“Actually, they are the basins of the ancien havre but that ‘s what happens when the branding guys get hold of this,” commented Mark Poddubiuk, an architect who has worked on the project, in his email inviting me to the Canada Post site open house today.
A detail perhaps, but the historical significance of this area has profoundly shaped the project. Located between rue Ottawa and the Lachine Canal, and bordered by Richmond street and Rue du Séminaire, this site was once the cradle of Montreal’s industrial revolution. The Bassins du nouveau havre project would excavate the four St-Gabriel Basins, which were built between 1848 and 1885 and later filled in with earth from the metro system.
Two of the basins would be completely excavated, maximizing water-front homes (and even lending some extra waterfront to the adjacent Griffintown project). Another two basins would be partially excavated to reveal their historic structure and then used as recreational green space.
The proposal would also reconnect the local street grid by re-opening rue Basin as the neighbourhood’s main street. The North-South links would all be pedestrian and the canal-side bike path would bridge the reconstituted piers.
A panorama of the bassins in 1896 (from the Bassins du nouveau havre press package).
The Canada Lands corporation is once again working with local architecture firm L’OEUF, as they did for the international award-winning Benny Farm housing development. Mark Poddubiuk, an architect with L’OEUF, says that the proposal meets the criteria for LEED neighbourhood development certification.
Neighbourhood commerces and a focus on pedestrian and cycling infrastructure mean that car-ownership will be far from a necessity. One innovative system would divert all the rainwater runoff from the site into a filtration pond located in the 2nd basin, rather than into city’s storm sewers. A central waste processing system for garbage, compost and recyclables has also been proposed.
Furthremore, and site will be decontaminated during the excavation of the basins and the Canada Post building will be dismantled so that the component materials can be re-used and recycled as much as possible.
After consulting with local community groups, the Canada Lands corporation has made housing for families a focus of the project. The development would include 1400 condos, of which a quarter are to be designed for families with children; 400 units of social housing (for instance housing co-ops), and 200 affordable private units. Of the social and affoardable housing, half the homes would cater to families with children.
Poddubiuk explains that family-friendly housing means large units with 2 or 3 bedrooms, ground access, play parks and recreational facilities. Yep, that’s an outdoor swimming pool in Basin 1 – or it will be if the developers can find someone to pay for it. Just north of there, a sports field will double as a skating rink during the winter.
Although the plans were inspired by successful family-friendly housing developments in Europe, Poddubiuk says that a big questions remains as to whether condo-style living will really capture the hearts of North American families.
Proposed zoning for the Bassins du nouveau havre: red is commercial, orange is mixed use (local commerces with residential above) yellow is residential, with social and family housing concentrated in the 2nd pier from left; numbers represent building height in stories.
Its hard not to compare and contrast the Bassins du nouveau havre with the neighbouring Projet Griffintown. The plans for the Canada Lands site are being released just one day after Devimco announced that construction Griffintown Project will be delayed, due to difficulty in recruiting financial backers in the current economic downturn.
“In the economic slowdown, we have to recognize the value of crown corporations who have decided to invest [in Montreal]” said Mayor Gerald Tremblay this afternoon. The Canada Lands spokesperson also pointed out that, since the site is a surplus government land, the developer does not have to negotiate the purchase parcel by parcel with local property-owners.
Here are a few other distinctions I’ve noted so far:
- During the press conference, one member of the Irish community who grew up in the neighbourhood during the 1930s thanked the presentors for respecting the neighbourhood’s history and engaging in constructive dialogue with community partners. During Projet Griffintown‘s public sessions, community members expressed outrage that historical buildings would be destroyed or displaced.
- The Bassins project reconnects the historical street grid while the Griffintown project eliminated streets by lumping several blocks together under giant towers.
- The Bassins will undergo public consultation by the Office de Consultation Publique de Montréal in the spring. The Griffintown project tried to bypass this by running public consultation through the borough only.
- After the site is decontaminated and the infrastructure in place, the Bassins will ultimately be developed by various private firms and co-ops, whereas Devimco would remain the proprietor of the entire Projet Griffintown site, and the landlord of the commercial spaces.
The developers encourage feedback from the public on their website, although unfortunately they provide no forum for public comments and debate. Comments submitted on-line will be taken into account by the borough before they approve the project.
Check it out for yourself: the Canada Post site will be open to the public Thursday November 13th, from 4pm to 8pm and Saturday, November 15th, from 12 noon to 5pm.