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Quartier de l’Innovation projects aim to engage students

Plans for the Quartier de l’Innovation (QI) continue to progress since its official launch last May. A collaborative initiative of the Griffintown neighborhood, the project is designed to involve McGill and École de technologie supérieure (ETS), NGOs, and corporations, in a centre that drives research and innovation.

One development this summer was the creation of the QI Student Working Group (SWG) action plan, which will be presented at the end of September.

“At McGill, students are considered to be an integral part of the QI initiative and developing this district as a ‘playground’ where students can learn, experiment, research, work, and play is of utmost importance,” QI Project Director Isabelle Péan said. “That is why it was considered essential to develop a strategic communication-marketing action plan specifically targeted at increasing student involvement at McGill University within the QI and its vast variety of offered projects.”

Further opportunities for student interaction with development of the QI will arise throughout the year, according to Péan.

One such opportunity will be on Oct. 4, when McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE) will host its annual Community Engagement Day—an event where students have the opportunity to volunteer in the Montreal community. This year, students will have the opportunity to work within the QI district.

“Specific activities will be organized in the QI district with the Horse Palace, Bâtiment 7, the Darling Foundery, and many others NGOs,” Péan said. “In addition, a walking tour concentrating on arts and history, as well as an open discussion on the main social issues in the district will be available for students to participate in.”

The QI consists of four pillars—categories under which various projects fall—of innovation: industrial, social and cultural, urban, and education and research. According to the QI Project Booklet, investments of around six billion dollars over the course of the decade combined with projects led by professors from both schools aim to develop the area into a modern district of learning and technology. Some planned events include CLUMEQ, “a research consortium for high-performance computing,” and C2-MTL, “an annual global conference exploring commerce and creativity.”

On the QI’s website, connections are drawn between the project and similar initiatives in other cities, such as 22@Barcelona and the Innovation District in Boston. Despite the similarities, Péan said there are fundamental differences that separate the QI from its international counterparts.

“Boston is a little bit younger [than Barcelona] and, for instance, their main focus is the industrial pillar,” Péan said. “QI is really a unique model. That’s also why we have so many challenges in bringing different projects related to our four pillars.”

Will Straw, a professor in the Department of Art History and Communications Studies at McGill, is leading the development of the Laboratory of Urban Culture. The project aims to set up space for collaborative research and art within the community. Straw said the project still faces a number of financial challenges.

“It would be great if funds could be found to rent or buy a cultural space [for the laboratory] for McGill in the Quartier d’Innovation, and we are exploring various alternatives, but we all know about the fiscal constraints facing McGill,” Straw said. “If we found and financed a space, McGill people would come, and that cultural activity could balance whatever high-tech and entrepreneurial activities might be part of the QI.”

Some members of the development team cite a lack of student support for their projects as another obstacle. Anita Nowak, a professor in the Faculty of Management, is leading the Social Economy Initiative, which “builds social entrepreneurship and social innovation into teaching, research and community activities.”

“I presented at a meeting last year to all the student union groups,” Nowak said. “I was surprised by the suspicion that the community of students had towards the QI project. It was considered quite top-down. That was just my reading of it.”

Nowak says students may be reassured to know that the QI is developing in a socially responsible manner.

“I know the players who’ve been involved and I know the intent is coming from a really sensitive place to honour the Quartier itself as it goes through a process of gentrification, to honour the history, to honour the community, [and] to be responsive to the community,” Nowak said. “Montreal is an absolutely amazing ecosystem to see this fluorish. I would invite students to look at the QI as an opportunity.”

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