Save Griffintown!

Joseph Baker: Send Projet Griffintown back to the drawing board by ajkandy
March 25, 2008, 10:16 am
Filed under: op-ed

Joseph Baker, a past president of the Quebec Order of Architects and former director of Université Laval School of Architecture, established a community-focused architectural firm on Rue Barré to try to help Griffintown rebuild 30 years ago. Now, he’s appalled by what’s going through:

It is unfortunate that action had to wait 30 years […] Within comfortable distance of the city centre with its opportunities for employment and education, within walking distance of the Lachine canal and the Atwater market, Griffintown awaited a renaissance that did not depend on towers and big box stores.

How often must it be repeated that adequately dense development can be achieved without going higher than six or seven storeys, offering a variety of housing for families, singles and the elderly?

That is the kind of development that Griffintown needed. Montreal’s revised Plan d’urbanisme probably foresaw this type of development but it has been manipulated to allow a project with a totally different vision.

What was displayed at the public hearings in the Southwest borough was a project of an entirely different scale and nature… it presented a rather dated image, harking back to mega-projects of the 1960s like Cité Concordia that, had it been completed, would have destroyed the comfortable scale that Milton Park knows to this day. 

Baker goes on to mention that the process that led to the OCPM came from the Tremblay Commission report, which launched Hizzoner’s career in municipal politics; furthermore, he says that since the project is so large and impacts more than one borough, it falls into a Category 3 project which by law must go through an OCPM process; the borough alone isn’t competent to oversee something of this magnitude. 



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Phyllis Lambert to Mayor Tremblay: Proper consultation process needed for Griffintown by ajkandy
March 23, 2008, 12:03 pm
Filed under: blogosphere, Committee for Sustainable Redevelopment, news

Read about this and several other recent news headlines over at the official CSR Griffintown blog.

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Panoramic Photo-Cartography of Griffintown by ajkandy
March 23, 2008, 11:58 am
Filed under: griffintown

Lowney Lofts resident Jeff Dungen created this interactive photomap of the area covered by the PPU.

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Can the condo market absorb more supply? by ajkandy
March 23, 2008, 10:53 am
Filed under: economics, housing bubble, news

Interesting WSJ article, from the US bubble meltdown perspective:

The condominium market is about to get worse as many cities brace for a flood of new supply this year — the result of construction started at the height of the housing boom.

More than 4,000 new units will be completed in both Atlanta and Phoenix by the end of the year. Developers in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are readying nearly 10,000 total new units in a market already struggling with canyons of unsold condos. San Diego, another hard-hit region, will add 2,500 units, according to estimates provided by Reis Inc., a New York-based real-estate-research firm. […]

Regulators have been sounding the alarm for weeks about the exposure of small and mid-size banks to commercial real estate, which mostly means construction loans to developers of condos and single-family housing.

Lenders of all sizes have $42 billion of condominium debt on their books, according to Foresight Analytics. In just three months — between the third and fourth quarters of last year — the delinquency rate rose to 10% from 5.9%, says the Oakland, Calif., research firm.

When the US financial meltdown eventually affects Canada, we may find ourselves in the same situation. Anecdotally, real estate professionals we’ve talked to feel that there is already a glut of unsold condos on the market in Montreal, and that the next wave of demand (generation Y kids buying their first home) isn’t set to come for a few years yet. This gives more credence to Jean-Claude Marsan’s observation that there’s still plenty of room for commercial real estate and new residential construction in downtown proper, so to create a second downtown that may be subject to a financial collapse seems like a riskier proposition.

If the economy tanks and we go into a years-long depression before that, then I think people will be thinking more about staying home with Mom and Dad a while longer. The idea of converting McMansions into proper extended-family dwellings, or changing zoning laws to permit outbuildings, granny flats, etc. will probably come back into vogue.

