tv Witness LINKTV November 3, 2021 3:00am-3:31am PDT
i spend a lot of time in montreal. it really is, together with copenhagen and barcelona, one of my favourite places on the planet, a home away from home. but i still have a problem putting my finger on what makes this city so great. through the centuries, montreal has found itself at a global crossroads where nations, cultures and languages have met, or were fiercely defended. now, it's as though montreal is a city that spends a lot of time wondering about itself. i wouldn't call it an identity crisis, more of an identity mélange. this city faces real urban challenges. the people here will tell you that they have the worst potholes on the planet.
it might be true, but they say it with a sense of ironic pride. is that the metaphor that defines this place? citizens constantly having to navigate safe passage through a ruthless asphalt jungle? maybe it is. let's find out. - montreal has often been dubbed "little paris". it's not. it's been described as new york
with a european twist. nah! while it's true that montreal is the largest french-speaking city in north america, trust me when i say that this city has an identity all its own. while cheap rents have long made montreal a great place for artists to live and thrive, giving the city its cultural clout, it has also suffered from years of corruption and neglect. montreal continued to thrive, however, by reinventing itself on a smaller scale than most urban hubs. the city's current identity is inextricably tied to the vibrancy and diversity of its nineteen boroughs. from one block to the next, there is a world of difference. i would even say multiple worlds. almost six out of ten montrealers are immigrants or of immigrant descent. montreal is not the biggest, not the richest, not the boldest,
but that is not the point. it's one of the best cities to live in, in the whole entire world and that makes it a happy underdog. there are very few high-rises in montreal. everywhere, it's just residential buildings that are two, three, four storeys, with tight-knit streets and everything close together. this is a triplex, so flat over flat over flat. and here you've got a spontaneous meeting between the third-storey resident and the second-storey resident. very typical. - as an associate professor in urban studies, david hanna digs deep to understand what makes up this place, focusing on heritage and transport. he was recently appointed as commissioner for montreal's public consultation office. oh, and he absolutely loves his city. boston has its double-deckers and triple deckers. chicago is full of two-flat, three-flat, four-flat houses. it's the same stuff. the difference is the outside staircases, the balconies.
that's montreal. it brings people outside in this kind of intermediary space. you know, you come out and you run into your neighbours. neighbourliness is just built into the architecture. everyone of these neighborhoods in montreal has one or two major commercial arteries. even during the arrival of the automobile, the shopping malls and all that, these were always kept going with a lot of municipal care. so it becomes the glue of the neighborhood. every city has challenges. every city has a dark side. what is that for montreal? ha! corruption. oh, okay. that was a quick answer. we have a corruption cycle here. the population's apathetic, doesn't want to hear about it. then suddenly, it just goes over the top and the public wakes up. "holy cow! what's going on here?" and then they want commissions of inquiry and prosecutions. and bingo! we go through three years of intense inquiries and everybody's shocked. oh my gosh. then we get the reform period. it goes on for about two or three more years. a lot of reforms put in, new inspectors, new laws and all that.
and then we get the sweet spot. we get about fifty years of good government. - after years of corruption... and by that, i mean rigged bidding on municipal contracts, kickbacks to city officials and a mayor indicted for fraud and conspiracy... well, after all that, important reforms were implemented and david thinks montreal is in for a period of intelligent and citizen-oriented government. well, only time will tell. what is the state of the nation in montreal regarding gentrification in especially a neighborhood like this one? well, it is a hot subject here too. there's a lot of stress over it and a certain amount of political struggling over it. we have our traditional urban poor who are still here and some of them benefit from rental protection, from co-op housing and programs that quebec has to stabilize its people and keep them in their houses at very favourable prices.
