Jay Wall, founder of STUDIO JAYWALL, and I met up at The Pilot to chat partnerships in his practice, best described as design for social good. His work sits at the nexus between design, social innovation and city-building. He partners frequently in his work as a means of staying agile; “partners in crime” include archiTEXT inc., Evergreen CityWorks and Society of Homo Ludens, among others.
STUDIO JAYWALL’s Founder and Creative Director, Jay Wall himself
Image: Plaid Zebra
Jay introduced me to a number of projects, notably We Are Cities, a campaign initiated by Evergreen CityWorks and Cities for People to engage Canadians across the county to shape a vision and action plan for how we can build livable cities. The campaign involves the participation of over twenty organizations, listing David Suzuki Foundation, CivicAction, Jane’s Walk, and the Canadian Urban Institute, plus many residents leading roundtables and compiling data across the country.
Our conversation got me thinking more about the involvement of communities in city-building and residents as collaborators – not critics or naysayers, NIMBYists, or even the colonized. I wanted to start this interview off with some thoughts on citizen involvement in development lately.
Citizens typically aren’t given much opportunity to influence policy and development in Toronto; it often comes up that public consultation is broken. Brandon Donnelly, for instance, has written about this on Architect This City, and it’s a subject that is brought up by nearly everyone I’ve interviewed. Community meetings, public consultation, these are not super sexy topics that major media like to delve into regularly, but it is highly influential to the (equitable) evolution of the urban landscape. Who gets a say in what’s developed? How do we define community? What constitutes consultation?
I want to stay optimistic and say my suspicion is that things are changing, though slowly. Perhaps consultation can occur less often as Donnelly describes it:
The developer makes an application to the city. The city reviews it and then agrees to move towards a public/community meeting (the goal of which is to solicit feedback on the proposal). Once a date is set, notices go out, and the developer secretly hopes that no one will show up. Because what often ends up happening is that it’s only the people with the time or a bone to pick who actually go to these things. Rarely do people go simply to voice their support for a project. That’s why the benchmark for success is usually no community opposition – it’s rarely about support.
There’s lots to say about the status quo of consultation, but a good entrance is to juxtapose two recent Toronto developments vis-a-vis public consultation – Mirvish + Gehry’s towers on King West (266-270 and 274-322 King West) and Westbank’s (previously Mirvish’s) redevelopment of Honest Ed’s and Mirvish Village at Bloor and Bathurst.
Westbank brought on Henriquez Partners Architects, responsible for Vancouver’s Woodwards redevelopment, undertaking a year long community consultation. Last week Gregory Henriquez presented plans at an open house attended by over 500 people. The team has yet to submit an application to the City. Westbank + Henriquez have managed to acquire broad support for the development in large part because it’s good, lauded as exceptionally creative city-building, but also because it has brought the community along, notably residents and business associations, and now the interested public. It has addressed the desire for small-scale retail, larger rental units, open space, preservation of Mirvish Village, and continued public use of what was the parking lot by the Fringe Festival and The Stop Night Market. Westbank + Henriquez listened, then designed, and is listening again.
Vancouver’s Woodwards redevelopment holds a sensitive mix of uses and public realm design. Henriquez’s proposal for Honest Ed’s and Mirvish Village is similarly sensitive to its context.
Contrast this process to that for Mirvish + Gehry’s towers on King West. M+G led with iconic architecture. Mirvish collaborated with Gehry to do so, not the community, defining the vision for the site that resulted in three gargantuan towers. They came out to the public once an application had been submitted thinking bold design would be sufficient to garner support.
Mirvish and Gehry’s proposal for the Princess of Wales Theatre overpower surrounding buildings, cantilevering over them. Ed Mirvish Way runs through the two sites.
Toronto is so laden with condos, with proposals to transform sites, the streets, neighbourhoods, and the public is increasingly concerned about this wave of development – concerned about losing cherished buildings, increased traffic, overburdened infrastructure, including transit, not enough amenities like parks, daycares, schools, libraries, sidewalk space even. People are coming out of the woodwork to challenge proposals at meetings because there’s no other avenue to contribute. It’s easy to feel powerless and even in over your head in the development process.
The City has been working with M+G to alter the proposal. Revised versions even see the Princess of Wales Theatre, once slated for demolition, preserved. Yet I wonder, had the development team “consulted” – if you can call a show and tell consultation – the public earlier perhaps they could have saved time and money, incorporating feedback into earlier plans. But what else has altered to produce a building more responsive to its context? Is a gallery space for Mirvish’s personal art collection the best program? Will it be well received? It seem Peter Clewes is correct when he states in an interview with Richard Warnica, “We’re attempting to codify what a building should be as opposed to what a city should be.” For Clewes planners have a “myopic focus on individual lots, instead of entire blocks.” And now the conversation about M+G’s towers is about tinkering with the built form, not offering a building that the community would support – more than this, would have a voice in determining what materializes. Increasingly it feels critical to attend meetings because if you don’t what will we end up with? Can we trust planners and developers to consider and collaborate with the community? I don’t think there’s much trust there right now.
As a developer I can imagine you’re trying to come up with a concept for a site that fits, that makes sense for the area, resonates even, that sells, given the profit motive, something that the community does not oppose, so that you don’t wind up at the OMB, a very costly endeavour; maybe you’re thinking about legacy. There are few that use the word “city-building” to describe what they do; often they are builders with a passion for design excellence or purveyors of a certain, usually urban, lifestyle. I’m wondering about whose responsibility is it to make sure buildings are responsive to their context, that communities can collaborate and provide feedback on developments? Who ensures buildings relate to the street, contribute to the public realm, support the local economy, or sensitively evolve a neighbourhood? There seems to be a missed opportunity to involve Toronto’s creative makers, urban thinkers, and passionate residents in the design and development process. Though a year long process like Westbank’s is not warranted for every site, involving the public in an iterative process, consulting in fresh ways, partnering with the community, should become the new status quo to better shape change that’s coming fast for Toronto. We should be thinking about bringing the community along, so change doesn’t seem so drastic.
A new and interesting example of this work is Metrolinx’s work at what’s called the Davenport Diamond, the busiest intersection in North America. Metrolinx is raising the Barrie GO tracks near Davenport Road and, as Tess Kalinowski describes, inviting 36 residents to take part in a panel to collaborate on use of the newly available space. This sort of resident advisory group, randomly selected, much like a jury, could become a new model for community engagement for upcoming RER work. Kalinowski notes that residents are skeptical of the organization’s intent – that is, maybe this is a lot of posturing and nothing beneficial will come to the area. Still, it’s a progressive move.
MASS LBP, a Toronto based firm reinventing public consultation, led by Peter MacLeod (Jane Farrow also joined recently), published “Sorted: Civic Lotteries and the Future of Public Participation” (2008) by Oliver Dowlen to in part advocate for the use of such panels. Randomly selecting citizens for public service is a long-standing democratic tradition. Citizen representatives are empowered to contribute to the decision making of government. Chief Planner Jen Keesmaat also alluded to planning something similar to Metrolinx in a recent blog post, though not site specific – more in the tradition of how these panels worked in ancient Greece. She’s proposing a City Planning Advisory Panel and City Planning Youth Advisory Panel in response to criticism that engagement is neither sufficient nor fair. So exciting things are happening on the consultation front.
I suspect big data will likely have an influence residents can have on what their city looks like, as well as start-up methodologies, design thinking, user-centred (or human-centred) design, and the work of creative firms like Jay’s, and, at least for development, leaders like Ian Gillespie at Westank, Mazyar Mortazavi at TAS, and Mitchell Cohen at Daniels.
Now to my conversation with Jay where we chat more about partnerships, community engagement, and the influence of design on city-building. Here’s a selection.
AB: What have you been working on?
JW: A lot on the We Are Cities campaign. It was initiated by Cities for People and Evergreen CityWorks. archiTEXT was tasked with figuring out how to engage people across the country on making a national action plan. archiTEXT thought that through. I worked with them a bit to design that process, but did more visual design. I designed the webpage, the campaign, working with our digital campaign team Groundforce Digital. archiTEXT and I met in the middle on designing the process and toolkit. If you want to run a workshop, you download this 50 page document, and push print. It provides you everything you need on how to run the workshop and feed the information back to us.
AB: Are you finding that citizens seem interested in participating in campaigns like this, in finding their voice in the city-building process?
JW: To be honest I want to say yes but I haven’t been at this long enough to stack it up against anything. I’m more engaged in this than I was a year ago. Three years ago I was working more with small non-profits, start-ups, artists; increasingly my work is getting into the intersection between city-building and environmental issues, public space, and art.
AB: Many of us are finding our overlaps.
JW: I’m carving out a niche intentionally. There’s a huge opportunity for design that’s not being tapped. 95% of the studios in Toronto are worried about the next advertising campaign or logo for a restaurant. I do a bit of that too, but there’s a lot of missed opportunity. I see that and I’m chasing it.
AB: Big brands and organizations have the money to advance themselves, their stories and projects, even using innovative means, pushing boundaries.
JW: The stuff we’re doing is not that out there. Even the processes we design, for this toolkit for instance, were partly inspired by Shell, the oil company. They had this interesting design challenge a few years ago around looking at future scenarios for cities and their energy consumption. We’ve been able to find some inspiration in there for how we’re modelling some of the exercises. Of course our goal is different. We want to build cities for people and part of that puzzle includes environmental sustainability, which is not a priority for Shell. I do think there’s an increasing trend towards human-centred design and design thinking to be used in corporate world.
Example of pages from the We Are Cities roundtable toolkit, shared by Faisal Moola.
AB: The more people demand products that are intuitive, useful (as in solving some kind of problem) and aesthetically pleasing, the more there will be a push to evolve products to be better designed. But you don’t always see tenants of cities for people reflected in cities. I read an interview with Jan Gehl where he explains that planners are interested in one scale, architects another, engineers another, but there’s a missing piece – who’s taking care of the people? I’m really interested in the people and I know you are, too.
JW: My graphic design work is always on the human scale; almost the micro human scale. I spend time fussing about things off by a pixel. But at the same time a pixel won’t save the world, which is why it’s important to have that quality of craftsmanship happen in the bigger context of projects good for the world. as you talk about the human scale for buildings, I’m thinking about he realm of graphic design known as environmental design, which is also interested in that scale.
AB: But where does the citizen (or resident) come in in all of this?
JW: All these citizens across the county, they care about different things and are engaged at different levels. There’s this abstract policy thing which comes from government, but there’s not really any process for regular people to shape an agenda. You can’t just walk into Parliament and announce that you want to contribute to the National Action Plan for Cities. We are working to give these citizens the tools to form clusters.
Two big things come out of this: one, people meeting up and having a roundtable provides us a lot of data that can be fed back to us and towards government once aggregated, analyzed, synthesized. It also strengthens relationships within and among clusters. So beyond this immediate campaign we’re strengthening the city building movement and engaging more people across the country. Part of how we designed the process is that we don’t want to get back these random sticky notes that say, well we just talked about all these things we care about in cities.
AB: Right, how do you assemble that data into something meaningful that can be delivered to government?
JW: And so in the toolkit, it’s flexible – there’s still lots of open ended questions, but it leads you towards things that are “this kind of action fits into this quadrant” or that one. What are the three most important things we need to do to get to x? We have info coming to us in a serial way. We get all that coming back to the campaign team. Then all this energy goes back and feeds more roundtables, so this network of participants keeps growing. Then there’s also experts who already get to speak a lot about things they are experts on. Those voices are also valid, although they normally get a bigger soapbox. It’s still valid because they spend their life devoted to these things. Those can’t be discounted. So all this is filtered through here and we’ll be able to say Canada has spoken, these are our recommendations for an Action Plan for Canadian Cities. I don’t know what it’s going to look like. It might be a list of 50 things or 5 topic areas that cities need to work on or maybe categorized based on size of city.
Roundtables produce data for the We Are Cities team to analyze
AB: And it’s good not to know what will come of it; that’s exciting. If you knew what would emerge, you wouldn’t be doing it.
JW: We’re making changes as we go along, too. I designed this toolkit, then we got feedback from a few roundtable hosts and I’m hacking it two days later.
AB: Yes, it’s iterative, which is key to good design thinking.
JW: And then there’s the fact that these people aren’t the same, communities aren’t the same, they need to be managed in different ways. So all this comes together and will be passed on to political parties in the lead-up to elections, thinking in particular about the federal election. It will be publicly available, so other organizations too can use it to inform their work for years to come. It will provide strong data. Our hope is that whatever party is elected will take this action plan and turn it into real policy which will feed back into the system again for feedback.
AB: This is where the magic is, but how it’s translated back to government is fuzzy and most aren’t optimistic about the ability for citizens to influence government.
