Where should Montreal plant its coveted 500,000 trees?

The city’s government must find a place for the urban forest it promises by 2030

As Christmas trees begin gradually disappearing from windows this time of year, the opposite may soon be true for trees just outside them. With an urban forest in mind and a shovel in hand, will Montreal’s government be planting near you?

The city’s Climate Plan is promising half a million more trees on the island by 2030. However,  as the Government of Canada’s website explains, large-scale tree planting is often not as simple as it sounds. It involves ensuring that “the right tree is planted in the right place, for the right reasons.”

Determining the right place when it comes to tree planting is something that Carly Ziter, urban ecologist and assistant professor at Concordia University’s Department of Biology, is wholeheartedly invested in. Ziter’s research focuses on “ecosystem services,” or the services that flora could provide to people within urban environments.

“One of the reasons I focus on urban areas is that you are providing benefits directly to people where they live,” said Ziter, who had cycled to the university’s greener Loyola campus despite the snowy start to the November day. “Things like reducing temperature during heat waves, reducing flooding, improving air quality, improving mental health and wellbeing.”

The tree oath is part of the city’s vision for a “green Montreal,” with a three-pronged mission: to combat climate change, bolster the ecological resilience of the island, and improve quality of life for residents.

As a part of that tree oath, Soverdi, a tree-planting non-profit organization based in Montreal, will be planting 200,000 of those trees on non-municipal land, which takes up 66 per cent of the city’s total land area according to Soverdi’s General Manager Malin Anagrius. Private and institutional land is Soverdi’s main focus, explained Anagrius, and a greening of Montreal cannot be possible if there is an exclusive focus on parks, or cutting through sidewalk pavement to plant trees.

“That’s the traditional tree planting when you think about trees. It’s either the side of the street or in the forest,” said Anagrius. “But what we do is that we try to see it otherwise and try to make a little mini forest behind different kinds of land.”

The non-profit collaborates with boroughs, land owners, and companies to fund the sprouting of these mini forests in locations such as schools, hospitals, and industrial areas.

“Trees can be integrated into a lot of different spaces,” explained Ziter, “and so even if we don’t have enough space for, you know, a larger green space or a park or a garden, we might have enough space to plant a tree.”

In spite of its versatility, the location of a tree is paramount to maximizing its benefits and can present several challenges, as outlined in Montreal’s 2021 Nature and Sports Plan. One challenge is the “availability of required spaces for planting.” The government is also committed to identifying and planting trees in zones which are vulnerable to heat waves, since greening would help prevent overheating.

For Christopher Vaccarella, president of Concordia’s Political Science Student Association, the question of place was an easy one to answer. In keeping with the association’s first sustainability policy, Vaccarella and his partners successfully planted 250 trees in Montreal last year.

“​​All of our tree planting projects were in elementary schools,” shared Vaccarella proudly, sitting at a Second Cup Café in downtown Montreal. He donned a forest-green fleece jacket, a colour absent from the storefronts of many cafés downtown.

“But what I found interesting was all of them are in the East End, which is what we preferred because that’s an area neglected by the city.”

Vaccarella’s heavy endorsement of planting trees in the east comes as no surprise. Just this October, a CBC article analyzing a 2015 study on Montreal’s tree canopy revealed significant disparities across the island. The wealthier neighbourhood of Mount Royal, with its median income of $110,000, boasted a 40 per cent canopy cover. In the east, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and its median income of $40,000 had a canopy cover of just 11 per cent. Reasons mentioned in the analysis  include real estate values, lot sizes, and differences in property tax revenue.

“If I had 500,000 trees in Montreal, I would certainly focus on improving what we sometimes call tree equity,” said Ziter. “[We should] focus on reducing some of those disparities in the canopy cover and ensuring that low canopy, low green space areas did receive the majority of those trees.”

Soverdi is doing their best to ensure just that, as their operations continue taking root in areas like the east end of Montreal.

“It costs a lot more too, to plant in the city than to plant in [a] rural environment,” said Anagrius, whose organization Soverdi has planted 85,000 trees in Montreal since 2014. Trees need to be bigger in order to withstand a metropolis’ tougher conditions, and in many cases, obstacles like asphalt have to be removed to make planting possible.

Location also breeds all sorts of complex decisions concerning appropriate tree species, Ziter explained.

But greener may not always be better. Vaccarella expressed worries over eco-gentrification, a phenomenon that associates greening with snowballing real estate and rent values.

“Just here,” Vaccarella claimed, pointing to the grey pavement adjacent to the Second Cup coffee shop. “You can fill that with a tree and it’ll probably shoot up the market value by a couple of hundred bucks.”

