September 12th, 2007

What Will Become of Griffintown?

Posted in Canada by A.J. Kandy


Recently, Quebec developer Devimco partnered with Toronto-based RioCan to build the suburban Dix30 “lifestyle centre,” a drive-in power-centre big-box shopping mall located in a greenfield development at the intersections of Highways 10 and 30 on the South Shore.

Devimco is now working with the City of Montreal to push through a similar $1B development right at the foot of Peel Street, on the Peel Basin section of the Lachine Canal, likely occupying the same land that was originally proposed for the now-defunct Cirque du Soleil / Casino complex. Reportedly, Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire are to be anchor tenants.

A suburban mall at the foot of one of Montreal’s central boulevards, in the middle of Griffintown and adjacent to Old Montreal, ignores both the “retail DNA” of Montreal and the history of a proud neighborhood. It’s anti-urban, representing low density and sprawl, and there is serious doubt that it will contribute positively in terms of built space, eyes on the street, and other issues.

Even if there is a residential tower attached, as the current proposal includes, it’s still likely going to be a lot of cheap sheds separated by acres of parking. It’s an odd decision in a neighborhood that is moving towards drastically increased residential density and good urban design, and which is likely to be enhanced by the Harbour Commission’s plans to demolish the elevated portions of the Bonaventure Expressway to create a pedestrian-friendly urban boulevard and tramway links. With Peak Oil on the horizon, are big-box malls of national chain retail even viable, anyway?

We — being Stephanie Troeth and yours truly, AJ Kandy — are proposing an alternative, urbanist vision for the project in a quick six-minute presentation at the upcoming Montreal Pecha Kucha Night, Tuesday, September 18th at the SAT, starting at 8:00pm. We hope to see all of you there, and for those who can’t attend, we’ll be republishing it online with narration, background articles and links, and providing tools for action and discussion.

In the meantime, interested citizens should get in touch with the Sud-Ouest borough mayor’s office about an upcoming series of public consultations on the project.

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  1. Karl says:

    And what is so bad about the current state of the Peel basin?

    September 15th, 2007 at 12:50 am

  2. aj says:

    It depends on your point of view. I personally would like a long stretch of the Lachine canal to retain its bucolic nature (certainly, anything west of the Atwater Market), but let’s be realistic — while the federal government owns the Lachine Canal park per se, it doesn’t own the adjacent lands. It appears that Devimco has been piecing together its title to a parcel big enough to build on, and the city seems more than willing to turn a lot of empty parking lots and industrial ruins into something that generates tax revenue. Meanwhile, all over St-Henri, Griffintown and Little Burgundy we’ve seen an influx of thousands of new residents in the Redpath Lofts, Quai des Eclusiers, Terrasses Windsor and Lowney Lofts (now building phase 3). The ETS is expanding, and building a new 450-student residence at Notre-Dame and Mountain.

    Meanwhile, there’s been little to no new low-income or mixed-income development; almost nothing devoted to the rental market (though this will change as interest rates return to ‘normal’); and not a lot of retail.

    As to that latter point, while we’ve seen a mini-boom on Notre-Dame — with new boutiques replacing the antique shops, and a row of acclaimed restaurants near the Corona Theatre — there’s not a lot of shops per se. No clothing, no specialty retailers, etc — but now, the numbers are there to justify such retail.

    Frankly, I don’t see as much opposition to this, as there was to the proposed casino…it’s probably going to happen whether we like it or not. I’m just concerned about the shape the current project is taking, and I’m thinking for just a little more money – or the same money, invested properly – the developers can build a neighborhood instead of a mall; a place to live, instead of another Costco to stop at on the way home to the South Shore….

    September 15th, 2007 at 2:50 am

  3. Karl says:

    Now, Roma thinks you’ve pulled some of those opinions “right out of your ass” because they “just sound good” and I tend to agree with her. I don’t think you truly believe what you just wrote.

    It might be because I’m from Ottawa and it might be because I’ve actually worked on its Rideau Canal as a lockmaster, but I really do believe that the Peel basin fits perfectly as a historical landmark and “green space” in Montreal. In Ottawa, they have the Dow’s lake. A lake they use as a recreational spot for tourists, for ice sculptures and as the main part of the Rideau Canal skating area. I can’t understand why the Montreal electorate cannot see the “tax value” in this kind of “fashionably industrial” landmark since they seem to be able to see it in anything old and made of brick. Why couldn’t the – let’s call it a lake from now on for fashion’s sake – lake increase the value of the neighboring land if it were used correctly?

    Since Parks Canada took over the Lachine canal and, as such the Peel basin, as they did with the Rideau canal and Dow’s Lake in Ottawa, we’ve seen a drastic change in the way it’s been maintained, used and respected by Montrealers and non-Montrealers alike. Let’s push it a tad, call it a lake and actually do stuff on it.

    All of that said, I can’t help but blame maire Tremblay for pushing an idea that is so untrue to Montreal, but with all that has happened with Park ave. and the Casino and the condos and the repression of street art and on and on and on and on and on… And on and on…

    Well, you know.


    September 19th, 2007 at 7:01 am

  4. Desmond Bliek says:

    The arrondissement Sud-Ouest and Design Montréal actually sponsored an interesting urban design charette covering several sites in Griffintown in the fall of 2006 – no big boxes in sight. Hopefully they stick to the good work they did. Check it out here and here.

    September 21st, 2007 at 3:20 pm

  5. aj says:

    Karl: Um, who’s Roma?

    The proposed project has nothing to do with the Basin itself, which is basically just a brief widening in the canal where there used to be places for boats to dock and load/unload to local warehouses. In fact the area had many more of these basins but they’ve since been filled in.

    The project is for land adjacent to the basin, just on the north side of the canal. It’d be separated by the canal itself by the existing linear park / bike path.

    I do agree that it’d be nice for the city to do something with the basin itself — at the moment it’s just flanked by aging industrial buildings and elevated tracks that lead to Central Station. It’s a kind of no-man’s-land between Griffintown and western Old Montreal, right where the Old Port starts.

    But to reiterate, the proposed mall is best described as near the Peel Basin, not actually fronting right on it. I’ll be posting some slides from our presentation to our blog (url linked in my name). Steph’s away in Asia at the moment but we’ll be putting together the narrated Quicktime of the prez so everyone can see what they missed ;)

    Desmond: awesome, I hadn’t seen those. I’ll relink them on the SaveGriffintown blog.

    September 28th, 2007 at 9:53 am

  6. Griffintown Canada Post site « Exploring Southwest Montreal says:

    […] What will become of Griffintown. Urbanphoto. September 12, 2007. […]

    November 12th, 2007 at 11:43 pm