JW: Ya, I mean image you run a workshop, you produce all this data that really speaks to your unique needs for the city and 6 months later you find out this action plan has been made, but it’s so watered down there’s nothing left in it. You don’t see any part of your voices and ideas in this. Our goal is to make sure those voices are part of it.
AB: It would be interesting to see some of this filtered not entirely through government, but through businesses, as well. Who are the big players? Developers are major influencers at the city scale. They affect site development intensely. How can you influence them to use this data or consult more intensively about what a community needs or wants or make the building more responsive to the community? Or encourage them to have a conversation with the public that is less formal. I interviewed the collective GalGalz a bit ago and Caroline and Vanessa spoke of hosting dinner parties as a way to neutralize what can often be confrontational discourses about the city. Maybe a roundtable is a more formal version of that.
JW: That’s a really good point. Part of this toolkit, the first round will focus on people who are somewhat engaged in the city-building movement. But within that we want diversity including local activists, people from business, people from non-profit sector, etcetera so we have these different voices at the table. Part of these actions can identify what group of people would be responsible for what. Then the second round will be the broader public, though we don’t know what that will look like yet.
AB: Even just to get the public more engaged generally is a good thing. This must partly be why there’s been a decline in voting - it’s easy to think that what you’re doing or thinking doesn’t matter, that you have no significant influence on your environment. You are not a collaborator in city building work. We need to build the creative confidence of the public, thinking of Tom and David Kelley’s book of the same name.
JW: Ya, you either think oh policy doesn’t affect me or you think ok it does but there’ s no way that I can influence that.
AB: And your entry point into influencing your city is a community meeting, which have a host of problems.
JW: This also reminds me of a project I worked on with Dave Meslin on public notices or development notices. They’re often in black and white with inaccessible language. Sometimes there’s not even a photo or rendering. Dave has this amazing TED talk on apathy. The thesis is that people aren’t apathetic – rather governments are doing a horrible job of engaging people. He talked specifically about these notices, whether in newspapers or street billboards. Why can’t we do better than this? He got an email a few months later from Pemberton saying they were inspired by his talk and redesigned their notices. Speaking as a graphic designer it still wasn’t stunning, but they were using colour, had a clear call to action. He made up an award called the Dazzling Notice Award and mailed it to them. They loved it. Dave was telling this story at a Creative Mornings talk two years ago and he’s like if anyone wants to help him with this project to let him know. So the last two years we scaled it into a bigger awards thing. We have a logo, a website, we have judges, including Matt Blackett at Spacing and Jen Keesmaat. We put out a call for submissions. we received submissions from all over Canada. Ottawa and Vancouver won the award. We’ve decided to make them bi-annual.
Winners of the 2014 Dazzling Notice Awards
AB: Has Keesmaat committed to changing the city’s notices?
JW: We haven’t had a commitment from her. She obviously thinks it’s a good idea, she’s on the panel. We hope that examples from other cities and towns will inspire others to raise the bar. It’s a bit of a creative way to put the pressure on municipalities.
AB: This is a key tool for communicating what’s happening in development to the public. There’s a lot of room to impact public review and consultation for the better. Even just ensuring you can provide feedback online would be hugely helpful.
JW: There was a development in my neighbourhood with a meeting I couldn’t make and there was a place I could submit feedback online. Still I didn’t understand the form, it didn’t make sense to me, so I didn’t submit anything.
AB: And you’re a smart, engaged person! Why wouldn’t it make sense to you?
JW: It asked very open ended questions. There were no images or a mood board to comment on. It was more about what would you like the future of this area to be? Here’s what I do with my clients. A project I’m working on right now involves rebranding an international environmental organization. And part of our initial discovery process involved auditing the current brand, we spoke about where they might go in the future. There’s a chance to use words, but also a Pinterest board with images, other brand identities, aesthetics. What would be appropriate for the organization, yes/no? Do any of the images resonate with you? It’s a visual exercise. So when you talk about the streetscape but don’t include images – there’s a disconnect there.
AB: Sure, there could also be a board that the public could contribute to or the developer could include a board of what they are considering for the design and people could comment on whether they liked x or y or didn’t. Or you could have a forum to say, well this neighbourhood is about this, have you considered collaborating with x organization to advance x. It’s free ideas. Each neighbourhood and site is different, you could have a range of collaborations based on that area.
JW: Pinterest reminds me of another partnership designed not for city building, but how it’s being used for it. There’s this app called Strava. I use it as a cyclist. It maps my route but also it’s competitive. Let’s say I’m biking through downtown. It’ll show me the segments I’ve biked through and who’s “king of the mountain” for each. It’s an expression from Tour de France or other bike races. It’s used for gameifying your workouts. It gives you stats on time, distance, speed, altitude. If you hook it up to a heart monitor you can see your heart-rate on the map. It was designed initially for athletes, but now Strava has all this data on where people ride their bikes in the city. So it’s been partnering with municipalities to make that data available and mine it for the future of planning cycling routes. Toronto now has its own cycling app, it’s a free app to download and you run it when you start your ride and when you end it you communicate whether it was for commuting to school, work, leisure, etc. It then tracks all this, just like Strava. You can see where people ride their bikes, including direction and speed or where, i.e. on one way streets.
AB: Moves also tracks everywhere you go. It’s a huge source of data that could be very valuable for the City. You could even start aligning land-use and transportation using real time data, ranging from transit to walking. Where and when are people moving, where are their gaps? So you make more neutral decision on where to construct infrastructure. Considering we’re no longer doing a long form census I could see a lot of value in a tool like that for influencing policy decisions.
Any speculation on the future of partnerships in city building through your experience thus far? You’re very highly partnered; it’s evidently useful.
JW: There’s so many benefits for running a small business, for instance. I want to have big impact. Having partnerships gives me the agility to stay small but still have the ability to build teams project by project that have whatever skills, resources, network I need. There’s no way you could build it in house unless you built some mega company. I can’t afford that.
Speculation wise, I would say design will become more and more a part of these interdisciplinary projects. We see that with increasing trends towards valuing design thinking and human-centred design. What we’ve been talking about with big data as well. The move towards democracy 2.0 and open government, engaging people, there’s a hunger there. And I’m hopeful that non-profits and the public sector will begin to pick up on these things as well, though they are currently behind in terms of recognizing (and doing something with) the value design can bring to projects. Design allows you to tell compelling stories, engage people in your cause, build credibility around your idea. If you think bigger picture design is also a tool to imagine the future and figure out how to get there. It’s very powerful.
AB: You invariably need to partner to get there.
JW: Exactly. design will be more and more partnered. In the last year I’ve gotten so into city-building and so many doors are opening there and I’m not held back by anything.
AB: Do you think adults have lost their ability to propose out of the box concepts?
JW: I think they still enjoy it when they’re invited to do it. With archiTEXT we ran this community design initiative at a conference last year in Detroit. We ran this workshop where we role played. There was an old heritage property, the developer proposed doing X with it, some residents are upset because of this reason, you have 20 min to come to a solution. So we assigned people different roles and people personified those roles. You begin to see the assumptions people would carry. I thought I had to be an egotistic maniac because I’m a developer and not listen to residents. But then maybe I could collaborate and we could reach a win-win situation. We called that co-designing our cities. That’s something I’m thinking about more and more. It doesn’t look on its face much different than designing with community consultation, but when you get into the nitty-gritty of the process it’s different.
AB: It breeds empathy, opening up your own perspective as a result.
JW: Exactly. And it kind of flattens out the power dynamic a bit. Ideally you can reach decisions that are good for everyone, get out of the mindset where you say I’m going to build it because we have the stamp from city hall.
AB: It’s interesting how process innovation and community engagement practices are playing such a strong role in this kind of work. It’s a sector that’s blowing up along with design.
JW: And that the end of the things on my brain for now!
Big thanks to Jay for sharing his insights on partnerships and city building with me – and for initially reaching out via twitter!
To make each of the loft studios one of a kind, the partners [Sascha Arnold, Niels Jager and Steffen Werner] reached out to 12 creative personalities from various fields, such as music, design, cinema and sport. […]
Although [the pop-up hotel] may be a time-limited venture, The Flushing Meadows Hotel & Bar promises to have a lasting impact on the local hospitality scene. By allowing for diverse perspectives, the creative team crafted a harmonious blend of unique atmospheres that invite visitors to immerse themselves in the multi-layered charm of Munich.
Mairi Beautyman’s “Flushing Meadows: Playing Field” can be found in Azure’s March/April Getaway Issue
I sat down with GalGalz Caroline Macfarlane and Vanessa Nicholas in January to chat partnerships, passion projects, condos, community building and activation, and the frustrations of trying to get things done. I can’t say enough good things about these idea generators, change makers, community builders and fantastic humans who come at everything with a good dose of lady power and optimism. Here is most of our conversation.
Partners in crime and GalGalz founders Vanessa Nicholas (left) and Caroline Macfarlane
AB: We’re at the OCAD U Student Gallery, where you two are Programs Coordinators, and there is a furniture show on here called Tables, Chairs and Other Unrelated Objects 4. Is this a recurring exhibit for the Toronto Design Offsite Festival (TODO)?
VN: Yes the furniture show is always part of the TODO program. TODO is basically an umbrella organization that catches all of the events and exhibits that happen beyond the Interior Design Show, which is an annual trade show at the convention centre downtown. There’s a network of off site projects. Lots of furniture and design stores have exhibitions and The Gladstone curates Come up to my Room.
OCAD U Gallery annually curates Tables, Chairs and Other Unrelated Objects 4
CM: It makes sense to have the furniture show at this time. The alignment is right. Design week is pretty great. There’s so much happening; lots of good energy. It’s nice to be part of it.
AB: Do you get out to see a lot of design during the week?
CM: One year we programmed DoDesign on Dundas, so we got to know that part of the festival well, but didn’t really go beyond it. I used to be a bit better about getting out there, but I always check out Come up to my Room at the very least. I’m not very good at setting out to accomplish the whole festival. For us it draws a good crowd. It brings all sorts of people to our show.
AB: So what kind of partnership activity are you two involved in?
VN: Our most recent partnership project was Ultra Rare: A Creative Placemaking Lab, which included a collaborative mural, a block party, and a planter rejuvenation, and we also took over the abandoned ticket booth in the parking lot next door.
We had to get in touch with the managers of the parking lot and convince them that this was a great initiative, which wasn’t very difficult. They ended up being really generous.
Ultra Rare included the transformation of a parking lot and ticket booth, and community building adjacent to 52 McCaul
AB: Ultra Rare is partly a response to the redevelopment of this site on McCaul Street where your gallery currently stands. Any sense of when that’s happening?
CM: The deadline keeps moving back. So, who knows. But we worked with the site developers, Osmington, on permissions and allowances for Ultra Rare, which was pretty huge. It was a good exercise in partnerships and reaching out to a community we would normally not have a working relationship with.
AB: I’m not entirely sure, but I imagine you must partner with the community at large, broadly conceived, to garner an audience for your exhibits?
VN: It’s hard to know how to realize projects outside the OCAD U sphere. It’s hard to explain. Those community partnerships sound really exciting, especially from OCAD U’s perspective; but beyond giving you space, outsiders aren’t usually willing to provide much more than that for students.
CM: When you’re working with students you need some sort of support mechanism. A lot of people assume that, for students, the exposure is paramount. But students need to be supported financially as well as gain exposure. It’s tricky that way. People value the arts, but don’t want to pay for them. We certainly have no shortage of ideas. Vanessa and I have our own community practice outside of OCAD U, called GalGalz. We’re constantly generating project ideas and the enthusiasm is there, but we just don’t have the funds to execute as many of those ideas as we’d like.
VN: And even when people approach us about doing things, they don’t always bring much to the table. The money is also always the last thing they want to talk about. It’s always like: “We’ll figure it out later, just come to us with your craziest idea!” So we spend a month on our kookiest idea only to have it shot down because there aren’t any resources. Meanwhile we’ve spent a lot of our energy on something for nothing. You just start getting frustrated.
We’re always walking around the city saying things like: “We should stack shipping containers in this lot and make tiny residency spaces; and, like, there should be a tiny bar on the top level that can only seat two people!” or “That parking lot could be a garden or a park” or “We should host a dinner at a table that runs the entire length of this street, and we’ll serve sustainable food!” Etc. But then no one wants to help you, or the City gets in your way.
Market 707 at Bathurst and Dundas in Toronto
CM: It’s funny because Vanessa and I have, for a while now, tried to understand how the City works in terms of our own art activism practice. We have so many ideas and concerns. I’m so passionate about the city that it’s hard to know how to fight bad development, for instance. Today even, there’s a development sign on this beautiful should-be-heritage building over on College Street. We went to the related community meeting recently. In any case, I called the number on the sign and talked to the named City Planner who referred me to the website, but the url didn’t work. I finally received this long report with lots of jargon. It’s not very accessible.