right. others are indeed pushed out by rising rents. - i know. this is not new york or even toronto, but for this neighborhood, hochelaga-maisonneuve, it is a radical transformation. an ocean of condos has popped up in the area, jumping from 500 to 4,000 in just twenty years. activists have denounced the situation openly and vocally, and sometimes violently. we may not agree with the method, but it certainly is symbolic of a ubiquitous discomfort. this looks like it's been recently redone. am i right? well, more than redone. it was done. it was done? there was no square here. oh really? yeah. this is a railway crossing. coming into the industrial neighborhoods and flitting off towards downtown. then it flowed through here and disappeared out through the factories. and they abandoned it in the sixties until finally in the nineties someone had
the bright idea of doing something with special spaces. the grade level-crossing became a public square. this is kind of the new heart now of the hochelaga-maisonneuve neighborhood. is this a life-sized city? the city's made up of just what i would call ordinary, discreet people spaces that are very human scale, very local and it's all very people-oriented. that's what makes this place just so liveable. - when this guy, luc ferrandez... and full disclosure here, he's become a very good friend of mine... was first elected as borough mayor of the hip plateau mont-royal, he triggered a wave of very cool moves, all aimed at giving citizens their neighborhood back. over the course of just a few years... are you ready for this? luc's team added seven new parks, revamped
six others, installed 226 planters on street corners, made 93 intersections safer for pedestrians, lowered average speed limits, created 17,7 kilometres of new bike infrastructure, installed 5,000 bike parking spots and greened 43 alleyways. somebody pinch me. people don't see the need for public spaces. you want to go through, you want to park, you're busy. people think: "hey, this guy is going to remove parking, take out roads and increase congestion to do what? public spaces? who asked for public spaces?" but once it's built, once it's built, some of these people realize: "hey, i needed all my life and didn't know it." we can do twenty different things just around you. twenty different things that maybe you didn't think about, but that will change everything. the park, the street, the sidewalk, the bike path, the back alley... we have to enrich people's surroundings so that they say: "you know what?
i want to live in the city." - to call this bike lane controversial would be a massive understatement. it was one of luc's first projects in the plateau. back in 2011, he transformed a stretch of laurier into a one-way street and implemented bike lanes on both sides. the rest is history. aha! i mean, this is a complete transformation. well, i think this is one of the places that people appreciate the most. it's a subway station. the sidewalk was 1.5 metres along the station. that's it. and we said, we'll do eleven meter wide sidewalks. even the engineers said: "why? why do you need eleven metres wide sidewalks?" i know in europe, it's totally different. people are doing this on a regular basis. but in north america, it breaks some rules, but now people are not shy anymore to go for that. the gymnasium's here, so's a school, the subway station and a church. this is the core of a village that didn't exist only because there were too many cars
and too much noise. all of a sudden, you widen the sidewalk a little bit, you plant trees and it appears. you could not hear the kids in the school yard and now you pass by and you can hear them. because you hear them, you turn your head and you look at them. it creates a contact. it creates life. this is beauty. the beauty of things is not the tree. it's how many people the tree will bring in. when it works, it's magic. - luc has recently been given a new citywide mandate and is now in charge of the city's most important parks, green spaces and large-scale projects. montreal has a lot of bear-sized parks. how does that impact city life here? we have a lot of local parks in montreal and we have to have a lot of people coming to those local parks to make them a place to meet and to create society.
and now this is my responsibility: to create these huge parks that are no more about people gathering together, but about people discovering the world. people have to dream about the public space, but are they going far enough? who dreamt about les champs-elysées? who dreamt about piccadilly circus? you know, when you dream about these things, you have to make sure that when you invest 150 millions of dollars into these places, you are really catering to the needs of the people. i have the conviction that we need grandeur in our lives, that we need a place that represents the city and that you meet the city. we want to sell this to montrealers and say: "look, we need huge public spaces, we need public spaces so big that we need four fountains on them." and i have a great enthusiasm for this new dream. it is great for me. ten years ago, people were saying they would never raise their kids in the city. and now i want to tell people: "you don't have to pay for it. you have to pay through your taxes, but it's yours. it's yours.
we're taking care of it and it's great." you're kind of just the guardian of the city because people own it. oh! absolutely! the people do own it. let's own things in common, let's invest in things in common that will be much, much better than if you invest in your backyard. - for some neighborhoods, the preservation of life-sized building and people spaces succeeded. but man, it was a very close call. what a monster! it just looks completely out of scale, right? it just doesn't match. the idea of these developers was to raze six blocks of old, grey stone houses and beautiful 1800s and... like this sort of building here. ...1900s, this sort of building here, yes. all of those were to go and they were building all those high-rises. 225 buildings... buildings. - ...were lost. what we did save were 640 units. yeah.