(via Atrios)

We made the cover! by ajkandy
March 20, 2008, 2:13 pm
Filed under: griffintown, interviews, media, news

Montreal Mirror, March 20, 2008

Click the image to read the cover story by Mirror news editor Patrick Lejtenyi. (That’s me on the left, standing next to Chris and Judith Gobeil and their dog Andy.)

On the Eve of St. Patrick’s … some Comments From Citizens by ajkandy

Here’s the first batch of a selected sampling of comments from people who’ve signed the Griffintown petition, asking for a proper, democratic oversight process instead of a “fait accompli.”

To sign the petition, click here.

Please forward the petition URL to friends and family — this St. Patrick’s Day, let them know that a big piece of Irish-Canadian history is set to be erased forever.


Le project Griffintown aurait un effet global sur la ville de Montréal et il faut l’analyser comme partie eventuelle du métropole.

— Kate McDonnell, editor, Montreal City Weblog

Griffintown is at the core of Montreal’s history. The proposed project does not reflect the scale and history of Griffintown and therefore is not in the best interest of the community. An alternate project which takes into account these two factors would receive popular support. It is the duty of the City of Montreal to ensure that an acceptable project defines the next 100 years of Griffintown history.

— Jeffrey Dungen, a resident of the Lowney Lofts

Montreal does not need another retail shopping area in this part of the city with yet more branches of the same-old, same-old retail outlets. The neighbourhood should fit into an overall plan for the whole city. I think a mixed-use neighbourhood should be a goal, with up-to-date small and medium-sized local businesses supporting the unique residential character of this well-positioned urban neighbourhood. Montreal-of-the-future could be a city of neighbourhoods each with a distinctive flavour – like Paris, NYC, Toronto.

— Daphne Mitchell

Montreal is a diverse city, full of energy and beauty. I would be very sad to see Montreal lose its charm because the city of Montreal is desperate for taxes. Any future proposals should be put to public consultation and have a very clear design and be able to address the issues of the future. The current project ignores the human scale and only promotes the automobile. This is outmoded and irresponsible.

— Clint Lewis

I am one of the many artists who rent studio space in Griffintown, and I worry about the lack of consultation in developing this historic neighbourhood.

— Margaret Griffin

While revitalization is essential and much needed in the Sud-Ouest borough, the “Bassins Peel” represents an area that is monumental to Montreal heritage and history. I judge, given the long standing heritage and tradition associated with this area, that there is no reason why a precautionary protocol consultation process should not be followed. In other words, there is no reason why the consultation process should exclude the OCPM. Whether it is their jurisdiction or not, the area is monumental to all Montrealers and a standard protocol fair consultation should be practiced to reflect Montrealers’ point of view.

— Jonathan Auger, student in Urban Planning, Concordia University

This area of the city has long been neglected and, given its historic roots, the incredible potential for development is undeniable. I fully support new developments: condos, mixed-use and commercial. But let’s ensure that these maximize the area’s historic structures and create a liveable vibrant community.

— Sophie Lorenzo, Senior Editor, Parkhurst Publishing

Do people visit London, Paris or even Quebec City for poor planning and non-descript condo buildings? No, they visit these cities (and many others) thanks to the abundance of historical buildings that create an ambience that is difficult to recreate with modern structures. Rather than preserve buildings and districts, this city wants to tear them down. When will our elected politicians realize the importance of our built heritage?

— Eliot Perrin, contributor to the McGill Daily

Although I don’t live in the area, as an Irish Canadian I have extreme concerns about destroying what’s left of the Celtic heritage of Griffintown.

— Joseph Donnelly

Save Griffintown! We would be losing so much and gaining so little from all of this nonsense.

— Lukas Glickman

There is a huge amount of empty space in that district that can be built on. The very few streets remaining with original Griffintown buildings, residents and businesses do NOT need to be razed. If the developer insists on having one massive empty space to build on before building anything, somebody should give him directions to Mirabel.

