Gentrification: Plus ça change

September 14, 2016 § 2 Comments

I’m reading a book that is, for the lack of a better term, a biography of the Kremlin.  I am at the part where the Kremlin, and Moscow itself, gets rebuilt after Napoléon’s attempt at conquering Russia.  Moscow had been, until it was torched during the French occupation, a haphazard city; visitors complained it was Medieval and dirty. And it smelled.  And not just visitors from Paris and Florence, but from St. Petersburg, too.

In the aftermath, Moscow was rebuilt along Western European lines, in a rational manner.  And the city gentrified, the Kremlin especially:

This was definitely a landscape that belonged to the rich and the educated, to noblemen and ladies of the better sort.  It is through the artists’ eyes that we glimpse the well-dressed crowds: the gentlemen with their top hats and shiny canes, the ladies in their bonnets, gloves, and crinolines.  They could be leading citizens of any European state, and there is little sense of Russia (let alone romantic Muscovy) in their world.

Leaving aside the fact that there were no citizens of any European state in 1814, this sounds remarkably familiar.  This is the same critique I have written many times about Griffintown and Montreal: as Montreal gentrifies, it is becoming much like any other major North American city.

But it is also true of gentrification in general.  There is a part on the North Shore of Chattanooga, Tennessee, I really like.  It finally dawned on me that it is because it reminds of me Vancouver architecturally, culturally, aesthetically, and in the ways in which the water (in this case the Tennessee River, not False Creek) is used by the redevelopment of this historically downtrodden neighbourhood.  But.  I could also be dropped into pretty much any North American city and see similarities: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, New York, Boston, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville.  These are all cities (amongst others) where I have seen the same tendencies.

And, obviously, one aspect of gentrification is the cleansing of the city of danger and vice.  Just like Moscow was cleaned up in the aftermath of 1812.


The Death and Life of Griffintown

July 26, 2016 § 2 Comments

I was back in Montreal a couple of weeks ago to finish up shooting for the documentary my good friend, G. Scott MacLeod, and I have been working on for the past few years.  We travelled around Griffintown, doing some B shots, and re-doing some other shots.  And then we found ourselves at Parc Faubourg Sainte-Anne, on the site of the former St. Ann’s Church at the corner of de la Montagne and Basin.  Across the street is one of the last remaining stands of 19th century rowhouses in Griff.  And right behind and beside it is yet another condo development (because there never can be enough, right?).

Part of these rowhouses were part of a co-op. One Friday afternoon in April, a bunch of men in suits and hardhats showed up, milled around, pointed at things, and then disappeared.  Later that night, the residents of the co-op were forced out of their homes.  Their homes were quickly condemned and they weren’t even allowed to go back in to get their personal belongings (the fire department had to go back in to get the ashes of one woman’s husband).  Why did this happen?  Well, it seems that a water line had been opened and that had compromised the foundation of the 1867 building.


(photo courtesy of G. Scott MacLeod).

That Sunday night, around 10.30pm, a huge backhoe showed up and tore down the end unit of the co-op, the one with the leaky foundation.  The residents were “temporarily” re-housed.

Today, the co-op units are empty, only three of them still stand. And they all have a notice of eviction on their front doors.


As we were filming, we were approached by a Griffintown old-timer.  He doesn’t want his name used, so he will go unnamed.  He showed us a bunch of photos on his cellphone of the suits and the backhoe.  And he told us what he saw happen.  He said that a retaining wall had been built behind the co-op units when excavation work began on the condos around it.  But, interestingly, the wall behind the fourth unit of the co-op had somehow disappeared the week before the water leak.  And, just as amazingly, it suddenly re-appeared after the fourth unit was torn down.  As to who turned on the water, well, he left that to our imagination.

Whether or not his version of events is true or not, to me, this is symptomatic of the new Griffintown, one that is beholden to condo developers and the accumulation of tax money for the Ville de Montréal.  We all know Montreal is a historically corrupt city, and the recent Charbonneau Commission detailed corruption in the Montreal construction industry.

And whether or not something fishy happened with respect to the co-op or not, the events of April do not pass the smell test.  That no one seems to care is even more worrisome.  Montreal is a wonderfully progressive city in so many ways, but Griffintown is a fine example of what happens when greed takes over.  The city had this wonderful opportunity to remake an entire inner-city neighbourhood.  And rather than engage in sustainable development, or even, for that matter, a liveable area, the Ville de Montréal took the money and ran.  And this is to the city’s detriment.