AB: I’m guessing you received the Staff Report, which yes is more or less a run down of how the proposal conforms or doesn’t with provincial and City policy. You’re right it’s not accessible and it certainly doesn’t relate to what you’re passionate about – activation, community building, arts and culture, or even heritage preservation. Though it sometimes addresses heritage. Still, not in a way that would satisfy you.
CM: Yeah, and we’re constantly thinking about how to improve our communities. There’s just this constant exploration of the City and how it works and it’s difficult. Though at the same time I do think there are initiatives that acknowledge art and culture and community as integral to a liveable city. There are people, planners, politicians that want to push that agenda, but we’re in a battle with developers. Even when they express that they want to do things differently, or take Section 37, there aren’t many companies who know how to do that well. So, even though the intentions might be good ones,, when it gets to implementation, there’s no one that knows how to do that. And we can’t do that for them for free. There’s a weird disconnect there.
AB: Right, they should hire staff who are responsible for community building, partnerships, even brand strategy. There are very few developers who are bringing on people to do exactly the kind of work, which I’d love to do, and it can be hard to get them to understand what you’re proposing they explore. When you talk to developers about it they often see it as a marketing thing, and marketing mostly focuses on sales, not community building or brand development. Real estate sometimes seems behind. So many businesses have created titles that contain words like: brand, partnerships, (customer) experience, happiness, innovation, community, content curation. I’m not sure why some of this hasn’t seeped over into that realm, though they tend to be very lean teams and interested less in neighbourhood development and community building in the longer term than short term site development – in and out.
CM: Which is unfortunate because I think a focus on some of these things would improve their image, their spaces; in the long run it would make a huge difference for neighbourhoods.
AB: And even at the bottom line, if they’re looking for an economic argument, there must be a market for a project that is more connected to the community with creative offerings, or even a rental building.
CM: There’s potential in creative community placemaking, and there’s also potential in preserving beautiful buildings from being demolished. Between this one and that one and the other one, it’s hard to know where to focus your energies and creative thinking in order to make a positive difference. Even talking to the Planner today, she asks if I was at the community meeting. It’s like, “No, I wasn’t at that particular meeting”, but there are four condo developments on my street. Not to mention Kensingotn Market. I can’t go to all of the meetings because they’re all happen at the same time.
AB: Which is a process the City needs to innovate as well. Nearly everyone I’ve interviewed has brought this issue up. You shouldn’t have to go to every meeting, if you can even figure out when they are. And then you go and it’s the same people who are at all of these things, complaining about height and parking and traffic, the same stale arguments; they are not usually very productive so the incentive to go even if you’re interested is hard to muster.
CM: And we are very on it. We’re like grumpy old ladies. We’re those people and we don’t even know when the meetings are. So some person with kids and a busy life, they’re not going to make it. And that’s my rant on that. Our city is still a beautiful one for so many people doing amazing things and pitching in to help. There’s a real sense in our community with everyone supporting one another to make the scene cooler or the neighbourhood better. There are silos between the artistic community and the developers coming in and building on top of it. Hopefully in time it’ll get easier to do cool initiatives where interesting people can come together and support each other.
VN: We had this dinner series idea that never got off the ground, for which we’d hoped to bring artists, planners, developers and architects together to talk about the city, specifically about older creative spaces. We wanted to host them in warehouses and studios, the kinds of buildings being taken away to make room for condominiums. That never got off the ground but it was a good idea.
CM: Part of the thought behind that idea was, until you step inside the space and connect with it you don’t know it’s magic; the impact of the space isn’t felt until you’re in it. There are qualities to liveable, workable spaces that are rare in Toronto, and it would be great to change that.
AB: Yes, as in, even if you had to demolish the building how could you create this feeling in the new building? What are the key success factors of this sort of space that can be applied elsewhere?
CM: Condos are definitely one of our passion-topics.
AB: You’re hitting on some key challenges in terms of what it takes to generate creative spaces. Developers own the property, they are subject to City policy and process that are difficult to understand, and there are few productive means for citizens to get involved in shaping buildings. It’s frustrating in large part too because most sites do not have creative programming. It would be one thing if the plethora of new buildings were going to be unequivocally awesome.
CM: And we’re at this place where the city is changing so rapidly and it could be changing in beautiful ways. We could be one of those innovative cities in architecture and design magazines for their sustainable initiatives, cultural programming etc. even if it’s just bike paths and murals. It’s frustrating because we’re at this fork in the road and we’re not going the right direction.
AB: A lot of banal stuff gets approved, yet there are so many interesting makers and passionate thinkers in Toronto. There’s no reason why partnerships, for instance, shouldn’t be generating more interesting sites.
VN: Interestingly, we adapted the dinner series idea that I was just talking about for an OCAD U program that connects students with creative professionals. We’re calling it Hang at Home and it underlines how many seriously amazing artists and designers are in this city.
Evidence from one of the first Hang at Home events
CM: Dinner and mealtime in general is a ritual that breaks down those silos and hierarchies of power. It’s great for students, and I’d still like to realize the original idea of getting artists, developers and planners together to share ideas. Talking over dinner neutralizes things. We’re all in the city together, let’s be friends!
AB: It would definitely be more creative rather than confrontational, which is generally the tone of community meetings and consultations. You could also talk bigger picture, too, not just specifics; larger concerns and ideas. Are your Hang at Home dinners themed or organized in any way?
VN: They’re divided between the Art and Design faculties; but otherwsie, they are purely social, there’s no topic.
CM: Vanessa and I were asked to do a networking course and we were like: “What’s that?” We’re really bad at networking so I don’t know how to encourage people to network.
VN: So we thought, let’s just host parties!
CM: This series falls underneath our GalGalz umbrella, even though it’s an OCAD U program. It centres on the importance of community and friendship and meaningful relationships to your art practice or design. In the arts, it’s not so much about going to talk to an art dealer and handing out a business card. You have to work at connecting with people in a meaningful way to get results. And I think a lot of superficial networking strategies are pushed on students. Those strategies are awkward and uncomfortable and not suited to everyone’s personality type and it’s disappointing. I know that for me, someone who runs a gallery, if someone comes up and says, “Here look at my art!” Absolutely not.
VN: The dinner party space provides an intimate, friendly experience. And beyond that you’re also connected in a more meaningful way to the people you’re around the table with. So when you go to an art opening or something, and you’ve had dinner with Erin Stump, the gallerist, you can go up and say hi. Now you have a sort of stronger connection with some of those people that you might have difficulty accessing as a student. Even at dinner, the students have been saying it’s less interdisciplinary at OCAD U than they’d like, so painting students weren’t meeting sculpture and installation students, etc. And when they did start meeting those people they were getting excited. Now when they’re at school they have a greater community to feel comfortable and friendly with.
AB: And to do more cross-disciplinary projects, as in we should do this cool project together, your work expands my own or you have an ability I don’t.
CM: It seems to be successful so far!
AB: And Hang at home runs on RBC funding?
VN: Yep! That would have been coordinated through OCAD U’s Experiential Learning team, who recruited us to build this project.
AB: What else are you two up to?
CM: We’ve been talking about condo development a lot, asking how do we fight this? We’re going to try to do something, channel our interest and rage and passion.
VN: We ‘d like to be full time idea generators. For example, we’ve recently talked about to creating an alternative Heritage Toronto. We cannot quite figure out how Heritage Toronto works. If you join their society, you get a calendar and a garden tour…Are 80 year old ladies running that place?
CM: There needs to be some new energy in that field. We can work with 80 year olds, that’s no problem, but there should be some representatives infusing that organization with some vitality.
AB: The City needs a refresh in the same way about how to educate and involve the public, as we’ve already touched on.
CM: I’ve been talking about this architecture firm a lot – Gehl Architects. I just watched The Human Scale on Netflix.
AB: I love that film and I just finished Gehl’s Life Between Buildings.
CM: Gehl and his way cool architect minions around the world are studying people in their environment and how they prosper – it’s so common sense to me. We need cities that consider those things. And they are so successful! His firm is behind so many of these projects that I’ve heard about all over the world.
Times Square in New York, and Brighton New Road in Brighton, UK are popular Gehl Architects projects
It’s not like this isn’t a working model. It’s simple, it’s about studying people’s walking habits, working habits, living habits, considering those in the fabric of city building and architecture. When I saw that I thought Toronto needs Jan Gehl!! And then I read an article about how he spent a year here and enjoyed his experience, but how poorly planned the city is right now.
AB: Interestingly, too, he wrote his books many years ago. These are not brand new ideas.
CM: I enjoyed watching it because at least some people are getting it and doing cool things. He’s my latest. I’ve been reviewing his talking points, watching his TED talks and thinking a lot about his work as we approach our own issues with the city.
AB: Tell me about The Good Bike Project.
VN: The bike project was a positive. It was just a microcosm of all these things we’ve been talking about. The best work we did wasn’t with the City, even though they started the project. They were a roadblock in lots of ways. Then there were those individuals we met, and the grassroots stuff we did made the difference. If we’d just done a city sponsored, city initiated art project, we’d have never finished it because they didn’t give us the resources we needed. We learned a lot about City Hall, the media, and the importance of connecting with a community of people that cares, rather than relying on those who are check-marking their job requirements. You need those people that want to help you out, it’s so important to have that support around you to get things done.
Vanessa (above) and Caroline (below) install Good Bikes through the city
AB: Who did you find, or where did you find your community?
VN: It was so organic. Every time we needed something it came together. I’m just thinking of this day where we had 25 bikes that we needed to get onto the streets but we didn’t have the locks. We were waiting on a sponsorship through the City with Canadian Tire. But then it collapsed because we refused to put corporate logos on our bikes. And that same day, Ray from the Bicycle Commons just showed up at the Student Gallery door. He was like, “Hey I’m from the Bicycle Commons and I hear you need locks, how many do you need?” We’re like…75? He said, “Sure I’ll be back later today.” Then he showed up with the first round of locks so we were able to start getting bikes out.CM: It was a weird, crazy storm. The fact that the media was so focused on the project was amazing and really difficult. It meant we had to keep working at it despite getting empty promises from the City. Articles had already come out in the paper, we had to do whatever we could to continue this project and make it work. And so in some ways that media coverage helped because we were voicing our problems and people were reading about them. And other ways it was tricky because you learn a lot about the media and how your story can be skewed for a particular agenda. It was very controversial. There were a lot of people angry, and others amazed and in support of what we were doing. We thought, “Wow whether you hate or love this project everyone cares about it.”
Then Mayor Rob Ford rides a Good Bike through City Hall
We were just doing these little interventions that turned into a much bigger thing. I learnt a lot about the City in terms of how dysfunctional it is in some ways and also how amazing Torontonians are. A lot of people we did connect with were helping us because they felt passionately about art and cycling and community and were doing so out of the goodness of their hearts. They were generous with their time or resources they did have; that kept us going in those times when we were really frustrated with all the bureaucracy and kind of messy side of it. We connected with the couple who own Handlebar in Kensington. They do their beer runs on bikes, and pickling workshops, bring your own vinyl nights, and they support local musicians. They are so cool.
VN: And we met them because we were doing our first spray painting day with kids in Regents Park, an event that was actually organized by The Daniels Corperation, speaking of creative developers, and Bruce just rode up on his bike. He was like, “What’s going on? Bikes! Can I help?”
CM: As we talked to him more he asked us if his bar could have a bike. We were sceptical, but he kept elaborating and explaining his role in the community and we got so excited! So we went to their bar, had a free beer and a nice chat, and since then we’ve been friends and mutual supporters. We gave them a blue Community bike for The Avro, which has since closed. They now run Handlebar in Kensington. When they were opening the new space, we helped them spray-paint bikes for decoration and got involved with cleaning and wall painting. It felt good to give back to them in the same way that they gave to us – by getting dirty and painting. It just makes you love your city so much more if you can have that camaraderie with people. There’s no shortage of awesome initiatives and creative souls here.
AB: Did that project that you were doing in Kensington take off?
VN: Save Kensington was a conceived as a self-sustaining photo blog, and so it died because people didn’t latch onto it. The idea for that was great and we got a lot of pictures from friends, but at a certain point people just stopped sending photos. And because it needed to function like an organic archive, it got stalled. The blog is still up though.
