Commentary  Paint the town green

Gérald Tremblay won his third term as mayor of Montreal November 1, squeaking out a plurality amid allegations of corruption and collusion levelled at both his Union Montréal party and Louise Harel’s Vision Montréal. As these front-runners began to look worse and worse, third party Projet Montréal’s share of the vote went up, and their mayoral candidate, Richard Bergeron, ended up with about 26 per cent of the vote.

The picture becomes a little more varied when one looks at the other elections happening around the city. Union lost some ground in city councillor elections, with Projet Montréal taking 10 positions, sweeping all the posts up for grabs in the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, and gaining ground in Ahuntsic/Cartierville and the Southwest borough.

The leadership of Montreal has been re-jigged, and hopefully some priorities have changed, so the question now is: how will these leaders actually affect the urban space we all live in? Will the new leadership think through the ways in which we move through and experience the city, and the ways in which this urban space can be re-formed to be more sustainable, more egalitarian, and more just?
In the past four years, Tremblay has made some gains in sustainable development, adding more bike trails and starting the Bixi program. These changes, although admirable looking on an election web site, are not thoroughgoing and well thought out. They amount to “green-washing” – the appearance of change, the nice, aesthetic stuff – but no reform.

For evidence, look no further than the conflicts over the safety of bike paths, such as the Bus Driver’s Union petition to move the St. Urbain bike path from the right side of the street to the left. There’s no follow-through: the city installs bike paths, then doesn’t take the time to ensure they are well-designed or useful.

This election made it clear that voters in the Plateau at least distrust Tremblay’s green credentials. Look to the Plateau mayoral election – Michel “Vélo” Labrecque, Tremblay’s green mascot and chief of the STM, came in third, defeated by Luc Ferrandez of Projet Montréal.

Projet Montréal differed from Vision and Union parties by having a comprehensive platform sustainability. While we applaud their victories in the Plateau, this neighbourhood – already sustainable – can only do so much to stem the cars flowing in and out of it. City-wide, comprehensive plans must be made to truly change the way people move and work in this urban space. Projects like the construction of a new Turcot highway interchange must be moved in a sustainable direction that will take into account the needs of those who live and work in the surrounding neighbourhoods as well as those who pass through.

This is where you come in. Although hopes and dreams are often pinned to elections, voting blocks and voter attitudes often change slowly, and now the work must begin again – holding the leadership’s feet to the fire and pushing for change.

As this special issue has shown, the urban experience cannot be tied down to vague terms like “sustainability” – every neighbourhood has its own difficulties and opportunities. This is why we encourage students and community members to challenge the many unequal and untenable relations in this city by getting involved with neighbourhood groups and activist organizations that are pushing these issues everyday.

Groups like Save Griffintown! are looking at the New Urbanist movement, which advocates a sustainable form of urban renewal, for new directions to take redevelopment projects in Griffintown. QPIRG McGill’s Community-University Research Exchange organization can integrate your academic research with the work of local movements and activist organizations – invaluable in complex urban planning activism. As specific projects, such as the Turcot Interchange or the McGill University Hospital Centre Superhospital, enter public debate, lend your voice to calls for the specific, sustainable plans that activist groups have put together.

Although the mayorship may not seem to arouse much hope on the large scale, staying informed and volunteering your time and skills to any group that tries to better the lives and environment of Montreal’s people will create the sort of small-scale pressure that will nudge the City towards the larger, structural changes needed.