During 2020 and 2021 prototype initiatives where launched in three cities in Canada: Halifax, Toronto and Montreal. What has been achieved in these three initiatives over the last year has been quite remarkable.
This was done through a collaboration with McConnell Foundation and Participatory City Foundation, a process of design and participation systems building that started in 2017.
These teams have exhibited exactly the type of imagination, flexibility and resilience we need collectively to rebuild our societies at every level. The teams leading these Participatory Canada prototypes have navigated every covid roadblock to build and test initiatives in their local neighbourhoods.
“Its a way of bringing people together, that’s what really intrigued me about Participatory Cities. This Platform gave us the opportunity to actually move reconciliation in Halifax so much further than I ever thought.
Reconciliation is not just my responsibility as an indigenous person, nor is it just the responsibility of someone non indigenous, it is really something that needs to be done together.
There is a real opportunity, if this is done right we can be leading in reconciliation and we are going to do it together and thats the most exciting piece of this whole project.
Pam Glode-Desrochers — Executive Director, Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In Designing neighbourhoods for cohesion I described how cohesion is the bedrock of the Participatory City Approach.
Building social cohesion, nurturing relationships and co-operation, understanding and friendship across our many differences needs much much more than top down broadcast campaigns.
This needs relationships to be built between people.
Building social cohesion needs people to leave the comfort of their homes, or the segmented spaces of clubs, work, services etc — to venture out into new types of shared social spaces. It needs conversation and productivity for the context and opportunity for friendship and trust to flourish between people.
Below is a video which briefly describes the experiences to date, and you can read the full Research and Development report on the Participatory Canada website.
Building new practical participation systems is different from copying off-the-shelf projects or programmes. The approach involves learning how to facilitate the co-creation of opportunities that allow every individual, every family and every organisation to contribute to building cohesive and regenerative ways of living our everyday life together. It involves knitting together every idea, every space into a vast and diverse network of participation opportunities where everyone can find a place for their creativity.
It’s a co-creation process which is dynamic and constantly adapting to the changes of people and ideas that make neighbourhoods and cities vibrant. The Participatory City Approach is about building this learning, unlearning and relearning social infrastructure deeply into our neighbourhoods long term. This adaptive, creative and evolving co-creation process needs to facilitate a living, breathing environment that is constantly responding to the ideas, changes, challenges and opportunities that will continue to present themselves.
The teams in the three cities have done exactly this — at an extraordinary time when being apart has been more desirable that being together. And at the same time the need for human connection has never been stronger. The network of people and organisations involved in Participatory Canada has grown and grown over the last 12 months. Every person has added so much to making this social R&D process such a success — it has been a truly collaborative endeavour throughout — and I want to extend my personal gratitude to everyone for such amazing work, in the most difficult circumstances.
Developing this initiative over the last year in Canada, has made the work doubly inspiring for me personally. It has highlighted the complexity of how much we have to learn from one another, and how wonderful and yet complex these learning processes are.
It has also further strengthened my own understanding of the human condition.
We are all unique and amazing, and in so many ways we are also all the same. We need each other.
As we continue to develop this approach together I know that we will create more and more interesting and effective ways to bring us together through friendship and trust. It’s through this foundation of friendship and trust that we will generate the ideas and excitement we need to make tangible, useful things that will shape our lives for the better, together.
Over a period of 11 years Participatory City has developed an innovative systems approach to building practical participation into the fabric of everyday life. This approach is a combination of systems, methods, infrastructures and strategies that have created a unique method of building and co-creating inclusive participation in neighbourhoods, boroughs and cities.
At the highest level these new participation systems are designed to support the transition to a happier, more equal and ecologically sustainable (and regenerative) way of life.
Far from being a ‘nice-to-have’ addition to the core civic infrastructure, this type of system is a must-have in all communities, and the residents we work with have told us this time and again. Participation systems exist to make it easy to participate in these practical, useful, enjoyable and inclusive activities in neighbourhoods. They cannot rely on heroic and extraordinary people. Instead they are systems which wrap around peoples actual lives creating huge numbers of beneficial possibilities in communities.
While there can be many comparisons with community building approaches, the Participatory City Approach is unique and distinct in that it places people and their capabilities at the centre of co-creating a different way of living together — and at significant scale. Our research to date into the impact of repeated and ongoing participation in the Every One Every Day projects has shown that individual and collective agency is born and nurtured through action, people doing everyday, practical and useful activities together.
Participatory Cities Canada is part of The Investment Readiness Program (IRP) — an 18-month $50 million pilot program by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) designed to help advance Social Innovation and Social Finance in Canada by building on existing supports to help catalyze community-led solutions to persistent social and environmental challenges. The IRP is providing investments to support a broad range of social purpose organizations (SPOs) in improving their capacity and ability to participate in the social finance market, access new investment and contract opportunities, and support them throughout the innovation cycle.