Placemaking: Building the Community through Urban Tech

This post is part of our Age of Urban Tech discussion series, following the fifth edition of the New Cities Summit in Montréal in June 2016.

Placemaking: Building the Community Through Urban Tech considers the role that communities in the age of Urban Tech play in physically and socially altering cities. “The most important use of technology in placemaking is when it helps to facilitate chaos, anarchy, good bacteria,” said Chris Gourlay, Founder & CEO of Spacehive, a Global Urban Innovator. Spacehive is an ambitious startup that has created a crowdsourced platform enabling communities to fund projects for their local public spaces. Its goal is to democratize placemaking, allowing the forces that shape the city to rise from bottom-up. Moreover, Spacehive provides expertise in navigating public regulations, provides a contractual framework to execute projects, and assists in creating the ecosystems necessary to attract funding and support from the private sector, mayors and the public sector.

Empowering communities to define their spaces in the age of Urban Tech also bears with it the responsibility to ensure marginalized communities have access. The Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, believes that marginalized community voices have been silenced by design, via the separation of communities by highways, and the erasure of community cultures by mandating single purpose zones. On top of this, too much urban space is reserved for cars. For Mayor Peduto, cities that focus their urban design on people will have an important influence on providing a greater voice to marginalized communities. Speaking to the role of city governments, Mayor Peduto noted a fundamental divide that stifles public-private partnerships in Urban Tech: “The culture of government is risk-averse. The culture of entrepreneurs is embracing failure.”

Félix-Antoine Joli-Cœur stressed that offline engagement was as vital as online development, offering the example of the Montréal’s Quartier des Spectacles. The Quartier des Spectables is one of the most high-tech neighborhoods in North America (and home to the New Cities Summit 2016), where everything can be controlled by an iPad. Yet what made the difference in converting the space from what used to be parking lots was not tech, but political will and civic engagement. As Joli-Cœur explained, “technology is not about the what, or the how. It’s about the who.” Mary Miss delved even deeper into the ways in which online tech development could facilitate human connections offline.

Tom Smith urged that those who cannot take advantage of open data or access online platforms must not be left behind. He warned against the emergence of an “Urban Tech Elite” which would reproduce the societal divisions Urban Tech hopes to challenge. Further, Smith said there is great merit in combining foreign direct investment with local talent, highlighting that one encourages the other, creating virtuous cycles.

Placemaking: Building the Community through Urban Tech. Liz Stinson (moderator), Chris Gourlay, Félix-Antoine Joli-Coeur, Bill Peduto, Mary Miss and Tom Smith. © NewCities


Chris Gourlay, Founder & CEO, Spacehive
Félix-Antoine Joli-Coeur, Executive Director, Amplifier Montréal
Mary Miss, Artist and Founder, The Mary Miss Studio & Director, City as a Living Laboratory
Bill Peduto, Mayor of Pittsburgh
Tom Smith, Global Director, Property and Buildings, WSP Global Inc.

Moderator: Liz Stinson, Writer, Wired Design