OpenNorth recently planned and facilitated a workshop for representatives of Montréal’s 19 boroughs to discuss data needs for spatial analysis and functionality requirements for a potential online GIS platform. The event, hosted by the Ville de Montréal Service de la diversité et de l’inclusion sociale, created an opportunity to discuss and share ideas on using spatial analysis to identify the needs of a given neighbourhood, and tailor the City’s offer of social and sports services according to these needs.
Data is at the heart of urban service provision, from choosing the location of a new sporting facilities, to conceiving new activities and events which are appropriate to the cultural practices of residents. Therefore, cities are developing and acquiring digital tools that allow for city staff to understand neighbourhood-level data patterns and trends, and to make decisions based on these observations. In this case, the workshop allowed borough representatives to address topics such as poverty and homelessness, crime and public safety, and food security – and to work towards building an interactive map that could help city officials better understand these issues on a neighbourhood scale.
Throughout the workshop, participants discussed topics related to administrative boundaries, such as the City’s borough boundaries, or census geography defined by Statistics Canada. While participants are familiar with the sociodemographic information that can be retrieved based on these official delineations, oftentimes these geographic units do not represent the communities that city departments are looking to serve. For instance, a neighbourhood boundary could be conceptualized based upon a resident’s feeling of belonging to a specific place, and this boundary will not necessarily align itself with official city boundaries. Participants had the chance to learn from a borough which, faced with the difficulty of matching on-the-ground information with official statistics, underwent a consultation process to re-envision its neighbourhood boundaries to better reflect the realities of its community members.
These discussions gave participants a renewed appreciation for the importance of choosing and using geographic boundaries in a given analysis, as the way a territory is divided on a map can influence an entire chain of decision-making, ultimately impacting the distribution of services, programs or funding. How the potential GIS platform will deal with these complex questions surrounding geographic boundaries will be an ongoing discussion with representatives of Montréal’s boroughs, and can also involve other parties, such as representatives from Montreal’s community-based organizations.
Overall, this workshop gave OpenNorth a unique opportunity to work directly with local city officials on the creation of a digital tool, which will serve to inform the City of Montreal’s decision-making on urban service provision in years to come. OpenNorth is looking forward to seeing the next phases of this project unfold, and appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with the Service de la diversité et de l’inclusion sociale.