What truly creates a shared space?

Our reflections on what it takes to be an Ottawa placemaker.

One of Synapcity’s central tenets is that learning together creates shared ownership over civic issues, especially when learning opportunities include diverse lived experience. By learning someone’s story, we can make connections with our own stories and listen more empathically to different points of view.

On July 21, 2016, we created an open forum to explore what it takes to be an Ottawa placemaker, essentially creating a ‘place’ to develop shared understanding. Through experimenting with a participatory format, Synapcity opened the room to the possibility that our shared space could take on a multitude of voices, informed by diverse perspectives, politics and cultural experiences.
What does that mean for people who are interested in creating great places in collaboration with community? Participatory processes can have uncertain outcomes, and we need to remain open to the variety of directions an open process can take.

I can’t help but be reminded of my feminist theory: the personal is inevitably political. Each person interacts daily with systems, decision-makers and forces influencing their ideology, their passions and their approach to place. To manage this complexity, as with most community development, requires a lot of homework. Placemaking that worked well in NYC or Vancouver might not be connected to our local context. If a place isn’t connected to the local/ personal (political) it likely still won’t become part of the local fabric.
One participant helped to talk about this. We can’t be making changes for change’s sake. What truly creates a shared space? It might not be glamourous, but seeking to understand your community takes time. It can feel vulnerable to search for common ground. For places to contribute to long-lasting community change, we might need to ask deeper questions about the places on which we are ‘making’. So keeping this in mind, how can we create participatory processes to ensure that the places and spaces we create serve all people, both visible and invisible, who make up our community?


Photo by @LauraEMueller on Twitter.

Many thanks to our community placemakers for sharing their stories: Aaron Cayer, Antique Skate Shop; Jaime Koebel, Indigenous Walks; Jamie Kwong, Quartier Vanier BIA;  Chris Osler, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre; and Norma Strachan, Neighbourhood Connection Office with the City of Ottawa!

Thank you to Beau’s All Natural for supporting this event.