Save Griffintown!

Gazette to naysayers: Quit whining by ajkandy
November 24, 2007, 7:36 pm
Filed under: griffintown, media, proposal, sprawl

Today’s Gazette editorial comes out in favor of the Village Griffintown project, unsurprisingly. Sure, they threw in a couple of caveats regarding the tramway’s viability, but otherwise gave it the old rubber stamp.

The Gazette has unfailingly promoted suburban values over urban ones for some time now — given that 90% of its ads are from car dealerships, how could they see it otherwise? And aside from a few columnists, does anyone at the Gazette even live in the city anymore? (Gazette scribes, please feel free to weigh in here, in the comments.)

Well, I wrote them a letter, paraphrasing some things we wrote about yesterday, and some items which came out of last night’s Griffintown Museum Foundating meeting. Here it is for posterity:

re: “Griffintown project deserves support”, Nov 24, 2007

Indeed, the Griffintown area deserves a boost. There are many positive aspects of the proposal — mainly, as a bulwark against suburban sprawl by bringing more people to the city center.

But the antidote for suburban flight is not to bring the suburbs, and car-oriented suburban values, downtown. The proper solution is good urbanism, and from the current proposal, we don’t see evidence of thoughtful planning in this regard.

The developers themselves note that , this vaporware tramway aside, they will be depending on car traffic to make this project attractive to large-surface retail tenants — but the reality of geology is that we’re on the downward slope of oil production, and to design development around cars at this stage in the game means risking yet another “dead shopping mall”.

The current plan is much like a deluxe version of the Jeanne-Mance housing project – Le Corbusian ‘towers in the park’ separated by what James Kunstler would call ‘nature band-aids’ such as berms, planters and plazas.

Time and time again, it has been shown that design of this nature does not create a vibrant, living residential/retail district. Main Streets are created by regulating building height to street width in order to create an intimate scale; widening sidewalks and using traffic-calming measures; building right to the edge of the sidewalk; and avoiding blank walls.

All one needs to do is look at successful, popular mixed residential-retail districts here in Montreal — Mont-Royal, Plaza St-Hubert, Laurier West, St-Viateur, St-Laurent Blvd, Old Montreal, the revived areas of Notre-Dame West and Masson Street, for instance — for examples of how to create ensembles of high-density development that are attractive; that people actually WANT to live in.

I don’t see any place in this design for children to play or go to school, for instance. Are they to use the remains of St. Ann’s church as a soccer field? And knowing that there will still be substantial traffic flow through the area as thousands of suburbanites rush to and from the bridge every day, is this likely to be the calm, car-free oasis that the renderings promise? Not likely.

I’m not against developing this area at all — but this design looks like a corporate campus or a hospital. It doesn’t look like “Montreal.”

We propose the following modifications to the design — without substantially reducing the square footage at all:

1. Create a tunnel for car traffic on Wellington to flow underneath the development, leaving surface traffic for bikes, taxis, buses and the tramway. (Similar to the very successful State Street in Madison, Wisconsin, and other pedestrian/transit streets all over Europe — ed). An entrance to underground parking could be included here. Failing that, use traffic-calming measures to reduce speeds and lanes.

2. Redesign the towers to be of a varied mix of historical styles and materials appropriate to the area. Place D’Armes is a good example — there’s three architectural styles in the Bank of Montreal alone. Why not alter the towers’ design and clad them in red sandstone, limestone, granite, glass and steel; surely we have the technology and technique to replicate early-1800s Gothic and Classical-Revival, early skyscraper, Art Deco and International modern styles?

3. Instead of housing-project-style “towers in the park” for the smaller condo units, why not create dense, residential row-house townhouses, and 6 or 8-floor apartments/condos with shops on the ground floor (like Monkland Avenue or Laurier East), and then consolidate the green space currently wasted on surrounding lawns and berms into a proper park with a pool, soccer fields, elegant central fountain etc?

4. Insist that the two big-box units with towers not face any streets with blank walls. They must incorporate real windows and rows of smaller shops, cafés, etc, and be built out to the sidewalk. Local businesses must be allowed to occupy these units, to ensure that some money stays in the neighborhood.

5. Retailers must minimize their packaging waste, and MUST recycle. there should be an onsite recycling and composting facility to serve residents and retailers alike.

6. Steps should be taken to ensure that all buildings are as water- and energy-efficient as possible, with the use of transflective, reversible films for windows, greywater recycling, green roofs, water metering for businesses, and to explore options that enhance passive solar heating, and rooftop or roof-edge wind energy (or even geothermal -ed)

7. A serious Griffintown Museum must be incorporated into the site. We hear there will be one attached to the St. Ann’s site, but local residents (such as Chris and Judith Gobeil) were hoping for not just a static display, but a real museum / Maison de la Culture with ever-changing exhibits and cultural events. If the “museum” ends up being a laminated poster on the wall of a small bus shelter, we’ll be a bit disappointed.

AJ Kandy, a neighbor of the site.

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