City Building

Space Mates: The trend towards coworking hubs in city building

By March 15, 2016 No Comments


We’ve explored clusters of city building activity in particular cities and on university campuses, but there are also even smaller concentrations of city building organizations, working within the same building. These co-working spaces or “innovation hubs” foster synergy and facilitate collaboration between like-minded individuals and organizations

Co-working spaces and co-location have become distinctive features of creative and innovative cities, providing great opportunities for individuals, groups and organizations – from the for-profit, nonprofit and public sectors – to tackle pressing urban challenges. Benefits to organizations working in shared spaces include sharing the cost of the space, equipment, and office supplies, as well as building network connections with other organizations.

Shared workspace at Ryerson University

But what does co-working mean for city building? The potential impacts extend beyond a building’s tenants: the increased social capital and community development sparked by city building clusters can invigorate urban centres. Social capital not only helps an organization establish connections and gain knowledge, it creates whole networks across different platforms that encourage the sharing of resources, problem solving, and informal education, ultimately contributing to a city’s creative competitiveness and sharing economy. Co-working and innovation hubs have also been linked to community development, stimulating a collaborative spirit amongst like-minded stakeholders where they begin to see their impacts – both as individuals and as a whole – on the community and/or city at large.

In practical terms, co-working spaces are a great option for non-profits looking to establish a home base as the cost-overhead is lower, the space allows for flexible work schedules and smaller staff numbers, and many of these spaces provide venues to convene and hosts events. As can be drawn from the Citylinx database and characterized by urban planning researcher Zibby Petch, “many non-profits in the city are carrying out true city-building efforts, and their continued success is inextricably linked with community development at the neighbourhood level, but also at the municipal and regional scales”.

The map function on the Citylinx Database shows that there are a number of clusters

of city building organizations working in shared spaces in Toronto. The most common coworking spaces in the city are the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) buildings, with locations on Spadina, Bathurst, and in Regent Park. Currently, CSI locations at Spadina and Bathurst are each home to two or more city building organizations that can be found in the Citylinx database, including the Centre for Social Justice and Cycle Toronto at CSI Bathurst, and the Conservation Council of Ontario and the Ontario Environmental Industry Association at CSI Spadina.

A prominent Toronto example of an innovation hub that provides access to “networks and capital” is the MaRS building, which houses the MaRS Solutions Lab and MaRS Discovery District. MaRS prides itself on being a place that allows “entrepreneurs access to corporations, investors, mentors, university institutions and labs to test their concepts”. The DMZ and the Brookfield Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, both based on Ryerson University’s campus, similarly focus on co-location, project incubation, and entrepreneurship.

“City Builders Lab” by Kyle Baptista

There are also a number of buildings in Toronto that aren’t formal co-working spaces, but which host a number of city building organizations under the same roof. One example is 401 Richmond, a large, restored, heritage-designated, industrial building located in downtown Toronto that is home to a thriving arts hub. It offers large gallery spaces for artists to display their work but it also offers spaces to a diverse range of individuals and organizations including artists, artisans, designers, consultants, architects, developers, tech companies, magazines, and nonprofits of all stripes. It is currently home to four city building organizations: the Ryerson City Building Institute, Park People, Youthful Cities, and Shape My City.

Another example is 2 Carlton, an office building located at Yonge St & Carlton St, which is home to three city building organizations: Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, Social Planning Toronto, and Ontario Smart Growth Network and the SPACE Coalition. Additionally, 170 Bloor Street West, located at Avenue Road and Bloor St West, is the home-base for the offices of Jane’s Walk, Maytree, and the Global Cities Institute.

While these smaller, informal clusters of organizations may not be located in a formalized innovation hub or co-working space, the physical proximity presents an opportunity for like-minded organizations establish a network where planning a meeting and establishing a new collaboration is as easy as walking down the hallway.

We welcome feedback and encourage city building organizations to enhance and expand the Citylinx City Building Database. To search organizations, add a new organization or update an existing organization, please click here.