Oh, and the residents of this co-op? Call me cynical, but I’ll be shocked if they end up back in their co-op.  See, the developer’s office is right next door to the co-op and my guess is that these buildings will either also mysteriously fall down or become condos as part of this larger development.

Research Note: Playing hockey against priests in Griffintown

June 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

As I noted in yesterday’s post on Frank Hanley, we really do live in a different era today.  In one of the chapters of The House of the Irish, I talk about hockey in Griffintown in the 1950s and 60s.  I interviewed Gordie Bernier, an old Griffintowner, a few summers ago about his life and growing up in Griff and his thoughts on it today.  The previous weekend, he was playing in an old-timers hockey tournament in Pointe-Claire, so clearly it was a major part of his life.  I can relate.

Bernier recalled playing with the Christian Brothers who ran the School for Boys in Griff and who liked to play hockey against the young men:

Keep your head up. But the league we had, we were only young…I was only, I think 17 or so, and we were playing against men, so some of the guys were older. It was a good experience….You keep your head up [laughs]. We used to go there, I think 8 in the morning to the rink on Basin, I lived other on Duke, we used to walk with our skates on, by the time we get over there if there was snow, give us the shovels, we had to clear off all the snow, and we’d play from 8 in the morning ‘til closing time, 10 at night. We were still there, play hockey all day at the weekend. Walk back, your ankles [were all swollen and sore].

Don Pidgeon, a man who has done more than anyone to create the memory of Griff as an Irish neighbourhood, also remembers playing the Brothers, and smashing one over the boards of the outdoor rink on Basin Street Park in Griffintown, with a hip check.

The Brothers, obviously, played hard, and they played to win.  And the lads of Griffintown were not about to give any quarter, as David O’Neill recalls, the Brothers were

great athletes, and a lot of them liked the rough stuff just as much as the boys, and the older boys used to try to establish themselves among their own friends, and there were a few of the priests who used to give and take as good, or better. That generated the respect from the local community towards the priests, and a lot of people respected the priests for their ability to give and take without any complaining. No punishment, except that you got decked back when you weren’t looking.

Certainly, then, this was a different era, when decking a priest, or getting hit back as hard, if not harder, was a means by which the young men and priests earned each others respect, and that of their friends and colleagues, and the wider community.

Research Note: The Legend of “Banjo” Frank Hanley

June 5, 2014 § 1 Comment

Frank Hanley, 1909-2006, in 1942

Frank Hanley, 1909-2006, in 1942

I met Frank Hanley a couple of times back in the early aughts, including one afternoon in Grumpy’s on lower Crescent St.  He was holding court, drinking, I think, a club soda.  He was, at this point, already in his 90s.  But he was irrepressible.  Even though he was 96 or 97 when he died in 2006, I was still surprised to hear the news.  He got the nickname sometime back in the 1920s or 30s when he was a minstrel player in Montreal, or so he told me.  He didn’t know how to play the instrument.  Hanley is the kind of guy that doesn’t exist anymore, which is kind of sad.  He was the city councillor for St. Ann’s Ward from 1940 until 1970.  He was also the MNA for St. Ann’s from 1948-70.  He didn’t belong to any parties, he was always an independent.  He tended to side with ‘Le Chef’, Maurice Duplessis, in the National Assembly during the 1950s.  But I just never could hold that against him.  He also despised Jean Drapeau, Mayor of Montreal from 1954-7 and from 1960-86.

Griffintown was left to die in the 1960s whilst the other neighbourhoods of the sud-ouest were given makeovers, mostly in the form of slum clearances and the building of housing projects in the Pointe, Burgundy, and Saint-Henri.  Griff got the rénovations urbaines part, but that was it. Nothing was built to replace what was torn down.  And it was not because of the 1963 re-zoning of the area as ‘light industrial.’  All of St. Ann’s Ward was, as were other parts of the sud-ouest.  Griffintown, quite simply, did not attract the attention of hôtel de ville and Drapeau’s team of rénovationistes as a site of investment.  The only voice demanding Griff get some love was its councillor: Hanley.  Local legend has it that Griff was left to die to hurt Hanley’s re-election chances, such was Drapeau’s enmity for him.