— Louis Rastelli, magazine publisher and author of the novel A Fine Ending

L’idée de faire cadeau de tout un quartier à un seul entrepreneur privé est profondement anti-démocratique. En plus, Montréal a aucune besoin d’avoir des magazins de grand surface au centre-ville: ils sont déjà assez pire dans le banlieux. Je ne suis pas contre toute développement, mais ça devrait être à l’échelle humaine.

— Patrick Hutchinson

You know when the Parc Avenue crisis happened, I asked the mayor to his face at City Hall, in front of the entire council and opposition, the following question: “What will you do to ensure a fair and democratic public consultation process for future municipal developments?” I also proposed he set forth a motion to redesign the terms and conditions of modern-day “Public Consultation”, and make these accessible for all to know their rights in order to avoid future confrontations of this sort, and implicate Montreal’s people where they are concerned most: in their own backyards! Mayor Tremblay replied that my idea was a good one, and that the executive council would get to work right away on a new mandate that could benefit all, not least because of the public transparency with which the matter would be treated. My proposition was supported additionally by Marvin Rotrand. What is happening in Griffintown clearly demonstrates that Mayor Tremblay did not keep his word, and worse, may have in fact lied to me. I am appalled and personally insulted. But it’s nothing compared with what Griffintown residents must be going through. Let’s stick it to the city again!

— Alison Louder, actress and organizer of the Park Avenue name change counter-petition

Changes of this dimension should be put to a referendum and several options should be investigated. The City is not handling this in a democratic manner. They are looking at this as almost a “fait accompli” and showing some “great project” without analyzing the human aspect or the economic losses to downtown for the economic gain of the developers and additional taxes to the City coffers. The historical factor of the area also has to be taken into consideration. Where are you Phyllis Lambert? We need your input and the input of like-minded people. Zoning changes should not be undertaken before conditional approvals are given and public consultations have been held. The benefits need to be fully evaluated. New area redevelopment should not be done at the expense of another existing one offering the same retail choices. Public low-income housing is a must in this project along with other apartments condos, offices and retail outlets. Unfortunately, they may be looking at an income generating project for the developers. So many other things need to be considered.

— Lyna Boushel

Notre belle ville de Montréal a une histoire écrite par les humains qui l’ont créée, et cette histoire se vit à travers les bâtiments qu’ils ont construit. Respectons cela, entre autres à Griffintown qui mérite mieux que des consultations hâtives pour être développé dans le respect du passé …

— Renee Wathelet

Le projet griffintown est un PPP (partenariat publique-privé) en planification urbaine. On devraient laisser les fonctionaires de la ville faire leur job – planifier pour le bien commun – au lieu de les sous-traiter aux promoteurs privés. Oui aux consultations véritablement démocratiques!

— Mélanie Ménard

I’m very disconcerted to see how the city of Montreal has gone about their plans to develop Griffintown. Allowing limited public input, and very quietly trying to grant one contracting group the privilege of developing this area is a stain on the administration’s record. I might add that their previous development of Quartier DIX30 is an eyesore in itself. Furthermore, the city of Montreal should ensure organic development in Griffintown that protects historical sites, and also ensures much greater pedestrian access, with more public transportation and less vehicle circulation. The current attempt at greenwashing and portraying their plans as environmentally friendly are sad, as their plans seem only likely to attract great amounts of vehicles to the downtown area.

— Tyler Palov

J’ajoute mon nom à cette pétition pour que Griffintown ne soit pas redéveloppé en un quartier commerciel désâmé et sans joie, auquel on aura greffé quelques logements à prix modique pour ‘faire bien’. Et puis, avons-nous besoin d’un autre centre commercial à Montréal, avec les mêmes boutiques et magasins? Eh bien non! Avez-vous visité le village au pied du Mont Tremblant? Une horreur! Vous êtes passé au Dix30? Un truc complètement inhumain qui ne correspond ni au climat Québécois ni aux besoins des habitants de la grande région métropolitaine! Et on laisse ce type de développeur dicter ce qu’un quartier appelé à devenir important à Montréal devrait devenir? Trêve aux faits accomplis et oui à un processus de consultation démocratique et transparent qui soit géré non par Devimco, mais par un groupe indépendant. Un bon quartier, c’est un environnement vivant, organique, original. Pas un truc parachuté de la tête d’un groupe de personnes qui s’intéressent avant tout au ‘bottom line’!