Several images that make up the Save Kensington project
CM: At the time of its inception, there was the threat of Walmart moving in to the Market and we were panicked. Again, the idea came from us asking: What can we do for the cause that plays on our own strengths and capabilities?. Vanessa wrote a great essay on the issue and my brother and I made these video portraits of longstanding community members. The videos were shared at community meetings and were helpful in that moment. The idea was for it to continue but it didn’t. We’re not paid to be city activists, as much as we’d like to be.
VN: But it makes a good point about partnership. We were counting on that energy going beyond ourselves and continuing itself and it didn’t work out.
CM: It kind of did for the Good Bike Project. That’s part of it.
VN: You just have to try and see what sticks.
CM: Not everything is going to be explosive.
AB: Most projects require someone dedicated to keep them moving. You can’t rely on a community to take a project far on their own and even if that happens there’s probably some passionate person taking ownership of it.
CM: Ya exactly, but you also need support. At the end of the day, Save Kensington helped in a moment where we needed to help, so it doesn’t feel like a failure by any means. At a certain point, if it’s a dedicated thing you have to devote time. Most projects aren’t ongoing forever anyways. That was a good learning experience, too.
AB: Do you have any blue sky ideas in the works?
CM: They’re not concrete plans but between heritage preservation and condo development there’s a lot to work with. Hopefully we’ll be able to figure out how we’re going to turn that energy and research into something that’s exciting for people.
AB: As part of your GalGalz work?
CM: Ya we can’t get our ideas out there fast enough.
VN: It’s amazing how slow it takes to do good things and condos seem to be just bam bam bam.
AB: Well they’re probably years in the works, but you’d never know about it. Development actually takes a very long time.
CM: That’s what’s concerning. At least in my opinion there’s not enough discussion, accessibility and creativity at the process level. A lot of people are just saying ugh, oh god, there’s this collective feeling, a distaste for what’s being built. And who knows how many more sites are in the works that we don’t know about.
AB: It takes a lot of work to stay up on that stuff at a city scale or often even neighbourhood scale. They approved 6,887 new units and 377,900 square metres of non-residential floor space in a single week last year.
CM: There’s no standard that they’re held to beyond a community meeting, which happens too late in the game. In terms of green footprint or of benefiting the community, I’m not seeing it. It’s hard. There should be a higher standard if you’re going to demolish this neighbourhood to build your condo. We need a better reason for you to be here and that means benefiting the community or the city in bigger ways than is happening now.
AB: The City has developed limited ways of doing that beyond policy like the Official Plan, Section 37 and 1% for public art. Some cities have a design review panel, and you can see that they benefit from this critical eye. Vancouver is a good example. It’s expensive and time consuming navigating the City here – you may have to go the OMB and you have to allot time for many community meetings, managing opposition – and that cost is reflected in lower quality design or increased unit cost. Also, money dedicated to Section 37 may not be spent the site neighbourhood. And developers only need to design amenities insofar as they can figure out how to get people to buy units.
CM: To do something interesting you just need to start somewhere. Jan Gehl’s team was also talking about the importance of pilot projects. This resonated with me so strongly because of projects like The Good Bike Project, and all our projects really. If you try to find a solution to the huge transportation problem, that’s a fix-all, it’s just not going to happen. We’re not going to solve the problem first try. They were advocating for these smaller projects. In New York they cut off the street for two weeks, throw in some ugly chairs, see what happens and observe. The idea of pedestrianizing Times Square and putting in patio furniture was crazy initially. They just said, we’re just trying it out for a weekend. Then it continued and slowly it became this project that’s been so successful. And that was important to hear. So often you’re so bogged down by how do we get from here to all the way over there without making some mistakes? It was nice to say you just need to go for it and do some more temporary solutions that will hopefully gain momentum and grow more organically.
AB: Yes it’s often just analysis on top of analysis and more analysis. You feel like someone should just take a risk and do something! Build it or don’t or put in something makeshift. There’s interesting conversations happening now, too, around failure, maybe because of the surge of start-ups. Start-ups fail all the time and their work involves constant iteration. Few succeed, but people continue working elsewhere. Failure is ok or at least not doing something perfectly the first time if you can learn and adapt.
CM: And once we try things, then we’ll get numbers. We can observe and get data from trying things out. There is no data on some things because the project doesn’t exist.
AB: This is what interests me in working for a developer. I’m more interested in projects that are innovative and experimental, where you can try new things and see what happens. You have some room to do this if you program the site from acquisition through occupancy and even beyond. If it doesn’t work out you iterate and keep going. If you’re looking for a choice that seems to be 100% the right choice it may take forever to do anything. Talk to people about what they’d like to see in their space. Find ways of pulling people in, inviting them to share ideas, partner with creatives and entrepreneurs to execute. The condos they are developing now can’t possibly be what people want out of their living space.
VN: No not at all.
CM: And it’s unfortunate that community spirit that is sort of given to neighbourhoods isn’t given to condo buildings. I sort of feel like it could be such a great model for community if you had a little bit of infrastructure to make people feel like they belong. There’s no common space, the party rooms are not fun, but everyone is here living on top of each other. Imagine there was some system to facilitate community?
AB: You have potential and space, shared resources, yet no one is programming it.
VN: I was in New York and I was at this nice boutique hotel and I thought, the staff at the doors are so nice. I was thinking about door people and about Jane Jacobs, who talks about the community of high-rises in New York. The door man is like that stand-in face of the community and without that those streets could be really dangerous. But because every building has a door man looking out in front of it, greeting people walking in, they’re not. You have this built in eyes on the street. What if condos had New York style door men? There’s always a concierge desk, but they’re more like security not personalities. Not to mention I can just walk into my boyfriend’s condominium easily. No one knows or says anything. I could be anyone! What if the person who sulks at the desk was more of a personality, facilitating relationships whether among people in the building or people and the city?
AB: I’m surprised there hasn’t been more developers who are community minded.
VN: I think Daniels is trying, as I alluded to earlier.
CM: Yes and in more spread out ways and doing great things. They’re the only ones I know of.
AB: TAS is doing interesting things as well, partnering with the community on different initiatives. But most of the time you need to hire someone to do these things. You can’t assume they are being taken care of. 500 people aren’t going to move into a building and just figure it out. And we’re just talking about building programming, partnerships can play out in different sorts of ways on the site, benefitting design, for instance or contributing to sustainable living. It’s fair to ask, though, whether this the responsibility of the developer. Who should be leading this stuff?
VN: At OCAD U they’re redeveloping the building at the corner, the red building. The buzz word is flex space. Everything is movable and flexible and people will organically use the space, etc. Well who’s going to make sure cool stuff is happening?
AB: This is exactly it!
VN: You need someone to do that. Cool shit doesn’t just happen.
AB: At the Ace Hotel they have an atelier that works on programming the buildings. They have this whole dedicated group responsible for programming their hotels. You don’t just go there and the people there figure out cool shit to do. It’s the same with normal life. Someone needs to be responsible for this stuff.
CM: We have connected with a few like-minded people around the city and they’ve all been women. There’s this surge of lady power that’s fightinjg the status quo! There are so many people who would be perfect for jobs like this, and there are the numbers that this kind of stuff helps with the economics and vitality of neighborhoods so it makes sense. There’s so many young, overqualified people not finding things to do that pay them. It shouldn’t be like that.
I am super excited to keep imagining with this duo, developing community in our buildings and on the streets. Find them online:
Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) have partnered with fifteen organizations for Agents of Change: City Builders to advance eleven ideas for a better Toronto. The project launched last week at the sold-out event Six Degrees of Social Innovation hosted at CSI headquarters on Spadina.
Both the launch and project reflect CSI’s belief that great ideas come from the collision of thoughtful and motivated people. The program was created “to give these dreamers, doers and innovators a helping hand.” Over 150 applications were received and eleven organizations were picked. Selected City Builders include Building Up, The Drop Distribution, Five/Fourteen, Shape my City, StopGap Foundation, and Storefront Theatre.
Representatives from CSI’s 15 partners will work to support these organizations in their work. These organizations include archiTEXT, Artscape, Autodesk, CivicAction, Daniels, David Suzuki Foundation, Distl., Evergreen Cityworks, Jane’s Walk, Spacing, East Scarborough Storefront, City of Toronto, Toronto Public Library, Westbank, and of course CSI.
We believe — along with our 15 incredible partners — that great cities are the product of engaged and active citizens. The types of people who insist on rolling up their sleeves to make their city a better place. The Agents of Change: City Builders program was created to give these dreamers, doers and innovators a helping hand by providing individuals and organizations with a free one-year CSI membership to help connect them to the people, places and resources they need to amplify their impact and transform our city.
I’ll be following closely. It demonstrates the basic math and magic of collaboration – banding together, sharing resources, ideas, knowhow, 1 + 1 = 11.
We will have smaller corporations and businesses in the near future. With so much opportunity for collaborations, there is no need to build a costly big business. Instead, future business leaders will be focused on specializing their services and products to stand apart from the crowd.
’[Corporations] will rely on allied organizations that they work in partner with, whether they’re individuals or small groups,’ says Peter Andrew.
Ace Hotel is coming to Toronto. Or so I heard. Rumor has it that the boutique hotelier has bought property on Camden, a street that spans a block north of Adelaide between Spadina and Brant. I’m not not interested in this, though I am more interested in what residential developers can learn from boutique hoteliers like Ace vis-à-vis its feel. Toronto’s city council approved 6,887 new condominium units last August in a wave of approvals, not to mention 377,900 square metres of non-residential space. Yet there is little control over what this space feels like or whether it’s connected to the community.
Ace hotels are notoriously described as hives of activity, culturally connected, interactive; people congregate.
Stumptown Coffee is often featured in the lobby along with large communal tables, comfortable yet chic couches, rugs, books. Wifi is free, music is playing, there is ambient noise everywhere.
Lobbies of the Ace Hotel Portland, Shoreditch, Palm Springs, and Atelier Ace American Trade Hotel in Panama City respectively
New York’s lobby also functions as a communal workspace. April Bloomfield’s restaurant The Breslin is integrated along with The John Dory Oyster Bar. The establishment has contributed to the revitalization of Manhattan’s Flatiron District.
Lobby of the Ace Hotel New York
Here’s an articulation of the feeling in the lobby from Fast Company’s Lizzy Goodman’s “Ace Hotel’s Communal Workspace Shows a Winning Hand”:
As I pass the expansive windows of the John Dory—the mod oyster bar that’s part of Ace’s ecosystem—I notice Norah Jones at a window table, having lunch. This is the place. The bellboy on duty, who looks exactly like Keanu Reeves (circa Point Break), opens the hotel’s weighty double doors, and I enter the cavernous but intimate lobby and find a seat. To my left, several well-coiffed thirty-somethings, speaking Italian, assemble camera equipment. To my right, at the long wood table outfitted with vintage library-carrel lamps, sit an array of people, earbuds in place, eyes glued to laptop screens. An intense young guy with the veiny hands of a strongman appears to be playing Japanese video games. Another dude logs on to the North Carolina Medical Board’s website. At the dining table across the way, a gaggle of boisterous young women in sweater sets make calls and assemble mysterious packets from boxes of photocopies.
Ace hotels, much like Drake Hotel properties (including the Drake Devonshire), The Gladstone Hotel, New York’s The Marlton Hotel or Brooklyn’s Whythe Hotel, manage to feel homier than most condo buildings that offer very little space for getting to know your neighbours or feeling part of a collective.
The Gladstone’s cafe, Upstairs, an attic bar at the Ace L.A., the Drake’s restaurant at its flagship Toronto location, and The Ides rooftop bar at Whythe
Entry spaces are brief waiting zones and party rooms or the like are sparsely used in most buildings or dedicated mainly to private events. You would rarely leave your apartment to spend time in these areas casually just to get outside your personal space. It’s not cozy, there’s little to do, there’s no programming, coffee, cocktails; the concierge stares blankly at the TV monitor in the lobby.
Menkes is rumoured to be incorporating congregation spaces in their building Fabrik at Richmond and Spadina. The developer is including a communal table in the lobby and banquette seating near the elevators, for instance.
Banquette seating flanks the elevator at Menke’s building Fabrik
But simply providing these things doesn’t ensure they will be used. A communal table does not an Ace hotel communal space make. It seems to me someone needs to think about activating the building to ensure there are things to do, even if it’s just to grab coffee. Maybe the lobby should be open to the public so that it’s looking outside of itself and welcoming fresh energy? The Toronto Star wrote an article on Fabrik in May 2012 and Ralph Giannone, the building’s architect, states, “The success of Fabrik will have a ‘ripple effect on the neighbourhood. It’ll be that one spark that gets it going. Just like the Ace Hotel.’” But a building that is not open to the public, that does not invite others in or allow the public to interact with the building in some way, is not likely to have a ripple effect on the area. It’s just another building. The most you can hope for is that the residents use the lobby, that it’s not too quiet or precious to welcome casual congregating.