Anyway.  Hanley was an old school populist politicians, his first real concern was his constituents.  And his constituents tended to be poor in Griffintown and the Pointe.  He raised money for an emergency fund to help out his constituents when they ran into trouble.  Most of this money was raised from other constituents.  Occasionally, of course, a few dollars would fall into his own pocket.  While today we would shake our heads at this or perhaps bring Hanley up on charges of corruption, in his era, no one had any problem with that.

In the summer of 1967, Hanley ran into trouble with Revenue Canada.  He had been handing out over $150 per week to his constituents in trouble for much of the past decade, maybe longer.  And, of course, he took a bit for himself.  So Revenue Canada threatened to take his house at 500 Dublin St. in Pointe-Saint-Charles.  His constituents from Griffintown and Pointe-Saint-Charles had other ideas, and they showed up one morning in Hanley’s yard and proclaimed the ‘Republic of Hanley’ in his front yard.

In the end, Hanley and Revenue Canada reached a settlement.

Research Note: The Pont Champlain

June 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Pont_Champlain_(6)Nearly every time I drive over the Pont Champlain, I turn my brain off, and don’t think about the crumbling infrastructure of the bridge, I don’t think about how far it is down to the St. Lawrence.  I don’t think about how deep the river is.  I don’t think about the litres of ink spilled in the Montreal newspapers, in both official languages, about the bridge.  I don’t think about the fact that god-knows-how-many billion dollars are being spent to fix a bridge that needs replacing whilst the politicians in Ottawa and Quebec City continue to argue about how best to replace the bridge.  I don’t really think the bridge is going to fall down, of course.  But.

So it was a nice change of pace to be finishing off a chapter of The House of the Irish on the dissolution of Griffntown in the 1960s, and to come across documents I’ve collected from the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, as well as newspaper articles from The Star, The Gazette and La Presse from the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the Pont Champlain was first opened, and it was a marvel of engineering, and then the city and federal government built the Autoroute Bonaventure into the city in preparation for Expo ’67.

The optimism! The excitement about a new bridge connecting Montreal to the South Shore! The excitement about the Bonaventure, which “sweeps majestically into the city, the river on one side, the skyline in front,” to quote one article from The Star.  Next time I cross the Champlain, I’ll try to think of that.

Is Gentrification Inevitable?

June 3, 2014 § 3 Comments

Yesterday, in response to this post, I was accosted on Twitter and accused of many things, most of which were untrue, but most notably of standing by and watching gentrification from the sidelines and not offering any solutions. In and around that accusation, repeated in many different ways, I was also told that ‘gentrification is inevitable.’  Since then, I have been wondering if it is.

Now, I must point out that my critic, who ultimately dismissed me as “just a guy in Boston making false judgements about my hometown,” is also a real estate agent and is of the opinion that her neighbourhood, Verdun, is the next up and coming neighbourhood in Montreal.  So she has a vested interest in gentrification and rising property values.  Not that I don’t, of course, both when I lived in Montreal and now.  And it also doesn’t matter which city I visit, gentrification benefits me.  I’m a middle-class white guy.  But is gentrification inevitable?

Mulberry Bend, by Jacob Riis

Mulberry Bend, by Jacob Riis

I was in New York City a couple of weeks ago, on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan.  We eventually had dinner on Mulberry Street, on the terrasse of an overpriced, but delicious, Italian restaurant.  As I looked up the block, I could see the formerly notorious Mulberry Bend.  The Mulberry Bend, when the Five Points still existed, was perhaps the worst bit of real estate in the Western world for poverty and crime.  It was central to Jacob Riis’ 1896 classic, How the Other Half Lives.  Today, however, Mulberry Street is beautiful and on this sunny Sunday the street was blocked off to cars and a street fair was going on.  Even twenty years ago, this wasn’t really all that nice a part of town. But today, it’s all smoothed over and gentrified.

But is the kind of gentrification that has occurred on Mulberry Street inevitable?

