones.

When referring to social innovation in cities, the one and only concern is the welfare of human beings in the environment where they evolve. This is increasingly important today since 80% of the population live in cities. We are experiencing a constant renewal of urban areas in order to meet the new needs of its inhabitants. We are witnessing political transformations, planning changes, technology improvements and the discovery of changes by city-dwellers and visitors alike.

For true innovation to occur in a city, economic/technical innovation must merge with community innovation, as it is largely the community that will benefit from these changes. A community does not consist only of its representatives, but all those who use it: children, young people, the active population, the inactive population, seniors, people with disabilities, newcomers, immigrants, First Nations members. It is therefore critical to clearly identify everyone’s needs.

Moreover, in keeping with the times, innovation also requires a smart design, whether it be in the use of technological tools for a comfortable urban life, the planning of a city space or the ergonomics of public equipment. The challenge today is also about working with what already exists and making the most of it. For example, the planning of a city space must take into account what has happened there historically, the population groups that already frequent this locale, as well as the existing architecture. Innovation is not a substitute for heritage. Instead, it must go further to find out what must no longer be done and respond to the new needs.


The builders of the city are not just the people who envision it; they are also the ones who pass through it and who live in it. To make the transformation movement a success, we must join forces. A vibrant example of this is the development of Jardins Gamelin in Montreal last summer. Beyond the notion of creating a city space, this garden was intuitively designed to take everyone’s needs into account. This public square, which had long been occupied by a homeless population, had to reinvent itself by keeping things simple so that everyone could use the space…without uprooting the homeless! A place where people can sing karaoke, relax and do yoga or garden and grow vegetables right downtown to help feed the underprivileged population. Among the highlights: a local user telling a tourist not to wake a homeless person who is sleeping in the sunlight and not disturbing anyone. After all, he’s at home…

Lastly, social innovation must not come at the expense of the environment. With findings across the globe, such as those established at COP21, we are going to have to innovate while preserving our resources, reducing our carbon footprint and using renewable energy.

Social innovation in a city is an often-misused term. Innovation must be developed with an overall vision: it requires a shift in thinking to change our cities while taking into account the needs, the design and the environment. More and more, the public is making its voice heard. Innovation also means sharing ideas, which often results in beauty and admiration for what has been created.

Musikiosk: Adding new layers to our sonic environments

Posted on:

Our experiences in cities touch upon all five senses. Yet as planners, achitects, urbanists, and the like, we often fail to consider the element of sound. When we think about changing the built environment - adding a new building, streetscape, or park - we often limit our perspective to things like building height and massing, light,  shadows, wind, smells, microclimate. These are all important considerations, but the auditory effects of the spaces we inhabit, spent time in, and move through, may be neglected. We think it's vital to bring sound into the conversation, particularly when it comes to the public spaces that make up the shared fabric of our cities. A recent project that examines the effects of sound in urban environments is Musikiosk, a collaborative research project between the École de technologie supérieure (ETS), McGill University, the Plateau borough, and Montreal residents.


Image courtesy of McGill University, 2015

From Daniel Steele, Musikiosk research lead:

The opportunity to purposefully add sounds to the urban environment with the intention of improving quality of life is rare. In our cities, we spend lots of resources targeting and reducing sounds that we find unpleasant (noise), but an environment with no sound at all isn’t all that pleasant either, especially in the city centre. A growing movement, called soundscapes*, focuses on understanding and promoting the sounds of the city that we find positive: people laughing on the sidewalk, children playing in the park, music performances while we are eating. Good soundscapes can contribute to a sense of place and quality of life, especially when they are appropriate for their location and activity. But more research is needed to understand these links and how we can apply the lessons in the domains of urban design and planning.
*Soundscape is defined as the acoustic environment as perceived and understood and/or experienced, by people or society, in context.

Installing the Musikiosk speakers

Using the soundscape approach, a team of researchers from McGill and ÉTS worked with the Plateau Borough to animate the Parc du Portugal with sound. The researchers provided a system, named Musikiosk, that lets park users play DJ. Park users needed only bring their music devices and connect them to the provided cables or Bluetooth, then play whatever they want. (It’s that simple!) Users have had picnics, dance parties, and sing-alongs, and many more types of activities are possible. In the end, the researchers hoped to be able to enliven our small parks with the potential for more activities for users, provide the city with information about how to improve noise regulations, and contribute to the scientific understanding of the role of sound in urban places. Musikiosk ran every evening from July 31th- August 31th in Parc du Portugal.
musikiosk night

Musikiosk in the evening, bringing new sounds to Parc du Portugal

What's next for Musikiosk? The research team is interested in getting more details from you, our user, on your experience with the system and, for example, how you think it can be improved for future uses. We invite you to take part in a follow-up interview (30 minutes or less) in the Musikiosk gazebo in Parc du Portugal this coming week. This invitation is also open to those who have already taken our questionnaire – these questions are different. To thank you for your time, we will offer you a delicious gift!

So if you’ve used the Musikiosk system and you’re interested in talking to us (either in English or in French), please email or reserve a time slot.

musikiosk logo 2
Cities for People was proud to support Musikiosk by facilitating some early neighbourhood outreach. As Parc du Portugal is an important gathering space for Portuguese communities in the area, the research team subsequently strolled the neighborhood with a Portuguese translator to talk to folks about their musical tastes and make sure they felt included by the system. While most Musikiosk users were not from this community, Portuguese neighbours actively participated when Portuguese folk music was played, and lit up the park with singing and dancing! We certainly think this was a worthwhile experiment in adding new sounds that add experiential value to a public space, and look forward to following this cross-disciplinary research team's work.


