St-Michel Smart Center goes to Public Consultation

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The pattern is increasingly familiar: undeveloped urban land is a beacon for commercial developers, developers who inevitably demand changes in the urban plan to accommodate suburban-style, plunk-‘em-down-anywhere malls.

Fortunately, the development of a SmartCenter shopping mall in St-Michel’s abandoned quarry has gone to the Office de Consultation Publique de Montréal, a democratic step that has been skirted by the city in other recent developments. The proposed SmartCenter would require changes to the urban plan’s density, zoning, building height and parking regulations.

Of course even the best democratic planning hardly guarantees enlightened urbanism, especially in a area that is desperate for economic development. The St-Michel/Park-Ex/Villeray borough has the lowest average household income in Montreal.

Smart Centers claim to specialize in “large-scale, value-oriented shopping centres,” and typical tenants include the likes of Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Winners and Best Buy. The proposed development would include 74,320 sq meters of commercial floorspace on 3 levels, 3,200 parking spaces, green spaces and a bike path. The architectural drawings, which incorporate glass towers against a backdrop of sheer rock walls, are kind of sci-fi cool.

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Images from: Carrière Saint-Michel – Quartier Villeray – Saint-Michel – Parc-Extension – Concept, DCYSM Architectes, 30 avril 2008

Public consultation will be held on May 20th and 21st, and citizens can voice their opinions on June 5th. A vast collection of documentation on the project is available at Montreal’s Public Consultation Office.

Two immense and abandoned limestone quarries, Carrière Miron and Carrière Francon, take up nearly half of St-Michel’s territory. The mines closed in the 1960s, and the open pits were turned into a ready-made dump. The dump closed in 1999, although a recycling plant and a power station that captures methane gas from the site are still present (Spacing visited the complex last fall and reported here).

Other parts of the quarry are occupied by National Circus School, the Cirque du Soleil‘s residence buildings and the TOHU circus museum and theatre. A large area is to be turned into a municipal park and camping site by 2020. The section slated for development is currently used to dump snow during the winter.

9 comments

  1. To state the obvious, what the eff is so “smart” about a “Smart Centre”? Building out of the way conglomerations of big box retailers that are mainly accessible by car, at a time when oil is at $123 and rising, with productions dropping in most major oil producers — that’s “smart”?

    Like the SUV was smart?

    We’ve got to come up with a better name for these places. I vote Dumb Centres.

  2. They’re Smart Centres because the people are obviously too Dumb to clue in and just keep shopping. The critical mass is not critical enough.

  3. hmmm… that’s a no brainer.

    shopping center > abandoned quarry

    People won’t have to drive all the way to marché central or Laval to find these shops, less congestion, less wasting of oil.

    And to those that will answer with: “how about dense housing-nice-no-car-area-blablabla” …

    where are the developers for it? none… because there’s no demand for it in that area.

    next…

  4. It’s hard to believe that there is still anyone on the planet in 2008 that actually believes big boxes and Wal Marts actually mean LOCAL economic development. It’s not that they will do it that is sad, it is that they are still being allowed, encouraged, and thanked! which is very, very, sad indeed.

  5. I’m not one for all this anti-commercialist rhetoric; if you don’t like capitalism, don’t participate in it, but it is an incredible site though, given its former vocation.

  6. Edward, integrated residential/commericial neighbourhoods, that used to be commonplace until the advent of post-war suburbia, are perfect examples of private ownership and entrepreneurship. They’re also healthier, better communities to live in. See Jane Jacob’s “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

  7. Malek, it’s hard to get demand for something that isn’t tried! Why should we bend to the developers’ demands if we can get them to bend to the public’s will? If the zoning and planning are kept tight, someone will be willing to fill the space with something that actually fits the space and is sustainable and of a human scale. There’s no reason to accept the first developer who moseys in with a cookie-cutter solution.

  8. Kevin, if the land was for sale, and it was, then the highest bidder won, its called “free market”.

    If there was a demand for residential in that area, a promoter would have bought it and developed it. Its called “business 101″.

    Notwithstanding that area might have contaminated soil which is improper for a residential area to begin with.

    So at the end, anything is better than a vacant quarry. And yes that area could need some jobs, its not westmount.

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