Thrivability Montreal. Thursday, February 21, 2013. There are fifty of us gathered to explore what we’ve called The Power of Place. More wanted to come, but the room couldn’t accommodate it. We should’ve known it would be like this. So many of us quietly hunger for something more than the anonymous, transactional relationships that make up our public lives. We crave a sense of belonging and community, of rich expression and appreciation. Just as much, we yearn to feel connection with the places we inhabit, to know that they shape us even as we shape them and that there is history, character and life woven into them. We want to feel lovingly held by people and place.

This doesn’t seem to be the way of things, though. The trend seems to be moving in the opposite direction, toward what my husband calls “The United States of Generica.” But apparently, we fifty are holding onto hope, or we wouldn’t have come tonight.

And still, we are completely unprepared for the moment when Jane Gray Morris of Portland, Oregon’s City Repair project sits unassumingly in front of us and gently cracks open our hearts. She shows us that our public lives could be filled with powerful moments of creating beauty together. Of learning across generations. Of caring for life in all its glorious forms. Of economy and efficiency infused naturally with art and love and whimsy. She takes us on a tour of “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible,” as Charles Eisenstein puts it. It’s almost too much to bear.

But then she assures us that we, too, can create that world, right here in Montreal. That this is part of a growing global movement called “placemaking.” Don’t wait for permission, she says.

And this is when we notice how many of us there are in this room, each from different parts of Montreal and its surrounding regions, each passionate, creative and determined. Better yet, we hear in our own stories that the more beautiful world is already sprouting up, here and there, like little shoots of hope.

How do we move forward, then, to cultivate that more beautiful world? From City Repair, we learn that we need to generate a broad conversation that helps us find each other… that invites us to imagine together what’s possible… that creates momentum and inspires us to action. This is the work that lies ahead.

Until then, here is what several of us are left with:

Lisa Gravel: “One thing that comes to my mind thinking about this conversation is the power of slowly moving from private property to a shared common almost-public space, where life can flow and resources can be shared. We all become richer when we bring the fences down and open our hearts, minds and properties to our neighbours. I also found inspiring how this community in Portland started to know (and map) who was living there and realized that everything they needed was just around the corner!”

Cedric Jamet: “What stands out for me is: 1 – How, when we re-learn to consider the street as a public space, rather than a space reserved for the fluid circulation of machines, then we recover the original, fundamental meaning of the intersection. It becomes about how it can create new bonds between people, and with that comes the power to imagine a different city, one of proximity, solidarity, diversity, collaboration, play, trust and so forth. 2 – developing local resilience: one of the effects of placemaking is that people who get involved in nurturing their neighborhood tend to become more aware of how some our most fundamental needs can be addressed on a local scale and through informal networks rather than corporations. 3 – Cities originally exist because people chose to gather, rather than live apart. Placemaking reconnects us to that.”

Seb Paquet: “My takeaways: Simplicity works. There is power in invitation. Unearth hidden creativity. Be bold. Taking permission can become viral. Be visible. Turn what separates into what connects (powerful). (Some) people have time. Change doesn’t always involve money changing hands.”

Samantha Slade: “It rekindled an old wish. Let’s co-create a wild and artsy/green Montreal mini-putt circuit, in our back yards and alleys…”

Matthieu Rheaume: “Above all else, I keep a sense of potency. To share a room with so many people enthusiastic to bring living, local spaces to Montréal is like participating in dreamweaving. This is quite the opportunity, and can turn into a real Montréal makeover.”

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