Art Therapy for a City on the Mend

\r\n\r\nNot long ago, if you had stood at the edge of Detroit and looked south– across the river to the neighboring city of Windsor, Ontario– you ...

Not long ago, if you had stood at the edge of Detroit and looked south– across the river to the neighboring city of Windsor, Ontario– you might have spotted an odd but fascinating, billboard-sized projection. "We're in this together," it beamed in thick block letters. Using a borrowed projector and Windsor's riverside Chrysler building as canvas, Justin Langlois and his posse from Broken City Lab launched their Cross Border Communication project in the Fall of 2009 with a series of dispatches for the people of Detroit. "The message was meant to be read in a few different ways," says Langlois. "It's both we need to work on things together and we kind of screwed each other… so we're in this together."Windsor's co-dependent relationship with its once-booming and now-failing sibling city has been both blessing and curse. Both cities lead their countries in unemployment rates and Windsor has the highest residential rental vacancy rates in Canada. Langlois founded Broken City Lab as a way to explore the transnational intertwining of these two towns, and chart a path forward for Windsor.Founded in 2008 as Langlois' graduate thesis project at the University of Windsor, Broken City Lab now has six members ranging in age from 18 to 26. It's an artist-led urban improvement group–a sort of art therapy collective for a city in need of triage.In the same way that groups like Object Orange call attention to blighted buildings throughout Detroit, Broken City Lab uses idealistic interventions to draw attention to some of Windsor's very real problems. For "Text in Transit," the group partnered with Windsor Transit and other city agencies to make use of underutilized ad space to address Windsor's reputation as a stopover city. All over town, signs read There is a future here, You are right where you need to be, and The automobile can only take us so far. In "100 Ways to Save the City," locals texted, tweeted, and emailed their ideas to be projected onto a building in downtown Windsor.If Langlois is lofty in his vision, he is also pragmatic in his goals. "I hope [the lab] can continue to keep me and the people involved interested and wanting to talk about this place where we live," he says. "I hope we can initiate that conversation for the city."The lab's upcoming initiative, a five-month long dialogue with Windsor funded by the Ontario Arts Council, begins in earnest this Sunday, January 24 with a workshop aimed at collecting oral histories of Windsor. In February, Broken City Labs will launch "Sites of Apology/Sites of Hope," and call on residents to map and mark places that deserve attention. "We have a scrap yard at the center of the city," says Langlois. "You can see it as a big rusty spot on the Google map and it's been there forever. I don't want to say to my brother's children 20 years from now, ‘my bad, sorry we didn't take care of that."This post originally appeared on, as part of GOOD's collaboration with the Pepsi Refresh Project, a catalyst for world-changing ideas. Find out more about the Refresh campaign, or to submit your own idea today.
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