A quick look at the map of Griffintown (pdf) shows that every other block is newly developed, under-construction, or awaiting authorization for transformation. So it may seem odd that the Sud-Ouest borough is only now putting together an integrated urban plan for the sector. In light of this plan, which will eventually be included in Montreal’s updated urban, Montreal’s Office de Consultation Publique has been given the mandate to open a discussion on Griffintown’s future, and develop a vision for the neighbourhood taking into account issues such as:
- cohabitation of new projects with current use;
- preservation and integration of the neighbourhood’s historical and architectural heritage and scale;
- transportation demand management, public transit, and parking;
- the presence of public spaces and green spaces, and local services;
- how development in Griffintown will fit in with other local projects like the Bonaventure redevelopment, the ETS campus, and the Bassins du Nouveau Havre.
Presently, there are a number of competing visions for the neighbourhood : prime real estate near downtown for young professionals, a student area around ETS, a cultural corridor, an opportunity to build more affordable housing for families…
According to Anik Pouliot, the OCPM’s logistics and communications coordinator, that the important thing is to “ensure that there are intentions behind the development, and that it is not just the market that decides.” In short, it looks like the consultation that should have been held five years ago, when about 25 blocks of the industrial area were rezoned to make way for Devimco’s 1.3 billion dollar raze-and-rebuild plan, which failed to materialize.
A first online consultation forum
While the OCPM has used online surveys in the past, Pouliot says that «Griffintown selon vous» is the first time that they’ve opened up a true web 2.0-style online discussion forum. The format they have chosen is “a consultation all in pictures”: the public is invited to comment on a number of photos of the neighourhood, and may also submit their own photos to spark a discussion.
Pouliot says that the photo-gallery format was chosen so that, even in the midst of winter, Montrealers could discover the neighbourhood – from the views of downtown, to the hidden nooks like the abandoned Wellington tunnel – and then decide for themselves what landmarks and landscapes should be protected, put in the spotlight, or transformed. Since it was zoned industrial for many decades, relatively few people actually live in Griffintown and many Montrealers’ knowledge of the neighbourhood is patchy.
This forum will be open until at least mid-February, and a more traditional live consultation session will be held January 20th. Pouliot says that the comments posted on the site will be analyzed and classified by theme, and then synthesized along with memoirs and verbal comments that the OCPM receives.
But Pouliot also recognizes the risks of opening up the dialogue online at large. During most public consultations, the OCPM begins with an information session, publishes a number of documents, and then several weeks later allows citizens to register Pouliot says that the opinions that the OPCM receive are usually well-informed. Those who take part in an online forum may not be so meticulous: “there’s a danger of getting all kinds of comments based on rumors, interpretations, emotions,” Pouliot says. But she also hopes that the web will be a way to reach more people in the 18-34 year old age bracket, are less frequently seen at in-person consultations.
So far, Pouliot says that people have mainly come to browse the photos and at least 40 photos have been submitted by the public, but the comments have trickled in more slowly. One weakness of the site, I believe, is that it is impossible to see which photos have sprung a dialogue without clicking through them. I noticed that this photo of the New City Gas Co. had collected a handful of comments – not a bad place to start.
Spacing Readers are known for their informed and critical commenting – so put ’em where they can really make a difference and go drop a line at Griffintown selon vous.