Opinion: Urban growth in Montreal belongs in the central part of the city

The following opinion piece was written by Lucia Kowaluk and published on page A19 of the 2015 February 25th Montreal Gazette.
It is also available online here.

Two articles in the Feb. 10 edition of the Montreal Gazette — “Critics predict traffic nightmares,” on a proposed housing development in Pierrefonds; and “T. M. R. mega mall proposal under fire,” on the Quinze40 development proposed for southwest of the intersection of the Décarie and Metropolitain autoroutes — raise the same important issue: What standards of urban planning should govern growth in the Greater Montreal area?

Photo above by: ALLEN McINNIS / © MONTREAL GAZETTE 

Creating various types of new housing units on St- Urbain St. between Duluth and Milton would bring an economic boost to the area and make more sense than development projects far from the city centre, Lucia Kowaluk says.Each article quotes excellent critiques of the proposed project. Critics of the Pierrefonds development question the destruction of a pristine natural green space in order to build single family houses, which will then need a huge expansion of infrastructure built at the taxpayers’ expense. With respect to the Quinze40 proposal, fears are raised that the construction of a new retail space in T. M. R. will suck the life out of the already built and serviced areas of the centre city and immediate surroundings.

We who live near the downtown agree with these critics and propose using empty buildings and parking lots in our neighbourhood in order to attract a new, large population with new housing.

There is no question that Montreal needs more housing, of all sizes and at all price levels, from single rooms for the currently homeless, to studio- size for low- income single persons, especially the elderly, to subsidized family housing for some of the 22,000 households already on the waiting list for social housing (“N. D. G.’ s politics of potholes and snow removal” Montreal Gazette, Feb. 14), to low- rise row houses with pleasant green backyards for those who want to build their own equity. A Montreal Gazette article of Feb. 13 (” ‘ Now I can turn my life around’ “) emphasizes again the lack of places in rooming houses downtown, which often leads to homelessness.

Montreal needs more downtown residents to keep our city healthy and safe, and to contribute to the economy of a functioning city. The infrastructure and the public transport already exist.

It’s true that land is expensive and hard to find, but not as expensive as the new infrastructure required in order to service the Pierrefonds and T. M. R. developers’ huge dreams, all at taxpayers’ expense.

Project Genesis, rooted in the N. D. G.- Côte- des- Neiges area, has for years been promoting the use of the Blue Bonnets space and surrounding land. This is land already well serviced by infrastructure and public transit.

We, in the Greater Milton- Parc area, much closer to the centre city, have an interesting and workable proposal to make.

The Coalition communautaire de Milton- Parc pour l’accès au logement et à la santé is a coalition of 15 local organizations that was founded two years ago, initially to save the Hôtel- Dieu hospital from being sold to private developers. We have grown from then to advocate for the development of a wider neighbourhood, with projects that meet its need for health and housing, as a model for urban renewal.

We are referring to St- Urbain Street between Duluth and Milton. Those three large blocks on the west side feature two soon- tobe emptied hospitals ( Hôtel- Dieu and the Montreal Chest Institute), the Institut de réadaptation en dépendance de Montréal, which helps people with drug addiction, the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal, one privately owned apartment block and three huge parking lots. The east side features mostly low- rise privately owned housing, small businesses and three institutions ( part of the Chest hospital, the Women’s Centre and the Centre Multiethnique). The institutions and parking lots on the west side are owned by the Quebec government; in other words, the land and buildings are public.

There is a desperate need for low- cost, subsidized housing in this whole area north and east of the downtown. The area is well served by public transport: six bus routes pass through — or a few blocks away from — the intersection of Pine Ave. and St- Urbain St., and all connect with the métro.

The two soon- to- be emptied hospitals are ideally suited to become single- room ( rooming house type), or studio ( including their own kitchen and bathroom) housing. Both hospitals are in very good condition. They can serve as front- line health services ( emergency, clinics, day surgery), CHLDs ( long- term health care), housing for low- income seniors or other singles and for those persons currently homeless.

The city administration speaks about newly built housing for the homeless; this is unnecessarily expensive when the single or double hospital rooms are already available and in good condition.

The parking lots could be used for single- family row housing under a variety of ownership models.

These uses for land and buildings that are already publicly owned could serve several thousand people, who would bring a huge economic boost to the surrounding commercial streets.

As for the financing, there are many sources of funding besides the public purse. Within our Milton- Parc coalition, there are organizations that have been very successful at fundraising from the corporate sector; there are the funds in the social economy; and there are the modest rents from tenants and the substantial rents from some of the organizations in our coalition that are interested in managing the parts of the buildings that would house the people they care for.

Obviously, there are many issues to be developed: financing, style of ownership and management are among the most important. However, all problems can be solved once the basic principles are agreed upon.

Our coalition includes organizations that, among them, have many years of experience in managing large budgets, large pieces of land and large populations with a variety of needs. One example is the Milton- Parc Community, a group of 25 co- operatives and non- profit organizations that collectively own six square blocks of downtown property as a coownership association ( popularly referred to as a land trust). The cooperative handles substantial funds within a democratically functioning association. The Old Brewery Mission and La Rue des femmes each own large pieces of property in the city centre, and raise substantial funds in order to serve the populations they help. These are but three examples among our membership of 15. The last two are also examples of organizations that need more space in order to carry out their missions.

We are also working with the Coalition Sauvons l’Hôtel- Dieu of the CSN labour federation. We agree with their proposal to keep some of the Hôtel- Dieu for firstand second- line health services.

We firmly believe that our proposal is practical, economical — especially in the long- run — and will deliver a large boost to the local economy.

We are keeping our representatives in the Quebec government informed as to our plans, and hope to be able to meet with them soon.

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