Save Griffintown!

Thoughts from Project Griffintown Public Meeting by steph
January 24, 2008, 1:31 pm
Filed under: consultations, Devimco, ETS, griffintown | Tags: , , ,

By Stephanie Troeth

Around 100 people attended the Projet Griffintown public meeting with developers Devimco and their associates yesterday evening at the École de technologie supérieure – appropriately, just at the edge of the area in question.

This supposedly-public meeting was not very well advertised beforehand; we were only present by the effort of community organizers who’ve been meeting with citizen groups, our network of blogs, through email and word-of-mouth. The developers admitted this was their first experience with public consultation; it seems they didn’t quite grasp that a good old traditional public forum is a responsibility to citizens, not a favour. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, and to be honest, we were skeptical: How much more could Devimco tell us, that wasn’t buried under corporate NDA?

What was entirely refreshing about the public meeting was…the public itself. The meeting attendees came armed with information, perspective, insight and concerns. Comprising architects, artists and artisans, educators, community organizers, anti-poverty advocates, residents of Griffintown and its periphery, the audience was intelligent and relentless in demanding answers from Devimco.

We were heartened by the questions everyone asked: Why are there no schools? What about recreational space for families? Are the height of these buildings legal? What about the streetscape? Can we expect a diversity of commerce and business development?

Noisy, heavy trucks already diminish the quality of life on Notre-Dame; would this mega-project make it worse? Would there be coordination with the adjacent housing plan for the former Canada Post facility? What’s the percentage of affordable housing? This quartier is home to dozens of active artists – why weren’t they consulted, and where would they go? What context will be given to heritage buildings? How do we know this isn’t going to be another Dix30 shopping mall?

A major point of concern was the fact that Project Griffintown is going to take 10 years – long enough for market crashes, investor pullouts, and political issues to potentially scuttle the project or leave it half-built. We were assured that the investment was completely private, thereby protecting it from market flux. (There wasn’t time to ask: can we truly be assured of this when the United States is currently suffering from a housing crisis?)

The answers from Devimco and the meeting facilitators were generally positive. We see hope, a promise of true urban renewal that gives reasonable consideration to good street design and city life, with due diligence given to cultural and architectural heritage. Yet, the public left with a niggling sense of unease. This is one very fragile project that needs to be nurtured and cultivated with utmost care. Despite all the “right things one must do” (or in the tone of Devimco’s stance, “what the city told us to do”), we worry that the developers don’t understand the spirit of Griffintown, and that sincerity and soul must go into rebuilding this once vibrant neighbourhood. That it’s not the bricks and mortar and layout proportions that make a successful quartier, but an understanding that it is a legacy for generations of Montrealers to come.



A few points:

1. It was RESO, not Devimco or the city, that (mis)organized this workshop conference.

2. It was Devimco’s first experience – an unprecedented experience for any private developer in mtl – participating in such a forum, i.e. one organized by a community group such as RESO. Public consultation with the borough is required by law in the context of a PPU.

3. This is Canada, not the US, whose housing crisis is a result of US banks’ questionable lending policies. Let’s not mix apples and oranges, and let’s also admit that for every potential economic downfall over the next 10 years, there exists an opposite, more positive scenario that is equally plausible. We cannot predict the future, but Devimco has made an obvious effort to minimize its financial risk.

4. If anyone is still uneasy, I would point them to the recommendations Raphael Fischler laid out in his December gazette article you refer to in this blog’s archives. This project must happen, but it must happen the right way..this was the sentiment people came out with yesterday.

Comment by StatusQuo

Hi there, thank you for your contribution; we don’t disagree with your points. However, there is a need to recognise that globalisation means a fall in any market has a potential effect beyond national borders – and depending on which workshop you attended, there were mentions of liaisons with US companies. It’s not about mixing apples and oranges, but acknowledging that there are risks beyond what is often obvious, however minimal.

I think everyone agreed that this was a delicate project that must happen the right way. A pity that not more voices were heard.

Comment by steph

Wait til the real consultations. Already the SW borough realizes they’re lacking seating room, so they’re moving the consultation to….ETS. We will hear loud voices there, but fact is that with any political decision, there are some who will be happy and some unhappy. The challenge is to maximize the amount of citizens (aka voters) that approve and encourage the project.

Comment by StatusQuo

Question is : how does a city – and especially Montreal, with a relatively low rate of growth and slow pace of development – normally rebuild itself onto istself ?

