Save Griffintown!

Notes from the Little Burgundy Coalition subcommittee meeting by steph

by Steph Troeth

Two university experts on urbanism, Pierre Gauthier of Concordia University and David Hanna of UQAM, spoke to members of the Little Burgundy Coalition meeting this morning on Projet Griffintown. The Subcommittee for Housing, Environment and Security also invited Griffintown residents and other interested parties to observe the proceedings.

Pierre Gauthier enlightened us with the history of street design in the ancient neighbourhoods of Montreal – in particular, the morphology of streets in Griffintown. David Hanna shared his understanding of how the Devimco plan had progressed from the initial commercial-heavy project to one that gives more weight to residential density. Both experts were open about their discomforts and skepticism with regards to the project. Pierre Gauthier periodically expressed his concerns that the footprints of the commercial blocks will be twice the size of those on Sainte-Catherine and the car-orientedness of the plans. Amongst other things, David Hanna discussed the implications of having the proposed tramway skirt the downtown area in a “U” from Peel down to Wellington then upwards to Berri-UQAM – why not then complete the loop and make the tramway a ring?

Discussion also ensued on the inappropriateness of the designated commercial area according to the current Devimco plan; the widening of Wellington would merely separate the southernmost complexes from the rest of the proposed development area. The contradiction in vision for this project is not lost on the members in attendance: here we have plans that are supposed to revitalise an important area of the island that is getting the same treatment and ideology as “downtown” Montreal, yet we are trying to entice suburbanites with cars.

What struck me today was that all the questions raised were not new. They are the same questions everyone is asking everywhere: what is the real reason for widening the roads, when there is no justified necessity? Why aren’t there any schools and spaces for families with children? Are the tall buildings justified? Is this project taken into a cohesive vision with neighbouring developments for the Bonaventure Freeway, the Canada Post and other surrounding projects? I asked David Hanna if the results of studies done to justify the population growth in that area that can support the commerce is available to the public, and he confirmed that this information is completely private: only the City has seen it. He went on to say the clues lie in the odd details of the plan: the drastic change in streets, the possibility of converting of Rue Ottawa as an entranceway for trucks, the tramway with a route that does not make sense.

David Hanna is pessimistic that the project could be stopped, and believed the best thing we could do is to change the face of the project. Our energies should be directed at ensuring this project is kept under very close watch, so that nothing goes out of hand.

One thing that has been nagging me constantly throughout our following of Projet Griffintown: where is the rest of Montreal? Putting aside for the moment, big-picture issues such as lack of vision for sustainable development, or serious consideration to fostering a real community in Griffintown – Montrealers seem to be sleeping through this issue, while those of us living in the Southwest Borough are being robbed of our rights as citizens when we blinked at the wrong time. One day, Montreal will wake up and find something resembling the size of Fairview Pointe-Claire right on its doorstep – what then? The fact that information is not readily available is almost as bad as the fact that Montreal citizens are not collectively demanding it as they should. The City has managed to slide this issue under our collective noses – a project that is envisioned to become a complete southern extension of downtown Montreal! So why isn’t the average Montrealer demanding to know what their taxes are going to? This is one serious case of “somebody else’s problem” that Montrealers will deeply regret if we don’t wake up and demand the truth – now.



Where is the rest of Montreal? At least this Montrealer was oblivious to this project until a fortunate tweet tweet late at night.

In fact, I never knew about Griffintown…

But now, people will know.

Comment by Zelnox

I am very suspicious about the cars and all the talk about trams is still not very clear and it requires a dedicated plan involving areas outside of Devimcoville. Look at all the housing that filled in the old CNR tracks, the bus service in the area is horrible and there are cars everywhere.

Yea, Devimcoville. Sounds like something out of a 60’s science fiction novel where The Corporation builds some massive housing project and no one ever leaves, or wants to.

