Looking for an innovative way to get people dreaming about their neighbourhood, McGill researchers took a hint from a whimsical artist and urban designer, Candy Chang. Based in New Orleans, Chang has come up with many brilliant ways to get people to interact with the urban form, including easy-to-remove, fill-in-the-blank stickers that prompt wishful thinking with the words “I wish this was.”
Jason Prince and Adriana Olmos, both researchers at McGill, had only an afternoon to gather some input from local residents of Saint-Raymond in preparation for the 2011 Ecologez design charette. So they handed out Chang’s stickers to residents and accompanied them in creating an in-situ wish-list for the neighbourhood.
Olmos says that the people they encountered on the streets of Saint-Raymond were very diverse, from newly arrived immigrants to long-established families of Italian origin, from professionals to homeless people. But getting passers by to stop, drop everything, and start stickering was not easy.
“There’s a lot of resentment towards the government and what is done for them and their neighbourhood,” says Olmos. “I think if you were running something like this in the Plateau, it would be so much easier.”
She found that people’s concerns tended to be practical, even conservative. For instance, Olmos was struck by a woman who wished for a nearby laundromat so that she would not have to haul her clothing so far each week. It was such as basic need, Olmos says, for someone who did not own a washing machine, and yet it was not being met in the immediate neighbourhood.
Several people wished for a traffic light at one particularly tricky intersection, for better accessibility across the train tracks, and for a food market. A few people would also have been happy to wish awa away stinky tar-manufacturing businesses near their homes.
Although the research methodology may not be up to McGill’s academic standards, Olmos concluded that it was a fun way to quickly collect ideas that could be the spark for a more grassroots movement.
Adriana Olmos is an engineer whose researches the interaction of computer engineering and human perception. She works in the dreamy-sounding but very real “shared reality lab” at McGill’s engineering department. She organizes a lecture series called Iterati, with monthly talks exploring topics at the intersection of ethnography, empathy and iterative design.
Image copyright Adriana Olmos, used with permission.