Griffintown’s Great Potential
Developers say historical neighbourhood will be given a new life
Representing Devimco Inc.
On Nov. 22, 2007, Devimco revealed a $1.3 billion urban revitalisation plan it had been developing for three years, the Griffintown project. The previous day, the city of Montreal and the borough of Sud-Ouest gave the project the green light.
Such an investment in a borough as historically and culturally rich as Griffintown merits a thorough discussion on its principal objectives. The project, which covers 1.1 million square feet, will give the neighbourhood a new life — improving Griffintown will in turn improve Montreal’s urban fabric.
Realizing the Griffintown project will also help boost Montreal’s economy. The planned construction period is expected to generate 10,250 jobs per year and the exploitation phase will create an additional 4,330 positions.
Two-thirds of the revitalised Griffintown sector will be occupied by 4,000 mixed housing units. A large portion of the housing is intended to accommodate young families, students, the elderly, as well as current Griffintown residents. Social housing units will also be built thanks to the city of Montreal’s plan to maximize diversity in every real estate project.
The commercial sector – showcasing local businesses, specialized stores and restaurants on downtown Montreal’s bustling streets – is meant to take up only 18 per cent of the project.
In the interest of preserving Griffintown’s historical aspect, the project will boast a multifunctional centre for cultural events. Residents and visitors will also enjoy a movie theatre complex and will benefit from a variety of hotels. The project will provide better access to the Lachine canal.
Devimco has also announced a partnership with l’Ecole de technologie superieure to establish a chair of studies in sustainable development. This chair will benefit from Devimco’s financial support in the form of a $1 million donation distributed over five years. ETS students will also get to participate in the elaboration of sustainable development targets for the Griffintown project.
Inspired by North America and Europe’s best urban planning practices and conceived from a collaboration between the city of Montreal and the borough of Sud-Ouest, the Griffintown project is more than a real estate plan. It is an important revitalisation project for Griffintown, an industrial sector rich in history and doted with great potential for the future.
Devimco’s Plan: Wrong for Griffintown
No one is arguing that something has to change in Griffintown – the area that was once home to thousands of Irish immigrants, is now largely abandoned and neglected. Devimco wants to bring people back, but is it worth giving up a chunk of our history?
I moved to Montreal from Winnipeg almost three years ago. Part of what drew me to this city, over say Toronto or Calgary, was the architecture. While every other major Canadian city seems to be trying to look the same with bland boring towers of glass and metal, Montreal is different. Three hundred years of history written in wood, brick and stone.
If you start at the old port and walk towards our downtown campus, you can see the changes the centuries have brought to this city – buildings created with skill found far and few between these days. Take a good look at some of the old buildings, the artistic efforts that went in to building them. Once they’re gone they can never be replaced.
Perhaps I’m just being sentimental, but these structures are the only real things left by the passage of time, history that is tangible, touchable. If Devimco demolishes Griffintown they’ll be bulldozing 200 years of history. Griffintown was Montreal’s first suburb, the first area built outside the old city walls.
Replacing it with . . . with what? Well we don’t actually know. Devimco hasn’t even hired the architects yet. They’ve made a nice little 3D computer animation of the new area, but when they show it they say this isn’t what the neighbourhood will actually look like.
Devimco’s president Serge Goulet calls it a “new model of collaboration.” They talk about consulting with the public, but in reality it’s just the old model of closed door, backroom deals. The only collaborator Devimco has is our city government. Devimco says they approached the city with the idea and an offer to work together – what it means is that the Griffintown redevelopment was planned behind closed doors before the public even knew it was on the drawing board. A few weeks ago the city released their plan particulier d’urbanisme, the master plan for the redevelopment – specifically tailored to the Devimco project.
The South West borough, (where the project is taking place) had a committee of architects and urban planners review the plan and they didn’t approve. But the city didn’t listen.
Devimco has options to buy two-thirds of the land and the city has made it clear that they’re willing to expropriate (size with minimal compensation) the rest. Some opponents of the plan say that Devimco used the threat or expropriation to acquire those options – at a nice low price.
The last time the city of Montreal conducted a large-scale expropriation was to build Mirabel airport, and we all know how well that worked out.