Montreal Gentrification – a challenge for new Mayor
Montreal Gentrification – With the arrival at Montreal City Hall of a new mayor and a party that claims to champion the aspirations of the little guy, hopes are high that some characteristics of urban development in the last few years will finally change for the better. One of them is this phenomenon known as gentrification, defined by Matt Orsini in his Mtl Blog as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” In the last few years the cases of Saint Henri (which brought about some acts of vandalism against some new businesses), Griffintown, Plateau Mont-Royal, and more recently Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, have been cited as typical examples in our city.
The area surrounding boulevard St. Laurent, St. Urbain and Park Avenue between Sherbrooke and St. Joseph, is a typical case. It was initially a neighbourhood that received Jewish immigrants (well-portrayed in the works of Mordecai Richler), then Portuguese and Greeks, later in the 1980s and 1990s, lots of Latinos and Arabs were coming to live in the area. With them, restaurants, cafés, and grocery stores to cater to their own demands of food. But it seems that is not anymore: for some time now that area as some other parts of Plateau Mont-Royal are experiencing the conversion of old houses into condos for middle and well-to-do residents, displacing the low-income neighbours.
Perhaps one could also ask what makes these more or less affluent people, many of them suburban dwellers, suddenly migrate to urban areas that were until recently populated by working class and low-income immigrants. Is it that suburbanites are taking seriously that characterization of their neighbourhood so-well portrayed by Pete Seeger in his song “Little Boxes?” Remember those ironic lyrics: “Little boxes on the hillside / Little boxes made of ticky tacky / Little boxes / Little boxes / Little boxes all the same / There’s a green one and a pink one / And a blue one and a yellow one / And they’re all made out of ticky tacky / And they all look just the same…” Maybe that sameness of the suburban landscape has made those people look for some adventure in the “urban jungle,” maybe they want to be near some action, or it is just boredom. The issue at hand is that this migration of prosperous people to some areas of the city, although it has some positive aspects, such as revitalizing some old and declining neighbourhoods, on the other hand, it has many negative features as well. Chief among the latter is the displacement of low-income people, which may happen due to two main factors. Rentals become higher because now there are people who can pay more and the housing market then gets hot, and in the most extreme cases because entire neighbourhoods are torn down to give way to big condo buildings.
Not only residents are displaced, but businesses in the area also suffer the effects of the new looks of the neighbourhood. Traditional grocery stores, small family-owned restaurants and bars, independent barbershops and beauty parlors give way to chain supermarkets, sophisticated—and more expensive— bars and restaurants, and franchises of large chains. With that revamped look and the new residents, a whole neighbourhood sees its culture and identity transformed beyond recognition. The current view of Griffintown is a good example of that phenomenon.
For the new administration, as in general for any municipal government, facing the powerful interests of real estate developers is a formidable challenge. Valerie Plante and her party have promised to prioritize social and affordable housing, and one way to start fulfilling this pledge is to preserve the character of the traditional neighbourhoods in the city. Besides the negative social impact of residents being displaced from the areas where they may have lived for decades, the charm of those old neighbourhoods in Montreal may be gone forever too.
By: Sergio Martinez – mtltimes.ca