Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Griffintown Down-sized and Jane Jacobs Would Likely Approve

Sometimes bad times lead to good things. Yesterday Devimco, the development company which wants to completely rebuilt Montreal’s historic Griffintown district, announced that it is radically down-sizing the project. It says it need only 30 per cent as much land as it originally proposed developing to the tune of $1.3 billion. The thrust will now be on residential development with some shops and offices. Gone—for the foreseeable future, at least—are hotel, entertainment and vast shopping features. The villain, Devimco says, is the economic crisis.

Montreal city council is set to vote today to lift the controversial expropriation orders it passed a year ago that were designed to pave the way for the redevelopment project. Since then it also has frozen permits for renovation in the district, but it was expected to lift that freeze today, too.

Critics of the project aren’t at all unhappy about the turn of events. The redevelopment would radically change the face of the old district, first laid on a grid pattern at the turn of the 19th century in a mix of industrial, residential and commercial uses. Not only does the district have great historic value, its layout should be preserved because it is a great way to organize cities, critics said. The introduction of so much commercial space was also closely questioned. A far better course would be to allow the kind of slow, parcel by parcel redevelopment that had already started in the district and which has worked very well in other parts of Montreal, they said.

Jane Jacobs, who was no friend of either economic hard times (she lived through the Depression, after all) or big developments, would likely be pleased. She'd probably say, though, that people who care about urban life should not let their guard down because redevelopment--like highway projects--frequently have to be cut down several times before they finally disappear

Photo: The narrow streets of Griffintown were designed for foot and horse traffic, and should not be modified, but incorporated in the walkable city.

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