I think it might be relative, it might be locational.  Take, for example, New Haven, CT.  New Haven is a smallish city and has been dealing with a variety of social problems, from high crime,  to drug use, since deindustrialisation in the 1960s and 70s.  It has also experienced ‘white flight’ and the people who ended up being stuck in inner-city New Haven had no hope, no option for a better life.  And so, New Haven, despite being the home of Yale University, has struggled.  On the train into New York City last weekend, I saw its newest solution, called Re:New Haven.  The city is offering people up to $80,000 in incentives to purchase a home and live in New Haven.  It seems to be working, at least according to the couple sitting next to us on the terrasse on Mulberry Street, who were from New Haven (as is the friend I was with that night, though he no longer lives in his hometown), who reported a boom in new restaurants and other hangouts. On that front, Re:New Haven sounds like a brilliant idea.  But there is always a cost for gentrification.  In the case of New Haven, African Americans who already live in these gentrifying neighbourhoods pay the cost.

New Haven has decided that gentrification is inevitable.  And it certainly looks that way on the ground in New York City and Montreal.  But there’s also a question of neighbourhood, especially in big cities.  If you look at New York City, it’s interesting to note that Queen’s and Staten Island are not getting as much love from the gentrifiers.  No doubt because they are rather inconveniently located vis-à-vis Manhattan. Similarly, in Montral, gentrification is in neighbourhoods that are conveniently located in relation to the downtown core of the city.  Thus, Saint-Henri, Griffintown and Pointe-Saint-Charles make sense in their gentrification.  Even Verdun is no more than 15 minutes from downtown on the métro.  But, other neighbourhoods, are more or less free of gentrification, or at least have not been overly affected.  Take, for example, Hochelaha-Maisonneuve, or HOMA, a chronically depressed neighbourhood in the east end.  Despite attempts over the past decade to gentrify, the neighbourhood remains largely immune.  Similarly, neighbourhoods north of the Métropolitaine in the north end of the city are also seemingly gentrification-proof.

Collective action against gentrification tends not to work.  It happens either way, whether residents welcome or resist it. However, my interlocutor yesterday also had interesting ideas about practical, boots-on-the-ground ways to ameliorate the effects of gentrification for the working classes of Verdun.  Pointe-Saint-Charles has long had similar ideas, but, each time I’m back home in Montreal and go through the Pointe, I see fewer and fewer of the old school working classes and the stores and restaurants that served them and more gentrified homes and hipster coffee shops and the like.

But what makes gentrification inevitable?  A search for cheap(er) housing?  A search for The Next Big Thing?  Recently, Richard Florida’s thesis about the Creative Class in cities is getting some static, because in many places it hasn’t worked out how he predicted.  And yet gentrification carries on.

Expensive Bikes and the sud-ouest of Montreal

June 2, 2014 § 4 Comments

I was in Montreal for a nano-second last week, in and out in 22 hours.  As I sat Friday morning sipping a proper café au lait and a croissant amande at Pain D’Oré at Atwater Market, a woman kitted out in cycling gear pulled up outside the boulangerie.  She took off her gloves and helmet, and then leaned her very expensive bike up against the shop’s window and came in to get her coffee and croissant.  I thought to myself that things had changed in the sud-ouest of Montreal.

Not too long ago, in response to a post on this blog about gentrification, my friend Max, who is a gentrifier, and has bought a place in a gentrifying neighbourhood, chided me for being so dead-set against gentrification.  I am not necessarily.  But I think we need to problematise the process, to recognise what we’ve lost, and so on, to not simply jump into the future unquestioningly.  But.  He pointed out some benefits about gentrification in his neighbourhood: he could find a decent cup of coffee and he said hipsters, as annoying as they generally are, are safe.  He doesn’t have to worry about his wife walking home at night.

I thought about that as I watched this woman leave her expensive bike outside the boulangerie, unlocked.  When she came back out with coffee and croissant, she moved her bike to her table on the terrasse.  I lived in the sud-ouest for the majority of my time in Montreal, mostly in Pointe-Saint-Charles, but also in Saint-Henri on the Last Ungentrified Block in Saint-Henri ™.  The rue Saint-Ferdinand, north of Saint-Antoine remains ungentrified.  I drove up it last week just to make sure.  But the streets on either side of Saint-Ferdinand ARE gentrified, so, too, is the block on Saint-Ferdinand below my old one.  So are large swaths of Saint-Antoine.  And so on.  The first place I lived in the Pointe wasn’t.  There are housing projects on the block, and my place backed onto the asphalt back lot of a project (Montreal’s projects, I might note, at least in the sud-ouest are not great towering cinderblock apartments, they are usually no more than 3-4 story apartment blocks.  They usually fit into their neighbourhoods).  My second place was definitely gentrified, as, by that point in my life, I was no longer a struggling student, but a tenured CÉGEP professor.

