Tales of Gentrification in a Bohemian City

Montreal: Tales of gentrification in a bohemian city, is a documentary by freelance journalist (and Spacing Montreal contributor) Adam Bemma.

I was at first skeptical of the film’s description: “Distinct neighbourhoods such as Shaughnessy Village, Saint-Henri, Griffintown, Pointe Saint-Charles, Parc-Extension and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve are being targeted to become more like Montreal’s most well known district, Plateau Mont-Royal.

Fortunately, Adam’s interviews with academics, residents, community activists, and local businesspeople present a more nuanced picture of the tension between poverty and privilege in the city’s central neighbourhoods, and the diversity that can flourish in this flux.

Perhaps the most interesting segment was the portrait of Hochelaga Maisonneuve where new middle-class residents are contrasting sharply with the traditionally down-and-out locals. Marie-Sophie Banville, who has written about her neighbourhood here on Spacing Montreal, has some fascinating insights about the tension just may be hot enough to set new construction aflame (start watching at 50:40).

Overall I believe that the bohemian in Montreal outshines the negative impacts of gentrification. Taking a cue from Jane Jacobs, gentrification can be seen as as the self-destruction of diversity which happens when, “because of the location’s success, which is invariably based on flourishing and magnetic diversity, adrent competion for space in this locality develops…Whichever one or few uses have emerged as the most profitable in the locality will be repeated and repeated, crowding out and overwhelming less profitable forms of use…” (Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961)

Yet even on Avenue Mont-Royal, which Adam and others portray as the epitome of gentrified neighbourhood, you can still shop for everything from paint to pets to 99-cent pizza slices. And a close look at the stats shows that the residents of the Plateau are anything but homogeneous. I can only think of a few isolated strips in Montreal where a certain kind of success has squashed diversity – Crescent Street and Prince Arthur come to mind – but these are are short blocks that intersect far more diverse and vibrant neighbourhoods.

I don’t mean to downplay the impacts of gentrification: I have written about my personal experience with gentrification, and I know that “demographic shift” does not happen without loss, stress, and tears. But I don’t think it helps to vilify those who do want to invest in the central nieghbourhoods, nor to portray gentrification as a conspiracy run by Plateau-philes.

You can catch me speaking about the city in flux at the opening of the film, with a few other comments interspersed throughout.

8 comments

  1. I am surprised no one has commented yet. While I agree gentrification has its negatives, it has at least as many positives. Furthermore, with gentrification being so widespread in Montreal, it’s helping existing residents stay put by spreading out the condo development over many areas and thus keeping rents from rising sharply in specific areas. It is also contributing to the mix of peoples Alanah mentioned during the documentary. Many of the sites being slated for development are old industrial sites and as a result communities are being cleaned up for the betterment of the entire community. It is also helping in curbing suburban development as more and more options become available to people within the city centre and its surroundings. And while Yuppie-type Plateaufication is certainly widespread, gentrification is likely to be more family-oriented in areas like Mercier, Montreal North, Saint-Michel, Saint-Laurent, Lachine, Lasalle and Cartierville. In my opinion, there needs to be less focus on keeping yuppies from infiltrating various communities and more focus on making sure that there are better public transit options in the areas that are more affordable for lower middle class and low income families. For example, the situation in Montreal North is unacceptable. Furthermore, public consultations are important so long as they become a forum to share ideas and compromise as opposed to pinning groups against each other. 

  2. I’m just a math student with little personal experience with gentrification, but it seems to me that most of the people who protest against it are misunderstanding the scale of its effects in time. It is true that gentrification produces a change in demographics, by pushing out some low income individuals and bringing in higher income ones. However this does not happen suddenly. Nobody is going to kick you out of your apartment or increase your current rent without your consent. It is true however that if you are born to low income parents in a gentrifying neighborhood, you might not be able to settle in the same neighborhood as your parents, but who wants to do that anyway?

    On the other hand the guys protesting against gentrification (that includes the one who wrote the graffitis), should stop to think a little bit and realize they are not representing “the people.” Poor people also have pride and are also able to appreciate growth. I have never met anyone (poor or rich) who is not happy to see their neighborhood become a cleaner and more attractive place, even if that means rent increases, strage residents, etc.