— Lysanne Larose

M. le Maire, ne repetez pas les debacles comme L’Overdale de Doré ou votre experience avec Parc Avenue… Consultez et soyez pratique et democratique!

— Ian Rogers

Let us all take a deep breath and get this right for once. What’s the hurry with a recession around the corner anyway?

— Bryan Soares

Can we raze the Olympic Stadium instead?

— James Manila

I just love this neighbourhood and I wish it could stay intact.

— Karine Fournier


More comments from citizens tomorrow!

Once again…to sign the petition, click here.

Why the Swedes are right, and Claude Provencher is wrong by ajkandy
March 11, 2008, 6:51 pm
Filed under: griffintown

Yesterday’s kickoff of the 2nd phase of public consultations on Projet Griffintown was quite well-attended by presenters, the public, and the media, with both CBC and CTV television crews, and reporters from the Mirror, the Gazette and La Presse (among others) in evidence.

Members of the Committee for the Sustainable Redevelopment of Griffintown (CSRG) staged a press event just beforehand, arriving by horse-drawn carriage in order to underline the area’s Irish heritage and the continuing presence of the urban horse in Montreal.

In their presentations to the borough council, both CSRG and Pro-Point, a group of local architecture and urbanism professionals from Point St-Charles, underlined the fact that models for high residential density already exist in Old Montreal and the Plateau Mont-Royal, and pointed to European and Scandinavian examples of new development along these lines.

CSRG’s Chris Gobeil noted that Dublin, Ireland is denser than Montreal by nearly 1000 residents per square kilometer, without high-rises. Pro-Point spokesperson Juliette Patterson, a landscape architect, pointed to the example of the BO-01 model eco-city development in Malmö, Sweden. Patterson also referred to Dublin, showing examples of infill development that respected the urban fabric.

Last week, architect Dominique Laroche presented more on the Swedish eco-cities at Pecha Kucha. These projects occupy a very similar footprint to the proposed Projet Griffintown, but deal with land use and density very differently, most notably in being low-rise, extremely eco-friendly, family-oriented, and, for the most part, car-free.

Mr. Laroche graciously sent me some images from his slideshow. These first images are from Hammarby Sjostadt in Stockholm:

Hammarby SjostadtHammarby SjostadtHammarby SjostadtHammarby Sjostadt

And these are from Malmö’s BO-01 City of The Future, which is going to be expanded with more affordable housing soon:

Public square with more reed-bed ecosystems for treatment of wastewater at BO-01
indoor heated bike parking at BO-01network of pedestrian alleyways in BO-01Wooden boardwalk and public seating at BO-01Malmö BO-01

Now these are not just random condo developments; they’re designed as completely integrated systems. The plant bed in the last large photo, above, is actually a sediment / reed-bed wastewater filtration system. In the Hammarby project, a special vacuum-tube network sorts recyclables, compostables and waste; sewage is converted to biogas to generate on-site power use. Harbourside walkways provide pleasant destinations. The list goes on. (If I spoke Swedish, I’d move tomorrow.)

I think these are a much better model and they already go well beyond the LEED affectations Devimco has made, and as they group most cars and parking at the edge of the development, rather than allowing them free reign, it seems much more attractive to pedestrians. (Some say, too attractive, as their neighborhood has become a bit of an open-air museum).

The kicker? These were built in 2001. By the time Devimco gets done with Projet Griffintown, in 2019 or so, we would arguably be 18 years behind the Swedes in designing truly sustainable neighborhoods.