Space activation can occur prior to development on a site, just as it can be part of the programming of an occupied building.
The Junction Flea was hosted on TAS’ The DuKe property at Dundas and Keele, and Great Gulf has hosted the Toronto Flower Market on its property at 1056 Queen West
Not every building needs to be as “open” to the public like Ace or as programmed; there’s a balance to be found depending on the branding of the building. It may also take something like Atelier Ace to run an advanced building program, though the building would be generating revenue through its public uses or rentable space.
Amenities go to waste in most buildings, like a pool that’s rarely used or a hidden party room or gym. People want to be around people and will participate if there’s something compelling happening. Why couldn’t you bring in a spin instructor to do a few classes a day or on weekends at the gym? Or could there be furniture placed in that green space in the courtyard, accessible to a cafe? What about offering studio space or a darkroom for rent, much like conference or other event space? There are many partnership possibilities with programming.
The Idea at Whythe, Theatre at Ace Hotel L.A., Stumptown Coffee at Ace New York, Liberty Hall at Ace New York, and the swim club at Ace Palm Springs
Could there be a communal kitchen that partners with local chefs to teach a class? Something like that could easily be open to the public. There is certainly a market for cooking classes. Could there be a coffee shop adjacent to a large common table where people could do work on the weekend instead of being holed up in their apartments? What about movie nights on the rooftop? Could you sell tickets to something like this, partnering with TIFF or the Open Roof Festival?
Open Roof Festival held at 99 Sudbury in Toronto this past summer, and screening room at the Whythe
Could someone put on some music in the lobby? Could there be a local restaurant at grade? How else could a condo activate space? What events could occur on site to make the space feel vibrant?
Atelier Ace partners frequently to host various events on Ace Hotel properties
Sometimes space, like a cruise ship, needs an activity director to organize these things, but buildings already hire 24 hour concierge service and buildings would benefit more from a creative director – or cultural engineers as Ace calls the role.
Etsy and Airbnb headquarters exemplify innovative office design intended to make employees feel at home
One issue, however, is what does a condo developer do when he wants to get in and out of a building, moving onto the next project? Do you concomitantly operate something akin to Atelier Ace to manage your brand across buildings, maybe even venturing into rental properties? Do you hire a group like Atelier Ace or Drake (not the rapper, to be clear, though that could be interesting …) to do this for the building and incorporate the service into the amenities? Or do you continue to develop the same marginal amenities that people are somehow paying upwards of $700 per month to use?
I think people want their space to be more curated and to feel more connected. This is one benefit to living in a multi-unit building over a single family residence. Magical things start happening when people bump into each other people and spend time together. I think the sort of service that facilitates activation is worth paying for.
I’ve come home to a Fresh City bag every Thursday for nearly a year, learned to can at Artscape Youngplace, viewed the documentary Food Fighters featuring the urban farming operation at the Farm Lot on King Street during TIFF, and followed the expansion of its online market – but I wanted to know more.
Fresh City leases nearly two and a half acres of land at Downsview Park and through its production on site, partnerships, and sourcing delivers 900 bags of produce and other goods across Toronto each week.
Ran founded Fresh City in 2011 when he took over land from a defunct non-profit community farming organization. As with other interviews, I left surprised how much partnerships work their way into the business and contribute to expansion. Here’s most of our conversation.
RG: Have you heard of BufferBox?
RG: Blah blah blah they were a start-up out of Waterloo, and they have these kiosks where you can send your UPS or FedEx parcel and pick it up from there. It’s for people who live in condos or apartments and can’t get packages delivered to their homes. That was there shtik. Blah blah blah they were bought out by Google and then Google shut them down. But anyway they situated these boxes at a bunch of GO Transit stations care of an agreement with Metrolinx – and I thought that would be great for produce. If you live in Oakville or Oshawa, delivery means we’d have to charge more.
AB: That would transform your customer base.
RG: And people’s lives hopefully. I’ve been trying to get hold of the right person at Metrolinx for six months to a year now and there’s been no traction. I think it works on so many levels. It supports customers, builds local economies, enhances a local food system, decreases greenhouse gas emissions. So far it’s been frustrating. You should be opening this up to people. This should be an initiative they’re working on.
AB: It seems like alignment is there.
RG: So anyway that was one potential partnership. Partnerships I’m thinking about these days relate mostly to distribution – meaning something like pick-up points. We have around four dozen points to date. For us that’s important because it simplifies the logistics of delivery, decreases price for the customer, thus making the bag more competitive, and helps with marketing (often other businesses have incentive to help market what have as well, since it brings them traffic). So that’s one set of partnerships.
Bolt Fresh Bar acts as one pick-up point in Toronto
We’ve done a lot of cross promotions where brands intersect nicely, like with TAS, a Toronto-based mixed-use developer. TAS had this empty lot at King east of Spadina that we helped activate. The Farm Lot has operated for several years, seasonally, providing produce to downtown dwellers. That area in particular has very limited options, let alone for organic. We also did the Interior Design Show (IDS) with them. They wanted a garden centre in 2012 and we did that.
The Farm Lot on King and Spadina is a partnership between TAS, Fresh City, Berry Fresh, and The Detox Market, offering fresh produce to downtowners
We’ve done a lot of tabling at events where people want us to come in. A lot of companies reach out to us. We have a partnership with Oxford Properties who manage a different buildings. A bunch of their buildings serve as pick-up locations and we’ve also talked to their green team. They invite us in for those sorts of things. We’ve also started to work a bit with NGOs. We’ll see how that goes. We’re in talks with Environmental Defence on hosting panels together about education, about food. We’ve done a bit but are looking to do more now.
The other big side of it really is land. We have one partner right [Downsview] now and will hopefully have more in the future. We can never pay market rate for land so it has to be part of a partnership where it’s a non-profit player or crown corporation that has a mandate and they see broader value in doing it.
AB: They’ve master planned Downsview and the park is undergoing a multi-year revitalization plan to split the 570 acre former military base into five neighbourhoods. Do you foresee losing that space?
RG: Honestly that’s another frustration. I don’t know. They have in their plans a “cultivation campus.” They’ve evicted us in the past, or delivered a letter that said they will evict us because where we are right now is a different area than where the cultivation campus is supposed to be.
Map for Downsview’s Master Plan displays locations for neighbourhoods and other zones
AB: Which doesn’t make sense because it takes time to cultivate land.
RG: Exactly. So that’s been a major source of frustration. You see so much land. There’s upwards of 500 acres of land at Downsview and we just need two, three, maybe four for it to be viable. We’re ready. It’s very hard to be viable there without investing in more infrastructure – meaning constructing a bigger greenhouse, bathrooms so we can have more tours and make those more of a platform in what we do. And we can’t do anything. Every year that goes by we lose money in the farm because of our inability to invest in infrastructure there.
Existing infrastructure at Downsview and Fresh City staff
There’s not many examples of what we do as a business. Typically if you want to have that kind of amentiy you’d have to find a non-profit who would have to get grants. Before us there was a non-profit on that site and they went out of business because they ran out of funding. Urban ag is all the rage now but it may not always be the case. Right now there are foundations and governments are giving money to it, but that could change in five years very easily. Some people think there’s an urban ag bubble and it’s going to burst in a way.
The economies of scale aren’t there for urban ag for big business to get involved either. Though potentially in a greenhouse environment. So you see in New York, Montreal, there are a few rooftop greenhouses, but I just don’t see that having very broad applicability. There are only one or two of those projects in every city, depending on the size.
Examples of rooftop greenhouses in New York
Whole Foods Gowanus market in Brooklyn functions by way of a partnership between Whole Foods and Gotham Greens. It sells produce grown on the rooftop.
People don’t farm because they want to profit. There’s no money in it. If you’re paying your staff minimum wage that’s an achievement in farming. That’s the reality.
AB: Would you explore partnerships with land developers to cultivate their rooftops given Toronto’s real estate boom? Or is that too much effort for not enough results?
RG: Yeah honestly from a production perspective it’d be very tough. It would take a developer that is really committed to it. You see it more on commercial building because of their size. I think it would be tough to do unless a developer pays someone to maintain the project as they do with a gym.
I spoke at the Japan Foundation a few years ago and what they’ve done in parts of Tokyo is (and i don’t know how the governance works) develop neighbourhood parks maintained partly by a farmer and partly by residents. The residents hire a farmer and the farmer manages the logistics of getting the seed and planting everything. The idea is that it’s a guided community garden. This person comes in once or twice a week, but it’s the residents who do most of the weeding and harvesting . So I could see something like that happening on a rooftop. You hire Fresh City or wherever. Daniels has hired Daniel Hoffmann from The Cutting Veg; kind of like that. They’re hired to manage land on behalf of the residents. It’s part of the service agreement, understood as an amenity that the condo offers. But again would take a forward looking developer to do something like that.
Community garden in Japan
AB: For Fresh City, where do you go then? I’m harping on this a bit but aside from developer land where do you go in the city for land?
RG: At first we did a lot of thinking about it and now I just can’t think about it anymore. Downsview is a really prime spot especially with the subway getting closer. It’ s just worth investing as much as we can in making it work and hopefully that will be enough. It hasn’t worked so far. But what would happen? We’d send out a lot of emails and hopefully land somewhere good. We’ve had potential in the sort of semi-urban area – the 905. There’s lots of potential land there.
AB: I’m thinking of the farm the city concept, if you don’t have big plots what do you do? You’re doing a good job educating people as to how to start their own gardens, find those nooks in the city. But for you to find a place where you can grow your business is a bigger challenge.
Example of a balcony garden
RG: Our other option is to go to a completely controlled environment for growing, which would detract from our ability to connect with people. There’s shipping containers you can turn into aquaponics operations and we can set those up in our parking lot or set something up on a rooftop.
Example of an aquaponic shipping container
But in terms of what I like what we do right now is more accessible psychologically for people. Whereas if you have high tech greenhouse or container where it’s all sterile and you can’t do the coming in and out and stuff is growing in hydroponic pools of water it’s much harder for people to connect with it. Which is the reason we’re into farming the city.
If push came to shove we’d try to find the biggest plot we could outside the city. The other side is the more we want to be close to the city. If you go farther out the more like a traditional farm you become in terms of being accessible psychologically and physically. Lots of people visit us by transit right now which is huge. The moment you go north of Steeles those people just won’t come anymore. But that’s the kind of thing I’ve decided we’ll take as it comes.
Part of it will be if they do do that it’ll be a great opportunity, in the same way as when they closed down Riverdale Farm, High Park Zoo, it’s a great rallying point. Hey we need to reserve a small sliver of city land for agricultural use.
AB: If they city were progressive they’d be thinking about these kinds of issues and being more proactive.
RG: They passed an urban ag policy a year ago around the time Rob Ford was de-mayored. The idea was to create more land for community gardens, etcetera. We’re kryptonite for the city because we’re “for profit” and that suddenly becomes like standard oil, as though we’re going to make huge profits from city land. A couple times we talked to TTC or the City about these things and it’s like if you’re a community group and want to use a park you have to go through hoops; if you’re us and want to sell produce it’s like they just turn off. But their priorities and processes often confuse me. But that’s another huge potential partnership opportunity.
AB: You can grow things off the side of buildings or inside or on roofs, but I see where you’re coming from in terms of maintaining that connection to traditional farming and acting as a steward of that knowledge.
RG: To be an inspiration in a way to help people connect to where their food comes from. Rooftop farms are great but it also distances people. Most won’t see them or if they do it’s not easy to access them. Or if they see it they can’t copy it. There’s room for everything, but soil-based should be a big part of it.
AB: What are your partnerships like with other farmers?
RG: Oh! That’s our deepest partnerships! At least one to two dozen. There’s three categories. One is imports over the winter. That’s not very far from what we’re trying to get away from. In this we can be very aliented from the grower. We don’t know what farm it comes from all the time, but know it’s certifed oraganic, it’s from California. We typically don’t know. We have started working directly with farms in Florida and California where literally the truck goes there, picks up three pallets and delivers to us. And as we grow we can do more of that. That’s very important because imports will be part of the mix. A) I don’t think there’s an issue with imports in and of themselves, the issue is that it’s become 90% imports, 10% local. It should be 70% local, 30% imports, especially for stuff we don’t grow like citrus or avocados. As we grow I want us to forge direct links. So for example, co-ops in Peru who do banans and fair trade organizations in Mexico that grow avocados. For that, my vision is that as we grow we’ll do more as we achieve scale.
Then we do a lot of direct with farmers. Most of the produce in the growing season and to a large extent in the local stuff in the winter comes directly from farmers that we work with. So often we sit with them in January and say you’re going to be our x farmer, potatoes, rhubarb, garlic, etcetera. We work with smaller farms. And in general I think I’ve noticed that a lot of small farmers are starting to move away or diversify from farmer’s markets.
