Thank you so much, Madam Chair, and committee members. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.
I am honoured to speak on behalf of McConnell Foundation today. The timing for such a study couldn't be better. Many signs indicate that we're at a transformative moment in how we collectively create our communities, our cities, and even our society, and cultural hubs and districts have a vital role to play in that transformation.
I'm honoured to be able to speak on behalf of McConnell Foundation today and the timing for such a study couldn't be better. Many signs indicate we're at a transformative moment in how we collectively create our communities, cities, and even society; and cultural hubs and districts have a vital role to play in that transformation.
By way of background, McConnell is a private, Canadian, philanthropic foundation that develops and applies innovative approaches to social, cultural, economic, and environmental challenges. We do so through granting and investing, through capability building, through convening, and through co-creation with grantees, partners, and the public.
We envision a Canada in which the economy and social systems advance the well-being of all people. We're committed to reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, and we seek to unleash the resources and creativity of individuals and organizations from all sectors to solve social challenges.
Arts and culture are woven throughout our work, particularly in our indigenous initiatives and in the work that I lead, our cities initiatives, which is where I will focus my testimony.
Cities for People and Future Cities are two of the initiatives that I lead. Cities for People aims to foster inclusive, urban innovation in ways that contribute to the well-being and greater equality of all people. We see cultural hubs as central to that, and by “inclusive, urban innovation” we mean socially inclusive as well as inclusive of all forms of innovation, science, technology, engineering, and so on. Social innovation is foundational to that.
If we had a patron saint, it would be Jane Jacobs. It was she who said that cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and only when they're created by everybody.
Back in 2004, Richard Florida wrote about the creative class as a key driving force for economic development. What was not foreseen was how uneven that growth would be, and evidence from his latest work The New Urban Crisis is that there is a rapidly rising trend of urban inequality, particularly in more technologically innovative cities.
Perhaps even worse, this trend is often perceived as inevitable, but we think it should be exactly the opposite, that is, the technological innovation now possible in our digital age should be enabling of societal innovation that unleashes the creativity of artists and the agency of all people in building greater equality of opportunity.
Cultural hubs cannot be collaborative spaces just for the creative class. The opportunity is for them to be democratizing spaces. Sharing Cities, the book co-written by one of our current McConnell Cities for People fellows, Julian Agyeman, advocates seeing the city as a commons. By that, we mean the city as a shared resource that's generative, and produces goods for human need and human flourishing.
The city as a commons means that the city is a collaborative space in which urban inhabitants are central actors in managing and governing city life and urban resources, ranging from open spaces and buildings to neighbourhood infrastructure and digital networks.
We've learned through several of our pan-Canadian civic engagement strategies and listening processes that these ideas resonate for Canadians. That is, the importance of our urban commons has come out loud and clear, as has the importance of place-making and the contribution of our civic assets to better urban life.
By civic assets, we mean the libraries, schools, post offices, theatres, churches, and parks that make up the backbone of a city, and where we do together what we can't do alone. These spaces, however, are often disused, underutilized, and ready to be repurposed and connected in new ways that we can harness in the digital age, not only to build community resilience for everyday life but also to be greater resources in times of disaster.
I'd like to share some examples now, because these civic commons or cultural hubs and districts are exactly where there is a huge opportunity to recreate and reimagine our cities and communities.
Of course, we all know a quintessential cultural district of Canada in Montreal, even on an international stage. I'm sure the committee knows this well, so I won't spend time on it, but I'd be happy to answer questions.
In the remaining examples, I'll focus on cultural hubs, which are largely unrealized potential, in the sense that they hold central shaping elements for future city building. The examples I'll give are primarily from Toronto and Montreal, but the approaches are widely applicable for communities across the country.
Cultural hubs enable collaboration and innovation among multiple disciplines in the creative and social innovation sectors. They happen in tangible places such as at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, or the gardens at Montreal's Olympic stadium by La Pépinière, Espaces Collectifs.
They are about civic engagement, neighbourhood service, and community resilience for everyday life and also at times of crisis. Cultural hubs can nurture and incubate young creative entrepreneurs, such as Ateliers créatifs does in Montreal, and Artscape in Toronto and Vancouver. They can incubate small business start-ups, as the Centre for Social Innovation and La Pépinière do. They can host such major events as Brick Works and the new Future Cities centre that's being built there. They can provide unprogrammed, openly accessible creation spaces, such as the Art Hives network.
Hubs are neighbourhood-based. They can have a regional draw, and they often incorporate aspects that are publicly accessible. They can include both permanent installations and ephemeral uses, indoor or outdoor, and they require a mobilizing vision. Cultural hubs can be essential civic assets that form the building blocks of our future cities and communities.
I'll quickly run through a few examples.
This is a place-making academy. It's an example of citizen city-building training and refugee welcoming. It was built collectively by local residents last summer.
This wish tree is about listening to kids and their dreams of the city. It's a mini hub that can be transported to multiple locations.
Le Village au Pied-du-Courant is a cultural hub that plays a role in nurturing, connecting, and providing conditions for growth and scaling of cultural microenterprises. A couple incubated last summer were tiny ventures. They included a small cricket farm for high-protein food, and an indigenous flower growing business providing alternatives for fresh flower importing.
Being tested this summer is a project called MR-63. It's an experiment with disused metro cars as cultural spaces.
Transitory Laboratory is about connecting spaces without people to people without spaces. It's how the Futures Cities Montreal hub program is being deployed.
We launched this Future Cities hub just a few weeks ago. It's a unique multi-sectoral partnership between the City of Montreal—Mayor Valérie Plante is in this photo—McConnell Entremise and la Maison de l’innovation sociale. New city policy has made it possible. Enshrined in the city's new heritage action plan is a commitment to offer city-owned vacant buildings as community-serving assets for such hubs.
Cultural hubs can have a variety of business models, people, and sectors. Salon 1861 combines a beautiful special event space of a former church with a co-working space, community centre, and restaurant. It is now officially Canada's second Impact Hub, part of the global network of one hundred plus Impact Hubs. The first one was here in Ottawa, in partnership with Community Foundations of Canada.
The several Centre for Social Innovation locations in Toronto have proven themselves essential to the social, cultural, and economic life of the city.
This photo is what is known as the “kiln” building at the Evergreen Brick Works, with Geoff Cape, Evergreen founder and CEO, describing his vision for its role as an anchor hub of Future Cities Canada. This space, generously funded in part by Canadian Heritage, will be launched later this year. Future Cities is a new collaborative infrastructure that we're building to accelerate innovation in order to transform cities for the benefit of all. Founding parties are Evergreen, McConnell, Community Foundations of Canada, and la Maison de l'innovation sociale.
We draw some of our inspiration internationally from Fab City hubs in Barcelona, where place-making, maker spaces, education centres, and “fab labs” come together to invite civic engagement in publicly accessible, neighbourhood-serving, city-making hubs.
Future Cities Canada will include a strategy for a cultural hubs network across the country, starting with these anchor hubs in Montreal and Toronto, here in Ottawa, and very soon others.
Finally, the vision of one kind of cultural hub is an agglomeration of activities. Participatory City in London is building a neighbourhood-based network as a cultural hub of sorts.
I'd like to close with three recommendations. One, we welcome federal involvement in the Future Cities hubs network, which I've outlined, as a network of cultural hubs across the country. Two, we recommend creation of a civic assets development fund for cultural hubs or other incentive structures similar to historic tax credits in the U.S. and the ArtPlace program in the U.S., to name just a couple.
Three, we recommend setting up digital and data strategies that address some of our current challenges and consider how to better democratize data assets.