Find out more about Musikiosk:

You may also contact the Musikiosk researcher team:

Daniel Steele,, soundscape researcher, Musikiosk research lead
Romain Dumoulin,, acoustician, Musikiosk technical lead
Jaimie Cudmore,, urbanist, participatory design researcher
Edda Bild,, soundscape researcher
Prof. Catherine Guastavino,, soundscape researcher



NEW YORK _ Global Summer School _ July 06-20, 2015

Posted on:

Looking to expand your understandings of urban and public spaces in a stimulating setting? You might be interested in this summer program:

IaaC: Global Summer School_NEW YORK


JULY 06-20, 2015



Cities are continuously produced through entropic processes that mediate between complex networked systems and the immediacy urban life. Emergent media technologies inform new relationships between information and matter, code and space to redefine new urban ecosystems. The NY GSS aims at investigating emerging forms of production of urban and public spaces reimagining the physical city through information technology driven processes. In particular the focus will be placed in the definition of urban prototypes as a critical form of inquiry to speculate on  the future of cities and urbanism.

The city of New York will be the expanded site of exploration. Interacting, Integrating, Expanding, Networking and Hacking will be the operational categories to re-imagine future territories and urban practices. The investigations will critically  reflect on  the  city as the shared, the common, the civic and the publicenterprise. How are traditional urban typologies affected by information-based environments? How do they provide a prototypical model to speculate on the relation between social practices and the future of cities? How are designers able to shape the agency of networks? How can we, as spatial practitioners, intervene in the digital city ?

Focus will be placed on the feedback mechanism between scales, investigating the continuous loop between the micro and the macro urban scale. The  exploration of urban scenarios  will be filtered through the  following categories:


Generative design and computationally driven processes will take place throughout the program. A series of lectures from leading academics andinternational invited guests will construct the theoretical framework of the GSS, integrating and expanding the learning modules, with a final exhibition and promotion of the work.

The NY GSS will be organized in  three sections:

1_ Research – Analysis  

2_ Design development 

3_ Prototyping

The NY GSS will be an expanded platform of investigation with direct interaction with the parallel programs in Barcelona, Shanghai, Mumbai, and on-site andnetworked exchange between the participants and the invited global community.






Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York



Apply by June 30, 2015

To apply go to :

FEES for the NY_ GSS 2015:


Urban Installations and the Element of Surprise

Posted on:

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.

Enabling City: Enhancing Creative Community Resilience

Posted on:

Many commonly think of resilience as strictly pertaining to science or emergency management. But in the era of openness and collaboration, resilience is also increasingly understood as having neighbours to count on a responsive governance framework to rely on, and spaces in which to come together during a time of need.

Whether a city is resilient or brittle is an indicator of a history of past policy - and decision-making. A thriving, resilient city is one where infrastructure, physical assets and amenities are deployed to meet the needs of all – especially vulnerable populations – and where opportunities are equally distributed in a way that does not degrade the environment.

Systems and social agents play an important role in this process. Systems include the natural environment, the physical infrastructure, the social institutions and local knowledge of a place. Agents are actors like individuals, households, private firms, and civil society organizations that shape it.

A truly comprehensive resilience strategy, then, is one that employs a collaborative approach that harnesses and supports the strengths of both.

Tweet this: A truly comprehensive #resilience strategy, is one that harnesses & supports both social agents and systems.

Most blueprints for resilience planning suggest that cities are uniquely positioned to respond to the interconnected challenges of our time. Municipalities are the level of government closest to residents, and can therefore act as mediator between local needs and national resources. The urban scale also presents inherent advantages in terms of density, connectivity and infrastructure efficiency that allow urban actors to innovate, achieve more networked governance, and centralize the use of resources. A call for “re-localization” of ecosystems and economies is therefore made in order to decrease regional dependence of imported resources and encourage a shift to more humanly manageable, place-based scales.

Locally, a fast-growing number community-driven efforts are leading this powerful transition. Examples include initiatives like Toronto’s Project Neutral and Transition Towns, the global movement that works with communities and municipalities to address the challenges of peak oil and climate change through re-localization strategies (see Volume 1.). They extend to the launch of Mosaic, a crowdfunding platform for investing in renewable energy sources; Seattle’s Food Forest, and Depave, a collaborative effort to remove unnecessary pavement from urban areas and increase the amount of land available for habitat restoration.

Combined, these initiatives represent what researchers Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison call ‘‘temporary public spaces”, social movements of collective creation that provide society with ideas, identities, and even ideals to collectively explore narratives of innovative adaptation.

If our identities are anchored and in part informed by the landscapes surrounding us, then it is true that a warming planet changes not only our ecosystems, but our collective stories. Many are the cultural rituals connected, for example, to the change of season; countless the predictions that are made on a daily basis in relation to the weather and other natural conditions. For communities to have a sense of control and ownership over this change, the commons become the avenue through which to pool resources and resourcefulness together, in which to build consensus and facilitate decision-making, and in which to embed participation and transparency into the everyday norms that will inform the future responses of cities.

Resilience is important in the context of advancing social innovation because it makes explicit what many know intuitively: that inequality in one neighbourhood affects the city as a whole; that poverty and concentrations of wealth make cities brittle. Community-led adaptation includes not only a process of self-management, then, but also the technical, civic, and creative support for citizens to engage with (and re-design) government processes directly.

Chiara Camponeschi is the founder of, a website that, like Cities For People, aims to creatively respond to today’s most pressing issues by harnessing community imagination as a tool of social transformation. Connect with her @Enablingcity via Twitter.