A few dozen people gather on the first evening of July to commit to a weeklong program of activities where they'll discover a city. They then embark on a trip, and pursue the adventure onwards, but elsewhere, across the pond, in the catalan capital.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and well, despite the essential architectural differences between the two, neither was Montreal. Centuries of built history are required to give a city it's identity and dynamics, and what makes some of today's cities most creative is what lies beneath them. Just as we contemplate the dynamic capacities of individuals and organizations, cities must also "learn" their trade by relying on what forms they have before them.
What is a city that it may learn? A gathering of fluxes, of willingnesses, of individuals that carry the latter and achieve them through the former. Fluxes as routines and disruptions, leading to an immense accumulation of contextualized ideas. An ideal crucible for creation, due to the cumulative nature of knowledge and the necessity for ideas to have playgrounds on which to develop. Hence, cities are more than names and people, they are places, interactions and histories.
Many have pointed to Montreal's creativity as being the consequence of it's rich and diverse underground, where industries and perspectives meet and co-create. What this story does not tell is how this interaction came to be, and how the city per se models the routinized interaction. Anthropologists have made every effort to provide a detailed account of this evolution by crossing historical, social and geographical elements that have forged the cultural crossroads where meta-social creativity became possible. This is precisely what Moment Factory
has done with its "Yours truly, Montreal
" multimedia show at the Pointe-a-Callières museum.
In the specific case of Montreal, the incessant wars between the French and English colonial powers during the 19th century have mandated the successive establishment of political, religious and industrial landmarks that remain to this day significant contributions to the city's landscape. Similarly, the recent Quiet Revolution incarnates one such moment. The timely convergence between social, political and economical forces are responsible for a heritage that still defines the city today : Habitat 67, the Olympic stadium, the biodome, the underground metro system... When we look at the city today, we wonder how such undertakings came to be, and what exceptional forces drove them.
These are not fate, nor coincidence. They are the result of creative moments, where what exists allows for the creation of novelty, permitting a return on history and a grounding of modernity. These moments happen at various scales - that of the city, undoubtedly, but organizationally, individually. The Hungarian psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi described these moments as "flow", so-called "optimal experiences" where involvement, focus and concentration leave no room for hesitation or self-doubt. Perhaps cities can also live in flow, and experience moments where the drive for change goes beyond the inert forces that inhabit it. Looking at Montreal's famous Silo No.5
, and the Habitat 67 residential project behind it, one wonders when such a "flow moment" will occur next for Montreal. Whether the day when the inevitable transformation that looms - an urbanistic vision that precedes the needs of its citizens ; tramways, public spaces, electronic services - is near, one cannot tell with certainty. There is hope.
Indeed, when a few dozen people gather on anthropological grounds, with interesting sights, one may wonder whether they are on their way to generate one of these moments. Whether something will come out of it, tangible or intangible, and help them reproduce such momentary lapses of reason, to engage fully in their respective creative endeavours.
Jacques-Cartier left France against all odds, driven both by necessity, a sense of adventure, and an utmost confidence in what laid ahead of him, and discovered what was to become Montreal. Let's try that again. Who knows, this may yield something greater.