Mapping Montréal’s wild greenspaces

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Have you ever been moving through a familiar urban environment in Montreal, only to be surprised by a piece of land you’ve never really noticed before? Perhaps upon closer examination, you find faint footfalls in the snow, or a dirt path crossing the space. You might see native grasses flourishing, or a colourful yarn-bomb wrapped around a tree. A rustle in the shrubs might indicate a rabbit or squirrel foraging for food. Most of all, you probably notice the silence – a feeling of removal from the adjacent bustle of city life. Wild City Mapping is a new initiative started by a collective of “artists, green space enthusiasts and geeks”.

Wild City Mapping

Photo courtesy of Wild City Mapping

Their aim is to document Montreal’s wild greenspaces through the eyes of the communities that use them, and to propagate similar mapping activities in other cities by providing a replicable model using open-source programs like MapBox, as well as highly detailed, hand-drawn maps like the one below (for more on la cartographie éphémère, see here).

Wild City Mapping_map

Cartographie éphémère in Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie (photo courtesy of Dominique Ferraton)

Wild City Mapping’s approach to documenting and adding stories to terrains vagues in Montreal strikes a chord with our views on cultivating resilient and livable cities. Firstly, infusing urban spaces with personal stories can change the ways in which we understand space beyond their development value. It also illumines possibilities to use these spaces in ways outside of sanctioned activities (such as transportation or commerce) which is important to urban resilience. One element of resilience, particularly in cities, is adaptability: when spaces are flexible, they can be adopted by different people and for different uses. If we can agree that undefined spaces are resilient by nature of being open to anything, then perhaps this kind of work can be placed in a broader recognition of the value in maintaining fluidity in spaces as the urban context changes over time. In fact, one of the key components of Wild City Mapping is a temporal dimension to show the physical changes in wild greenspaces, as well as documenting activities within these spaces.

Parc des Gorilles

Map of le Parc des Gorilles in the "Mile Ex" neighbourhood: coloured icons denote different years and activities

Given the dominant narrative of growth and economic development in Montreal, there is something almost subversive about deliberately preserving spaces in an unplanned state. Wild City Mapping brings up big questions, like: How do we explain the urban realm, outside of the current growth- and development-centred discourse? How can we plan spaces outside of this discourse, and develop narratives around differently-planned spaces? How can we better understand and thus develop value systems for those complex, sometimes disorienting “spaces left over after planning”?

Verdun 2

Pathways in Verdun (photo courtesy of Wild City Mapping)

While Wild City Mapping’s work is fairly unique in Montreal, one can draw links to international work in a similar vein. For example, Lara Almarcegui, a Spanish artist who creates large-scale installations that often involve reconceptualising elements of the built environment, also questions the way in which we care for space. Her Portscapes installations along Rotterdam’s post-industrial harbour is salient for this discussion. Rather than creating an installation which would impose built structures onto these environments to alter their meaning, she created an inventory of fallow grounds and negotiated with city council to preserve these spaces as they were. The idea of “un-designed” spaces is foreign in planning, as they may be associated with abandonment or lack of care – and yet there are choices and actions behind this freedom. It is valuable for those involved in city building to consider how consciously “unbuilding” can contribute to healthy, livable, and resilient cities.

Leave it alone

Le champ des possibles: "For me, the most important aspect of this space is that it is NOT manicured, controlled, landscaped....LEAVE IT ALONE!!!" (Photo courtesy of Wild City Mapping)

Click here to read about the Wild City Mapping team and collaborators. If you’d like to know more about the process of mapping wild greenspaces, dive into stories from founding members Maia Iotzova, Igor Rončević, and Dominique Ferraton. Do you know a wild green space in Montreal? Share it with Wild City Mapping. And, look out for Part Two of this series: an interview with Dominique Ferraton and Maia Iotzova.

Hidden Gems- How Daylighting Rivers are Revitalizing Cities

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By: Michaela Kramer, Evergreen Cityworks, Intern

The saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone” has come to resonate with cities around the world that are reclaiming their once abandoned natural features. While pressures of industrialization and urbanization at one time led planners to cover up natural sites in cities, many are now coming to realize the social, environmental, and economic benefits of rediscovering these hidden gems. Cities have embarked on what’s known as ‘daylighting’ wherein buried streams and rivers are exposed from beneath pavement or underground tunnels to become vibrant public spaces. The success of such projects, with cases from Yonkers, New York to Seoul, South Korea are inspiring more people to rediscover the hidden waterways in their city too.

The history of covered-up urban rivers and streams is a common one, with examples including Sunswick Creek in Queens, River Westbourne in London, the Neglinnava River in Moscow and most other places. They were usually the result of city officials reacting to flood problems, heavy pollution in streams-turned-sewers, or the demand for more space to accommodate urban sprawl. Once covered with pavement or channeled into tunnels, rivers and streams were soon forgotten, with new generations having no idea about their existence right under their feet.

