[huje#1] Montreal: achieving year round vibrant public spaces (1/2)

This article was redacted by huje. huje is a non-profit organisation whose purpose is to discover what makes cities special and to enlight us on original urban initiatives, both around the world and in France. Urban Odyssey has decided to support them on their journey, which was unfortunately paused by the health crisis. For the time being, let’s see what they discovered during their first stop: Montreal! 


For the first stop of our learning expedition, we chose Montreal. What we saw here is a city’s capacity to develop the place of citizens in its transformation. Canada's second largest has managed to cleverly combine appropriation and bottom up interventions. This from the ground up movement is key in the city of tomorrow: a city that we envision as being human and user centered. This first article highlights this aspect of tomorrow’s city, an aspect that we will present through some emblematic initiatives that highlight citizen involvement in the Montreal’s urban scene!


Streets, snow-covered parks and similar facades: at first glance, the city of Montreal is not very attractive during the winter months. But driven by multiple initiatives, urban life is actually warm: the island in the middle of the Saint Laurent River is well and truly awake during the cold season. Far from being frozen, Quebec’s metropolis flows with the seasons. And just between us, the winter Montreal has nothing to envy to the sunny and warmer one!


Developments and infrastructures responding to the constraints of the two seasons, means for the citizen to get involved, temporary interventions: these are just some of the tools the city uses to respond to this need of seasonal resilience. From simple interventions to the conquest of public space by citizens, Montreal multiplies the levers to become a vibrant, dynamic and welcoming city!



Setting up the public space as a space of surprises


Skating rinks, braséros and garlands temporarily animate white squares, parks and streets. To awaken outdoor spaces during the winter season, small scale but high-leverage installations have been set up by the neighborhoods. In the Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood the long nights of winter are warmed up by a light structure, garlands change the atmosphere of Boulevard Saint Laurent, … The simplicity of these installations in no way detracts from their power. These small interventions energize the winter landscape and transform the public space into a vibrant place of surprise!


In the Village (another district of Montreal) passers-by let themselves be surprised by an open-air gallery: the Galerie Blanc. "It's a total surprise to arrive and see that there is an open-air museum. Such elements make the city understand that it pays to let people create make the space their own" underlines the co-founder, Alexandre Berthiaume. The neighborhood’s Commercial Development Corporation (SDC) is funding this initiative as well as other actions that aim to re-attract and energize the neighborhood. Located in a formerly unattractive part of the city, known for the presence of drugs and violence, the gallery offers, summer and winter, day and night, a free annual exhibition. This year, you will have the chance to admire different pieces by world known ToiletPaper magazine, founded by the Italians Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari. One of many pleasant surprises that you discover when walking the streets of Montreal!

Enabling the conquest of public spaces


The apparent dynamism of urban life is also favored by attractive public spaces that reinvent themselves over the seasons. Here, public spaces have the chance to be supplanted by neighborhood life. In Montreal, we discovered Fred Kent's concept of placemaking, which invites us to re-imagine and reinvent public spaces collectively by considering them as the center of community life. The project Les Jardineries illustrates this setting in motion of a public space. Carried by Pépinière Espace Collectifs, this eclectic space in the heart of the Olympic Stadium offers a café-biergarten on weekends during two periods of the year. The well-tailored programming revitalizes the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district, where it is located. Petanque on ice, hockey, roasted marshmallows in winter or an urban agriculture plot; potlucks (a large meal where everyone brings to the table a homemade dish) and a dance floor in summer: there is something for everyone from all ages year round!


The free access, coupled with exchange-oriented activities, make this project a real success! This cleverly thought re-appropriation of the former concrete esplanade of the Olympic Stadium brought back a vibrant public square for this district. This approach is worth considering at a time when Paris is thinking about the resilience of infrastructures after the 2024 Olympic Games. The Jardineries project illustrates the possibilities of transforming a former Olympic Stadium by capitalizing on infrastructures’ capacity to adapt themselves and the possible renewal of uses.


"The tools of our cities to make public spaces are the first layer: public infrastructure mainly shapes generic spaces (mineral, vegetal, fixed furniture, ...). We bring the second layer, what we call the social infrastructure, which really shapes the local identity: life, human presence, gatherings, neighborhood parties, interactive elements, ... The two layers brought together ensure the success of public spaces. By working in complementarity between the cities and the civil society, that activates the second layer, we are really able to activate the full potential of public spaces" explains Jérôme Glad, co-founder of the Pépinière Espaces Collectifs. 


Another initiative of the non-profit organization is the Laboratoire de l'Hiver, in the Ville Marie district. This project, in collaboration with other organizations ,Vivre en Ville and Rues Principales, offers activities on Fridays in one of the neighborhood’s parks: sledging, igloo building, ball games, ... People from all ages can come and can help themselves to a hot drink or grill some marshmallows : all of this free of charge … it takes user friendliness the extra mile!



Find more stories by Marie & Mïa, the co-founders of the huje project, on our website or on their LinkedIn!



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