Opinion: Build more housing in the city’s centre, not on Pierrefonds meadows

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Opinion: Build more housing in the city’s centre, not on Pierrefonds meadows

Source: The Gazette

By this time, Montrealers have read or seen news stories about a new and massive housing project of 5,000 to 6,000 units to be built in western Pierrefonds on 185 hectares of environmentally precious wet meadows.

This new West Island mini-city, which has already been widely criticized, was  officially announced with great fanfare on July 26. It will destroy an environment that is all-important to birds, wildlife and people.

At the same time, because of publicly borne infrastructure costs, the proposed project promises to be extremely expensive — with money going to schools, roads and more.

It is taxpayers who will pay for all of this, with real profits and benefits likely to go to speculators and developers.

The Pierrefonds story tells us there is something terribly wrong with urban planning in greater Montreal. In one part of the island, we are destroying the green space that we all need, and at the same time, farther east, we are neglecting the greater downtown area of one of the most liveable cities in North America.

This poor planning destroys nature, while at the same time it shows a careless neglect of Montreal’s greater downtown neighbourhoods.

Bad planning makes officials fail to see the obvious. Is it not clear that there are already built infrastructures in the centre of our city, just waiting for appropriate development? In the neighbourhoods to the east and the north of the commercial core, there are lands and buildings owned by the provincial government, well served by public transportation, and a water system under renewal. There are functioning schools with open spaces, existing streets and sidewalks, and empty businesses waiting for tenants.

Let us take one example: St-Urbain St. from Duluth to Milton, where there are three huge parking lots and two empty, or soon-to-be-emptied, hospitals, all owned by us, the taxpayers.

For a fraction of the cost of the Pierrefonds scheme, we can meet the needs of several thousand people downtown. We could house hundreds of families, many homeless people, elderly individuals and couples, most of whom need secure, decent subsidized housing.

All these people, even those with low incomes, have money to spend in their neighbourhoods, boosting commerce all around them. Good buildings, such as empty hospitals, could house all kinds of members of the above-mentioned groups who need subsidized housing and could live in rooms or suites with modest renovations. Parking lots can hold duplexes and triplexes with small yards with various ownership models; co-ops, public housing or equity ownership.

Parking lots and former hospitals also provide lots of space for small community parks as well as such indoor community uses as meeting rooms for educational workshops and art programs, and daycare centres.

As to financing, if the Caisse de dépôt can build bridges, why can’t it help us take care of our own?

This is where our money should go: sending children to schools that are already built, encouraging people to breathe air on the mountain and to shop in adjacent streets, all the time using for transport the buses as well as the métro below. People in neighbourhoods keep the city busy, safe, creative, lively and used.

That is how our taxes should be spent. Build on what is already here and leave the natural spaces on the West Island to do their job of producing oxygen, housing natural creatures, and saving us all money in the long run.

Lucia Kowaluk is a long-time Montreal political and environmental activist.