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atom cianfarani

by Alex Tigchelaar

When atom cianfarani joined the Institute for Urban Future’s 2018-19 Futurist-in-Residence program, she envisioned an interdisciplinary role for herself and hopes to engage students in multiple departments with her work around bio-remediation in the urban environment. atom proposes a model where we must consider that what we have now in the urban environment is not infinite. “The reality is,” says atom, “in twenty-five years something like 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. So we have to really think about this. We see it on the daily in Montreal. Any urban center in any country right now is going through massive development.  We have to think about this seriously.”


Institute for Urban Futures: What do you see in Montreal “on the daily” that makes you understand that we have to look more responsibly at our existing resources?

ac: I see potential. Sanitation in Montreal is pretty smart and advanced. There are already systems set up that can lend themselves very easily to building not only vital economies, but sustainable systems, such reusing certain materials and reusing the garbage landscape. This would bring about new job creation too, like the manufacturing of green rooftops with polystyrene, tetra paks and glass bottles. We do not need to ship all these things, or ship them offshore. We can actually use these systems locally to our benefit. In my capacity as a Futurist-in-Residence, one of my goals is to set up collaborations with sanitation contractors in Montreal to explore these potentials.

I call myself a Queer Imagineer. I have a tagline I like to use called “refuse norms”—‘refuse’ of course being a homograph. I encourage ‘refusing’ the systems we have in place now and participating on a different level. As a queer designer, things have not been easy for me but it’s also been a benefit because I’ve always looked outside the existing systems. I work in the systems but at the periphery of them. I might not have thought so a decade ago but now I think being an outsider has helped me. Being on the margins has forced me to make atypical choices that have informed my practice.  

IUF: What are a few simple things we can change in the here and now that will improve our urban future?

ac: We all need to look deeply at our consumption and disposal of all materials. We all want to believe that recycling is the key but to me, reuse is the most important of the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle trope. Reuse centers are magical. That’s the R that I want to focus on. If you’re buying a new sofa and your old one is only four years old, think about why that’s dangerous and unnecessary. Stop shopping on Amazon, go to Saint Hubert Street and shop at the local deli. Corporate banning may seem old school but it is important.

IUF: What are some organizations you see doing work that inspires you?

 ac: I am really passionate about urban food, waste food and weed food. For example Not Far from The Tree. Traditionally in the Portuguese, Italian and newly immigrated family neighbourhoods, there’s a lot of food trees that have been planted because people want to have a food source they can control that is free. Sometimes when people move those trees go fallow. Not Far From the Tree maps these food sources and harvests them. Let’s take advantage of this in Montreal; let’s collectively pick these trees. I drive through so many alleyways and look in backyards and see them just covered in food that has hit the ground and is rotting. That is just tragic. We could be feeding people.

IUF: What does your urban future include?

ac: Community, and more importantly, multi-generational community. Whether we like it or not, we are going to have to participate with each other and help each other. This may be a controversial point of view because of all the corruption and trauma, but as someone who grew up Catholic, the church provided a great model for people in need: communal dinners, access to support when there was an illness in family or community, group activities. While the church goes through yet another massive upheaval in terms of attendance numbers and building deconsecration and repurposing, we need to consider ways to get our hands on those spaces and turn them into more diverse and open community spaces before the condo developers do.

Public event at the Darling Foundry

Atom is currently harvesting her menu for the upcoming Banquet des refusés on September 27, 2018. She is proposing a menu of edible urban weed pesto with pasta, found bread crostini, and grape and rosemary jelly.

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