Farmers markets have hit a saturation point in a way where a lot aren’t viable. Or farmers go, sell $300 or $400, but it’s not worth their three hour drive up there and back. So farmers markets will retract or change their game and somehow attract more of an audience in the way the best ones have managed, like Evergreen Brickworks or Wychwood, Sorauren.
Wychwood Barns farmers market is held every Saturday, moving indoors for the winter.
They offer music, prepared foods, etcetera; they make it a destination. Most haven’t done that well. Unless they do that farmers will work more with people like us. If they can’t work with grocery stores because they’re not big enough, they’re finding CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are too much work, then in a way we’re starting to crowd out farmers markets. And not just us but others. In a way people want the CSA but aren’t wanting to deal with just getting kale. You see this in the states a lot. A lot of farmers are really happy to work with us and other box delivery programs because we’re very friendly with them in being able to plan the season. We guarantee we’ll buy x item from them exclusively, and can be flexible in terms of delivery. Because of our model if their harvest is a week late then we can find something else to put in the basket. It works well for them.
Example of items found in Fresh City bags each week
Then we work with a few distributors in Zephyr and Guelph. And they are the largest organic farms in Ontario. They both grow food, but also are aggregators for other farms.
AB: Did i read that you’re thinking about extending into farther reaching municipalities?
RG: Yeah in the long term I see the Golden Horseshoe as our natural distribution range. We’re a ways away from Hamilton, Barrie, Guelph. We’ll be starting Mississauga early next year. That’s where I see the natural extension. People sometimes ask, do you want to start Fresh City in Vancouver or somewhere else and A) I think we have work to do in fleshing out our model and B) we’re trying to localize food systems. You could do that but it’s not the most scalable business. You’d have to re-create all the partnerships elsewhere, with land owners, retailers, etcetera. It’s not like Uber or Airbnb. That goes against the purpose of what we’re doing. It’s not like bam this can be translated elsewhere.
AB: How did it work when you set up your online market? Would you describe those as partnerships or just clever sourcing?
RG: We try to work as much as we can with local makers. We work with Ace Bakery for example. They’re big but based in Toronto. Prairie Boy, based in the High Park area, Harmony Organic, one of the two or three organic milk suppliers in Ontario, recently with Village Juicery. A lot of that is partnerships. But less so than with farmers because it’s more transactional.
Fresh City recently launched its partnership with Village Juicery
With farming, to rebuild the middle of the food system, you need trust. What we can do now with small farmers is to say you can trust us. We’ll buy from you, you can plant with certainty. And we couldn’t do that at first. With the farming it takes a bigger commitment. You commit now in December for something you won’t get until much later; that takes planning and trust. With makers it’s more transactional.
AB: Would you consider partnering with meat providers?
RG: We’re actually in the process of doing that now! We’re working with Field Sparrow Farms. We’re starting down that road, trying to find the right angle. But we’ll probably do it in the CSA format where you subscribe to a share of meat – beef, chicken, lamb, then you get a cut of the week. I don’t know what the pricing would be but for $10-15 you get a given cut of chicken or pork. We can build up a subscription basethat a farmer can count on. And they’ll also be able to use the whole animal which you can’t in a traditional retail environment. A lot goes to waste at the grocery store. Farmers can’t count on the whole animal being sold.
AB: This is why local butchers do so well if they do prepared meals. They can bring in the whole animal and be strategic about what is sold prepared.
RG: We’re still far away from prepared meals. We can work with a single farmer and commit to that and then go from there. It’ll be interesting to see what the uptake is. We get lots of vegetarians. One of our first ever pickup locations was the Toronto Vegetarian Association. That’ll be interestng ground to navigate. But most of our customers eat meat and get it elsewhere. And a lot of times they don’t have good options depending where they are.
AB: Do you work with any of Toronto’s apartment towers? They’re often located in food deserts.
RG: Until maybe one or two months ago we’d never consciously targeted our marketing. We’ve started recently by flyering. I was against it, but then you see that it just works and it’s very targeted. Our natural markets happen by themselves. We have a bunch of deliveries here or there in certain areas of the city and in others it’s just good. We’ve worked with a GIS class out of York University for a number of years. One project mapped out customers in food deserts and there was no correlation between where food deserts are and interest in our product – in both low or high income areas. It’s funny i mean in this area where there’s more choice especially north of here with Fiesta Farms, Loblaws, Karma Co-op. We have a huge customer base around here. This is one of the most popular postal codes. It’s more of a sensibility thing; partly income related but partly younger, interested in getting from a city farm and smaller farms.
It’s interesting grocery shopping is extraordinarily more complicated than I thought it was initially. The decision making from consumers, how do they decide what to buy? Even in my household, the space I occupy, this is where I eat most food from, but go out to Kensington to get fish or if we have guests I go elsewhere. You don’t have to be everything people buy. People don’t spend that much time planning the week out to that level of detail. So really what you want to do is be the main shop of the week. An average person does a main shop and then goes out through the week to get random stuff as needed.
AB: You’re thinking too about recipe based for shopping.
RG: We’re calling it a Recipe Bag. I’m curious to see the uptake. When I first heard the concept and I ordered Fresh Canteen I thought the price point was high at $11-12 per meal. That compared to takeout, it’s not super competitive. You have better ingredients, more control over what you put in, but you still need to put in the time to make the meal. We’re starting the veggie ones in January at $8.
Buy ingredients for Chana Masala on the Fresh City online market
Our pricing is lower than other meal kits and it’s organic. There’s a lot of work that goes into looking for a recipe and putting it together; and you provide everything. It really works well with our brand. It’s still fresh ingredients, you’re still cooking. It’s an experiment for us. What made me a believer is that it’s great for waste. There’s fewer packaging and zero food waste; you only have what you need.
AB: I want to test out the soup jars!
And then Ran ran off to meet with Food Share. Big thank you to Ran for dedicating time to chatting partnerships and city building with me. I’m keen to see how Fresh City continues to expand its business through partnerships, educating on farming and preserving goods, delivering more local food, supporting local economies, whether here or elsewhere, depending on the product. It’s clear that part of Fresh City’s success is conveniently delivering a bag customers can feel very good about, while offering unique products that taste amazing. Honestly I am still thinking about that watermelon I received last summer.
Lynne McEachern and I got together for coffee at Ezra’s Pound late in November to discuss partnerships at Impressed, an app used for transforming Instagram and other images into high quality prints or photo books. Better than Polaroids, these square images look like art – printed on ultra-thick matte card stock and shipped with washi tape. And it’s incredibly affordable at $24 for 22 five-by-five prints. Partnerships at Impressed inspire users to tell stories, curate and display stories in their homes, and connect them to other makers.
How did Impressed get started?
LM: We formed last summer as a partnership. My husband/ business partner and I started a mobile start-up company called Spoke Technologies. We developed a mobile app called Spoke and Photo that allowed you to add voice to photos and share them. As we were looking for a monetization model, as all app developers do, print became a natural go-to for us. On the iPad you can collect these photos into an album and share them, and customers were asking if there was any way they could print this product. We developed a way to print photo-books, but add voice to it via digital copy by QR code. We talked to potential fulfillment partners on the print side in America and Europe. But when we talked to a local print lab here, Pikto, they were really interested in the mobile space as their next strategic move, while also getting a little more into the consumer space given their focus on professionals. We ultimately decided to form Impressed as a separate company. So we do all the software development and marketing, and they fulfill all the products. We decided to develop a partnership to have more control over the product design, which is important for a design-led company.
Tell me a little more about Pikto.
LM: Pikto is a premium printer. That’s what attracted us to them. It is part of a strategy to do premium home decor focused products.
How are partnerships evolving in your work? What other partnerships are you exploring?
LM: This is not an official business partnership as such, but because the photo world is driven by Instagram, we’re trying to create partnerships with Influencers on Instagram. We’ve seen that that turns around for us. As soon as one of our Influencers posts, we see an order for their work pop up five minutes later. We’re going to start to funnel a lot more of our marketing dollars towards this program.
Sets of Influencer prints are available in sets of 12 for $24
Prints available from Maria Marie (@cestmaria )
Prints available from Brittany Hildebrandt (@bkhphoto). Here some of her own insta-art is displayed with other images
How do you locate Influencers?
LM: Research. We go into Instagram and look at people and look at who they follow, inspect hashtags.
How do you develop relationships with Influencers?
LM: We reach out by offering to send samples, see if they want to do contests or promo codes or be part of the print shop. Or find another way to integrate them, such as writing blog posts. We try to find people who work on a few platforms to gain traffic from their sites. Yet a lot of big name people don’t want to partner with you unless you can add value to them. You can get in touch but not hear back even for a free set of our product. We know our sweet spot now though.
It certainly seems as though as much as people like to share their own photos, the collection of artists they follow is also important.
LM: It’s two-fold. Influencers that are amazing and have a lot of followers say, “Look I made these prints, you should make your own too.” And this is true even if they aren’t partnering with us in producing art for sale. But we also launched this print shop where we can sell sets of Influencer Instagram photos. If you’re on Instagram you have these “insta-crushes” and you know you love the imagery of your top 10 Instagram follows. You might want to buy those.
Now do you buy those online or is that part of the installation set up in the Distillery District?
LM: No, sold online. Distillery was just an event that we had at Pikto because they have a gallery [at 22 Gristmill Lane]. That was more of a community development thing, but again trying to create connections in Toronto’s Instagram community. We created this installation called InstantTO based around a giant washi tape map with images affixed of cool places to eat, shop, drink and play in Toronto.
Washi tape map of Toronto featuring images of places to eat, drink, shop, play, set up at Pikto’s gallery in the Distillery District.
We developed a hashtag to go with it so that more than people who are visiting the installation can tag photos and contribute. The main idea is that they tag their hot spots in Toronto so we don’ t miss any when we bring this back online. We also realize that when people travel to other cities and they want to find the cool spots, Lonely Planet isn’t going to cut it. We end up doing a lot of research on Instagram and finding places that way. But you kind of have to know the tag for that city. Each city has its own tag yet you wouldn’t know it unless you knew it. We wanted to create something where all those cool spots were amalgamated, including online.
What will come of that project?
LM: From the installation work we’re going to try and create some kind of interactive digital map. How that translates to product we’re not yet sure. In an app people don’t print stuff every day, by which I mean one person doesn’t print stuff every day, but you’re a user and we want to interact with you every single day. We try to find a platform to interact with users every single day so that when it comes to the time they want to print we’re there and they think about printing more often.
So at this stage of your business you’re more focused on forging community and finding a bigger user base, an audience and roster of contributors, than creating additional products?
LM: Partnerships ideally involve both businesses having something to offer and something to gain. Though it’s a catch-22 because you have to have something to offer them. At this stage, I suppose, it’s the cool factor.
We just launched the international version of the app so now we’re going after Influencers in those markets where previously we only did Canada and US. A few weeks ago we launched in Australia.
Are you finding it’s easier to develop a community here than in other cities?
LM: For things like an installation, sure but generally not really. On Instagram there’s already a global community so if you add value or appeal to them on Instagram you can get that conversation started in many cities. People are pretty used to doing that. Influencers, too, are looking to monetize their channels and that doesn’t necessarily always happen in their own city.
A company from wherever has a following that stems from that particular city. Above and beyond is just a matter of partnering with the right Influencers to get your word out. So when we launched the app in Australia we reached out to Influencers and proposed partnering with them to do promo codes or contests on their channels to get that side of the world integrated into our community. Developing a following organically is not a strategy. We have our list of businesses or influencers we want to partner with, including in other cities to further develop our base elsewhere. This is why we’re pursuing The Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. We tried to reach out to the Drake, but it’s hard. You need the right contact. It’s a matter of integrating projects into day to day. And you want to have the most impact and don’t want to do it half assed.
Would you consider adopting another platform in addition to Instagram to work with, like Pinterest?
LM: Our focus is Instagram because that’s where we have traction. Pinterest is second most important for us. Every business needs to decide what social networks make the most sense for them.
Do you have a project / partnership wish list?
LM: We’re thinking about partnering with a business like Porter. Porter is local so it might be an easier partnership than developing some elsewhere, like Brooklyn. But also we love what they’re doing. We thought it would be neat to partner with them thinking about the idea of how much time you spend in the waiting room. What if we had all these pictures of Toronto? We haven’t figured that part out yet. Maybe we make all these Toronto cards and paste them and have a wall where we put them up with the washi and just encourage people to take a piece of Toronto with them. The backside of the card has our Impressed info. We’d have to make sure we monitor stock or maybe it only runs temporarily. Still it’s a good way to get our name out there.