Claude Provencher, the eminent architect who contributed to much of the recent development in Old Montreal, such as the Quartier International and Cité Multimedia, expressed a generally positive attitude to the PPU, declaring it “adequate.” His firm had a major role in the Centre de Commerce Mondial, cited by Devimco as an influence on their “shopping arcades” concept for the two megablock developments. (Hmm, am I sensing a pattern here? Is he angling for a job?)

However, Provencher made several comments about how people fought over the height of the hotel, etc. back in the 1990s, but ultimately the CCM was the “engine” that drove the renaissance of the entire area, and thus, to block Devimco’s project would doom Griffintown (and by extension Montreal) for decades.

Now let’s take that argument apart:

The very tall Intercontinental makes sense in its situation, as there are other tall buildings in the immediate vicinity — Place Victoria, aka the Stock Exchange tower, the 1920s-era Royal Bank headquarters, and the 1960s TD headquarters to name just a few.

Griffintown doesn’t have tall buildings at all — the Five Roses and ADM silos are much too far away from the Peel-Wellington sector to be perceived as part of it, but that’s what they’re using to justify the heights. Several residents of the Lowney lofts are now worried their view of the iconic Five Roses sign will now be blocked off, in fact. The idea that towers = density has been disproven time and time again.

The CCM is no doubt a successful project — but to call it the building that keyed the entire renovation of Old Montreal betrays a touch of hubris. It might have been chronologically first, but there was a masterplan, proposals, landscape architects, dozens of different firms, many different commissioning developers and major tenants (CDP, ICAO, etc.) all working together and in parallel.

In short, there was a highly detailed plan and public oversight, and many more stakeholders, which ensured a higher-quality outcome. More top-class talent was brought to bear on the project, and there was a more comprehensive consultation process. None of this is true for Projet Griffintown; in fact, quite the opposite.

In the Quartier International, truly urban public squares are the focal points — not glorified driveways or gas station forecourts — and motor traffic is greatly reduced and controlled. Place Jean-Riopelle and the renovated Square Victoria are the unsung heroes here, providing attractors for pedestrians and providing a formal articulation of the public realm. They elegantly modulate the space that sets off the surrounding buildings, and the effect is superb. (Daniel Arbour & Associates previous claim to fame in Montreal are the “nature band-aids” in front of the Park Avenue Metro Loblaws; I don’t have much faith in their abilities to do classical public square design.)

In the context of QIM as an entirety — the CCM could have come afterwards rather than first; it doesn’t seem obvious to me that it would really have made a difference, compared to the renovation of the public realm. One could argue the 1990s creation of the Old Port as a public park, or ongoing redevelopment down McGill Street, had as much to do with it as anything; we are perhaps mistaking cause for effect here, or seeing a correlation when there is merely coincidence.

The multitude of private developments adjacent to the project – like the Unity Lofts, for instance — are there because Old Montreal in general is a more active place today, but to attribute it all to one retail/office building isn’t really supportable.

In fact, if the CCM were to be done today, with the sensibilities of today’s generation of architects, we likely wouldn’t have such a flagrant example of architectural taxidermy setting the stage for the “demolition and partial reconstruction” of several recently renovated buildings on Wellington, such as the Henderson-Barwick office lofts and others. I think we’d see something much more innovative.

Seeing the nearly polarized views coming from professionals, I can’t help but wonder if what we’re seeing is a generational divide, or another, maybe class-based divide in sensibility.

One side is pro-growth at any cost; They fervently believe in a world of robust, infinite economic growth and resource capacity, far too trusting in the ability of technology to fix its own problems, and obsessed with short-term rewards. I get the feeling that many of them have an inherently suburban worldview — that is to say, they have been conditioned to perceive the illusory as real (the cartoon of the little cabin in the woods, vs. actual country living), and possess that vaguely libertarian viewpoint of not wanting to have to depend on, or conversely, support, anyone else. Which really makes it anti-communitarian, if you ask me.

