The pandemic and its restrictions have led us to take over streets, parks and other common spaces in cities through volatile and transitional developments (pedestrians of certain arteries, installation of street furniture, wastelands and alleys). However, these initiatives for the appropriation of the urban environment for shared use have shown that a deep need to link public spaces to the daily way of life of the city is essential.
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Urban environments as they are structured today are largely designed with productivity in mind. They allow citizens to move quickly and have easy access to a wide range of goods and services. What the pandemic has shown us is that humans also need to invest in space to “create” community there, without necessarily having any connection to any capacity for productivity. Citizens want to experience the public space and rebuild it slowly.
From this perspective, the urban structure is mainly articulated around the development of neighborhoods and a gentrification of post-industrial spaces in the eastern part of downtown Montreal. The coasts, which have recently been reinvested and explored by the citizens, represent a key space for this development. We must learn to reevaluate them and rebuild them slowly.
Giving water a new central role
Formerly a central element around which cities were built and the economy developed around, water seems to have lost its letters of nobility in terms of socialization and daily space, in favor of the transportation of goods and the evacuation of industrial production. Made inaccessible, redirected, polluted, dehydrated or denatured in favor of industrialization, Quebec’s bodies of water have lost their luster in the collective imagination. However, due to their diversity in the territory and the common desire to access them, they offer numerous opportunities to create joint projects.
While environmental protection is a major problem for the entire planet, the development of the coasts and making them accessible to citizens helps to re-establish a strong link between humans and water, which underlines the need for and urgency to take concrete measures to protect this vital resource. .
The conditions for success
How do we ensure that coastline development benefits both society and the environment? Decision-makers and initiators must think of projects together by mobilizing the different parts of society upstream: citizens, NPOs, local authorities, universities, schools, cultural, artistic and even industrial environments.
The logic should not be to do so at all costs, but to rebuild slowly, in a sustainable and thoughtful way, by committing to an ecological and social transition.
The entertainment industry could see it as a path to development. However, a hegemony of this sector should not arise, as is the case in certain sectors and certain public places in the city of Montreal, in particular. The development of these spaces should not only be conceived in such a way that they host events, but also taking into account the needs of citizens. Water must remain a public space and accessible to the population.
Urban development and design practices must now be integrated into a post-growth context. The flaws of urbanity need to be highlighted and proposed as challenges and projects for communities for the collective good.
* Co-signatories: Emilie Gagnon and Pierre Moro-Lin, founding members of the urban design and event cooperative Le Comité; Anouk Bélanger, Professor in the Department of Social and Public Communication at UQAM