A place for innovative ideas to grow

The Quartier de l’innovation, a co-initiative of McGill and the École de tech­nologie supérieure (ÉTS), aims to revitalize parts of Griffintown, St-Henri and Pointe-St-Charles, turning the southwest Montreal area into a live-work neighbourhood that will bring together academic programs, cutting-edge artists, student internships, state-of-the-art technology, visionary entrepreneurs and nonprofits, community organizations, and established companies large and small—as well, crucially, as the necessary support services.

The goal is to create a “living lab” where science and technology are publicly accessible, and to develop a new model for solving urban challenges and enhancing community collaborations.

“The QI will be an ecosystem to consolidate the things that support innovation, rather than just consolidate the activities themselves,” says neurology professor Phil Barker, who led the initial internal QI planning committee. “We’re talking about designing something that fosters technological innovation, but also innovation in social, cultural, educational and urban development—and to do that well, we need broad consultation and partnerships.”

Researchers in the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada and the Department of Art History and Communications Studies have conducted interviews with stakeholders already living and working in the neighbourhood—artists, gallery curators, café owners, community leaders—to learn about the kinds of activities already underway, and to understand current residents’ hopes and concerns for their neighbourhood’s future. The QI team also benchmarked the best practices that have allowed the world’s successful innovation districts to fulfill their potential as creativity incubators. Representatives from many of these districts—including GIANT in Grenoble, 22@Barcelona, and the UK’s Corridor Manchester—came to Montreal in October 2012, to partake in an innovation summit.

McGill and ÉTS are investing their collective human and intellectual resources in a collaboration with the existing community to create what Raphaël Fischler, a professor in McGill’s School of Urban Planning and a QI advisor, sees as “a hybrid between the two kinds of innovation districts that we’re used to seeing around the world: the techno blocks—university campuses, corporate campuses, state-owned high-tech parks—and the organic, Mile End-type of unplanned creative ecosystems that spring up when young people gather for affordable housing.”

Dr. Rose Goldstein, McGill’s Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations), says that it will be important to protect and augment the creative community that is already in the area.

“The QI project is about reflecting the core values of McGill,” she adds, “such as an active pursuit of innovation and partnership, a commitment to sustainability, the promotion of interdisciplinary collaboration and a belief that universities have a responsibility to take part in and give back to their communities.”