What To Do With Pine and Park?

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Last fall, work finished on one of the better planning decisions Montreal has made over the past couple of decades: the replacement of the labyrinthine interchange at the corner of Pine and Park Aves. with a surface-level intersection.

The new junction is elegant, attractively furnished and easy to navigate. It’s also empty. Destroying the interchange freed up a lot of space that is currently occupied by loose bits of rock and gravel. It seems clear that the space above Pine Avenue will be turned into park space, which only makes sense since it abuts Mount Royal and Jeanne Mance Park. But there’s a more controversial parcel of land south of Pine Avenue. A small part of it is a triangle that stretches west along Pine to Durocher Street; the rest is a square at the southeast corner of Pine and Park. All in all, the land in question covers about 5,000 square metres.

Currently, the Plateau Mont-Royal borough is figuring out what to do with it, but residents of the surrounding neighbourhood, Milton Park—better known as the McGill Ghetto—have made it known that they will only tolerate open space. “There are constant rumours that people want to build there,” Lucia Kowaluk, president of the Milton Park Citizens Committee, told the Montreal Gazette. “I know two people who work for the city who have told me in the last four months, ‘There are going to be buildings there.'”

I have nothing but respect for Kowaluk. She was involved in the 1960s-era protests against a massive superblock development that would have wiped out the entire McGill Ghetto; when the plan was defeated, she helped found a large coop in the east part of the neighbourhood. She also runs the Urban Ecology Centre, which has pioneered a particular blend of urban environmentalism that supports sustainable development, social justice and local heritage. But I must absolutely disagree with her position on the Pine-Park intersection: a building should rise at its southeast corner. The rest of the new open space will function best as an extension of the parks north of Pine—and there’s no question that it will become just that—but the small square of land south of the intersection would best be turned into a building.

A new building, perhaps six or seven stories tall, would frame the intersection beautifully and provide a visual stepping stone to the cluster of skyscrapers that looms south of Pine. It doesn’t need to be privately developed. Given the symbolism of its location, this building should serve an important public purpose, perhaps as a library or community centre with social housing above.

Helen Fotopulos, the Plateau borough mayor, has said that whatever is built at Park and Pine must be “significant.” After all, it’s the gateway to Montreal’s namesake, one of the city’s most valuable pieces of public space. But this shouldn’t rule out a building. What Pine and Park needs is something bold, innovative—something that will serve its city and its neighbourhood well.


The intersection of Pine and Park, the space in question in the foreground

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A temporary path runs into Jeanne Mance Park

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Wednesday June 13 2007at 12:06 am , filed under Public Space and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “What To Do With Pine and Park?”

  • Patrick Donovan says:

    I agree with your position on this. A park is probably the worst idea for the vacant land south of rue des Pins.

    Jane Jacobs claimed that parks are vacuums that need to be filled in order to become interesting urban spaces. More parkland does not necessarily mean a better quality of life for residents if that park is poorly located–it could mean the contrary. In this case, it seems obvious that nobody will use a park abutting a busy intersection when there’s a larger, more pleasant expanse right across the street. Furthermore, sustainable development (and good urban design) calls for a building on this corner in order to continue offering living alternatives downtown to counter sprawl.

    Building a better downtown does not mean turning all empty lots into green space. It means creating a densely populated urban space with strategically-located parks that are interesting, used by citizens, and well-designed.

  • Chris, Patrick,

    I couldn’t agree more. That empty lot needs to be seen also as half of a block (the block bounded by Pine, Jeanne-Mance, Leo-Pariseau, and Parc). One half is built – the little 1980s-ish condos/apartments on Jeanne-Mance – but its most important half, the half fronting on Montreal’s most significant new gateway to both downtown and the mountain, needs something good to be built on it. A ho-hum, or even an interesting park, with the rear facade of some low-rise condos, their barbecues, parked cars, laundry, etc, doesn’t really do the space justice.