Residents of the Milton-Parc community are fighting to preserve a small patch of green space known as “Parc Oxygène.” Montreal recently changed the zoning laws in the area, which would allow small housing units to be constructed on the private land. Many of the residents have said this will be a deciding issue in the upcoming municipal elections.
In the mid-eighties, a small alleyway stretching from Hutchison to Parc, just south of des Pins, was used as a shortcut by taxi drivers and other motorists. Residents complained at the time that it was a danger to the local children.
The land was purchased by Maurice Fattel, who wished to convert it into a parking lot. Local residents were upset with this development and decided to pool their resources to transform the lane into a park.
Norman Nawrocki, a member of the non-profit housing co-op known as the Milton-Park Project, dedicated to maintaining the Parc Oxygène, has lived in the area since 1981. “It was a nice, quiet neighbourhood before developers started to destroy it,” he said.
After complaints to the City went unnoticed, a group of anonymous residents brought flowers and potted trees and began to landscape the area, turning it into a green space.
According to the residents, Fattel did not mind that his land was being used as a park. “In the beginning, we asked the City to preserve it for the long term by purchasing the land. They insisted it was safe, that they didn’t have money to buy the land but we didn’t need to worry since no one would build on it,” Nawrocki said.
Recent zoning changes have left the residents fuming. One resident wrote to the City after he saw a developer surveying the land last month, and he was informed that a zoning change was made in 2008 at the request of the owner. The previous zoning regulation only permitted construction of buildings six to 12 stories high, which would have made building on this 6.6 metre-wide lot difficult. The change permits construction of three- or four-storey buildings.
“The City prides itself on all its green initiatives, so how do they justify taking away a neighbourhood park? Local people invested time and money into the park to keep it green and with one stroke of the pen, all our hard work can be erased,” Nawrocki said.
Michel Prescott, city councillor for the Jeanne-Mance area, said that the best-case scenario would be for the City to purchase the land and allow it to remain as a park. However, he said the City does not have the budget to purchase this area and doesn’t want to set a precedent.
“We cannot buy all the small lands in Montreal and create parks and if we do it for this park, then we will be asked to do the same thing for other areas and we cannot afford that,” Prescott said.
Nawrocki thought this could be a good precedent for the City to set.
“Why is the City afraid of setting a precedent? Set an environmentally friendly precedent. Our park provides a breath of fresh air in this neighbourhood, so for the City to say they have no money is not true. It’s a political decision. They have decided they know better than us, but it is in our best interests to keep this park or we wouldn’t have worked so hard to maintain it,” Nawrocki said.
The City argues that a small housing project is a better alternative than a condominium building, and that the residents will benefit economically from these new developments.
“It’s not a park, but it’s better than a high-rise,” Prescott said.
According to McGill architecture professor Derek Drummond, this is not an environmental issue but a social one.
“These urban spaces that allow citizens to gather and enjoy social interactions are vital to their sense of community and well-being. If the land is in private hands, the community has no right to demand the owner provide the space for public use,” Drummond said.
“What must happen is that the City must purchase the land at a fair price and then devote the space to public use,” Drummond said.
“We’ve transformed a dangerous intersection into a beautiful park, adding to the health of the neighbourhood. Our co-op has won awards for beautifying the neighbourhood. Without this park, it would be a sadder neighbourhood. It’s inhumane to live with concrete and asphalt around you–who wants to live in a city without greenery?” Nawrocki said.