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Broken City Lab: creative citizens take on a collapsed post-industrial city

Broken City Lab is an artist collective "concepting" the future of Windsor, Ontario. The projects and processes are designed from observations and concerns about Canada's southernmost city, which used to be the auto capital of the British Empire.

Photo of Lisa Torjman
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Known in its heyday as the "auto capital of the British Empire," Windsor, Ontario was once a booming economy.  With the establishment of Ford Motor Company of Canada in 1904, and subsequently GM and Chrysler, the auto industry quickly became the area's economic lifeline.  With favourable tariff policies, the area experienced unparalleled prosperity and optimism.

However, with the recent economic downturn, the once thriving city that was known for its secure unionized job base became the city with the highest unemployment rates in Canada.  A city that had relied upon a post-Industrial model was devastated by the collapse of auto manufacturing.

Enter Broken City Lab: an artist collective made up exclusively of Windsor residents (most still students of the local university), whose purpose is to interpret, re-contextualize and help Windsorites imagine possibilities for their future.

They work to "explore and unfold curiosities around locality, infrastructures and creative practice leading towards civic change."  
Their aim is two-fold: 
1. They work through "interventionist tactics to adjust, critique, annotate, and re-imagine the city;" and
2. Through these interventions, the Lab "seeks to educate, inspire and facilitate a new way of viewing the potential for interacting with and in the city."

The Lab's growing portfolio of work includes some amazing projects, such as the storefront residencies for social innovation.  For 30 days in the summer, 25 creative individuals "set up shop" to breathe new ideas into the downtown core, as an intervention to the city's skyrocketing vacancies and failing economic strategies.  

My favourite has got to be the cross-border communication project they are undertaking with Detroit.  The twin city to their north (Canadians rarely get to say that about Americans) experienced the same - if not more pronounced - highs and lows due to their reliance on the auto industry.

For three (brave) nights in icy November, The Lab, with the help of the students from the Vincent Massey Secondary School Junior Physics Club (maybe my favourite detail?) projected messages across the border onto Detroit buildings that fell into the following categories: "We're in this together," "We've missed you (and other things worth saying)," and "Want to be friends (and other things we needed to say)?"

The idea of reaching out across borders to a twin or sister city to work, build, communicate and imagine prosperity together is genius.  After all, we're operating in a hyper-connected, globalized world where "glocal" solutions are increasingly adopted because they're are highly effective without reinventing the wheel.  Smart scaling and co-production between cities has my vote in this particular case of revitalization!



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