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.
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.