What subjects appear on Instagram the most?
LM: Fashion, travel, and kids. We’re targeting millenials and most of our orders come from that 19 to 33 demographic, skewed a little older; half kids, half travel. This group shows “this is who I love” and “this is what I’ve done,” and now we’re going after the “this is where I want to go” piece, notably through inspirational and aspirational photos. These are photos of the things I love and covet or places I intend to go, things I’d like to do. Our whole concept depends on photography given this is the predominent method of social expression and self-expression. Our target demographic is creating an enormous volume of photos and on a very dedicated community like Instagram. Almost all millenials are on Instagram. They may not be power users but they’re on there.
From @impressedapp this quote from interior designer Nate Berkus lauded by the likes of Oprah nicely gets at what Impressed aims to facilitate – sharing the museum of me.
There is a constant archiving of daily life, though curated. They are only posting certain things on there. It’s used to tell their story. We intend to create products that align with how they create and consume photos. It’s at a super high velocity and as a form of social expression and a form of visual inspiration. And the visual inspiration that I choose also says something about me. So if you were to look at who I follow on Instagram you would know quite a bit about me.
Again, you want to share your own photos, but also share your interests.
You’re creating the “museum of me.” Which is true. We do that a lot with imagery. We’re trying to think about the business like that. That’s how we’re creating our products.
Examples of the museum of me from Alexis Renee Sassard of Amerikaw, Arielle Vey (@ariellevey), Alyssa of Random Acts of Pastel (@randomactsofpastel), Lynda Gardiner of Empire Vintage (@empirevintagemelbourne), and Jackie Reisenauer of modern camper (@moderncamper)
Lynne told me a little bit about some of the products Impressed is interested in producing in the future, notably for the home. Unfortunately I was so engrossed in our conversation I didn’t notice that the battery died on my recorder. Lesson learned there. So pardon the editorializing. It’s unclear how partnerships will work into developing home decor products, but the intent is to develop products that support developing a frequently updated museum of me. That may include photo frames that make it easy to insert and remove photos, bookends for photo books, book shelves, tools to hang images, storage boxes and the like. Lynne wants to produce products that facilitate rotating photos more because people are producing more quickly. You don’t want to have one photo up for five years. That’s why each set of images comes with washi tape – to make images easy to put up and take down; it’s stylish but not intended to be permanent. Photo books are useful for more permanently organizing images, and can also be part of the museum of me – or used by brands to present their identities visually. Higher turnover of images is what Impressed is working towards.
Impressed has brought on Lark and Linen’s Jacquelyn Clark, a Toronto-based interior designer and lifestyle blogger, as a guest editor. She previously edited of Style Me Pretty Living, writes a weekly column for hgtv.ca and has appeared in Martha Stewart Living, Style at Home, Glamour, Cup of Jo, Apartment Therapy, and others.
Impressed introduces Jacquelyn Clark
I suspect she will influence some of these partnerships, maybe even brand partnerships, but in the interim is getting Impressed users to think more about curating and displaying the museum of me in their homes. She is providing lots of photo decor inspiration.
Impressed is only getting more popular and useful for thinking about the home as a curated, rotating gallery not only for our memories, but our inspirations. I’m interested to see how our images can be used to generate community, whether locally or globally, and amalgamated usefully, such as on a map or via hashtags, to inspire others. Big thank you to Lynne for taking the time to share her work with Comrades.
Cumbrae’s Coconut Thai Chicken, braised beef, meat pies, and whole grain mustard laden pork chops have prevented me from succumbing to the seeming convenience of Liberty Village’s Metro many times, just like Roast has rescued me from the Loblaws on St. Clair. I no longer even feel temped to buy a value pack of chicken thighs from Costco. Both fine businesses parter with farmers to bring the highest quality sustainably raised animal products to Torontonians. Ben Latchford and his team at Roast also sources other fine products like smoked salt from Vancouver Island Salt Co., Cut Coffee, Koslik’s mustards, and bread from Blackbird Baking.
Toronto’s eating establishments are keen to get on the bandwagon along with their discerning customers. Cumbrae’s Steven Alexander has high standards that are well known in the industry, including by those making decision in the kitchens at Bar Isabel, Canoe, The Drake, Jamie Kennedy Gilead, Rose and Sons, Fa’Amelia, Vineland Estates, and Union.
Partnerships support local farmers and purveyors like Cumbrae’s and Roast, while promoting better, responsible, local eating and healthier urban living. These butchers help shape your community, your day to day; you trust them to get the best products for your body. And if you don’t feel like hibernating, taking your dutch oven for a spin to slow cook your own dinner this winter, you have an even better excuse to check out Woodlot or Black Hoof. Or pick up a prepared meal at Cumbrae’s or Roast and get your Netflix on. Your stomach will be happy regardless.
Images care of Roast and myself
What if we covered the facade of these towers around Jane and Wilson (to take an example) in art, whether temporarily or otherwise? Part exhibition, part campaign, The Water Tank Project in New York wraps rooftop water towers with art to raise awareness about global water issues.
Jen Keesmaat wrapped up Chief Planner Roundtable Vol. 2 earlier this year, taking on the Shape of the Suburbs, Arrival City and Mobility in the Suburbs. The City of Toronto is introducing drivers for suburban transformation such as RAQ zoning, yet large scale art on suburban towers could help celebrate the identity of tower communities, even advancing community visions for the transformation of these areas. Think of how St. Louis’ South Grand business district created art on boarded up windows to mourn Michael Brown’s death and reflect their determination to move forward, reported by GOOD. These positive messages articulate community aspirations to recover peacefully.
Toronto Community Housing might partner with StART, a City initiative, and local artists to wrap towers.
Images care of City of Toronto, GOOD, a as architecture, InHabitat, and Elle
Distl. is an untraditional trio of city builders noticeably impacting Toronto with projects like The Laneway Project and NXT City Prize. They are thinking big about Toronto and acting with punchy, collaborative initiatives that make neighbourhoods better. Over 300 people have bought tickets to Toronto’s first summit on laneways, held on November 20 at The Great Hall. Toronto, like me, is keen on what Mackenzie Keast, Christine Caruso and Justin LeClair are up to.
From left to right: Justin LeClair, Christine Caruso and Mackenzie Keast
I sat down with Mac and Christine at Home of Brave on King West to chat partnerships and city building outside the box. Here’s (most of) our conversation.
Distl. is unique among city-builder types, whether consultants, developers, entrepreneurs and the like. I have to say I’m curious about how you describe yourselves.
MK: We’re mission, mandate and vision oriented. We want to be the world’s neighbourhood bureau. We want to focus on building really great, strong, creative, successful neighbourhoods around the world. In doing that we want to plug into all the crazy cool things and opportunities that are available within that overall mission. We’re exploring trends happening in urban places right now, tapping into them, picking up on them and plugging them into whatever community or organization we’re working with, program or initiative we’re working on.
NXT City Prize was all about recognizing that there’s more and more young people moving to the city, it’s a generation that wants to live downtown, public space isn’t catching up, city hall and municipal government generally is really kind of stalling a lot of forward thinking and progress; the initiative is at the nexus of all those pressure points.
500 guests attended NXT City Night August 14 in a parking lot at John and Adelaide. It was transformed in partnership with Loop, Gen Y Inc. and City of Toronto.
CC: Another thing that sets us apart is our global outlook and the fact that we’re not staying within best practices of this industry. I think it’s important that city building looks outward and draws on other disciplines like experiential marketing, design process, design thinking. We try to think about the people affected by our work, people who live in cities, and listen to them. If we’re not taking them into consideration then we’re not doing our due diligence by looking at the best avenues to move forward. We were talking about this the other day. The city is suffering from engagement fatigue. There is so much consultation and it’s done through these very traditional processes. We’re looking at new ways of reaching out and really trying to figure out how to get deeper insights from people we actually want to design for and plan for.
Does Distl. think actively and strategically about partnership work?
MK: We think about it all the time.
CC: When you’re talking about neighbourhood initiatives with so many stakeholders and different means to get to one place, it’s important to bring on expertise that we don’t necessarily have in house. If someone already has the established network and connections and we feel like we can add value to it, that’s where partnerships become really important. We can’t all be expected as organizations to have the ability to do it all. We may not have fundraising but a group like Artscape does so it would make sense for us working on an initiative to partner with them to produce the best project possible.
MK: If you’re investing in something, you want it to be as successful as possible and have maximum impact. Our work is always about doing it the best possible way and maximizing those outcomes. You can’t do that by ignoring what’s already happening. You want to bring in those players that have expertise, who are already working on projects that tie in where you can support one another. The work we can do helps them achieve their goals and by bringing them into a project it helps us achieve our goals. It’s really about those mutual benefits. It could be corporate partners helping us with funding and we’re tying it into their advertising and outreach or CSR programming; or organizational partners that have a working capacity where they’ve already been working in the field on the ideas we’re working with.
CC: Partnerships are really about leveraging success in any field. It’s mutually beneficial to every partner because everyone brings something new to the table. That’s the way the world has to work, I think.
MK: You don’t bring on a partner saying we need you to do this for us. You bring on a partner because they are helping you do something, but in doing so you help them achieve something. Toronto’s Entertainment District were a partner for NXT City Prize. They were a partner because our awards ceremony was in their parking lot in the Entertainment District. They helped us make connections to a lot of local businesses, a lot of the folks they’re connected with, including the Councillor. So they helped open up those doors for us. From us, we slapped their logo on everything, we distributed their leaflets at the event, promoted what the Entertainment District does to a bunch of business and civic leaders at the event. So they shared in the success of it.
CC: We’re partnering right now with the Centre for Social Innovation. Every year they do something called Agents of Change. It’s an initiative to seek out projects that are changing the city. This year’s theme is city building and they’re looking for 10 great submissions from people who have a plan in mind to make Toronto better. Their partners are incredible. Big players! And those not necessarily associated with city building. For instance, Toronto Public Library is a really important stakeholder. What’s cool about these partnerships is it’s a short initiative. It doesn’t require too much collaboration from a partner’s perspective, but by reaching out to all these networks you’re getting to the most far reaching networks and thus better able to find the best projects in the city, aggregating all these ideas.
You’re developing NXT City Prize 2.0. Are you changing anything especially in terms of how you’re partnering for that event?
CC: We’re trying to simplify it a little bit and do one big partner.
MK: In terms of financial partners, we needed a lot of support to make it happen. We still do. The prize is successful because we get financials from partners, from people who want to put their name, money and resources behind it and be a part of it with us to make it happen. They believe in it like we do. We still need that. But in terms of that aspect of the project, we’re scoping it down so it’s more one or two financial parters rather than eleven. We’re not changing the fact that we’re seeking organizational support, we’re getting other partners that lend in kind support to it and share in success of it.
How do you go about thinking who to partner with?
CC: We have a lot of informational meetings. If we see someone thats doing a really neat initiative or cool project or aligns with our thinking then we’ll email them to sit down over a drink or coffee and see what they’re working on. Maybe there’s an upcoming project that might be a good fit or vice versa.
MK: We stay informed. As we’re working on initiatives, we just kind of come up with stuff. For instance, we were working for a developer that was near a brewery and it was like ok we could tie in their expansion to the development. So in terms of coming up with it, it’s about us staying informed, then making those connections as they come up. There’s never been a time where we’ve been actively searching to try to find a partner. We have a roster in our minds of folks we want to work with and we’ve been able to tie in and make those alignments.
CC: And i think that the one thing we have in common is that we’re always online reading about stuff that’s happening around the world. So it’s really easy for three people to come up with a list of people we’d really like to work with because there’s so many cool projects happening world wide that we want to jump on.
What’s the relationship between Distl. and The Laneway Project?
MK: It was three separate companies and members of those companies that came together to act as co-founders and Board of Directors for the project. It was myself, Ariana Cancelli of Grounded Planning and Michelle Senayah of Senayah Design. So we are The Laneway Project. Then we each use our resources of our individual companies to help support the project. Disl. has supported it with designs and maps and strategy. I put my resources and energy, and Distl’s into making the project successful.
The Laneway Project’s first event Engaging In-Between Spaces: Toronto’s First Summit on Laneways drew over 300 guests on November 20 at The Great Hall moderated by CBC’s Mary Wiens.
How did you decide on the panel for the event?
MK: We put together a big list of speakers who we wanted to be there, who were working on laneways and then we reached out to them and picked the best five. We landed on BrightLane’s Phil Bliss, TAS’ Brandon Donnelly, Mark Garner from Downtown Yonge BIA, Spacing’s Dylan Reid, and Victoria Taylor of VTLA and Jonas Spring of Ecoman. And then with CBC’s Mary Weins we just emailed her. If you have a good idea it ends up happening. Jen Keesmaat was the same way. We just emailed her saying hey we’re doing NXT City Prize. The folks who want to be involved in something if they see something that makes sense to them will be. It’s no more difficult than that really.