- it could have been way worse if alanna and her friends hadn't put up an epic fight to save the milton-parc neighborhood. through the 70s and 80s, there were demonstrations, sit-ins and protests. and the activists, they finally won in 1987. no more high-rises would be allowed to scar the skyline here from that moment onward. but it wasn't just an architectural thing. the fight was first and foremost about maintaining the socioeconomic mix that made the neighborhood so singular. to keep affordable rents in place, they ended up creating north america's largest co-op network. picture this. the milton-parc community is made up of 21 smaller co-ops, 1,500 people and various forms of housing from large single-family homes to rooming houses. oh, and the best part?
to prevent speculation, they came up with this creative system: front yards, backyards and alleyways are all owned by the community. in our project, we built in acquired rights, so that the people living here could indeed stay here, but we signed a document which ties us all to provide in empty apartments low-rent housing for families. there are also space requirements. the milton-parc community has people from 50 different countries living here from all different backgrounds and socioeconomic status. and if people move into the co-op and are in a relatively poor economic situation, if they improve their situation in the time they're here, they don't get kicked out like what happens in certain government-run cooperatives and so on. so it's unique... - right. ...in the way it's set up.
-this is precisely what makes this place stand out. that and the fact that the milton-parc people never stop pushing for collective well-being. their latest endeavour: transforming a now decommissioned hospital housed in a nearby historical building into yet another co-op. they're joining forces with local groups to make sure that these future spaces include the mixed community that lives in the area: students, families and a growing number of seniors. alanna insists: milton-parc co-op is much more than heritage houses and low rents. it's about building a community with a vision. we brought up our daughter here and it was amazing because everybody knows everyone. we never worried about her being out on the street because, like jane jacobs said: "eyes on the street are so important."
and when you live in a co-op, especially a huge co-op complex like this, there are many, many eyes on the street. hi, guys. this is mikael. - hi. double the fun! - hi how are you? ready to go to the party again? - alanna's daughter and grand-kids are here for what i imagined as a small neighborhood get-together. i was thinking a backyard, a few tables, a barbecue. boy! was i way off! look at that! look how long that table is! we're in a back alley in montreal with the people of the co-op. that's amazing! salut, charlotte. ca va? [hi, charlotte. how are you?] bonsoir. [good evening.] hi, charles. fine, thanks. - the community alanna was talking about? well, this is it.
let's go get some wine. have a seat. thank you. would you like red or white? yes. yes? okay. what a setup! it's absolutely amazing. great. there you go. thank you. hi, chelsey. it's really hard to interview you here today because you're talking to me and then you go: "hey! how are you?" that's awesome. sorry about that. no, don't be sorry. it's... example! did you envision back then, when you were fighting the fight, that you'd be sitting in this back alley on a beautiful summer's day with all of these people? this is one of the major changes that i am so thrilled with, that so much social cohesion came out of everything that we've been doing. everybody gets together, has a good time, exchange ideas, asks about each other's kids. is this something that could extend even further in montreal?
