Sustainability & climate

Climate-conscious collaborators key to Montreal's success

Solon cultivates community action with Neighbourhood Mobility project

Published on April 4, 2024

Solon's team in 2023 © Audrey McMahon

This interview has been translated from French. Read it in French


Solon is a Montreal-based non-profit organization that works with community groups and institutions to build a greener, more inclusive city, one neighborhood at a time. They collaborated with the City of Montreal to develop the City’s winning application in the $50 million prize category of the 2019 Smart Cities Challenge.


We were eager to learn how they influenced the City’s approach to building a “smart city” and Solon was happy to oblige!


Evergreen: How does Solon practice innovation?


Solon was created in 2015 to support citizen groups and institutions in the building of a more connected and sustainable world. When we speak of innovation, we often think of technology alone. For us, there is no innovation without the social aspect. Our manner of operating is to create projects that are led by the principles of co-creation, community mobilization and the socio-ecological transition.


Evergreen: How does Solon work with the City of Montreal?


In 2019, Solon co-developed an application for the federal government’s Smart Cities Challenge with the City of Montreal. When we won, we created Montréal en commun, a collective of community organizations that came together to develop, test and deliver active and shared transportation and food security solutions in Montreal.


In this context, Solon developed an approach to multiple projects called Mobilité de quartier (Neighbourhood Mobility), which aims to transform mobility habits with residents and find new solutions through community mobilization. We’ve collaborated with the City of Montreal’s Laboratoire d’Innovation Urbaine for four years, a service created to coordinate Montreal en commun, promote it and sustain it!


A group of people are seated indoors at a repair cafe at one of Solon's community fairs.


Evergreen: What are some of the positive impacts from Mobilité du quartier (Neighbourhood Mobility)?


Neighbourhood Mobility is an approach that allowed for the creation of over 120 incredibly rich and valuable projects to contribute to better, more inclusive, and climate-friendly communities in 18 neighbourhoods in Montreal. Some of them are:

  • The creation of third places Spaces managed by and for citizens that will reduce the need to travel, because you’ll find everything you need there.
  • Foires des Possibles” – Fun community fairs that bring together people and organizations working for the socio-ecological transition in their neighbourhood.
  • “Les Ateliers de la Transition” – A 10,000 sq. ft. building offering spaces for sharing, gathering, co-working and co-development dedicated to both the local community and the wider ecosystem of the socio-ecological transition. 
  • Winter bike challenges – These friendly competitions are aimed at families and residents of Montreal neighbourhoods to encourage them to take up winter cycling – and it’s working! A real community has been created to demystify the activity and influence attitudes, beliefs and perceptions. 

What is the impact of all this? Quite a lot. Some are measurable: 10,000 participants in our activities, 300 local and municipal partners, and 11,000 shared mobility assets. But what we’re particularly pleased about are the countless social connections created, the hope we’ve raised, and the changes in behaviour that have taken place in everyone’s lives.


Skyline photo of city


Evergreen: Can you tell us more about the LocoMotion project?


It’s a network of communities (12 citizen committees and 3,000 members) giving each other more active and shared options for getting around:, sharing personal cars, bikes of all kinds and homemade bike trailers. Initially incubated at Solon, LocoMotion became an independent non-profit organization in February 2024. And that’s what we want: for the projects supported by Solon to be able to develop, find a base and become independent, so that they can grow on their own.


Evergreen: How do you ensure that people of all ages have access to active transportation alternatives?


All of Solon’s projects are designed to be inclusive. Older people are welcome to take part in our winter bike challenges, our bike rides, and they can borrow bikes (electric bikes, in particular) via LocoMotion. They can use our shuttles for seniors. There’s no age limit to getting moving and sharing transportation. Last but not least, we’re developing our projects with the common good in mind, so that resources can be shared and managed by everyone, whatever their age.


Group of people dressed up in winter outerwear with bicycles smiling at camera.


Evergreen: What obstacles has the project overcome? What obstacles does your project currently face?


Since the City of Montreal won the 2019 Smart Cities Challenge, this meant that Solon had to deploy its Neighbourhood Mobility approach in the middle of a pandemic. Given that everything was at a standstill, it wasn’t exactly the ideal time to recruit teams, mobilize citizens in the field and support local mobility initiatives. However, we did manage to experiment with solutions, engage in dialogue and prepare the foundation, which proved extremely fertile in the years that followed.

At the moment, we’re facing a different kind of obstacle, one that’s fairly common in the community-based sector: ensuring our sustainability! We’re coming to the end of our Neighbourhood Mobility funding, which means that without support from public or semi-public institutions, and without self-financing efforts on our part, the hundred or so projects that we’ve created and supported could disappear. And when we see how meaningful they are for us and for the community, we’ll do everything we can to avoid that from happening.


Evergreen: How can other communities begin to replicate what you’ve achieved? Where can they start?


Solon is a real “civic commons factory”: it’s a very important concept for us. It means that all our projects are designed, tested and shared collectively and horizontally. We want the solutions we find here to be able to be implemented and adapted elsewhere. They deconstruct certain negative narratives about collective action (and yes, we can manage our resources differently, based on collective knowledge and sharing). They are essential if we are to build an environmentally responsible society that focuses on the well-being of living beings, respects the planet’s limits and guarantees a positive future for us all.


Some of our projects are already being implemented elsewhere in Quebec and around the world. If you too would like to be inspired by one of our initiatives, you can consult our Wiki of Possibilities, an online encyclopedia at the service of the socio-ecological transition. It’s a free and open resource that anyone can edit. You’ll find a fact sheet on each of our projects, which you can replicate in your community. And, of course, we’re always here to listen!


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