Yet there has been a renewed interest in the streams secretly flowing beneath freeways and parking lots. Urban explorer and photographer Steve Duncan has found his way into many of these sites and in Toronto, local environmental organization host tours of what they call The Lost Rivers. But it’s not just adventurous urbanites that have become fascinated, city governments and planners are coming to rethink the city’s initial position on these environmental treasures.

CheonggyecheonSource: LAF, Inhabitat

This was the case in Seoul where the Cheonggyecheon River was paved over and replaced with the 1970s Cheonggyecheon Freeway, then considered a symbol a modernism and engineering achievement. As the highway infrastructure began to crumble 40 years later, the city decided against reinvesting in outdated infrastructure that prioritizes cars, and instead worked to reintroduce the river to the city as a public space. Two years, and $348 million dollars later, the five-kilometer daylighted river acts as a centerpiece of the city, attracting 500,000 visitors each week.

Saw.MillSource: Steve Duncan, Flickr

Other more modest examples belong to Arcadia Creek in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Broad Branch Stream in D.C. In 2010, Yonkers in New York State restored the Saw Mill River, which had been paved over in the 1920s due to sanitation and flood problems.  Today, the exposed river acts as a successful new space for people and wildlife, a highlight of the city’s ongoing revitalization project.

Beyond the role these serve in introducing natural spaces to the public, daylighting projects boasts impressive environmental and economic benefits as well. Exposed streams and rivers absorb storm water runoff much better than underground pipes, not to mention the money this saves cities from having to repair old pipes that are being overused during storms. This is especially important considering the heavier-than-ever downpours being experienced in many places due to the onset of climate change.

Moreover, rivers and streams are important places of biodiversity: they help to improve water quality and mitigate heat island effect. The Cheeonggyecheon River in Seoul has seen the rise of fish species from 4 to 25, bird species from 6 to 36, insect species from 15 to 192, and plant species from 62 to 308. Also, the average summer temperature in the area has dropped by 5 degrees. Daylightng serves to boost local economies, attracting tourists and investment in nearby areas. For instance, Cheeonggyecheon increased property prices within 50 meters by 30-50% and earns millions in tourist spending.

Overall, these cases bring to light (pun intended) an ideological shift in cities where people are coming to value environmental assets over unchecked sprawl. This is the same line of thinking that has lead many places to reconnect with their waterfronts or remediate polluted wetlands. Nature is no longer seen as an obstacle but instead as something to celebrate, benefitting the city in various ways.

Source: WordPress


Why We Should Care About Zoning

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By: Jesse Darling, Evergreen CityWorks, Urban Project Designer

Canadians cities have been shaped by numerous influences. Natural assets such as waterfronts, canals and mountain ranges have always, and will continue, to play a role in molding the urban fabric. Infrastructure such as ports and railways opened up the door to economic development. But above all, zoning and land development has shaped the built form and morphology of Canadian cities.

While the patterns of land development vary throughout Canada, one unifying theme exists: planning has always been altruistic. Planning is an endless pursuit to preserve public good. The desire to improve economic prosperity, the health and quality of life of all city residents are the pillars of city building.

Planning emerged as a profession to combat urban challenges such as the quality of housing, congestion, urban design and zoning. Almost a hundred years later, these issues still resonate in city building conversations. Affordable housing, congestion and public space are the forefront of debate in municipalities across Canada.

Despite its profound role in shaping not only the physicality of a city, but also its character, zoning evades public interest. Zoning is an omnipresent force that holds political, economic, environmental and design-related implications. It is important for city residents to understand the power and influence zoning has on a wide range of municipal issues.

In the 19th century, zoning was predominately used as a tool to protect the economic interests of landowners. Consequently, comprehensive zoning was enforced to ensure neighbourhood stability and to protect land value from the threat of undesirable development. This resulted in entire parcels of land, whether vacant or pursuing development, to become pre-zoned. Cities remain constrained by these zones today. But, why does this matter?

While the intention of zoning is to take public safety, environmental preservation, community aesthetics and economic development into consideration, most of the time, zoning limits the potential of a place. One of the best examples of this is within Toronto's inner suburbs. Despite being neighbourhoods with high density and diversity, zoning bylaws have prohibited tower block apartment buildings from having farmer's markets, public health services or day care on site. These archaic laws have stunted the growth and potential of these communities.

Mixed-use development is an integral part to building sustainable, vibrant neighborhoods. Having healthy food options, public transit, parks and community centres within walking distance of residential areas are essential for the economic, environmental and social longevity of Canadian cities. While some cities have taken prudent steps to reform restrictive zoning, there is more work to be done.

