Griffintown and the Importance of Urban Planning
May 12, 2014 § 6 Comments
This will be the first of a series of posts on Griffintown this week. I was in Montréal last week, mostly to finish up a bit of research on the Griffintown book, which, at least has a title, ‘The House of the Irish’: History & Memory in Griffintown, Montreal, 1900-2013. The last chapter of the manuscript deals with what I call the post-memory of Griffintown, the period of the past half-decade or so of redevelopment and gentrification of the neighbourhood. Griffintown was in desperate need of redevelopment, so let’s get that out of the way first and foremost. A large swath of near-vacant city blocks next to the Old Port, along the North Bank of the Lachine Canal, and down the hill from downtown, it was inevitable that it would attract attention.
My problem was never with redevelopment per se, then. My problem was with unsustainable development, willful neglect of the environment, of the landscape of the neighbourhood, and with blatant cash grabs by condo developers, and tax grabs on the part of the Ville de Montréal. And so that’s what we now have in Griffintown, for the most part.
In between conducting oral history interviews with my former allies in the fight for sustainable redevelopment, I wandered around Griffintown, Pointe-Saint-Charles, and Saint-Henri a fair bit. This was both professional interest and because I lived in the Pointe and Saint-Henri. I also had an interesting discussion with a clerk at Paragraphe Books on McGill College. Then there were the interviews.
My friend Scott MacLeod says that many of the condos going up in Griffintown look like “Scandinavian social housing.” I think he’s onto something. This is a picture from a housing development in Copenhagen. It is quite similar to what’s going up in Griffintown, with one key difference. In Copenhagen, there is green space. In Griffintown, there is none.
Part of the genius of Montreal is an almost utter lack of urban planning on
the grand scale. And in the case of Griffintown, the city has been almost negligent in its approach. During its overzealous attempt to approve any and all projects proposed by developers in Griffintown from about 2006 to 2010, the Ville de Montréal overlooked a few key components for the new neighbourhood: parks and schools. It was only after 2010 that the city thought that maybe it should earmark some land for, you know, parks. Schools? Who needs them?