Save Griffintown!

Why can’t Montreal become more like Paris? by ajkandy
December 30, 2008, 1:39 pm
Filed under: griffintown

The Gazette’s Henry Aubin knocks the pro-sprawl advocates by pointing out that moderate density is a Good Thing:

Paris is an enviable place to live. It has parks galore. Its tallest residential buildings have six floors. The price of real estate does not exclude the middle class. Public transit serves residents superbly. And if my many cousins who live there are any indication, it’s great for families.

Dense development, in short, can be fully compatible with a high quality of life. But it takes good, foresighted planning.

Such planning is alien to our political establishment. The Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal, the regional planning body that Mayor Gerald Tremblay heads, is an ostrich when it comes to climate change. The Quebec government is worse: It keeps lavishly subsidizing sprawldom’s new highways, waste-treatment plants, schools, hospitals and other institutions, making a move to the 450 financially enticing.

American blogger Atrios often returns to this topic, pointing out how simple changes in infrastructure land-use planning creates healthier cities that, he emphasizes, don’t necessarily all have to look like Manhattan.

Montreal definitely needs to break the cycle of urban flight if it is to regain its tax base and fund the infrastructure improvements it needs. The municipal mergers were an attempt to get back that lost revenue, but that battle was lost to suburbanites’ demand that everyone else continue to subsidize their lifestyle.

Projet Griffintown and the reported seven other development schemes waiting in the wings are attempts to create density on underused land, and in that respect it is a laudable goal. What we need, however, are not car-dependent suburban shopping centres gussied up as faux-downtowns, but extensions of the existing urban pattern.

Take the redevelopment of De Maisonneuve, for instance. New individual, high-quality buildings with street-level retail, and the demolition / renovation of several older buildings, have created a true urban neighborhood — apartments, condos, restaurants, shops, all within walking distance, co-existing on a narrow grid. It’s definitely gentrified now, but as James Howard Kunstler notes in his book The City In Mind, that’s not necessarily a bad thing:

If it were morally unacceptable for the better-off to revive devalued city property and live in it, then where should they be allowed to live? A process of elimination left either a) the neighborhoods already occupied, b) the suburbs, or c) the rural hinterlands. Under this logic, the number of middle-class city dwellers would be forever fixed at the current level.

And as studies such as Lance Freeman’s and Jacob Vigdor’s have shown, gentrification counter-intuitively stabilizes neighborhood populations; People of low to moderate income actually have an incentive to stay in their improved neighborhoods.

Montreal has advantages that Paris does not, as Aubin points out — nearly five times the space, for instance — so there is more opportunity to create denser development affordable by all. It’s a planning challenge, but one that we will have to face sooner rather than later, if we are to meet carbon-emissions targets and ensure a functioning city well into the 21st century.

1 Comment

[…] Save Griffentown got in on that act to support and defend the the Montreal as Paris ideal. The article even points out that Montreal has advantages that Paris does not, such as five times more of the space. […]

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