Are Devimco’s proposal and schedule the scale and the scope in time one should expect here ? Again, compare to previous projects like faubourg Quebec, faubourg Saint-Laurent, Quartier Stelco, and add this up to Radio-Canada site, Quartier International, Quartier des Spectacles, Canada Post site just West of Griffintown, which also call for redevelopment, and get real please !

Why with all those vacant or underused sites all over and around downtown, and within Griffintown itself, does Devimco has to tear down blocks, streets and buildings (and rebuild façades; I thought that “facadism” trend was over since the late 80’s !) and push away enterprises and people that are already there in order to invest and set up a project ?

Aren’t there ways to build new housing, stores, and cultural facilities onto vacant lots first, in between existing buildings, and, in doing so, gradually improving quality of life for all while maintaining the essence and the spirit of the place and enhancing its overall attractiveness ?

Well, not if whole point and the main motivation of the project is to stretch out a big commercial mall, big boxes, parking spaces onto – and under -the whole area.

Do we really think selling out a whole neighborhood – currently owned and occupied by several people and busineses – to one single developer is the only way to regenerate the place ? Do we really need one single property (including privatized and privaletely controlled streets) over such a big tract of land ? Only if we feel big boxes, huge underground parking slabs and malls is what belongs there and is the only way to redevelop the place. That is the only motivation for such a drastic wiping out of the 200 years old urban grid (streets, blocks and buildings that give the sense of the place).

Other components of the project, desirable otherwise – diverse housing types, mid and small-size stores, cultural and communty facilities, parks and public places – can easily take place within the existing urban fabric.

So, YES to a project, YES to investment, YES to developers (more than one, please !), but in a much more cautions, respectful, gradual way.

Comment by Joseph Armand

Hi Joseph,

All very good points indeed! I suspect someone else out there might have better answers, but my understanding is that the cost of soil decontamination could have been partially an issue for small-scaled developers. In this case, I would imagine that scale does matter.

I too asked myself the question about such rapid development that’s not strictly organic. However, thinking in context of the history of cities, quite a few have been rebuilt after disasters, or when someone in power decides to make a point. London, Paris, Chicago – just to name a few familiar names. They haven’t exactly turned out disastrously, so perhaps we are underestimating the force of history.

In one of the workshops on Wednesday night, we were assured that even if the diagrams were square blocks, that there would be street-facing shops (rather than big box malls). Underground carparks are probably more favourable than on-street carparks. Part of me thinks they might have been better off investing in a better graphic representation of their vision that reflects their current plans more accurately. Or if these were images they had that are no longer valid, they need to be updated more often so that citizens can get the most recent concept and vision. It might seem a rather obvious thing to say, but really, better communication would lead to less unnecessary squabbles, and we can all look at rebuilding Griffintown in the right spirit and a more positive one.

Comment by steph

Thank you for your comment. I also think we all should envision Griffintown’s future in a positive way, not fearing change or improvement.

I only question our Montreal tendency to purposely recreate the disasters and destruction war created elsewhere. I thought we learned from our 60’s and 70’s errors : Complexe Desjardins, Petite Bourgogne, Radio-Canada, Habitations Jeanne-Mance, Ville-Marie expressway, René-lévesque blvd, and so on ….;

An accurate account of all the money invested to remove existing streets and blocks (lots of it probbly being public, from one source or another) would probably show that it could be invested in rehabilitating contaminated soils instead, here in Griffintown. Can anyone show and compare the numbers ? That issue is no different here than in most of the rest of the island. Scale wise, there is no problem in densifying and putting height onto lots that are already vacant, in between viable existing buildings and stuctures. Jean Nouvel’s project topping the Elevated train park structure in Chelsea, NYC is a good example of a new building strikingly different from the existing fabric but, in the mean time, totally integrated to it, within the existing street and block pattern, and buildings.

In my opinion, the main problem we should address with the Devimcos proposal is the footprints of the planned malls and the oversized floorplates both for commerce and parking, which condition the removal of heritage streets, the creation of super-blocks, and the demolition of otherwise perfectly sane buildings. There are ways to stack commercial squarefeet rather than spread them down onto several blocks. There are ways to combine new higher structures next to some preserved older, lower buildings, thus creating a diverse environment, enriching the city landscape, adding layers of history, enlighting the different time frames and architecture-construction trends. In brief, adding instead of removing.

Thanks very much to this site for letting us expressing our concerns and ideas.

Comment by Joseph Armand

[…] website, but to date, nothing seems to have surfaced. So, continuing the thread started by Steph in last week’s piece, here’s a summary of the important news about the project with visuals from our most recent […]

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