What’s in a Name?

By Ivana Mormina

As we continue to wrap our heads around the Right to the City project (asking ourselves questions like: Who are we speaking for? What story are we telling? Ethically, is this OK?) my mind is drifting to a future conversation we will most probably have about the grand “title” of our project.

I am perhaps drawn to this thought because the topic was casually broached during our discussion last week. Elizabeth proposed the title “City below the Hill”, as the Point was constantly being defined and redefined in relation to its rapport with the city of Montreal. The audio team seemed to jump at that title, having thought of something quite similar, if not the same.

Personally, I struggle with where to even begin having the conversation on giving a project like this a title. I have my fair share of qualms labelling my individual essays with attractive, evocative and yet concise phrases; for this project, which will be appreciated (I hope) and criticized (to be expected) by the interviewees who were central to the making of our final product, it seems as though the overarching title carries a lot more weight. This reflection might be messy as I’m trying to flesh through a decision-making process that I, as it is, find difficult but I will try my best to find some cohesion.

In my mind, it begins with, first and foremost, being comfortable with and conscious of the themes that we have decided to bring to light. From our latest discussion, I thought the following themes were especially considered: the Point’s continuity of dispossession (which includes the Point’s history of colonization and indigenous peoples), the Point as the industrial core of Canada and the Point as a community that has consistently struggled with poverty and thrived on community and workplace activism. All of this while also acknowledging the existence of disjuncture and friction from the multiple points of views presented by the interviewees. You can say we have more or less covered the “What” in the famous 5 W’s and H formula. I would say that the “What” has made the task of finding a title more interesting, yet harder. Here I can imagine new words and emotions being reflected in a title but I would be hard pressed to keep it short and catchy. Either way, is there really one phrase that can represent all of the aforementioned themes? I am leaning towards no. Which makes me think that maybe the best way to address these divers and intricate topics really is to keep the title simple; leaving the “meatier” part of the discussion for the individual pages of the booklet and interlocking stories of the audio walk.

Perhaps easier than trying to base the title off of the “What” or the themes would be to identify it geographically – or to look at the “Where”. Will the title clearly identify the location we are studying or leave everything to the imagination, like Graeme Miller’s “Linked”? Here I go back to considering the title already proposed, “City below the Hill”. It seems to flirt along the line of precision and anonymity as it provides a general geographic location but leaves just enough detail out to peak the audience’s interest. This might be the way to go as I think of possibly deciding a title based on the “Who” but realize that that might not be practical as we know there are many different “Who” to consider.

I have thought the “What”, “Where” and “Who” to be the most pertinent to influence the creation of our title. The variation inherent in the “What” and the “Who”, though, make basing the title from those W’s quite difficult. Ultimately, it is only the “Where” that is shared by all of the interviewees and their independently created histories. This, then, I would suggest, should be reflected in our title. And in that sense, I think that “City below the Hill” reflects both the Point’s geographic location and its complex relationship with external communities and internally, as a community. “City below the Hill” can be read slightly derogatorily, being any city at the bottom of the hill, emphasizing the latter’s prominent position rather than the story of the “city”. However, almost in the same light, I think it can reflect something of an “underdog” charm and quality representative of the Point; a city that undoubtedly struggles but nevertheless pulls through looking inward and independently finding solutions for the wellbeing of its citizens. It is, taken all together, very much up to us to continue to shape the title through our work; neither one it seems, not the title, the booklet or the walk, ever stands alone.