Expo ’11!

3 May

I’ll be in Montréal, Quebec all next week participating in an innovative program called DesignInquiry. DI describes itself as “a non-profit educational organization devoted to researching design issues in intensive team-based gatherings. An alternative to the design conference, it brings together practitioners from disparate fields to generate new work and ideas around a single topic.” The topic of this gathering is the city of Montréal itself, which is the first and only North American city to be recognized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) as a “City of Design.” According to DesignInquiry:

From the cultural legacy of Expo 67 and the 1976 Olympics, to numerous examples of contemporary creative work including art, fashion, performing arts and architecture, Montréal is clearly a creative hotspot. Its languages, its prejudices, its line-ups, la mode: all of these elements inform Montréal’s global disposition and local temperament. So, are design qualities somehow inherent in Montréal’s topographies, its citizens, its outputs? What makes a “City of Design” more relevant or significant than any other similarly vaunted location? Are these qualities designed by designers or do they evolve out of the way people use the city? Can we identify the characteristics of the dialog between the city and its users? (Can we emphasize the dialog by adding something or taking something away?)

The notion that design practice, and the presence of designers, can alter the trajectory of a city for the better is an assumption that beseeches exploration and testing. Meeting Montréal’s flora and fauna—getting used to its habits and communicating with its inhabitants will be the core of DesignInquiry-slash-Montréal. We are there as designers, exploring this design town.

I am most excited to participate in this exploration precisely because Montréal is one of the few major North American cities I haven’t yet explored. Visiting a new metropolitan area has always been a big deal for me. Call me a dork, but I love to pour over maps (duh), written histories, and guide books before I visit a new city. I know I’ve done my research when someone on the street asks me for directions, and I can actually help them out. Yeah… ok… I’m a dork.

When I applied for this program a few months ago, my knowledge of Montréal was limited to these few subjects:

1. Expo ’67 (thanks mostly to a They Might Be Giants song)

2. The 1976 Olympics

3. My childhood neighbors, who lived there briefly after moving from Belgium

4. Poutine (knowledge of)

5. The really weird logo of the (now-defunct) Montreal Expos

6. The Canadiens (Original Six, right?)

and

7. Leonard Cohen. 

What will this list look like two weeks from now? The anticipation is killing me!

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