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.


Housing development, Copenhagen.

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

Griffintown condos.

Griffintown condos.

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?



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§ 6 Responses to Griffintown and the Importance of Urban Planning

  • Dave Schurman says:

    Looking forward to the next post. It is clear that with the new development in Griffintown there will be almost zero green space and – as you say – maybe no school or even a community Center? The old St. Ann church site is of importance and should be perserved carefully.

    • Thanks. There are a couple of lots that are allegedly earmarked for park space, but, clearly that’s not enough. Parc St. Ann/Griffintown is also at the far western fringe of Griffintown as a whole, so that’s not enough, and the Canal is just a narrow strip of land. I’m hoping the Canada Post lands yield some park space. But that says nothing for the condos between Peel and the railway viaduct.

      As I understand it, there is no plan for schools, nor community centres, in Griffintown.

  • ejensen says:

    I’m sure I’m biased toward the Nordic model, but I am shocked at the lack of planning. (WTH!?) Looking forward to the next installments!

    • Yeah, welcome to Montreal. In the late 19th century in North America, cities went through this massive expansion, and some pretty intelligent urban planning. But not my hometown. No way! Whilst other cities in Western Europe and North America had master plans in place by the 1880s or so, Montreal waited until around 1910. I kid you not.

      • ejensen says:

        I actually just read an article yesterday about a town in Northern Sweden, Kiruna. It’s right on top a huge ore vein, which is mined to the extent that the town center is now in danger and has to be moved. I’m flabbergasted at the thought, but that’s not all. Not only are they razing the old center and rebuilding, they’re moving some of the landmark buildings. Furthermore, the article included maps for the planned stages of the move / rebuild – up to the year 2100! My jaw dropped! (Although I should say I am not aware of that kind of forethought in cityplanning being the norm in the Nordic culture; this was the first time I’ve come across anything like it.)

      • I hadn’t read about that, but there are models of that in the resource belt in Canada, though usually the towns just end up getting abandoned and new ones built at new sites. Insane, isn’t it?

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