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Université de Montréal – WAT_UNESCO

By on August 30, 2016
Université de Montréal

Contact name and title
Philippe Poullaouec-Gonidec, professor and chairholder of UNESCO Chair in Landscape and Environmental Design (CUPEUM)


Title of activity

Description of activity
WAT_UNESCO (workshop_atelier/terrain) is a strategic support activity for urban development that builds on the expertise of UNESCO Chair in Landscape and Environmental Design at Université de Montréal (CUPEUM). Taking the shape of an on-location workshop held annually in different cities worldwide through a city-university partnership, it provides a unique forum for international experimentation. WAT_UNESCO gathers professors, researchers, students from CUPEUM’s international network of scientific cooperation as well as city officials and professionals to generate sustainable urban landscape scenarios for the host community. Integrated within an implementation process encompassing various stages of documentation, ideation and follow-ups, WAT_UNESCO workshops are committed to:

> Supporting the production of quality living environments by taking account of the public issues concerning urban landscapes;
> Reporting on attributes that contribute to the identity and specificity of urban landscapes ensuring preservation, enhancement and development within their environmental, economic, social and cultural contexts;
> Developing strategic visions of urban design through a collaborative approach (codesign) which, given their demonstrative and exemplary characters, participate in building a singular, original public expertise in developing and planning selected urban territories.

Results from this single reflection provide pragmatic solutions to urban problems and challenges.

Sustainable Development Goal 11 targets relating to activity
11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
11.4 Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage
11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
11.a Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, per-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning
11.b By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels

Main themes of this activity
Social Inclusion
Planning and Design
Capacity Development

Changes that took place as a result of this activity
For elected officials and public administrators, landscape professionals (landscape architect, architect, planner, urban designer) and the general public, WAT_UNESCO’s results constitute a documentary source for engaging informed approaches in urban planning. The urban design proposals can be transformed into a great variety of urban planning tools to help manage the transformation of cities: masterplan, landscape convention, planning scenarios, design guidelines. Ultimately, WAT_UNESCO’s web postings generate suitable material for comparative studies in understanding the phenomena of urbanization and evaluating solutions to resolve urban development issues in geographical, social, cultural, environmental, and diverse economic and political contexts.

Being an activity that aims to tackle urban sustainability issues at a strategic level, the results of each edition vary greatly according to the local political context and planning agenda. Over the year WAT_UNESCO were effective in:

– Catalysing urban changes: As an example, WAT_UNESCO Kobe in 2009 was a key moment for the city to rethink its urban development process. The proposed visions help the City to put forward the idea of reconversion of the port to a more touristic and recreational area benefitting it urban population as well as using creativity and design to improve the living quality of its urban spaces. Since 2009, parks and urban promenades are being implemented in the port and some public spaces are being retrofit elsewhere in the city. These projects are done under the umbrella of the City’s designation as a UNESCO City of design.
– Influencing changes in urban policy: WAT_UNESCO Montreal 2011 took place in the context of a major urban highway reconstruction project. Undertaken through a partnership with the provincial Department of Transportation and the City of Montreal, the research process that structure the workshop documentation and follow-up phases resulted in the production of design guidelines catalogue for both the highway and the adjacent urban areas. Some of the guidelines where directly integrated to the procurement documents for the highway projects. Furthermore, two working sites were integrated in the city planning document as “priority areas”. These are small changes in the planning context, but they are a start in a long process that will guide the cities transformation for many years to come.
– Promoting city/university partnerships: The idea at the core of WAT_UNESCO is that university of a role to play in the promotion of urban sustainability through the establishment of direct link between universities and cities. Thus every WAT_UNESCO are created through a city/university partnership that involved a local university. Most often these links do not exist before the workshop implementation. Throughout the process, CUPEUM’s mission is to guide the local university and city in the documentation of the site and the logistic of the workshop. Thus, the local university have to take a leadership role to develop close links with the city officials. Through that process it is hope the university will continue its work in working the city reaching urban sustainability goals. WAT_UNESCO Tiquatira 2015 (Sao Paulo, Brazil), is such an example where the local university took the workshop as an opportunity to foster its links with city officials. After the workshop, the local research group continue to work with one of the studied community to develop of local masterplan.

