The city of the future is the one people narrate together

Guest Author: Mary Alice Arthur, Get Soaring

If you’ve ever been to Montreal, you will have experienced the vibrant hum of the city. It is a city that has distinctive neighbourhoods and an international flavour, and it is also a city committed to exploring and vitalising diversity. 2017 marks 375 years for Montreal and the city is helping to mark the celebration by making a public process of community storytelling.

Imagine, if you will wooden circular structures popping up in the midst of St Catherines walking street or in your local neighbourhood. They look very much like an open basket, because that was their inspiration.

Their intention is to create a network of points in space that transform people’s narrative about where they are and how they inhabit the space. Although they appear like little separate pods, they are all connected to the element of surprise and forming community, enabling people who sit in them to imagine space in a different way and create possibilities that were not there before.

They are called Nacelles, a French word meaning the basket of a hot air balloon, but conceptually pointing to network or multiplicity. In a tangible, physical way, they create a commons, a place to gather and share. By their very shape, they create an interesting bounded object in a public space in the shape of a circle. You’re exposed like you would be in public space, but you have a container of intimacy, and intentional collaborative moments in conversation. The nacelles create intimacy while you’re outside.

Each Nacelle is a set of pre-fabricated pieces which are easy to build together in about 20 minutes. In fact, the very act of building them starts creating community. They are about 12 feet in diameter, and seat around 12 – 15 people on two tiers of benches with a small table in the middle. But they are also permeable. People can stand outside the structure and lean in, making it possible to take part in something, even if you’ve just arrived.

Using these structures for public dialog and storytelling is the brainchild of French-based group Comm1possible. It fits seamlessly into Montreal-based practice Percolab‘s approach to dialogue and storytelling. Cédric Jamet explains: “We need more ways to connect people than social networks. The “smart city” as we think about it, is not enough. We need structures that allow us to do this in a real and physical way. That’s how Nacelles emerged.

“There was a consciousness around the circle as a way to connect people that informed the structure of the Nacelle. The idea of the city of the future is a city created by the people who live in it. Nacelles become a physical representation of that.

This project around inclusion is also around sharing individual stories, and what comes up is a common story of inclusion.

“When we think about it, this project around inclusion is also around sharing individual stories, and what comes up is a common story of inclusion. Nacelles help create a commons. The original idea was how can we experiment to create urban commons and cities as commons. That’s where it came from and where it’s headed. Really at the heart of the project is the idea of what becomes possible when we build the spaces we live in together.”

“The physical structure invites curiosity. And when you go over the threshold of curiosity it invites in relationship,” says Elizabeth Hunt. “One of our upcoming projects is around diversity and multi-culturalism with a borough of Montreal. Around their multi-cultural citizen day, we will be working with storytellers in the nacelles and then we will invite citizens with their own stories of how to shift the dominant discourse from integration to one of inclusion.












“It’s about building this together, shared responsibility. People show up with strollers, walking their dog. When a whole bunch of different kinds of people are there, you have the permission to go see. It’s a strange attractor. You enter the structure as strangers and emerge as allies. We are continuing to ask ourselves how we can use Nacelles as a collective sensemaking structure.”

Cedric chimes in again: “It shapes a bunch of things, experimenting with the Nacelle as a natural way to inclusion. We all have a relationship to this theme, whether we are born here or not, came here or not. I was hosting during the storytelling process – the storyteller was indigenous and his theme was around what it is to welcome and host people in. I was thinking ‘I’m an immigrant here. I’m French originally. I have a colonial background in me.’ Everyone who participated and shared stories verbalized their connection to this place in ways that were not anticipated. There’s something that happens when story gets shared and space gets held. Holding space is the condition for emergence. Something special happens.”

Elizabeth agrees, even though her story is completely different: “I’m born and bred in Montreal – same hospital as my dad – 11 – 15 generations each side. Those streets I’ve walked as a child, my parents, my grandparents also walked. I graduated from University on those steps over there. I had supper with someone there a few blocks over. My relationships to this space – what else is possible in my relationship to this city – is forever transformed by being there with the nacelles. We can transform an area into a storytelling platform, what else can we do in terms of moulding this city?”

Percolab has been partnering with French company Comm1Possible, which developed the concept and has used the nacelles in France and Morocco. Percolab is their only North American partner, but it seems obvious that the nacelles are far more than a way of creating community conversation and storytelling.  Even the way the two organisations are working together is seeking to create a commons out of the application of nacelles.