Indeed, when announcing the $1.8 billion greening project in May, Mayor Valérie Plante emphasized the allure of an urban forest for tourists and investors. The greening is a point of focus in the city’s post-pandemic recovery plan, which could exacerbate government-led gentrification.

“One thing that’s really important is thinking about, as we implement greening projects or policies, are we also thinking about corresponding social mechanisms or policies that will help people to stay in their communities?” asked Ziter. She believes that these mechanisms could include rent freezes, subsidies, and a more community-led approach.

Still, that disparity may be bridged with the city’s development of 110 km of “green corridors” connecting large parks and living spaces across the island. One of those corridors will branch out from Bois-de-Saraguay Park in Ahuntsic-Cartierville to Angrignon Park in Le Sud-Ouest.

“You’re going to get a lot more people that can access that kind of thin strip of green space than if you had that same amount of land kind of condensed in, you know, a square or a circle where it’s really only serving people in that particular area,” said Ziter.

This “linear greening” would also benefit wildlife as the corridors create safe paths for their city-wide movements. For the urban ecologists, the location of a tree should not only have humans in mind. “I would also want to think about areas where we could try and maximize the impact for both people and other biodiversity,” explained Ziter.

Towards the end of last year, tragic events in British Columbia concerning the knock-on effects of wildfires, floods, and deadly mudslides have once again drawn attention to issues of soil stability. Reforesting is one viable solution, though it represents a vastly different and much larger scale of tree planting according to Ziter.

Anagrius hopes the topic of reforestation will be addressed by the federal government and their own 2030 arboreal aspirations.

“With the two billion trees project from the federal government, I think there’s enough trees for everyone,” said Anagrius. “We just have to find the space to plant them.”



Visuals by Madeline Schmidt


What Montreal can learn from art and architecture abroad

Reflecting on the place urban spaces hold within a community

I did not expect art to be the main takeaway from my trip to Singapore and Malaysia this reading week. It’s not that I thought that I wouldn’t see any art, but rather I didn’t think it would be much different from the art in Montreal. I was wrong.

Upon meeting me at Changi airport after my 23-hour flight, my friend immediately dragged me, luggage in tow, to Singapore’s Chinatown for lunch. We exited the metro and a couple of minutes into our walk, stumbled upon Mid-Autumn Festival by Yip Yew Chong. Composed of vibrant reds, oranges and blues, the mural depicts a family feasting on fruits and cakes as lanterns shine above them and children play in the near distance. I was so mesmerized by the colours and overall narrative that I made sure to return after we had eaten, just to be sure I had taken it all in.

In Singapore’s Little India, Cattleland 2 by Eunice Lim comes to life via augmented reality. By scanning a nearby QR code on their phone, the viewer is invited to watch as the cattle roam through the colourful streets of Buffalo Rd. In an interview with SG Magazine, Lim explained that she had spoken to former residents who “gave her their anecdotes of seeing the old street filled with buffaloes running around.”

Glancing up at the commercial buildings and observing the whole of the city, I began to notice the presence of greenery within the architecture and urban spaces. Rooftop terraces are not uncommon throughout Singapore. In fact, the addition of green spaces is part of the country’s goal to become the world’s “greenest city.”

At Gardens by the Bay, infrastructure is purposely built in an effort to increase energy efficiency and visitors are invited to enjoy public art and sculpture all while being outdoors. At night, people can view a temporary installation titled #futuretogether by teamLab collective. Composed of floating egg-shaped lights, viewers’ interaction with the ovoids alter the speed at which they change colours, ultimately, illuminating the bay in bright purple, turquoise, yellow and red.

Along the Melaka River in Malaysia, houses and boutiques are entirely covered in urban art. Each mural pays homage to a different cultural group and their respective histories in Malaysia. The works are unattributed, however, clearly intentional and not to be mistaken for vandalism. As with much of the street art in the rest of Melaka City, a large Chinese influence is present; a cartoon depiction of a guardian lion painted in red hues makes up most of the mural on one residential building. Nearby, murals portray scenes of people dancing in traditional dress.

Reflecting on the art further into my trip, I realized I was not so much enthralled by the artworks themselves, but rather what they represented. It is no secret that Montreal’s street art is not exactly representative of the city’s complex history. To see Singapore, a country with a complicated history and political system, and Malaysia, a developing country, make the effort to get the population to engage within these urban spaces was eye-opening, to say the least.

Montreal’s year-round climate is not quite like the 37 ºC that I basked in for the last two weeks of February. It is understandable that outdoor garden sculptures are not the most feasible public attraction in a city where sub-zero weather lasts for over half of the year. Accurate representation of Montreal’s history, Indigenous population and minority groups, however, definitely does not require an ideal temperature. Montreal, you have some work to do.



Photos by Lorenza Mezzapelle

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