Originally published in French on September 29, 2016
(Quebec City) Unlike Montreal or Toronto, we tend to think of Quebec City as somehow free of homelessness. Much "prudish circumspection" surrounds the notion, says Jean-Daniel Lafond. Co-founder, co-chair and executive director of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, named after his wife, Mr. Lafond attended the official launch of a small exhibition led by three street youths, this week at Musée de la civilisation.
The exhibition "J'habite la ville" will be featured in the Museum walkway until October 9. Alexandrine «Bob» Duclos, who lived on the streets for two years, shows her series of photo essays on people experiencing homelessness. "The homeless are being ignored. I show what people do not see," she says, adding that much mutual aid can be found on the street.
Samuel Tremblay dreams of turning derelict buildings into eco-recycled structures. On display at the Museum is a "true to scale" model of two buildings that lay abandoned for years in the Saint-Roch neighbourhood, showing them converted into a housing project for the homeless. In the future, the student in business administration sees himself becoming a general contractor for this kind of project. Public funds are out of the question, as he envisions collaborative and community investments.
Jasen Gagné, for his part, chose to revisit the Château Frontenac by affixing fine blades of twisted, compressed metal to a picture of the Quebec City landmark. He says he wants to pay homage to Anne Gasnier for the assistance she brought to the disenfranchised in New France, in the 17th century.
The three youths had an opportunity to share with students in architecture, also involved in the exercise. "These students have also gone to street school," says Mr. Lafond, adding that they have become aware of their social responsibility.
The exhibition is part of the 4th Wall Program, "Making the Invisible Visible" of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, in collaboration with Musée de la civilisation, La Dauphine (an agency supporting street youth), and the Université Laval School of Architecture. Event organizers were visibly proud of Alexandrine, Samuel, Jasen, and their accomplishments. "When the silence within is all-consuming, and anger simmers, the arts endure," says Mr. Lafond, confident that arts-based initiatives by underprivileged youth supported by his foundation can transform lives.
A more marginal use of the city
In recent years, 58% of the global population has been shown to live in the cities, a rising phenomenon that leaves people out, says urban designer and architect Erick Rivard.
This is how he opened the evening forum he was moderating on Tuesday in the Great Hall at Musée de la civilisation, in conjunction with the exhibition. "We talked about sharing the urban landscape, social issues, homelessness, inequality. We searched for ways cities could be designed to be more inclusive, so everyone could find their place," he reported to Le Soleil, the day after the event.
He underscored an idea that the whole panel of stakeholders from the field of architecture seemed to agree on: our cities are too purpose-built, too sanitized, somewhat too rigid to allow more marginal uses.
"We should find ways to cultivate undefined areas, fallow ground in the cities that can provide space for all kinds of other uses, involving people with different expectations," pleaded Mr. Rivard. Among the questions raised, participants asked how abandoned buildings could be reused to create some sort of squat, says the architect.
Mr. Rivard also talks about the challenge of including homeless, transient people in the participatory process leading up to a project. "These people will not go to public meetings," he said. "We must find innovative ways to reach out to them".
He shares an example from one of the panellists, Montreal architect Collen Lashuk, who relies on collaborative, participatory design to fetch ideas among some very marginal communities.
Mr. Rivard quotes Jean-Daniel Lafond of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, who attended the debate. "Mr. Lafond pointed out that we tend to forget the expertise of the homeless who crisscross the city, and know every nook and cranny. He thinks we should find ways to engage them. They are experts on daily life in the city."
Tuesday's discussion also included Gianpiero Moretti and André Casault from Université Laval School of Architecture, architect Suzanne Laure Doucet, and Élisa Gouin, architecture intern involved in the creation of SPOT, an ephemeral public space project in Quebec City.
Translation of "J'habite la ville: une mini-expo par trois jeunes itinérants", original in French published September 29, 2016, in Le Soleil (Quebec City daily). Translator: Philippe Duhamel.