Tag Archives: Montréal Neighbourhoods

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.

City Building Without Community Planning – Part 1

Looking East Along René-Lévesque - not the work of the author

So I was strolling through Reddit’s r/Canada sub-reddit when I found this gem.

So a couple of people living in Toronto’s Liberty Village want to pass a city ordinance forbidding families from moving in, and I would imagine prevent family services from being established in the area. For those of you unfamiliar with Liberty Village, it’s largely condos and former industrial space renovated into offices and lofts. A Montreal equivalent would be the Quartier des Multimédias, or Notre Dame West past the ETS (and we still did it better). In any event, its not being taken seriously, and I seriously doubt anyone on Toronto City Council will take this seriously.

Vestiges of a Former Neighbourhood - from the author's window

Despite this I still find it interesting that some people might actually try and justify this kind of behaviour. Their arguments are fascinating as well, as they’re largely ignorant of the role families play in all residential areas. There’s probably no greater social stabilizer and organizing force than families, and our urban communities here in Montreal are in some cases ‘family-free by default’. Suffice it to say I think we need to change this.

By stability I mean that families exert certain societal pressures and require the presence of certain resources, such as access to schools, parks, daycares, clinics etc, not to mention services they can access before and after the typical workday. Children living in a community draw services, both public and private, designed for them. Primarily, children’s education requirements, in whatever form they take, act as a catalyst for employment opportunities of all varieties for thousands, if not tens of thousands of people. These are but a handful of examples of the manner by which the presence of families living with young children in an urban setting help stabilize the local economic and cultural environment. Then there’s the issue of land value – the needs of the family for the presence of schools, parks and a wide range of 24-hour services in turn drive up the value of the land around said services. Much of the city can’t be demolished, and so the urban residential areas are left to wait for waves of gentrification to sweep through. It seems that each time there’s a boom in the urban housing market, real-estate developers begin amping up the PR noise about how they’ve cornered the market in ‘the next Plateau’. And so the list goes; all of the following have earned this ‘distinction over the past few years:

1. St-Henri
2. Pointe-St-Charles
3. Verdun
4. Shaughnessy Village
5. Little Burgundy
6. Griffintown
7. Quartier Latin
8. The Village
9. The Centre-Sud
10. Hochelaga-Maisonneuve
11. Rosemont
12. Parc-Ex/Villeray/Petit Patrie

St. Patrick's Basilica - from the author's window

And while of these neighbourhoods have potential, they also have something else in common – they’re established, principally residential urban suburbs. Some are hot, some are being gentrified, some seem perpetually on the verge, but generally speaking, all of these neighbourhoods have all they need to survive, and for the most part these places work, though often these places are also associated with poverty, crime etc.

A recent Gazette article mentioned a Gay Village business owner who, with the support of two thousand signatures, petitioned the mayor to do something about the rampant crime and drug abuse in the Gay Village.

It occurred to me that of all the places on the list above, the Village is perhaps best suited to become a successful urban neighbourhood, but this almost assuredly require the Gay Village to perhaps become more family friendly, though this would primarily require the strategic placement of schools, daycares, libraries and paediatric clinics within the Gay Village. The last time I checked, Montreal Police are completely intolerant of drug dealing and prostitution within school zones, and it wouldn’t be long before the pimps and pushers got the message either. Moreover, the presence of family services would likely encourage gay and straight families to consider the Village as they would consider NDG, the Plateau, Mile End or Outremont.

This in and of itself isn’t going to get rid of the homeless problem, and its not a problem which can be swept up under the rug either. Treatment facilities, needle exchanges, shelters and intervention services must be provided by the City to help clean up the Village. All citizens will ultimately lose unless the City steps in with a more enlightened approach and actively seeks to establish the stabilizing elements required for better urban living. It’s a large investment that will likely have to be paid for by the taxpayers in general, but if that’s what it takes then it will be money well spent.

The case of the Village is an interesting one, because it forces Montrealers to recognize that the Village is an invaluable economic asset, and that for the most part, its success is the result of the hard work and dedication of the community. Now its time to show our appreciation by financing the social services which will help the Village transition into a clean, safe and prosperous neighbourhood, the pride of all citizens.

But what about the un-named residential areas dispersed through the city centre? They have no identity and scarcely any services, and yet new construction is starting all the time. We’ll investigate this issue in part two of the article. Until then!

New photos – Quartier des Spectacles & Fur District

A Quaint Country Cathedral, right in the middle of the city...

Check the photographs tab for Photos III, documenting my new neighbourhood, kinda known by a multitude of names, sparsely populated and barely a neighbourhood in any tangible sense, yet home sweet home nonetheless.

Click here for instant photo action!

A stroll through the Plateau on a sunny summer afternoon… {a little bit of pleasantness}

Curbside Overgrowth
Chateau Firehouse
Saint Lawrence Main
Pathways to the Ballet of the Streets
Dominant Perspective
Neo-Medieval Courtyard
Around the Bend
Tower of Power
Keeping Pace

Vintage Pics – Industrial Little Burgundy

View looking Southwest over Windsor Station with view of old Mountain Street Viaduct - not the work of the author, early 1960s(?)

I can’t get an exact date on this pic, but as you can see the Champlain Bridge is up but Nun’s Island isn’t much developed. Griffintown and Little Burgundy are clearly visible in this pic, though you can see there’s a considerable focus on new light-industrial activity centered on the old stockyard. As it happened, Mayor Drapeau re-zoned much of this area for exactly that purpose, driving residents out and leaving the area in its current state. Of course, what he wasn’t entirely counting on was CN and CP going through major downsizing and rationalization during the 1980s and 1990s. The end result was that all the track in this picture would be deemed excessive and ultimately destroyed. The nail in the coffin of sorts was when PM Brian Mulroney, as his last act in office, cut the ribbon at a dedication ceremony during the construction of the Bell Centre.

Here’s a link to a Wikipedia page with info pertaining to new skyscraper construction in Montréal. One of the only commercial property development projects not currently waiting for an anchor tenant or otherwise on indefinite hiatus, is Cadillac Fairview’s new Windsor Station Project, which aims to build several towers near the intersection of Mountain and St-Antoine. Cadillac Fairview had previously proposed a new train station to be built South of Windsor Station (but still integrated into the station as part of the Réso) with a viaduct crossing St-Antoine. Of course, we all know how good the Bonaventure Viaduct worked out for this area.

If it could be done in such a fashion that there was a major increase of diverse residential housing in the area, then I’d be more inclined to think that both of these new projects would be winners – that even a new viaduct could be done in such a fashion so as not to further dissect the urban core. However, that being said, I’m disinclined to think Cadillac Fairview will be interested in constructing anything but condos – someone will have to ensure that medium and low income housing is also provided, in addition to family-run small businesses and necessary community and cultural services. If the newly redeveloped parts of Griffintown and the Faubourg des Recollets seem to be lacking something – they are. They’re not communities yet, and they don’t feel like the rest of Montréal. Ultimately, you can’t leave city planning up to corporations from Toronto.