The Right to the City
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.