Artificial intelligence and gentrification: Le Campus opens its microphone to the population of Parc-Extension

What will happen, for example, to Parc-Extension, one of the neighbourhoods located near the new hi-tech hub of Université de Montréal? This is the theme of the podcast Le Campus, an audio narrative series created by Xavier Kronström Richard and Paul Tom, winners of the Civic Incubator 2019-2020 cohort.

Zoom on the Parc-Extension neighbourhood in Montréal

A working-class district built around rail freight transport, Parc-Extension successively welcomed numerous waves of European immigrants, including a large Greek communi-ty in the 1960s.

When the rail yard closed in 1985, economic activity in the area was in decline. Remain-ing one of the most affordable areas for newcomers to the country, it continues to at-tract a wide variety of immigrant populations. Today, Parc-Extension is among the most multicultural (45 languages are spoken there), densely populated and poorest areas in Canada. A large part (79.2%) of its population lives in rental housing (the Montréal aver-age is 60.7%) and is therefore more at risk of bearing the burden of gentrification.

(Sources: Statistics Canada and Ville de Montréal)

Photo Credit : Le Campus

Questioning one’s impact as neighbourhood residents

Residents of Parc-Extension for several years, Xavier and Paul have seen their environ-ment transformed by the effects of gentrification, which has led them to question their own impact on the social evolution of the neighbourhood.

« I’ve learned to love this lesser-known, even impenetrable neighbourhood. Then, I found myself developing an uneasiness that I would call the dilemma of the “gentrifier,” i.e. a strong desire to maintain the reality, the specificity and the diversity of the neighbour-hood, and at the same time to recognize that, in one way or another, I myself am part of the gentrification problem. »

Xavier

Already plagued by rising rents and real estate speculation, the sector is being hit by a staggering gentrification, precipitated by the inauguration of MIL, the new campus of Université de Montréal, in September 2019. Dedicated to scientific activities, the cam-pus will attract thousands of students and, in its wake, the establishment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) laboratories by major companies such as Microsoft and Element AI.

Is cohabitation between a new high-tech university campus and a neighbourhood un-dergoing profound sociological changes possible?

Photo Credit : Le Campus

The trigger that inspired Le Campus podcast

For Paul and Xavier, the establishment of the MIL triggered an idea and became the fo-cal point of an ambitious project: to create an essential and structuring space for a dia-logue between the long-standing Parc-Extension community and the emerging AI community regarding the issues of gentrification. For while there was much talk about the construction of this campus on the former rail yard, the revitalization of this de-pressed area and the pedestrian bridge linking two neighbourhoods that are at odds with each other in terms of standards of living (Outremont and Parc-Extension), there is still a notable lack of dialogue.

In the form of a personal journalistic investigation and with a storytelling approach, the Le Campus podcast aims to tell a strong and universal story of a new resident of the neighbourhood, who seeks to demystify Parc-Extension through the key people who live there.

« Our approach is intended to be as inclusive as possible. We will hear different points of view on gentrification, including individual and collective potential solutions. We are going to create a context conducive to dialogue, in particular by sharing personal reali-ties and stories, by developing empathic reflexes and a sense of belonging, in order to reduce certain social tensions. »

Xavier

Seeking resources for social innovation

Being drawn to social innovation, Xavier has the insight that understanding new meth-odologies will bring another dimension to his approach and better anchor the project. Xavier and Paul responded to the call for projects to join the Civic Incubator and joined the winners of the 2019-2020 cohort.

« I envisioned discovering processes that were unknown to me and I was very well served. I was also looking forward to meeting the MIS mentors and the group forming the cohort. »

Xavier

« We care about doing things right and taking the time to do them. This series focuses on contemporary urban themes such as inclusion, economic growth, urban develop-ment, the future of the workplace and gentrification, and we knew we would benefit from the MIS’s expertise in this regard. »

Paul

As Le Campus aims to be particularly inclusive and representative of the population of Parc-Extension, the duo is in the second phase of researching and collecting stories, with the objective of going into production in the fall of 2020 and broadcasting in 2021.

In search of partners, the two producers would also like to set up listening sessions and translation support in order to extend the scope of the project beyond the broad-casting of the audio documentary.

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