By allowing different types of zoning to work simultaneously, it encourages strong development around transit routes, reduces reliance on the personal automobile and maintains the vibrancy and safety of communities. Strategic zoning can act as a source of municipal innovation and serve as a mechanism to introduce novel planning ideas to the city landscape. The challenges of our urban regions are interrelated and complex. Creating flexibility in the laws that determine their built form and character will create more creative, interesting and meaningful places.

CityScapes: The Natural & Built Environment

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With more than 80 percent of Canadians living in cities, the need for resilient and livable cities has never been greater. Our economic, social and environmental success depends on the quality of life provided by cities.

And yet, our cities face unprecedented challenges- from aging infrastructure and increased traffic congestion to inefficient energy systems to urban sprawl. Our cities need to work better.

Innovation is a key driver of our prosperity, but our urban centres seem to struggle to find ways of encouraging and adopting innovation. Nowhere is this more evident than in our built and natural environments- our parks, public transit, energy and housing.

Smart planning, innovation, experimentation and investment will be a determining factor in the resiliency of our urban centres. We cannot build the next 100 years of infrastructure using the concepts and methods of the past 100 years.

CityScapes will be a platform for driving innovation that tackles our critical infrastructure issues and advances our economic, social and environmental prosperity. It will bring together the public, innovators and decision makers to accelerate the shift to more livable and resilient infrastructure in cities across Canada and beyond.

Transformative change can happen when Canadians are engaged with new ideas, in ways that are relevant to them.

Canada Sharing Economy Roadshow: April Rinne in Toronto

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April Rinne recently participated in a cross-country tour of Canada promoting Shareable Cities, speaking in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. The tour was co-hosted by Social Innovation Generation (SIG) and Cities for People, a new innovation platform that aims to create more resilient and livable cities, with support from The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

photo-2-300x300A key theme throughout the tour was “connecting the dots,” specifically, how cities connect the expertise, resources and assets between government, citizens, entrepreneurs and companies to create a shareable city.

At April’s Toronto pitstop on February 11, she started the day with a workshop attended by city leaders in municipal government, economic and social development and urban planning. Municipal support is crucial for taxation, insurance and other regulatory policy reform which can help sharing systems flourish.

In the afternoon, April attended an ideation session with entrepreneurs, key leaders and enthusiasts in the Toronto sharing economy. Attendees included the Toronto Tool Library, Trade School Toronto, Etsy Canada, and Repair Café Toronto. The goal of this session was to discuss next steps for an expanding Toronto network, one that aims to raise awareness about collaborative consumption to everyday Torontonians.

April’s evening presentation to the public focused on defining the collaborative economy, highlighting examples of cross-sector collaboration and reiterating the importance of connecting the dots. April charismatically described a pair of goggles that would allow us to see idle assets in a city, whether they exist in government, a household or in a company’s supply chain. It’s important that cities unlock the wealth in these assets, which create an abundance of resources that can provide lots of public benefit to citizens.

At one point in April’s lecture, she mentions that Mayor Park Won-Soon of Seoul, South Korea sees a city as a laboratory to hatch ideas and incubate projects, which is the perfect way to describe the task at hand for cities now. Cities need to determine what platforms resonate with the needs of their citizens and create pilot programs and start taking action. In doing so, they can create an enabling environment to make sharing more mainstream and transform their local communities.

Read about the Vancouver public event here.

Read the blog post "The Sharing Economy: it's more than we think" here

Watch April Rinne’s full presentation:

Video credit: The Collaborative Economy: How sharing is powering a sustainable future – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Credit: Collaborative Lab; posted in Perspectives Videos on by Lucy Gao, Global Curator Team, Canada - twitter


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100 in 1 Day banner

What if hundreds of people united, each putting in place the changes they wish to see in their city, all on the same day?

100in1Day is a citizen-driven festival that unites people across the city by engaging them in a common city-wide project to transform their community—raising awareness of urban and social issues, inspiring new ideas and solutions, and motivating leaders to consider new approaches to old problems.

100in1Day began as an idea and quickly became a global movement. Launching in 2012 in Bogota, Colombia with 250 urban interventions and over 3000 participants, it has since inspired citizen-driven transformative change in 15 cities around the world. On June 7, residents in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax will join the movement and re-imagine how they live, work and play in their city.

What is an intervention?

An urban intervention is a one-day community-based project, led by an individual, group of like-minded residents and neighbours, or an organization. These projects, be they whimsical and fun or advocating for social justice and change, are a simple, low-cost way for people to showcase their ideas for a better city. Not only do they transform the city, they inspire and engage participants and onlookers alike—fostering a strong sense of community and positive change.

How do I get involved?

You can volunteer to help co-create the event, or visit!

You can also check out this great video by Legato Productions highlighting Montreal’s 100in1Day event: 100in1Day Montreal