i+D - January/February 2018 - 32

A Tale of Four Cities - By Brian J. Barth

MONTREAL:
Setting a Design Example

DETROIT: Bright Spots Emerging
in the Blight

In 1991, Montreal became the first city in North America to create a design
commissioner position. Lacroix has held that title ever since, and has become
something of a guru in the field. In 2004, she organized the International New
Design Cities Symposium in Montreal, inviting representatives from other
"emerging creative design-oriented cities...to raise awareness of what good
design can do as an economic driver." In 2006, Montreal was designated as a
UNESCO City of Design (from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization), one of 31 cities worldwide to receive the honor and
the first in North America. That same year the Montreal Bureau du Design
was established, with Lacroix at its helm, cementing the city's identity as a
creative design mecca.

In December 2015, Detroit became the second city in North America, and
the first in the United States, to be designated as a UNESCO City of Design.
This may come as a bit of a surprise to those who associate this former
industrial powerhouse with overgrown lots, abandoned homes, derelict
factories, and shuttered warehouses. If anything, the city, which has lost
two-thirds of its population since the 1950s (a trend that continues today),
has become a poster child for urban blight, not urban design.

Given those credentials, you'd think Cormier's 2010 proposal would have
received the welcome mat. But, as Lacroix explains, politics can still get in
the way. "The UNESCO designation is not some sort of consecration," she
says. "It's more of a recognition that we have a lot of talented professionals,
and an invitation to better use those talents to build the city.
"The procurement process is a major issue," she continues. "Here in
Quebec, municipalities are legally obliged to hire the lowest bidder-that
really informs the results of the work." To get around that requirement,
she's pushed for more and more design competitions, "which produces
much better results. The UNESCO designation has been a tremendous
lever for this, helping to maintain the interest of the various elected officials
who come and go. When you have such a title, nobody wants to lose it,
but it comes with commitments. You have to set an example."
This past November, Montrealers elected a new mayor, who has her work
cut out for her in maintaining the high bar of design. Valérie Plante, the first
female mayor in Montreal's history, campaigned on a promise to create
12,000 new affordable housing units over the next four years-a very
ambitious goal that helped sweep her to victory in this increasingly expensive
city. It's not just a question of whether she pulls it off, says Marie-Claude
Parenteau-Lebeuf, director of APDIQ (Quebec's professional association
for interior designers, Association professionnelle des designers d'intérieur
du Québec), but how she goes about it. "Affordable housing is great, but
it has to become an interesting place to live, not just a place where it is
cheap," says Parenteau-Lebeuf. "That means great urban planning, good
architecture, and sound landscape design. Consideration for interior design
is especially important in social housing that mixes young people, families,
and the elderly-you have to get everyone involved in the design process so
it is comfortable for everyone."
Will the new mayor rush to throw up cheaply built, ill-conceived projects
in order to fulfill her campaign promise? It's far too early to tell, cautions
Parenteau-Lebeuf. But, she says there are encouraging signs: "The mayor
comes from a museology background, which means she is very sensitive
to the cultural aspects of the city-so, hopefully, that will come into play
with any decisions regarding cultural events or design practices." One
way or the other, Parenteau-Lebeuf is quite sure Montrealers will demand
design excellence, whether for social housing projects, high-end condos,
commercial developments, or other city-building efforts: "We are not just
known as a city of designers, but for the strength of our cultural sector-
cinema, theater, music. We are a city of creativity."

32

But, looks can be deceiving. Olga Stella, executive director of the Detroit
Creative Corridor Center, urges naysayers not to judge this book by its cover:
"What I love about Detroit is you can drive up a street that looks fairly empty,
park in front of a building that looks to be abandoned, and then you open the
door to find something really wonderful and unexpected. That's often the
story with the designers and creative talent in the city-they're hidden away
in these spaces that people don't know about."
DC3, as the center is known, was founded in 2010 to help energize the
city's creative sector and promote design excellence as a core component
of Detroit's identity as it rises from the ashes. Based out of the College for
Creative Studies, located in the city's up-and-coming Milwaukee Junction
neighborhood, DC3 is essentially an economic development organization
that works at the behest of Detroit's creative industries, from architecture
and interior design to fashion, film, graphic arts, and industrial design. DC3,
which put together Detroit's City of Design application (and beat a number of
much larger and wealthier American cities), has tasked itself with attracting
new creative talent, while also raising the profile of the city's many artists,
makers, and design studios.
Detroit's civic and business leaders are getting the message, says Stella.
"We're building more and more understanding about the value of design.
Whether it's the city planning director, a corporate vice president, or
someone in the manufacturing industry-they get it. In the past, some
of these folks would say, 'We're under-resourced; how can we possibly
afford good design?' Now it's like, 'We can't not do this.'"

"What I love about Detroit is you can
drive up a street that looks fairly empty,
park in front of a building that looks
to be abandoned, and then you open the
door to find something really wonderful
and unexpected."
-OLGA STELLA, DETROIT CREATIVE CORRIDOR CENTER

i+D - January/February 2018



i+D - January/February 2018

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of i+D - January/February 2018

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i+D - January/February 2018 - Cover2
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i+D - January/February 2018 - Contents
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https://www.nxtbook.com/emerald/id/20211112
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