A decade ago, the residents of the Milton-Parc community pooled their funds and, after dedicating much time and effort to their project, turned a neglected laneway into a lush garden – something they had begged the City to do for years. Located between Hutchison and Parc just south of des Pins, Parc Oxygène, as the laneway is known, offers a grassy retreat and recreation space to neighbourhood residents and workers. Now that the owner of the property is planning on developing the space, due to changes in zoning laws, the City should buy the green space and donate it to the community.
Before 2008, zoning laws required buildings to be similar height to the nearby LaCité tower – between six and 12 storeys. The lot where Parc Oxygène is located is too narrow for construction of this height. But recent changes in the law made at the request of the owner now permit three-story development, suggesting that the borough values commercial development over community-based initiatives and green space.
The former zoning laws originated from community activism. In the late sixties, a private developer attempted to replace 25 acres of the historic Milton-Parc neighbourhood with high-rise apartment (where New Rez and the LaCité apartment buildings are now), office, and commercial buildings. After 15 years of fierce resistance, the combined efforts of residents, activists, and architects saved the neighbourhood – although the first phase of the project went through and some buildings were demolished because the City authorities initially supported the developer’s plans. The zoning change indicates that a similar attitude persists today.
Green spaces like Parc Oxygène benefit residents’ health and mental well-being, help absorb rainwater, build resilient ecosystems, and maintain environmentally balanced population density. The City claims it intends to prioritize the preservation of these spaces in Montreal, but its actions suggest otherwise. If it wants to make good on its stated intentions, it should compensate the owner of the property and give the park to the community. They can use some of the tens of millions of dollars they have invested over the last five years into the City’s green space acquisition fund.
Meanwhile, McGill students – especially those in the Ghetto – should support the Milton-Parc residents in their resistance. The neighbourhood’s history demonstrates that the City will only respond to citizens’ demands when faced with collective action. This is an opportunity for students to get in touch with the local community. To find more information about opposing the development, visit the Milton-Park Citizens’ Committee web site: drupal.comcitmp.org.