The Quartier de l’innovation (QI), a social development project spearheaded by McGill and L’École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), is close to entering its second year since the launch of the program in spring 2013. The project has turned sections of southwest Montreal into a “living laboratory” in which students and professors can conduct research in Montreal communities and then create projects they think will fit the community’s needs.
Roadblocks in providing aid to communities
In Little Burgundy, QI has done work in schools and is currently restoring an old church. In Griffintown, projects include repair to underground infrastructure and the creation of six new green spaces.
Nevertheless, in its time working in these communities, the project has faced some obstacles in its attempts to bring about positive change.
Vicente Perez, coordinator of the community group Coalition de la Petite Bourgogne, told The Daily that the QI presently operates from a very high-minded, intellectual level.
“It’s not very grassroots. That must be improved,” said Perez. “I think it’s a little bit theoretical. It’s more the theory, not the practice.”
However, Perez added that he did not believe QI contributes to the gentrification of the areas in which it works. “The gentrification is more from the private housing market […], and the fact is that there are not [rules in place] to preserve the community space.”
Chloé Vadot, a member of the QI Student Working Group (SWG), told The Daily in an email that there are sometimes clashes between QI initiatives and for-profit development projects.
“The QI has projects that are focused on creating spaces for the community, spaces that retain the culture and neighbourhood feel of the place. On the other hand, developer projects have projects geared toward making money, and attracting investment for the city,” stated Vadot.
“Those projects go pretty fast, whereas the redevelopment projects that the QI deals with have a harder time dealing with, say, land zoning and public funding.”
Perez said that the initiative has its benefits, noting that QI gives community organizations access to technologies that they could not otherwise afford, and that the expertise of McGill professors can be helpful.
Asma Manssouri, another member of the SWG, said she appreciated the QI for allowing her to leave the McGill bubble. “QI offers students the opportunity to fully get involved within the broader Montreal community – something perhaps missing at McGill,” Manssouri wrote in an email to The Daily.
A “living laboratory” in Montreal
“The main goal is to continue to do our research and teaching,” QI Project Director Isabelle Péan told The Daily, “but also to apply it as best we can to community needs.”
Péan explained that the projects of QI are based on the recommendations of a report released by the initiative last April. “We did a kind of mapping of what are the social needs and how McGill, with our different faculties […] can help and how students can work on these different projects,” she said.
From these recommendations, students worked with professors to devise ways in which they believed they could meet the communities’ needs. According to Péan, Concordia may join the QI partnership, and other universities in Montreal have also expressed interest in the project.