A Sensible Approach to Redeveloping Griffintown

Let me make myself perfectly clear; being in favour of enhanced local government involvement in residential and commercial planning is not, in any way shape or form, anti-business. Nor is it necessarily going to lead to nepotism or otherwise create a conflict of interest. I need to stress this as a necessity, because we may otherwise spoil a golden opportunity to breathe new life into a dormant sector of the city by being fearful of the appearance of collusion. The city, by necessity, must be intimately involved in all manner of urban zoning planning – leaving it up to developers uniquely is simply irresponsible. The role of the city is to plan the necessary constraints placed on development and provide the requisite infrastructure to secure long-term growth and socio-economic stability within its boundaries. It is the private sector’s responsibility to adhere to these constraints and deliver a bankable product, on time and under budget, to their investors. A key issue to consider is this however; who are the investors? With regards to residential development projects, especially those of the size and calibre to potentially stimulate the rebirth of an entire residential zone, it is not merely the banks and the development company; all citizens who pay taxes to the municipal government are also paying for the city’s involvement in urban redevelopment, such as by rehabilitating old sewer systems, re-paving roads, building parks etc. Thus, in an indirect though significant fashion, the citizens are also investors, and their interests ought to considered as though the citizens are the financial backers of the city, in the same fashion that the banks and investment firms back the contractors, speculators and developers.

The plans to redevelop Griffintown caused a considerable uproar a few years back amongst citizens inclined towards a certain preferred urbanism. Indeed, the Devimco plan was seen as an uninspired condo-tropolis reminiscent of recent construction in Toronto or Vancouver and, though the project was officially put on hiatus as a result of the global economic meltdown, one can’t deny it was also very poorly received. Smaller projects have been implemented instead, and large-scale planning for the area doesn’t seem to have much if any involvement from the City. Perhaps it’s just hard to gauge, but the Montréal2025 plan, the Devimco plan, the scaled-back Devimco plan and the Canada Lands Corporation plan (along with a proposed Cité-du-Havre redevelopment scheme) all seem to be little more than ideas, proposals. Perhaps they are in accordance with a master plan somewhere in the city’s planning department, but publicly, it doesn’t seem that the Tremblay administration is making much headway. I can only wonder why Griffintown’s redevelopment isn’t the focal point of a major campaign on the part of the City to win the confidence of the tax-payers and potential investors, though I think it may have something to do with the number of strategic partners involved and the fluidity of Griffintown’s potential borders.

The region bounded by Highways 720, 20 and 10 looks like a backwards comma and is referred to as the Sud-Ouest. It includes the communities of Griffintown, Little Burgundy, St-Henri, Lower Westmount, Village des Tanneries, Pointe-St-Charles and the former Goose Village. Given the City’s plan to demolish the Bonaventure viaduct, this region will soon include the Cité-du-Havre, the Faubourg-des-Récollets and the proposed Quartier Bonaventure as well. The Sud-Ouest borough also counts the neighbourhoods of Cote-St-Paul and Ville-Emard further West and has a total population of about 70,000 people. This region is served by about a dozen Métro stations either within the boundary or on its periphery and has been going through a partial gentrification for about fifteen years. It is extremely convenient to live in this sector, apartments are generally quite affordable and you are in the immediately vicinity of the Central Business District. New construction is taking place and the borough has already established itself as an up-and-coming alternative to the Plateau. It’s hip and chic to live here. So why aren’t we planning for the area as a whole?

I can imagine it’s in all of our best interests to attempt increasing the residential population in this area – perhaps by significant margin given the availability of open, largely under-used land. But if this is to be the case, we must further ensure an appropriate mix of incomes and living arrangements. For one, there are a great deal of heritage properties which must be protected. An excellent way to go about this is to have the City acquire said properties and keep them rent-controlled. Other initiatives should include mandatory construction of rent-subsidized apartments and middle-income condo/apartments in all new large-scale residential development projects. Further, the city will have to construct new schools and rehabilitate old civic properties to support the new population increase (as an example, the area in question has old community centres, churches, fire stations, schools etc, many of which could be renovated and re-used), while further investing in a massive, sector-wide city beautification project. For too long it seems as though the City has focused uniquely on beautifying areas within the sector that have received significant private investment – this has given the area a very uneven look. Finally, new small-business initiatives would have to created (and backed by the City) to foster a stable local economic foundation. We can accomplish all of this, but it will require greater City involvement and a bird’s eye perspective. If the population could be doubled in this sector and a new Plateau result, it’s worth the investment. The City should use the opportunity to create a massive new residential zone built according to the interests of the citizens and our urban planning experts.