And still.  There is no way in hell I would ever leave an expensive bike outside a boulangerie at Atwater Market.  I never left my car unlocked.  Or my front door.  I keep a close eye on my computer bag.  Do I just trust people less?  Or had I just lived in the Pointe longer than this woman?  But, yet, her bike was completely safe, and not because I was sitting in the window.  About 15 people passed it as she got her coffee and croissant.  And no one even gave the unlocked, very expensive bike a second look.

Has the sud-ouest changed that much? Or was her bike simply in a high traffic area and safe?  I can’t decide.

I should also point out, for American readers, that gentrification in Canada tends not to get caught up in questions of race like it does here in the US.   Most gentrifying and gentrified neighbourhoods of Canadian cities are places where inner-city working-class white people lived.  So while class is still a very prevalent issue, race tends not to be.  There are exceptions. of course, such as in the traditional Anglo Black neighbourhood of Montreal, Little Burgundy, which is undergoing a massive shift right now.  But, on the whole, discussions surrounding gentrification don’t centre around notions of race.  Then again, few things in Canada do, at least publicly.  But that doesn’t mean that race and skin colour aren’t central components to Canadian life.

On Being Called a “Frog”

May 23, 2014 § 30 Comments

I got called a ‘frog’ today.  Every time this happens, it stuns me.  Like stops me in my tracks stuns me.  It’s happened a handful of times in my life, a few times in Ontario and British Columbia and now twice in Massachusetts.  The last time it happened was at the bar of a restaurant in a small town in Western Massachusetts.  I was having an amiable conversation with a guy about hockey.  He was a New York Rangers’ fan and I, of course, cheer for the Habs.  When I told him I was from Montreal, he said, “Oh, I guess that makes you a frog.”  I don’t think he really understood what the word meant.  But it was a conversation stopper, I visibly recoiled from him.

I have asked most of my French Canadian friends about this.  They, of course, have been called ‘frog’ many times in their lives, in Canada, the US, and Britain.  None of my friends is particularly fond of this particular epithet, of course, but most of them are also rather sanguine about it.  Perhaps due to being called a ‘frog’ repeatedly, according to one friend.  One of my tweeps is married to a French guy, as in from France, and she calls him ‘the Frog.’  Clearly, for most people who actually are French or French Canadian, the term isn’t a big deal.  Me, on the other hand, it is a big deal for me.  Maybe because I’m an Anglo.

The term ‘frog’ was actually first applied to the Dutch by the British, who saw the Dutch as marsh-dwellers.  Get it? Frogs live in marshes, too.  But then, in the mid-18th century, the French became the main enemies of the British, so the term got applied to the French due to their propensity towards eating frogs’ legs.  Eventually, the term ended up getting applied to French Canadians, just, I suppose, due to Anglo laziness.  Then again, Anglo Canadians have come up with other names for French Canadians, such as ‘pea soupers’ and ‘Pepsis,’ due to their alleged fondness for pea soup and Pepsi.  One Anglo Montrealer once told me that the Pepsi epithet also worked because French Canadians were said to be ’empty from the neck up.’  And French-speaking Quebecers also have a whole long string of nasty names for Anglos, including my favourite, tête-carré.

But.  I’m not French Canadian.  I’m an Anglo from Quebec.  So when I get called a ‘frog’, it stuns me.  Today I was called a ‘frog’ because I was wearing my Montreal Canadiens ball cap around.  I’m used to the abuse the hat brings me in and around Boston.  I welcome most of it, especially since the Canadiens knocked out the Bruins in the last round of the playoffs.  But usually it doesn’t go beyond “Habs suck” and variations thereof.  I don’t get told to go back to Canada (though I was once told to “Get out of my country” by a guy in Vancouver once), I don’t get called names or anything like that and 98% of the banter is friendly.  Since the Canadiens knocked out the Bruins, most people have even been respectful.

What makes today’s name-calling all the more puzzling is that I’m wearing a t-shirt that makes fun of Irish stereotypes and I have a huge Celtic cross tattooed on my right calf.  So clearly I’m not French Canadian.  And when this guy called me ‘frog’ and dissed the Habs, I actually stopped cold in my tracks.  I was stunned.  I just looked at him, he seemed to realise he’d gone too far and scooted off.

But I do find it interesting how much I detest the term.  And how much it offends me.  Any thoughts on the matter are welcome.