“Nacelles help create a commons,” Cedric tells me. “Then there’s the whole aspect of how we work together — if our purpose is to create commons, then Nacelles itself has to be a commons. That’s what we’re building on with Comm1Possible – how do we develop the system supporting Nacelles that is thought of and lived as a commons? Yes, there’s the object, but there’s a whole philosophy and business model that goes around it.”

Elizabeth continues: “We haven’t explored the questions, but the physicality of it invites the questions – how do we share this? Who does it belong to? How do we share the decisions? What is our vision for greater social change? We’re trying to work a commons based agreement – our working relationship is a commons relationship.”

In the end, it comes back to the magic of creating a space for people to narrate their common future.

As Cedric says: “The more people there are in the Nacelle, the more the Nacelle becomes invisible and it becomes a circle that’s about people. When we were using them on St Catherine and I walked away for a few minutes, I could see a conglomerate of people, but you couldn’t see the Nacelles. It was like a bunch of grapes but you can’t see the stem. It is an architecture that is holding people together but that you can’t see when its working well – it becomes invisible. That’s a metaphor for excellent hosting work.”


Find the original post by Mary Alice Arthur

Methodologies and tools: |


Women Taking Flight

So many women have said to us: “I know it’s time to think bigger, to step into my power, to rise to the next level. But I don’t know how!” We long to tell our stories and be seen. We’re searching for the wisdom that will help us put the final pieces in place. We know we need the support and encouragement of others and often, that can be hard to find in the workplace or sometimes even at home.

If you want to step into the New Year clear, focused, and with that sense of wind beneath your wings, then Women Taking Flight is for you.

During the first part of the day we’ll be sharing stories that help us to focus on what we most value and find the gold in our learning so far this year. We’ll use what we uncover to craft a powerful question that can support us to think higher and move beyond our present view of what’s possible.

During the afternoon we’ll join together in wisdom circles, bringing our questions to the Flow Game and supporting each other to gain clarity, ground and insights to power up the future. We’ll use both our experiences and one of our most powerful gifts as women—our intuition.

This will be a highly interactive day focused on investing in your most potent resource—yourself. Come with your questions and an open mind. Come prepared to support and be supported. Come prepared to meet the next most powerful version of yourself.

The day will be hosted by Mary Alice Arthur and Samantha Slade and will take place both in English and French. During the afternoon Flow Games will be offered by trained Flow Hosts, supporting you to find wisdom and companionship in your circle around the game.

We have space for a maximum of 25 participants. Please reserve your spot to avoid disappointment.


Your hosts


Mary Alice Arthur

Mary Alice is a Story Activist, using story to help create positive systemic shift and for applying collective intelligence to the critical issues of our times. Her art is in creating brave and transformational spaces where people can find and live into the stories that take them to their most flourishing future. Building the capacity for participatory practice supports people to take back the power of their stories so they can make wiser choices together. She is a sought after process consultant and event host, and an engaging speaker. As an international steward of the Art of Hosting, she teaches participatory practice around the world. Through Story the Future, she is spreading the meme of Story Activism, supporting people to develop their skills and practice, and engaging in leading edge conversations about the power and potential in our world.

More about Mary Alice:


Samantha Slade

Samantha is a social innovator, supporting teams, organizations and ecosystems to work with complexity and grow a conscious innovation mindset. Samantha co-founded Percolab, an international self-governing network of for more than profit co-design firms. Based in Montreal, Canada, Samantha is a member of the Quebec Social Innovation Network. Engaged in the living lab, Fab City and commons movements, Business as Commons is the theme of Samantha’s TedX. With a background in cultural anthropology and education, Samantha connects the social practices and parameters we give ourselves to conscious governance and ownership for a more equitable world. Author of Going Horizontal: Creating a Non-hierarchical Organization, One Practice at a Time (2018), Samantha believes that organizations can and should be a microcosm of the world we want to live in.

More about Samantha’s work and resources to support her book:



You have two options for payment. Please choose according to your situation and interest. The price includes training, lunch and snacks.

A) Traditional pricing
  • BUSINESS: $350 (before January 20: $300)
  • NGO/SELF-EMPLOYED: $250 (before January 20: $200)
B) Shared economy pricing

Shared economy is a system that allows you to self-determine how much you pay and to partake in the budget responsibly. It requires an initial payment to cover minimal costs, in this case $125 (plus taxes). At the event, you will be invited to make a second payment based on your financial context, information on the event budget and your experience of the training.



The workshop will take place at Flowland Montreal, 5369 Boul St Laurent, Studio 310, in Montreal, from 9:00am-4:00pm

Methodologies and tools: