City Proper offers a glimpse into the cultural heart of cities

May 01

By Sean Meyer


For many years now, Matthew Thomas has been fascinated by the role culture, heritage and the arts plays in shaping not only the identity of cities, but also creating a high quality of life for their citizens.

Three years ago, in an effort to further explore his cultural interests, Matthew launched City Proper, a venture providing consulting services and digital products to municipal cultural planners across North America.

“Every city has a cultural planning department, doing really important work. Every 5-10 years they renew their cultural plan, reevaluate their cultural plans and strategic priorities,” he said. “What I’m concentrating on is helping them determine, discover their cultural assets, and help them recognize what’s happening within their city. We’re doing this digitally and helping them create policy out of real-time data.”

Matthew’s curiosity about this work made sense, particularly given he was working at Museum London.

However, the time came when he realized it was more than just a fascination.

Instead, identifying these various cultural and historic assets within communities became his passion. However, he soon discovered the business required 100 percent of his attention.

As a result, he left his “comfortable, full-time job” behind and jumped full-time into building up City Proper.

Today, the operation includes a pair of employees in Toronto handling community development and marketing, a staff designer, as well as having himself in the role of cultural planning consultant — more the operations side of the business.

Although the job has proven to be “more work than I’ve ever experienced,” Matthew said he is thrilled with the decision he made to pursue his passion full time.

“It pays off through meeting lots of new people; everyday looks very, very different,” he said. “Some days I don’t even know what city I’m going to end up in. I go where the opportunities come up. The work never ends, but it’s really what I want to be doing.”

Given the nature of his work, Matthew could be working out of his home or some Wi-Fi connected coffee shop, but he knew he needed discipline in his life.

That realization brought him to Innovation Works, where he signed up as co-tenant and began embracing the collaborative, co-operative nature of the space.

Matthew had actually toured the Innovation Works space several years ago, back when the building was “really just a dream.” When he returned he saw the dream had developed into exactly what he needed.

Not only did it offer him two essentials, “a coffee shop and lightning fast internet,” but Innovation Works also gave him access to the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto.

Therefore, with the same kind of package, he ended up with a desk in two cities, which he’s end up using often.

Of course, it isn’t just about a comfortable chair and an internet connection.

“The world is in flux. It’s not business as usual and I don’t think we even know for sure what models are going to come out of this period,” Matthew said. “What I do know is there are some really intelligent people in this space working on what business will look like later in the 21st century. It’s a time of uncertainty, but I think this space is vital in giving people a place to figure it all out.”

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