The other side has a much greener, Slow-er and longer-term sensibility — or at least a very highly tuned set of BS detectors. Seeing the litany of destruction, failure and unanticipated consquences that Montreal’s megaprojects have often left in their wake, this group is much more doubtful about grandiose claims that just one more will solve all our problems. They’re more likely to pursue more low-key, local interventions. They understand that real cities emerge from communities; groups of shared value, interdependence and mutual support. They know that we need to stop urban sprawl, not by bringing the suburbs into the city, but by building classically urban forms to create density at a human scale.

That reminds me of something Claude Provencher’s firm has already worked on, which, reworked Hammarby-style, might be entirely “adequate” for Griffintown: their section of the Faubourg Québec development at the end of the Old Port, with its industrial-style low-rise condos and family-scaled row houses. That’s something I could cheer for without reservations.

Faubourg-Quebec development in Old Montreal, buildings by Provencher Roy + AssociésFaubourg-Quebec development in Old Montreal with row houses, buildings by Provencher Roy + Associés

Libre-Opinion: Raphael Fischler by ajkandy
March 10, 2008, 3:58 pm
Filed under: op-ed

Not sure if I linked this Dec 17th Le Devoir op-ed from McGill urban planning professor Raphael Fischler, previously, but here it is.

To me, it seems as if an overwhelming majority of the city’s prominent architecture educators, architects and urban planners are against Devimco’s plan. That’s got to mean something.

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Fresh horses!* Griffintown hearings continue tonight, set to go all week by ajkandy

The comments-and-briefs-submitting period of the Griffintown consultation process kicks off tonight at 7pm, and with the huge number of respondents set to offer their views, I estimate that instead of wrapping it up in one or two nights, it could stretch to the end of the week or further. Now’s the time to get your word in, or simply observe the process.

The Committee for the Sustainable Redevelopment of Griffintown will be presenting second-up this evening. They’ll be submitting a brief including both a written critique of the proposal, as well as a vision statement for a more sustainable, organically developed and locally-focused community. The brief will be available on their blog after this evening, I believe.

The Committee’s also going to stage a press conference at 6:15 PM in front of the ETS, and will be bringing a calèche and horse to underline the importance of the Griffintown Horse Palace as a living legacy of the area’s Victorian industrial past. They’ll also be asking attendees to sign their petition asking for a better, more democratic process for the Griffintown project.

In other news, I was photographed, along with Chris and Judith Gobeil (and their dog, Andy) down at Saint Ann’s Park, with the Five Roses sign in the background, for the cover of the Montreal Mirror. The story’s being expanded so it’ll appear the week of the 20th.

Chris was also interviewed on CBC’s Radio Noon today, helping to explain how we are yes-for-dense-development, but no-on-oversized-shopping-centres. is also working on a more in-depth story for their online news division.

See you at the ETS tonight!

*A random, but appropriate quote from Brian Blessed as King Richard, in the first series of Blackadder.

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News Roundup, and Sign The Petition! by ajkandy

More Griffintown media mentions:

  • Eric Clement in La Presse reports that the Sud-Ouest borough’s star team of citizens, urbanists and architects — their Consulting Committee on Urbanism (CCU) — voted unanimously against the Griffintown project as proposed by Devimco — but their report was silenced.
  • Charles Poulin covers the still-unanswered questions in the Journal de Montreal.
  • Stephane Baillargeon, writing in Le Devoir, discusses the possibility of future economic collapse affecting Projet Griffintown.  (The question in the article attributed to Hélène Dansereau is actually the question I asked (on Peak Oil). The city’s urbanism guru, Luc Gagnon, blanked on that question and punted it over to Serge Goulet, who repeated his stump speech about LEED certification until I pointed out that that’s not what I asked, and then the moderator called time on things.)

If you haven’t done so already, read and sign the petition for a proper democratic process on Griffintown. If you already have, please pass the link along to colleagues, students, teachers, friends, and family! Remember…your neighborhood could be next!