  3. Most interesting. Excellent work… I especially liked the contribution of Joe Baker, a true hero of Montreal and Quebec. He is the most important figure in the development history of the city. Every good thing about saving neighbourhoods and people in their homes from the nineteen sixties on began with him and the people around him who learned from him.

  4. My comment is simple, may be too simple : what is wrong with gentrification? Why is gentrification always portrayed as evil?

    When you think about real estate development, a part is about money but also offering homes to people who want to live in the city. Our society is at a turning point, where the massive development of single family houses further away from downtown has to stop. Family driven and directed real estate is starting to be implemented by many developers.

    Yes, it brings in people that more economics means. So what, that’s life! If gentrification doesn’t happen in certain neighborhoods, we could end up with very scary places, like Alphabet City in Manhattan. Places that police and people don’t want to go.

    Diversity is the key to a city. It ensures that everyone lives together and knows or is aware of that everyone isn’t equal in our society. The media (both independent and not-so independent) have a role to play in it. Along with advocates of both visions. Development keeps a city alive because it works on changing the places don’t work anymore or as well as they use to be.

    There are really bad places in the Plateau. And many people still rent there too. As is the contrary in Laval or Brossard. There isn’t much diversity in those places. While in Hochelaga (my hood), there is a lot. Of course, my household has more economics means than some. But it doesn’t mean that we are «taking» someone place. Why should we be made guilty for wanting to live in a certain area. BTW, my household is a rental one!

    From my point of view, I don’t understand the main argument that the resident are driving out and can’t live in the neighborhood their families have always lived in. Yes, they may have less economics means. But they are free to live where they can afford to. Just like me! It doesn’t make sense that the main reason seems to be that they are forced to live in those areas. No one is forcing them to stay perpetually where they live.

  5. Great work on the documentary.

    Some of the statements made by the people involved have left me perplexed. It would appear that they are trying to resist change due to their own imaginary ideals. If life was so great before the developments why were these less fortunate areas uninhabited by these very same people. A few years ago no one was claiming how wonderful “HoMa” is. You can’t stop progress. Especially if it makes financial sense. There’s a pool of people willing to support the new projects and their prices; along with a city more than willing to accept the higher tax revenues. If you’re a owner of a house in an up and coming neighboorhood you too will benefit from the changes through a higher property value which you may claim by selling it if your heart so desires. However these people are not owners, they are tenants. And as such they would like to keep their benefits and pay the lowest prices possible. It’s as simple as that. Instead of whining about prices moving up while not get organized and buy out properties and create your own community driven affordable projects. If the promoters can do it so can you. 

  6. If there is one certainty in life, it is that change is inevitable. Concerning gentrification and the increase in property values which accompanies it, it certainly can force people out. When property values increase, so too do property taxes, and this has an impact on all kind of things – not just on housing, but also on retail uses.

    Montreal has rather strict rent controls, but if landlords cannot pass the property tax increases on to the tenants, then they will find some other way to cover their increased costs (sell the building, buy out the tenants, etc.). One way or another, tenants will be squeezed.

    Even property owners can be `forced out` by tax increases. When the market value of a property goes up, to too does the municipal tax evaluation, and people may find that they can no longer afford to pay the taxes on their properties!

    I think that a big part of the problem is that property taxes are the city`s sole source of revenue.

  7. I find that most gentrification debates are poorly centered on cultural traits of the new residents vs. the original habitants. This focus favors the “positive” aspects of gentrification, namely “revitalization” in the form of cafes, bars and boutiques. The drama however is about the displacement of people, and especially poor tenants. This is the social and political aspects of gentrification that must be talked through. The documentary of Adam Bemma looks closely at these aspects, much more than many comments on this page.

  8. I quite enjoyed this film and I think that gentrification is always present and will always take place whether ones opinion is for or against it. Things change and that’s life.

    The concern for me is what will happen to these 21st century, more or less characterless condo monstrosities that seem to pop up everywhere, in 50 years?

    If they are still standing, will we look back with admiration for the architectural design of these buildings?

    I think not and it saddens me to think that in some cases, century old row houses with fine detail and character are razed to make way for these fly by night condo developments. It may be that, since the crash in 2008 and subsequent lowering of interest rates, condo developments have seen an uptick in construction because projects that were not feasible at higher interest rates have now become profitable.

    If anyone has any hard evidence on this it would be interesting to hear. I shall end this post with slight frustration and hope for the future.

    Please respond to this post with your thoughts to my thoughts above.

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