Finally, the most important change made through WAT_UNESCO is probably of an intangible nature. Over the years, WAT_UNESCO involved more than 350 students from 12 different countries making it a true intercultural activity. The proposed solutions are designed by teams of students coming from different countries. Away from the concept of North-South collaboration, the main idea is to bring people from different regions of the world to discuss their view on urban development and reach an agreement of how to tackle urban issues. For all of these students, WAT_UNESCO were a tremendous learning opportunity and life experience. Back in their home country they will influence urban development over the next 30 to 40 years.

How the impact of the activity was measured
As the changes proposed through WAT_UNESCO take place over the long run, tangible impact were never measure. However, since 2003 CUPEUM’s was able to:

– Implemented 11 WAT_UNESCO with different cities of the world (Reggio-Calabria, Marrakech, Saïda, Mahdia, Ganghwa, Qingpu, Kobe, Montréal, Appia Antica, Binzhou, Tiquatira) and is preparing 3 more to come over the upcoming years (Évry, Xochimilco, Sakaide), each time fostering the collaboration between a university and a city;
– Trained 364 students coming from 12 countries.

Over time, WAT_UNESCO workshops also demonstrated that a real dialogue on the future of cities could occur when:
– we pay attention to the challenges brought forth by various stakeholders;
– we collaborate to develop urban landscape visions;
– the words of this vision are illustrated by design proposals.

Furthermore, in this new century, pluralist and fragmented urban societies are subjected to economic, environmental and social uncertainties. Facing these instabilities, the production of well-illustrated urban scenarios, which are easily adaptable and shareable, as proposed during WAT_UNESCO, become over time the essential communicative medium which promote the collective urban adhesion to a project for which the underpinning collective values are essential to the vitality or our urban territories and the quality of our living environments.

Links related to the activity
  • http://unesco-paysage.umontreal.ca/en/researches-and-projects/workshop_atelier-terrain-wat-unesco
Additional notes
Created in 2003, UNESCO Chair in Landscape and Environmental Design at Université de Montréal (CUPEUM) is a scientific body that applies research and higher education to the development of cities and their landscapes. To address issues relating to the preservation, enhancement and development of urban landscapes in various regions throughout the world, CUPEUM is involved in a variety of scientific activities (research/education) in partnership with local communities. In 2013, it was recognized by UNESCO as a center of excellence in urban design for its role as a bridge-builder between the academic, research and civil society.

Given the complexity of urban development issues, CUPEUM promotes platforms for international reflection to envision creative solutions most likely to promote quality urban environments, showcase cities’ identities, and resolve environmental, social as well as economic problems. These solutions are contingent first and foremost on sharing, dialogue and cooperation among cultures.

CUPEUM focuses all of its activities on the internationalization of knowledge in the areas of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, urban planning, and ecology through academic solidarity, professor and student mobility and the commitment of local and national governments. All CUPEUM activities contribute to educating, awareness-building and guiding elected officials and municipal experts, governments and citizens for the future of their territory.

CUPEUM thus promotes the sharing of knowledge, teaching experiences and bilateral and multilateral research (seminars and projects) with the active support of all its partners, particularly the countries of five global regions (North and South America, Europe, North Africa, Middle East, and Asia).

Being of the UNESCO’s Unitwin network, CUPEUM’s workshop support the implementation of the following programs: MAB (Man and the Biosphere) MOST (Management of Social Transformation) ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) WHC (World Heritage).

CUPEUM’s WAT_UNESCO received the Gold Medal at the 2016 Inter-American Prize for Educational Innovation in Higher Education awarded by the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education. The results of WAT_UNESCO were also exhibited at the 2008 World Urban Forum in Nanjing (China) as well as at the 2010 World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).