Both community organizers and regular citizens braved freezing temperatures last week to protest the city of Montreal’s decision to discreetly approve the UniversitÃ© de MontrÃ©al’s campus expansion project.
“If we’re going to be injecting $1.5 billion of public money into this project, we deserve a full public consultation,” protester Holly Nazar yelled to the crowd occupying the front steps of Montreal’s city hall building. “So we’re demanding a moratorium on any decisions until the consultation process is complete.”
The new additions to the campus are to be built on the grounds of Montreal’s former Marshalling yards, the biggest vacant land the city currently has to offer. Located between l’Acadie and Outremont metros, the former Canadian Pacific site was purchased by the University in 2006 and is poised at the junction of Outremont and Parc-Extension â€” two boroughs deeply divided by polarized socio-economic, cultural and ethnic realities.
The plan, designed by Groupe Cardinal-Hardy, has been repeatedly praised for its sustainable nature and has received countless accolades including the 2007 award for Urban Planning by the Canadian Institute of Planners.
“But the project in its present form is just not working for us,” said community organizer and leader of the Parc-Extension Citizen Committee, Giuliana Fumagalli.
“Not only are there things that need to be improved in the current plan, but people need to be informed. Most citizens in the area have almost no information about how the Campus Project is going to pan out. It’s completely appalling.”
Along with demands for transparency, social housing, gentrification protection and job security; concerned protesters made requests for a development project that would help solve longtime problems with isolation in Parc-Extension.
Currently cut off from neighbouring boroughs by train tracks, busy boulevards or, in the case of Town of Mont-Royal, locked fences, Parc-Extension representatives are calling for a project that would open up the borough and offer its citizens access to the green spaces and urban luxuries provided by the Outremont Campus infrastructures.
As protesters made their feelings known outside, indoors executive committee member Richard Deschamps sternly responded to public inquiries voiced during the question period of the City’s council session. “We have been consulting publicly with everyone involved for over six years now, it is our privilege and duty to make decisions in these instances and we have. From here on, all will be welcome to voice their concerns during the public consultations related to the projects [programmes particuliers d’urbanisme].” According to organizers however, in the case of the campus project these consultations were insufficient and purely symbolic.
Despite their efforts, the protests on this occasion were to no avail. The requests for a moratorium were rejected.
“What’s next?” asked Fumagalli rhetorically as she led the group of noisemakers out of City Hall. “We head back to our citizens and let them know what was done and said here tonight. They’ll be the ones to tell us what they’d like to do next.”