As stylish condominiums continue to rise high into the sky, more of historic Griffintown fades away. This once working class neighbourhood of Montreal, Quebec has been going through a major overhaul since 2008, and developers have been scrambling to get in on a piece of desirable land as early as 2005. It is an example of poor urban planning at its finest.
Irish immigrants, arriving during Ireland’s potato famine, were Griffintown’s first inhabitants when the neighbourhood was booming during the nineteenth century in the wake of Canada’s industrial era. Massive building projects were undertaken, including the construction of the Lachine Canal, the Victoria Bridge, and the Grand Trunk railway. Though living conditions were dire and the neighbourhood was generally poor, there was a great sense of community, even as Ukranians, Italians and French Canadians moved into the area during the twentieth century, boosting its density.
A huge blow came during the 1950s with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, ridding the Lachine Canal of its commercial and transportation purposes. In 1963, under Mayor Jean Drapeau’s era of grand vision planning, Griffintown was re-zoned as industrial, and had its eastern portion razed to make room for the construction of the Bonaventure Expressway. This compilation of events drove many away, leaving the area neglected and underused.
It was only within the past decade that the city of Montreal realized the neighbourhood’s development potential, as did the developers themselves. Land costs were low and the location was more than ideal, lying just south-west of the downtown core. Fast forward to today, and after much speculation, land costs have soared. For developers, it became a land of opportunity.
Heritage Montreal policy director Dinu Bumbaru noted in an interview that the city failed to make a real plan for Griffintown as a community, and as a result, it appears now as a collection of stand-alone buildings in a sea of construction sites. Public consultations took place in 2012 and produced a great outcry to developers over their proposed site plans. The Office de Consultation Publique de Montreal itself urged the city to incorporate more units for families and to preserve parks and public spaces including the waterfront along the Lachine Canal.
Major stakeholder Devimco Immobilier, who is responsible for District Griffin, Griffintown’s soon to be largest development project, was also forced to modify its original plans. In its earliest phase of development, Devimco appeared unwilling to incorporate the existing urban landscape within its plans. Serge Goulet, president of Devimco, explained, “We don’t want prospective clients and residents to equate our shopping mall with sooty smokestacks and shantytowns. That’s an unfortunate image of Montréal’s history which must be erased.” Their new scheme which began construction in December of 2013 now includes four high-rise towers, three condo buildings and one hotel building all holding commercial space at ground level, covering a smaller area of land.
Current development trends display a clear example of top-down planning, geared solely towards profitability rather than citizens at the community level. Addressing history and memory is also an important component of neighbourhood revitalization, and though it is subjective, adding complexity and layers to a memory will help achieve proper understanding.
What cohesion do your neighbourhoods have in maintaining the relationships between its past and present?
Credits: Images by Caitlin Dixon. Data linked to sources.