Montreal’s green alleyways, called Ruelle Verte, is a cleanup project that helps neighbourhoods turn their destitute alleyways into a greener, ecological and prettier space that reflects the needs and tastes of its residents.
There are numerous environmental and social benefits to creating a Ruelle Verte. It reduces urban heat islands, purifies the air, improves soil quality and encourages biodiversity. It also makes better use of public space and creates a sense of community, belonging and safety. Some Ruelle Verte like those of L’Arbre Fort, even host outdoor parties and activities. The Ruelle Verte of Montreal offer an opportunity for bringing arts and culture not only to the streets, but also to people’s backyards.
L’Arbre Fort is a new Ruelle Verte in St-Henri that winds between Desnoyers street and a towering new condo development next to the Turcot interchange. Jody Negley, a resident of the area for ten years, initiated the project. The alley used to be ugly, unmaintained, underused and uninspiring explained Negley; and an effort needed to be made to make the area enjoyable to live in.
According to Negley, the first step towards re-appropriating the space was to give it a name. L’Arbre Fort, also fondly referred to as l’arbre du peuple (the people’s tree), is the tree that inspired the name of the Ruelle Verte. It grows alongside a fence that used to separate the surrounding property. When residents removed the fence, they had to leave large pieces of the fence inside the tree as parts of the tree had grown over it.
In order to receive the borough’s support and financial backing of a couple thousand dollars, residents, like those of L’Arbre Fort, must first convince the borough that they are willing to dedicate themselves to the project. Residents must form a committee and gather support from neighbours. Then, they submit an application to the borough and wait for a decision.
Although the Ruelle Verte program is not widely advertised, some boroughs have a waiting list. City councillors give priority to areas known as urban heat islands, where temperatures are five to ten degrees higher than the surrounding area. The Ruelle Verte help to reduce heat retention by adding more plants and removing asphalt where possible.
The success of a Ruelle Verte has a lot to do with the people involved. The borough and other organizations that support a new Ruelle Verte help to create it, but it is the responsibility of residents to maintain it.
Eco-Quartier, a municipal program that focuses on environmental action and education, shoulders the Ruelle Verte project. It helps provide overall supervision, manpower and finances to the project. The staff from St-Henri’s Eco-Quartier said that Negley was the “mouth and heart” of L’Arbre Fort; and her relentless help, perseverance and determination kept the project moving forward.
Residents can design their own Ruelle Verte as long as it respects the city’s budget and bylaws. Daniel Roy, a gifted landscape artist, joined Negley and her committee to work on creating L’Arbre Fort. Along with dedicated and experienced workers from the local Eco-Quartier, Roy took charge of the design. Thanks to additional funding that was negotiated with the condo developer, Roy transformed the alley into a mini botanical garden.
Photos by Sara Cornett