Comment by neath

The idea of a “Tramway Ring” is a great idea, and also solves the problem of knowing what to do with the new Bike Path alone de Maisonveuve! which can be converted into a westbound tramway running along Berri to Peel! All they have to do is install the tracks…..It doesn’t seem the new bike path is working too well anyway, and a tramway ring will certainly help everybody.

Comment by Mathew

I think it’d be perfectly possible to accommodate both a tramway and the bike path along De Maisonneuve, as long as we know that the basements underneath can carry the weight. 🙂

Modern tramways are very very narrow and light — Strasbourg and other European cities have these ones that can snake down even narrow medieval city streets, so there’s no reason why De Maisonneuve couldn’t theoretically have both. Alternately, it could loop up to Sherbrooke and run along there…creating a downtown figure-8 tram loop along Sherbrooke, Guy, the canal/Griffintown, then up/down Peel, over to Berri, down Berri, back along De La Commune and then back to Peel/Wellington as the central tramway hub.

Comment by ajkandy

Where is the rest of Montreal indeed?! Where are the Irish when the last remnants of their historical community is about to be razed? Where are the Ste-Catherine St store owners as their slim profit margins are about to be swept away? And more importantly where are these ‘residents’ that are willing to move on top of a shopping center? Steph, those studies have to be accessible some how, anyone know how to start an ‘access to information’ request? Let me know.

Also, was it just me or did Mr Hanna seems completely defeated. ‘Nothing we can do to stop this’ ‘Maybe we can make minor changes…’ His claim that this project will be intrinsically ‘good’ for Montreal left me gaping. In what way exactly? No school, no community center, 1 Million sqft of shopping?? With a recession looming in the USA for 2008 and most likely a global cool down to follow, what are we going to do with another ‘Rockland Center’ sized mall?

(Hell, even without the recession on the horizon, I see absolutely no need for another massive shopping center on the island)

So. Seeing all the press for this project and being handed a glitzy Project Devimco (err Griffintown) brochure as if it’s all a done deal just makes me think that we need to put the brakes on this thing fast. Else we risk being shoveled under the concrete during the upcoming ‘consultations’.

Comment by bryan

Why not just make the bus sevice better? Tramways in this area just don’t make sense because of the enormous cost and the fact that another more flexible kind of transport is possible.

Now were the tramway to be integrated into a light rail that went to the southshore, we might have something.

Because I’m working on a book about walkable cities, I’ve been poking around Griffintown and also the Dix30 shopping centre in Brossard which is a Devimco project. Two things seem clear to me: Griffintown is being slowing redeveloped much as the industrial area in northern Mile End has been over the last 10 years, and Devimco has a lot of money that it wants to invest (as do other big investment funds) and don’t know what to do with it.


Comment by Mary Soderstrom

Hey Bryan: I’m also not sure if it’s possible to request for access to the information, but perhaps between our circles of contacts we might be able to get someone to shed light. I’m somewhat concerned that we’d need to jump through hoops which would mean we won’t get hold of the information in time …

Hi Mary, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I’m fascinated by the debate for/against the tramway. I’m a big fan of trams and streetcars because I lived in a city that had them, and I found them more pleasant than buses. I think we should also take into account future running costs and environmental costs, not simply the cost of setting up the infrastructure. As far as I can tell, buses in Montreal currently run on petrol; I haven’t seen any movement or advertisement of ethanol buses, as has been done in Melbourne, Australia for at least the last 5 years. How is this going to be cheaper to maintain when the price of oil isn’t going to drop, but is more likely to rise? If we were going to re-engineer our buses to be more environmentally friendly, wouldn’t we be looking at extra costs too?

I’m unclear about the perception of why tramways are “less flexible”, so I’m happy to hear some thoughts on that. I have to say, I love trams, they have personality 🙂 So I’m still trying to understand the other side of the story.

Comment by steph

I can tell you there’s at least one former Montrealer living in Toronto following all of this.

Comment by Christopher

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: