Education / Research

Montréal, UNESCO City of Design Initiative: Perceptions and Assessments of Actions

Nearly 95% of respondents wish for the renewal of the Montréal, UNESCO City of Design initiative. At a later stage, it is suggested to focus primarily on establishing decision criteria for projects and strengthening citizens' support for the designation.

To conclude the Montréal, UNESCO City of Design initiative (2008-2012), it became essential to identify the relevant elements of actions to date, to assess its scope and to summarize future priorities. In addressing these aspects, this report considered 5 major objectives:

  • Reveal the strategic positioning of the initiative with respect to municipal action;
  • Report public perceptions relative to the designation of Montreal as a UNESCO City of Design and the actions undertaken in this context;
  • Evaluate the relevance of the approach and the means deployed by the Bureau du design;
  • Observe the values and criteria of quality in design initially promoted by the initiative;
  • Identify future priorities.

To meet these objectives, we engaged in a dozen individual interviews with key stakeholders: Montreal elected officials, heads of departments of the Ville de Montréal and representatives of public partners involved in the process. The report was completed using online surveys to design professionals and interested public for which over 320 people have responded.

In terms of strategic positioning, the Montréal, UNESCO City of design initiative shares common objectives with various policies, sectorial action plans and detailed planning exercises on a metropolitan scale. Several approaches explicitly recognize the designation of Montréal, UNESCO City of Design as a change opportunity for the city, namely in Montreal’s Development Plan project - Montreal for Tomorrow - currently under development. The designation is regarded as an economic force for the future development of the city.

Key actors interviewed perceive this designation positively. A professional culture is likely shifting towards the quality of design values promoted by the Montreal designation. However, some raise the elitist nature of the design industry, which may create a lack of interest relative to the designation and the ensuing initiative’s actions. Questionnaire respondents generally agree that the designation generates tangible benefits, which contribute to the city’s development. More specifically, 67% of surveyed design professionals recognize the influence of the designation in their practice.

The approach and the means put forward by the Montréal, UNESCO City of Design initiative are considered a relatively minimal response to Montreal’s development challenges. To ensure optimal deployment, closer alignment with the various municipal entities is essential for many. Overall, it is emphasized that the means and tools enabled, for instance:

  • To disseminate the City’s actions;
  • To raise awareness among development actors on the importance of design excellence.


Competition as a public procurement process is considered fundamental in particular with respect namely to:

  • The public’s right to information;
  • The visibility offered to experts;
  • The transparency of the process.


Some particular reservations were raised regarding the implementation of winningconcepts, regulatory restrictions and respect for intellectual property. In turn, results from online surveys have demonstrated that the initiative’s best-attained objectives are the promotion of those who advocate and practice good design as well as the promotion of design competition as a public procurement process.

More particularly, the review of documents associated with competition briefs (e.g. programs and requests for proposals) allowed to update the design quality criteria and values while the analysis of documents associated with competition responses (e.g. winning proposals and jury reports) demonstrated that technical aspects (e.g. feasibility studies) are more often subject to reservations on the part of juries.

In the future, a large majority of respondents wish for the continuation of the Montréal, UNESCO City of Design initiative actions. Some special needs brought forth include:

  • The support and reinforcement of resources available in the boroughs;
  • The need to demonstrate profitability and added value of deployed activities to consolidate the support of all relevant stakeholders.

Furthermore, the accuracy of decision-making criteria should be prioritized to better structure interventions on the territory. Finally, designers foresee that further international collaborations through UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network would fuel reflection on their professional practice.