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.