sure. i think so. and i think one of the things that people have to look at is not just perhaps building new co-ops, but taking areas like this with heritage homes and really working on perhaps talking to their neighbours and convincing them that they could do co-ops and buying their places and doing a similar thing. yes, i think it's doable. this is champs des possibles, the field of possibilities, a disused, post-industrial urban space in the heart of the mile-end here in montreal. one of my favourite desire lines in montreal, possibly the world, leads this way, right towards this hole in the fence and the railway. this is no longer an industrial area. now there are densely populated neighborhoods
on either side and this is an incredibly important desire line for hundreds if not thousands of people every single day. the railway is owned by canadian national railway. the city has a difficult time engaging them in a conversation about how to create level crossings. in the meantime, what happens is the citizens take back the space. they cut holes in the fences. there are facebook groups telling people where the new holes are. here you can see a former hole, which has been patched up with a chain-link fence and reinforced with steel. and the citizens here, you can see, have just created another hole. so, let's just do it. - now, i've been around and i've seen cities all over the globe,
and to me montreal seems to be the land of opportunity when it comes to underused spaces just waiting to become something useful and meaningful to the people of the city. we're next to the jacques-cartier bridge, we're by the st. lawrence river, we're between the port and the highway. it's kind of a bit of a ridiculous spot, but it works. just last year, we had 120,000 people come in four months. people need spaces like this. you see so many people move to the suburbs these days and try to find a safe haven or some peace. we've kind of wedged it in and tried to make something happen where people maybe wouldn't have thought it was possible. - this odd and interesting place is called le village au pied-du-courant, which roughly translates as the village by the river. the non-profit behind it and behind many public space initiatives throughout the city is la pépinière, "the nursery". it's an urban lab focused on innovation, creativity and
community engagement to redraw and rethink unused urban spaces. violaine is the project manager for this very successful project. we're on a snow dump here, so... wait! what? sorry. you're on a snow dump? yes. what's a snow dump? montreal gets a little bit of snow in the winter. so this is where the city actually brings all the snow of the neighborhood. so they come and bring it here. there are huge piles and it actually melts here. alright. so in the winter, it's used by the city, but in the summer, there's absolutely nothing. it looks like a huge, empty parking lot. - right. so every year, we bring the sand, we build the boardwalk, we make a call for proposals to invite teams of designers, architects, visual artists and just thrifty people, to participate in the installations of the site. we're really bringing back attention to how incredible this area of the city is. it's not just for cars.
it's for the people too. there are people who live on the other side of the highway and it's their neighborhood. oftentimes, people who live kind of downtown or on the plateau mont-royal are not used to coming to this area. we're slowly shifting the perspective of people and encouraging people to come back and enjoy their waterfront. one day, our dream is to be able to touch the water with our feet. - even if accessing the nearby water isn't happening just yet, there's still a lot going on here. playgrounds, art exhibitions, concerts, movie nights, yoga classes... or, should you want to just hang out, you can have a drink, eat a bite and relax with your feet in the sand. not bad for a place that doubles as a snow dump in the winter. what is this space? is it private space? public space? how do you define it? it's provincially owned private land, but we're creating a public space out of it. so that in and of itself is one of the grey zones that we exist in.
we're not really in any kind of area where there is necessarily laws defining exactly what we can and cannot do, so it's both the curse and the beauty of the project. people aren't used yet to just being part of something in a public space. it's like you have to be invited or told what you're allowed to do, so we're slowly but surely trying to see how people relate to all of it and to everything that we're doing here. - listen. what also makes this place stand out, like all the projects run by the people behind it, is an audacious philosophy. there's no publicity, no corporate sponsors and no branding of any kind on the site. violaine admits it candidly. financially, it's very difficult to sustain this model, but the goal is to push the city to invest more money into these attractive and city-defining projects, plain and simple. we're not forcing people to consume. the whole programming is free. to play pétanque, you have to put in a little deposit. we're really trying to create a more participatory city.