CC: It’s hard to say no to something good. This is just a good, fun, interesting thing. Anyone would want to be associated with it.
Who are you involved with at city hall and in government?
MK: We are constantly communicating with someone in the public realm office and she connects us to other departments at the City. She’s our go between. And then we’re also communicating with Councillors directly. We’ve had lots of meeting and discussions with them. Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mark Garner who will both be at the event, he’s the Executive Director at the Yonge Street BIA. He’s working really hard on a laneway in his area and Kristyn Wong-Tam is really supportive of it and NXT City Prize, as is Mark. They’re working with us to help make sure that vision for the street is advanced. There are a lot of stakeholders and factors at play, we’re working closely with them to make sure it’s actually implemented and implemented quickly. We want it to be implemented before the end of the next election cycle.
What are next steps for The Laneway Project? What are you hoping comes of the event?
MK: It’s really about exposing and advancing the discourse so the public can be made more aware of it, and get excited about the opportunity and potential of these spaces. We want to work with communities, stakeholders and local groups to help them animate and activate their laneways. We want to be a resource for that to happen. We also have an event that’s happening in the spring where we will shut down a number of interconnected laneways and have people open their garages to sell things, run little businesses during this event. We’re going to bring in food vendors, pop-up activations, cool maps to follow the route. That’s all happening in May or June.
We don’t have a lot of good examples of laneways to point to in Toronto in terms of what they could be. A few media folks always ask, well what laneways can you think of in Toronto that you would want laneways to become? Are there any examples? Well, no we don’t really have any good examples here.
You have to look to Melbourne, Chicago, Vancouver, London. There aren’t good examples of unique, interestng things that demonstrate what we could potentially do with laneways here in the city. But there are folks working on it. There’s a lot of projects in the works and we’re trying to help push them along so people can continue to get excited once they see results and what could actually happen.
There’s a nice statement that encapsulates the math of partnerships and it is 1+1 = 11. In bringing people together, instead of having efforts siloed, in uniting them, you produce something much bigger. Does this resonate with you?
CC: Yeah, it’s also about public support. The more voices you have united on something then the greater the public perception of it becomes and the easier it is to implement that change.
MK: It’s hard to get people’s attention. Maybe that’s one of the failings, like if you bring up the City’s Official Plan Review – no one goes to those events because they’re doing it all themsevles. They don’t partner with anyone. It is just one voice, a drop in the bucket, whether it’s social media or letters in the mail. However they try to communicate it. You’re one voice among millions.
You’re also not trying to make it engaging at all. Where is the incentive?
MK: There’s the other thing. Where is the incentive? People are busy! One plus one equals eleven works for partnerships but also with the public and the people you’re trying to have a conversation with. They need to get something out of it, too. That’s why advertisers and marketers have always been so successful in getting people to do things and be a part of things. They know that you need to make it fun for them, you need to give something back to them to get what you want out of them, which is their attention. Or their information or whatever else it is to sell your product. They don’t think like that at the City.
CC: It’s also distilling that message down to one compelling idea. That’s the rule of advertising. It’s one compelling message. That’s your key strategy and your message needs to be consistent the whole time and partly why public consultations fall short. They don’t disill it down to basics. So if you’re not familiar with zoning terminology then guess what you’re going to be intimidated and immediately your ideas will be blocked.
MK: And what’s the point in getting feedback and engagement from that if it’s just bullshit responses? You want meaningful, insightful engagement.
CC: And often they give you options. So you’re trained to give your answer within these parameters. But maybe it’s not about those options but something else entirely that no one thought of and has never been given the chance to be voiced.
MK: This is why NXT City Prize is so special and why a lot of people are paying attention to it. It’s because rather than us going to the City or the City going to the public and saying well hey what do you want this public space to become? Do you want it to be a children’s playground, park, this, that. Those are discrete, multiple choice questions. They are defining the outcome before they even get a sense of what people actually feel about it. NXT City Prize flips that on its head. It says no you come tell us. We’re not going to give you any limits on that. You’re the experts. You’re forward thinking and looking at what’s going on around the globe and we’re just the ones that are going to help those big ideas happen.
CC: We didn’t just pitch it to designers or architects or planners. We opened it up to everyone. We reached out to entrepreneurial incubators to business schools, liberal arts colleges, landscape architects and you wouldn’t believe the range of submissions. Everything from apps, manifestos about wandering the city, really neat interactive things, less tangible, flexible furniture and spaces, business ideas, really cool ideas.
If you could imagine amazing and impactful partnerships in city building what would you love to see?
CC: More partnerships with companies in the tech sector like Google or Airbnb. It would be amazing to have their data to do something informative and interactive. When you move stuff online it’s a lot more participatory and a lot easier for people to have a voice. And if you make it a compelling campaign about a neighbourhood, something great could come out of that. The thinking should be more multi-disciplinary, more broad. Even partnerships with advertising agencies to do place branding and tourist campaigns. Everyone works with same players all the time. Good work but not necessarily innovative.
MK: That confinement to preaching to the choir mentality that a lot of industries have gets shattered when you build the right kind of partnerships. So if you have guys who run a business collaborate with city hall to talk about a particular issue and do something cool in the community, that’s out of the box.
CC: You see that a lot in Toronto with the culinary scene. There’s lots of cool partnerships between things you would never necessarily really associate with one another. Like taco face-offs raising money for organic farming and school programs.
MK: The ROM’s Friday Night Live or AGO’s First Thursdays. That is all the result of partnerships. They’re bringing in cool food vendors, partner with top name brands, bring in out of control marketing programs that are blowing people’s minds and they have people out the door every time.
My ultimate is OVO. I’d love to get them engaged in some urban initiative. Unfortunately Drake comes to you. Do you think the Raptors came to Drake? No Drake was like a fan girl that went to them and said please let me be your global ambassador. They let him come to them.
Other favourite partnerships?
MK: I like what RAW does, the RAW parties. They’ll team up with an event space, local food and beverage vendors, partnered with an event planner to do it all. They are very well done.
Boutique hotels also do a fantastic job.
CC: Ace Hotels is amazing. Another hotel recently that did a great collaboration. In Spain. They use partnerships to create beautiful room products. [As does The Drake] They have local mill that does blankets, other suppliers for toiletries, art. You can buy them on site. Neat retail.
Disl. is doing product collaborations, too.
CC: Yes! We have maps. That’s the start of a series.
MK: It’s part of that overall message of what we’re about. We try to be a part of that conversation, partner in new and interesting ways. Here we’re partnering with a local artist, Mike Rose. So they can get their work out there and do something interesting but provide a product that’s cool. People love them. We’re hoping to do major neighbourhoods in Toronto through 2015.
New artists for each?
And produce an event at the end of it? A gallery show, maybe?
CC: That would be a great idea. We have something in the works. A tie in that we can’t talk about.
How do you select initiatives to focus on?
MK: It’s about us keeping our ears to the ground, we work long hours, work hard, cram as much onto plates as possible. We’ve talked about doing a lot of things but don’t because better ideas move to the forefront. We make a point of having conversations all the time, talking about what excites us, what we think will be successful, test things out. We’ve gone 10, 20 percent into things and we let them fail because that’s part of the learning process. We want what works to come to the forefront. It’s really about testing lots of new ideas and move on what we think will work.
CC: We’ll get really inspired by a project, but think this could make it so much better and we could do it here and do it this way and then more and more we’re finding ways to group our ideas together. Really it comes down to wanting to do something amazing. We’ll find a way to group projects into categories that become one initiative so that they’re not just weird disparate projects but related thematically. That’s the way we’re starting to work.
MK: We take those ideas and shape them into something larger than what those individual ideas would have been but still incorporating all the elements as part of it so it becomes something so much more meaningful.
CK: It gives it that much more impact when something is branded. NXT City Prize started as two ideas. And two other ideas that weren’t rolled out will be in 2015.
MK: January 2014 we came up with the idea for an award for young people to support a great idea. It was going to be really small, a one-off thing that we did. We didn’t think it would become what it did. Then we also had a plan to have a party to celebrate developers and all the development that was going on in the city and have it on the streets so it was part of the city. And then suddenly those became one connected thing. Developers are the ones building, but the City is not building public space to accommodate the growth in population.
Are there any consultancies that you derive inspiration from? Or where do you find inspiration?
CC: We look a lot to the UK. Cathedral Group in the UK is doing cool things. I’m less inspired by organizations than projects that people are doing. Sometimes a developer will do a cool outreach for a condo and I think that’s an amazing idea! I love what Sorbara Developments did with Live Camden. [Similarly the Toronto Flower Market partnered with Great Gulf to host the event on their new site at 1056 Queen West.] TAS’s Junction Flea set the trend all over the city. Those are inspiring projects that everybody gets excited about.
MK: ERA‘s work on historic preservation and architecture is inspiring. They did this project called The Culture of Outports and they partnered with everyone and the kitchen sink. They went to Newfoundland, communities along the great lakes, with the intent to find stories about living in port cities, asking what connects them all together? What’s unique? What do they share? What are the features and amenities? How do they define themselves? They did a bunch of reports, a website, photography. It was really well done. It was a great idea, they built a great partnership around it, great team, great visuals. Those kinds of things we like.
There are lots of missed opportunities if developers focus exclusively on approvals and sales for the sake of sales.
M: The people doing really really great work and not just good are those that are looking to cool, interesting, collaborative initiatives. Interesting retail concepts is one we’re looking to for inspiration to help bring that here. One in Tokyo, the Dover Street Market Ginza. There’s also a bookstore in Tokyo. It’s a destination. There are three different buildings. There’s a cafe that’s part of it, they also partnered with a department store and other service providers. For instance, next to the travel book section there’s a travel agency. They have people who are experts in every subject in the bookstore. So if you want to talk to someone about what to read someone is there. It’s a neat service experiments.
I’ve also been reading about how bookstores need to reinvent themselves. Bring authors in, ask authors what they read, create a route through the store based on those selections, do interviews, create videos, incorporate those into the store on screens, bring chefs in for cookbook demos, etcetera.
MK: Just today I read about a recently launched store. The concept is trying to merge online magazines with the physical store. So they change their product range every month and come up with new theme for the month. This month, it’s finding happiness in the mountains or something like that. There’s a curated selection of goods with strong narratives. They partner with corporate sponsors who are also part of the narrative so that partner gets to show off their brand and interesting things as part of it, but also integrated with the store itself. And then it is all connected to online visuals and videos and stories.
There’s also The Apartment by The Line in New York. More or less it’s a decorated apartment and in experiencing it you invariably covet the clothes, furniture, cookware, lighting, linens, magazines, books, toiletries, everything. They even sell Marvis toothpaste. This level of detail makes it feel lived in and you start to purchase its elements. There’s also an online retail space and blog.
CC: Something I’d love to do relates to Grant Achatz's pop-up restaurant. It changes theme every year. He did one around childhood. He changes the venue so you don’t know where you’re going until a week before. You reserve and enter a lottery because there’s so many people who want to take part. The restaurant is designed and set according to theme, and based in the neighbourhood, the local setting.
Yes! Underground dining is also related to this. Aligned with Airbnb as a new model for having a business. If you know how to do brunch well, for instance, could you open up your house to do brunch one a week? People love to go after limited-time events much like limited-edition products and individuals get an affordable outlet for their passion projects.
CC: Last week was restaurant week. I was in Montreal and a friend took part. Anyone could for one day open up their house and open a restaurant. A little profile goes on the website. It’s a neat idea so people can share what they love to do.
Opening a business is hard, the financials rarely make sense, the time invested is huge. If you want a diverse economy, this sort of alternative stuff might need to start happening. Or risk mundane retail.
CC: I was reading a synopsis of Naomi Klein’s new book and apparently it’s about how the economic structure is working right now, it’s not going to work anymore. We’re going to have to get into more of a sharing economy. Hers is an environmental angle but interesting that the whole thing is around this collaborative economy.
This is also why car2go is so popular. Plenty of city dwellers don’t have a need to own a car or can afford one. Uber is likewise transgressing traditional ways of operating a business.
MK: And Uber has a 50 billion valuation. The taxi industry isn’t happy just as the hotel industry isn’t happy about Airbnb and local bookstores are not happy about Amazon. The internet is killing everything. Evolve or die.
I’m so confident that partnerships are a core part of this evolution.
CC: We’re past the days where everyone is an expert in one thing. It’s all about sharing skills and ideas. Not trying to do everything.