AI DEI Public Space

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the necessity to create more inclusive public space in cities. Research shows that public space plays a central role in the quality of public life and in the economic vitality of urban spaces. Moreover, creating new public spaces and improving existing ones has a significant positive impact on neighboring stores.

The progressive lift of lock down measures launched a global repositioning of cities, urban planners and designers on how to make public space more inclusive and welcoming to all. This follows an ongoing trend in Northern countries to question the (missing) place of women, children, elders, individuals living with disabilities, and people identifying with ethnic, cultural, religious, gender and sexual minority groups. Hence, many individuals that belong to culturally dominated or structurally marginalized populations face challenges in their access and enjoyment of public spaces.

However, there is a need for further exploration of these issues through the development of concrete evaluation tools. The revision of policies and spaces is part of the means to implement the reinforcement of inclusivity in public spaces, knowing, however, that these spaces remain mostly designed and used by members of the dominant cultural group. The consideration of principles regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) now aligns with a conception of urban space as a space within which all members of a community must be represented, a concept that municipalities are trying to adhere to by creating innovative solutions. Despite recent efforts in this regard, it is evident that urban planners, designers, and public decision-makers remain ill-equipped to evaluate and promote EDI in public spaces, which hinders the achievement of the objectives defined by municipalities in terms of sustainability and resilience.

Currently, there is no quantifiable method for evaluating EDI concepts in public spaces. The mobilization of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence in addressing this challenge remains marginal, if not absent, both in research and in practice. Artificial intelligence in the city is often perceived as a means of control which, through its inherent bias, risks increasing discrimination rather than reducing it. Recent international commitments are striving to reverse this trend by harnessing the capabilities of this technology to increase the sustainability and inclusion of spaces. Artificial intelligence emerges as an emerging field, not only contributing to the design of innovative solutions to collective challenges but also supporting the economic development of Quebec by enhancing analytical capacities and decision-making efficiency regarding territorial issues.

Proposed social innovation To address this challenge and equip municipalities themselves in creating inclusive public spaces, the UNESCO Chair in Urban Landscape at the University of Montreal collaborates with the Quebec Institute of Artificial Intelligence (MILA) in co-creating two algorithms. The first algorithm is a tool based on machine learning that evaluates the levels of equity, diversity, and inclusion in a public space. The second is a generative model for producing images of welcoming public spaces based on Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) technology, with criteria based on a differentiated analysis of the impact of diversity markers on the perception of public space.

The research team, in partnership with the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities of Canada, mobilizes the fields of urban design and artificial intelligence in developing tools to improve public space and increase city sustainability. The team brings together researchers from diverse backgrounds to create innovative solutions to the challenge of public space appropriation by diverse groups. It contributes to generating new forms of integrating artificial intelligence into the development of solutions to collective societal challenges. This dimension strengthens the use of digital technologies in designing sustainable and transformative solutions to this issue of space appropriation by underrepresented groups.

Led by Shin Koseki (Holder of the UNESCO Chair in Urban Landscape and Assistant Professor at the School of Urbanism and Landscape Architecture at the University of Montreal), in collaboration with Gauthier Gidel (Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Operations Research at the University of Montreal and Research Associate at MILA), the project mobilizes the expertise of various collaborators within an interdisciplinary approach. These individuals come from the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), architecture and urban design, as well as social and human sciences. The research team includes researchers and associates associated with the UNESCO Chair in Urban Landscape and the Quebec Institute of Artificial Intelligence (MILA). The project involves the Techno-Social Innovation Center Inven_T at the University of Montreal, which acts as a facilitator and supports the implementation of the different phases of the project. The team benefits from the expertise of researchers from the Institute for Data Valorization (IVADO), who are called upon to strengthen the ethical dimension of the proposed tool by considering tools for valorizing EDI dimensions at each phase of the project. The project includes the involvement of Sid Lee Architecture, Enclume, and Dark Matter Labs, three architecture firms specialized in the development of urban projects aimed at acting as economic and societal levers. The collaborative approach and research-grounded methodology favored by these firms intensify the co-creation process of the project.