a city where people work together, talk to neighbours, where people are less socially isolated. this space and the other spaces the organization develops have that in mind. so, yes you can buy something, you can have a drink, you can buy food, but you're really here just to have an experience and to participate in your own city. merci. - merci. alright. oh! a roller! do you think this is something that can be scaled maybe up, but also outwards? it's really important not to just replicate things because people enjoy it. we want more of them. i think the rooting in the neighborhood and the inspiration of the actual environment that you're having the project in is really important to consider and to maintain. i think that mass production is something that we have a tendency to revert towards or want to go towards,
but i think the concept, the calls for proposals, the fact that it's an underutilized space that can definitely exist elsewhere in the city. but it's really important to not just replicate for the sake of it. oh no! i'm using my microphone cable here. trois à un? - trois à un. oui. alright. - to be honest, the amount of lost space in this city completely blows my mind. something like 21.8 square kilometres of vacant, abandoned space. that's 4.4% of the entire municipality just sitting there, unused and sometimes even unaccounted for.
i see this as a world of new possibilities to make this city even more spectacular. to me, doing some projects on vacant lands is really important since it helps communities have a vision for their neighborhoods and it tries to certain needs that the neighborhood has. let's say in this one neighborhood there's no grocery store, no community garden, but there's vacant land. people could decide to do a garden there and suddenly, the vacant land becomes something that answers the needs of the community. right. so that's why to me it's really important and it's something i really like. this way, we see some people come out and give ideas. that's our democracy in action. - mikael st-pierre is a young and inspiring urban planner. with his friends - lawyers, urbanists and designers - he founded lande, a non-profit helping citizens reclaim vacant land. they see themselves as facilitators. they dig up the info about the current owner of the vacant land, whether it's the city
or a private owner, secure access to it and even help with design and community engagement so that citizens develop their own projects. the people of the neighborhood then take the helm, giving new life to the dead space around their homes. we have a tool that we made. it's a website and i can show it to you. it's a map where you can see all those spots in the city of montreal. as of right now, we have over one hundred vacant lands that are on the map and those are all vacant lands that people sent us. let's say we click on where we are right now. here's all the information about it. so that's the basic information. we also have this facebook plug in where people can start comments, saying : "...i live close by and want to do something." - this is exactly what is happening here. this 181 m2 lot was privately owned, but left to rot for many years. trash was scattered everywhere. rats had basically taken over. so people began using it as a dump, which,
no surprise, didn't please the neighbours. with the help of lande, they turned things around. the municipality purchased the land and contributed to a small, participatory budget. citizens banded together and agreed on a wish list for the place. in no time, they created this. off we go, in search of other success stories. this one here is the alley beside the jardins basile-patenaude, just a few blocks away. it looked like this. garbage, bins, graffiti, cars, concrete. we decided to get together, thirty volunteers and people from the area, and we planted 150 fruit trees. we planted so many flowers for pollinators. in one weekend, we flipped the place.
- david-alexandre has lived in rosemont for many years. every day, this social worker, doubling as a forestry worker, rode his bike through this concrete alleyway along a derelict community garden in one of the poorest and most challenged parts of the neighborhood. he decided it was time for change. and when this guy, aka the powerhouse, puts his mind to it, things get changed. who can we contact at the city and the borough to help us to use this land in a place where there are so many needs? that's when mikael and lande came in. where we're standing right now, it's a back alley. it's owned by the city of montreal. - things were a bit complicated, but when there's a will, of course, there's a way. let me wrap my brain around this. the land is owned by a supermarket. well, except for a tiny piece owned by the city, preventing any possibility of expanding the store.
the city's been renting the whole plot for years to host the community garden, but the city officials didn't even realize they were also renting all the abandoned space around the garden, up until lande, after in-depth research, discovered it for them. this was a game changer. basically, we gave them access to the land and the group went forward with the rest. we decided to plant fruit trees everywhere. so we have pears, apples, plums, raspberries, blueberries, haskap berries, goji berries. it's free for everybody. you see the raspberries here. - there they are. when they'll be ripe, everyone can pick them. people in need, with socioeconomic difficulties, they deserve to have a nice place to live around. so that's the value. that is the value. it wasn't the value of being able to pick plums. it's a nice value, but i mean, it's more than that. yes, it is, but it is more social. connecting people, connecting the community, getting them involved.