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

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! 



Bringing life back to sleepy places


Montreal's vibrant character was  built with the progressive occupation of vacant spaces. This temporary occupation movement began in 2016. Fires and pressure on rents raised awareness of the risks associated to vacancy.

The municipality formally recognized the relevance of temporary occupation for the conservation of both public and private sites in its Heritage Action Plan 2017 - 2022. Revitalization of unoccupied places via temporary programs have multiple aims : conserving heritage, working of the neighborhoods attractiveness and creating community spaces. A triple prism that you find in the different examples of these “short term” projects. From the occupation of abandoned fields to car parks and warehouses, there’s something for everyone!


The Young Project, located in the Griffintown district, illustrates the emerging practice of transitional urban planning in the city. This former vacant warehouse housed cultural and community organizations, as well as artists and social entrepreneurs, for a period of 22 months. Entremise, a non-profit organization, carried out this project with the goal of recreating neighborhood life, participating in the economic development of the area and providing affordable temporary space. The design and programming of the space where thought as open and this is what made this project a true success. In addition to hosting a variety of organizations, this former hangar also hosted neighborhood parties. This project revitalized in that way the surrounding area which used to have little community presence.


Today, the warehouse has been emptied and is on its way to be returned to City Hall. But it still reflects the will to encourage occupation proposals and community entrepreneurship. Henintsoa Ravoala from Entremise makes this observation: "There is no squat culture here. We don't see people as squatters; but more as the community environment contributing to the dynamism and revitalization of the neighborhoods


Today, in order to continue on this path of urban revitalization, an effort must be made to make information on vacant spaces easily accessible. There is currently no register available to all, some neighborhoods keep this data confidential and access to information on vacant private spaces is difficult to get. These are obstacles that the Collectif Villes Autrement is addressing by undertaking an inventory of vacant sites and evaluating their potential in one of Montreal’s neighborhood’s. "The objectives of the collective are to bring the reflection of transitory urban planning to the scale of a living environment while experimenting with a model of urban development that would be similar to "transitory urban acupuncture"," explains Jérémy Diaz, co-founder of the collective.

Empowering citizens to energize their living environment


But there’s more! Aside from these temporary occupations, the city also encourages its citizen to take action. A bottom up logic that is now truly part of the city’s strategy to deal with winter as citizens are pushed to make their environment their own.


This dynamic you can clearly see it in the alleys, which were too often deserted during the winter months. With the agreement of the neighborhood, skating rinks or sledging runs can be built in these spaces. And today, some boroughs have decided to formally recognize and authorize these initiatives of citizen appropriation : they simply issue recommendations on their constitution and management. These "white alleys" promote conviviality and outdoor activities during the cold months.

Although an emerging practice in winter, the appropriation of alleys is not new here. In summer, more than 350 "green alleys" flourish in the neighborhoods. A well-crafted process that allows groups of residents to re-appropriate an alleyway by transforming it into a convivial space.


Fighting against heat islands, bringing back life in neighborhoods, favoring biodiversity and air quality: the positive impacts of these citizen initiatives are proven and undisputable! The challenge for the municipality is to facilitate the process of encouraging these citizen initiatives by creating a framework conducive to ownership.



"Cities have the capacity to provide something for everyone, only because, and only when, they are created by everyone. »


Jane Jacobs, Decline and Survival of America's Great Cities, 1961



The result: a inherent vibrant city (even when it’s -10°C)!


A city is a living space, a living ecosystem. And one of the characteristics of the living is its adaptability. Permanent urban infrastructures allow for functions and uses of the city, but what makes the public space alive is its power to engage and set local communities in motion.



The city must therefore offer an environment conducive to this movement with modular urban spaces and a framework that facilitates citizen action (lighter processes, special legal frameworks, etc.).


By giving the means to its citizen to get involved and make public spaces their own, Montreal has become a real playground for its inhabitants. The city offers the possibility to take possession of spaces and transform them. The result is an incredible pattern of districts that resemble to their inhabitants.


Some people would say that it is the role of the municipality to make the city more dynamic and lively. But we see the fact that initiatives are carried out by local independents as a real opportunity. The impact of it more than significant when it comes to finding local solutions to respond to social and environmental issues. Here, communities express themselves, participate in local life and energize both the life and the economy of their district. The municipal choice of trusting associations, collectives and its citizens has truly transformed the city. Ultimately, these projects give residents a sense of belonging and a right to act to transform their neighborhood and ensure that it meets their needs, expectations and desires.



To go deeper into the subject, you can take a look at :



Marie and Mïa from the huje project


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

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