Race, Class, and Food Insecurity

May 21, 2014 § 5 Comments

When we lived in Pointe-Saint-Charles in Montreal, we lived about two doors down from a community garden in the shadows of the massive Église Saint-Charles.  That community garden had been there as long as I could remember, it pre-dated my first residence in the Pointe back in 2002-4.  The people who used it were the poor, working-class and marginalised Irish and French Canadians who lived in the Pointe. But, by about 2009 or 2010, the garden had been taken over by the gentrifiers, forcing out the old school urban harvesters.  Many of these gentrifiers thought they were new and unique in gardening in an inner-city neighbourhood.  Indeed, this is something I saw over and over again in Montreal, on the Plateau, Saint-Henri, the Pointe, and other neighbourhoods, as hipsters discovered the benefits of community gardens.

But they were hardly new ideas in old working-class neighbourhoods, particularly in the Pointe.  The Pointe had long had community gardens.  Aside from this one in on the rue Island, there was also a bigger one in the shadows of the railway viaduct along the rue Knox.  And the problems arise when the original inhabitants of the Pointe were forced out of these gardens by the gentrifiers.  The gardens were used to supplement diets, obviously.  I also noticed something else when I lived in the Pointe in the early part of the past decade and when I was in Saint-Henri mid-decade.  In both neighbourhoods, the local IGA (grocery store), both owned by the same family, the Topettas, opened new, glitzy stores.  The IGAs in the Pointe and Saint-Henri had been in grotty store fronts, on rue du Centre in the Pointe, and rue Notre-Dame in Saint-Henri.  When the new IGA opened in the Pointe c. 2002 and in Saint-Henri in 2005-6, I noticed a lot of low income families wandering around the stores with a slightly dazed look on their faces, complaining about rising prices.  This was ameliorated some by the opening of the big Super C at Atwater Market, which generally had much lower prices than either IGA.

I was thinking about all of this as I was reading an excellent article on TheGrio about food insecurity and food gentrification.  The article was written by Mikki Kendall, an African American feminists in the States, about the process of food gentrification.  Kendall writes about having grown up poor and eating the more undesirable cuts of meat, like hamhocks, neck bones, and the like.  She recalls her grandmother being an expert at turning “turning offal into delicious.”  Kendall notes the gentrification of what I call poor people’s food.  As haute cuisine chefs re-discover these traditionally less desirable foods and turn them into fancy dishes for the wealthy, it drives up the prices of these cuts.

[As an aside, I can’t help but wonder if the joke is ultimately on the wealthy eating these cuts of meat at expensive restaurants and I think of Timothy Taylor’s brilliant début novel, Stanley Park, which recounts, in part, the story of Jeremy Papier, a chef and restaurauteur in Vancouver.  Papier favours local ingredients and culture and comes to rely on animals trapped in Stanley Park for his fancy restaurant on the border of the Downtown Eastside, the poorest urban neighbourhood in Canada.]

But to return to Kendall and the IGA and community gardens in Pointe-Saint-Charles: Kendall notes that with the rising cost of these traditional cuts of meat used by the poor comes an inability to purchase them:

Yet, as consumers range further and further afield from their traditional diets, each new “discovery” comes at the expense of another marginalized community. Complaints about the problem are often met with, “Well, eat something else that you can afford” as though the poor have a wealth of options, and are immune to dietary restrictions based on religion, allergies, access, or storage capabilities.

So, ultimately, the poor are left to eat processed food, which isn’t good for any of us.  That is the only thing that is easily accessible.  When I was student, I noted with deep and bitter irony that the cheapest meal option was often McDonalds.  Or, if I went to the grocery store, aside from Ramen noodles (a processed food I cannot stand), the cheapest option was Kraft Dinner (or Mac & Cheese for you Americans), another slightly vile processed food (full confession: KD remains my comfort food of choice, I import large quantities of it from Canada).

And the end result of all of this bad, processed food is the toll it takes on the health of the poor, both in urban centres and rural areas.  In the United States, African Americans are, on the whole, poorer than everyone else.  In Canada, it is the aboriginals.  It is no coincidence that food insecurity hits African Americans in the US hard.  It is also no coincidence that rates of heart disease, hyper-tension, diabetes, and obesity are much higher in African American and Canadian aboriginal communities than in the rest of both nations.

We can and must do better.

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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