Concordia University

The Right to the City

The Right to the City
Instructors: Cynthia HammondKathleen VaughanSteven HighTed Little
Departments: Art History, History, Theatre, Art Education 

Registration for this course is closed

Under the banner of The Right to the City, four professors at Concordia University set out to discover how learning with the city, and across disciplines, can enrich education while giving back to the community. Led by Dr. Cynthia Hammond (Art History), professors Dr. Steven High (History), Dr. Ted Little (Theatre) and Dr. Kathleen Vaughan (Art Education) have made neighbourhood-based pedagogy their central goal in this project, which has been made possible with the support of Concordia's Curriculum Innovation Program, the Office of the Provost, and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Place attachment is the symbolic bond between people and place. This bond is often severed or complicated by social change, economic crisis, and changes to the urban fabric. Montreal’s post-industrial transformation, now in its second generation, is rapidly remaking the city as old manufacturing industries close and new condo towers rise up from the ruins. Nowhere is this transformation more visible - or its impact more deeply felt - than along the Lachine Canal in the city’s South-West borough, traditionally the heart of working-class Montreal.

We asked ourselves how might students grapple with such pressing social, economic, cultural, and political changes, and their deep historical roots? What might multi-disciplinary perspectives bring to the understanding of such change? In what ways can art, theatre, architectural history, and oral history contribute to the wider public conversation about deindustrialization and gentrification?

When designing - and redesigning - our courses each year we foregrounded two key principles: 1. to learn in place, that is to say, to hold all our classes in community-run spaces within the neighbourhood, and 2. to learn across disciplines, meaning that we allowed the limits and possibilities of our respective fields to enrich and challenge the others. Throughout we have sought to find ways to encourage students’ discovery of and participation in what sociologist Henri Lefebvre famously termed the "right to the city", by which he meant the power to change the city, to render it more inclusive, responsive, and respectful. We believe that such participation -¬ which also signifies the shift from passive to active learning -¬ is facilitated by leaving the familiar space of the academy, and the safety of clear disciplinary boundaries.

Our goal in bringing students every week to the post-industrial neighbourhood of Pointe-St-Charles was to offer them a way to learn in place, learning with and from local residents, and contribute directly to the needs and mandates of local social organizations. Our students have to date produced an oral history walk of Pointe-St-Charles, an oral history of our key community partner Share the Warmth, over 45 theatre pieces, and over 60 site-responsive artworks. 45 students have also worked as artists-in-residence in more than 10 community organizations. An important way that we "gave back" to the neighbourhood of Pointe-St-Charles was to hold end-of-term events in which students’ creative and research findings became public. Students have described many of these projects and outcomes in first-person, written descriptions on our website, kindly hosted by the Atwater Library and designed by Eric Craven.

The Right to the City team will be holding a Journée d’étude about the project in September 2017 to reflect on the accomplishments and challenges of the initiative, and to involve both the Concordia and Pointe-St-Charles communities in the conversation about taking the initiative forward.

rttc-3 Students in the Neighbourhood Theatre prepare for the December 2016 end-of-term performances at Share the Warmth, a social economy project located in the post-industrial neighbourhood of Pointe-St-Charles. Photo © David Ward, 2016.
rttc-12 Art Education student Trish Osler explores the art project of a fellow student on display at Salon Laurette, a community-run co-working and exhibition space in Pointe-St-Charles. Photo © David Ward, 2016.
rttc-photo Dr. Steven High introduces students in his Working-Class Public History course to the neighbourhood of Pointe-St-Charles in 2014. The students are seen in front of a vibrant mural, created for and with the local community by Le Collectif au pied du mur. This mural will become the subject of a RTTC oral history project in 2016, in which student Sofia Misenheimer interviewed artists and residents about the meaning and importance of the mural for the neighbourhood: Photo © David Ward, 2014.
rttc-11 Students in the Right to the City project participate in the annual "Speed Dates with History" event, in which all students were asked prepare a one-minute, first-person interpretation of a local resident's life story. The exercise helps students to discover, first-hand, not only the differences between our disciplines' approach to "interpretation" but also the complex ethics of appropriating another person's memories. Photo © David Ward, 2014.
rttc-5 Gabrielle Doiron and Islandia Carina-Guzman were students in the 2015 version of Cynthia Hammond's "Industrialization and the Built Environment" RTTC course. Their research focused on the history of water in Parc St-Gabriel, which is central to the neighbourhood. The students traced the importance of bathing, swimming, skating, and - via the fire station located in the park - the water used to extinguish fires. For the end-of-term event, the students created a participatory public performance inspired by their discovery that a canal was once planned to run through the area that is today the park. Photo © David Ward, 2015.
rttc-7 In 2015, Tiffany Le, Clara Haskell, and Estelle Wathieu, students in Cynthia Hammond's "Industrialization and the Built Environment" course, undertook the research and writing of an oral history of Share the Warmth, a local social economy project that has for 25 years addressed pressing issues such as food scarcity, literacy, and employment. The students' bilingual publication was launched as part of the RTTC end-of-term events at Share the Warmth in December 2015. Photo © David Ward, 2015.
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