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Urban planning in the era of climate change: A zero-sum game

Model of the future $24.4 million Pierrefonds library, featuring a drive-thru book drop. Image: Design Montréal

Model of the future $24.4 million Pierrefonds library, featuring a drive-thru book drop. Image: Design Montréal

Montreal Gazette columnist Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed recently wrote glowingly about the drive-thru feature of the new Pierrefonds library, a feature that Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough mayor Dimitrios (Jim) Beis lauded during November’s City Council meeting. His speech prompted a spontaneous outburst of laughter from many council members, whom Naqvi repeatedly criticizes in her opinion piece as “out of touch”.

As it’s apparently become increasingly fashionable to reduce every debate to identity politics of the us-versus-them variety, in this case bicycle-riding urbanites versus SUV-dependant suburbanites, I increasingly see the need to focus on what unites rather than continually bringing forth what separates and ultimately divides us.

As our metropolis, Montreal is a wonderfully rich model of thriving diversity. Why then the insistence on the uniqueness and separateness of the West Island as a anomaly within the city? Our needs are not so very different from those of urban dwellers: clean water and air, safe and agreeable neighbourhoods, access to services such as schools, parks and libraries to name a few. It is also reasonable to expect that our taxes will be wisely spent on ensuring that these basic needs are met.

Yet Pierrefonds-Roxboro has historically made a muck of it. From creating no-man’s land dead zones along our arterial routes (see my piece on walking in the West Island: A walk to work exposes flaws in urban design) to selling off the last of our green spaces, Pierrefonds-Roxboro appears to relentlessly charge forward with an unsustainable vision of car-, not people-, oriented development.

This is the true reason why the drive-thru book drop at the shiny new Pierrefonds library (budgeted at $24.4 million) inspires ridicule: it is just one more poor decision in a long line of poor decisions, and one that perpetuates the sort of flawed urban design that keeps West-Islanders dependant on their vehicles.

While the municipality of Dollard-des-Ormeaux continues investing in bike paths and Beaconsfield launches their climate change initiative to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases and the West-Island as a whole prepares for the arrival of the REM,  Pierrefonds-Roxboro Mayor Dimitrios (Jim) Beis staunchly defends what he terms the “option and privilege to be able to (drop off books) from your car.”            

If we could just see beyond the political divisions and resist the temptation to erect fences between urban/ and suburbanites, this would be a moment, one of many to come, for us to reflect on how we are modelling our neighbourhoods to reduce – or to increase – our carbon footprint. The IPCC special report looms over us all as we head towards a likely 3℃ increase in global temperatures ; planning for the future more than ever means building sustainably, with an eye to city designs’ impact on usage. In this context, everything, even a library book-drop, matters.

It’s not an us-versus-them game; it’s a zero-sum game of us versus none.

Justine McIntyre is a government relations consultant currently studying Management – sustainable development at HEC Montréal. She is a former Montreal City Councillor for the Bois-de-Liesse district in Pierrefonds-Roxboro.

Commentary: Agglomeration system in need of thorough overhaul

Justine McIntyre, a former City Councillor, says the Montreal Agglomeration needs an overhaul, top to bottom.

Response to Victor Schukov’s column Montreal’s Agglomeration system is feudal (West Island Gazette, Nov. 22, 2017).

As former city councillor representing the borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro at the time, I stood with Beaconsfield Mayor Georges Bourelle in voting against the 2017 operating budget; first to express my solidarity with the under-represented demerged municipalities and second to express my dismay with the entire process.

Montreal’s Agglomeration structure is indeed deeply flawed. It is a system that encourages micro-local levels of government (the city’s 19 boroughs plus the island’s 17 demerged municipalities) to operate independently of one another in a highly inefficient and inherently inequitable manner, one that puts the demerged municipalities at a power disadvantage with the City.

Under this fragmented system, political representation is a hodgepodge. Lire la suite

Pour ne pas donner une majorité absolue à Denis

En réponse à l’article de P.A. Normandin du 22 septembre:

L’objectif annoncé du maire sortant Denis Coderre est de remporter 43 sur 65 sièges au Conseil municipal. Pourquoi ce chiffre précisément? Parce que, avec le deux-tiers des sièges au Conseil, Denis Coderre pourra notamment faire passer des modifications aux pouvoirs des arrondissements, sans avoir à négocier avec les conseillers des autres formations politiques. Une fois ces modifications adoptées par le deux-tiers des voix du conseil municipal, elles deviendraient permanentes, tel que prévu par la Charte de la Ville de Montréal. Lire la suite

Discutons des changements climatiques

Isaac Cordal, "Follow the leaders," Berlin, Germany, April 2011

Isaac Cordal, « Follow the leaders, » Berlin, Germany, April 2011

Vous l’avez vu, cette image de politiciens qui discutent des changements climatiques? Cette image m’a beaucoup marquée quand je l’ai vu pour la première fois, partagée sur Facebook; elle a ressurgie d’un coup quand je me suis retrouvée la semaine dernière en bottes de pluie au milieu d’une rue inondée de mon district, qui ressemblait davantage à une rivière.

Depuis mon élection en 2013, j’ai assisté de mon propre gré à des conférences sur les changements climatiques, sur les infrastructures naturelles et sur la résilience des villes. Les documents produits par les instances municipales, provinciales et fédérales sont bourrés de mots-clés et de mots-clics: changements climatiques, réchauffement planétaire, atténuation, mitigation, résilience, COP21. Mais sommes-nous réellement prêts pour « affronter » les changements climatiques et les incidents extrêmes que ceux-ci entraîneront? Lire la suite

Crisis management: access to information is essential


In a crisis, we all need to pull together.

The morning of Wednesday, May 3rd, my phone buzzed at 7:17AM with an early text message. It was from a journalist, asking me if I was aware of the flooding on De Gaulle street in Pierrefonds and whether I’d be available for an interview.

Flooding? It must be bad if he was texting me this early for an interview. And yet, water levels had been high for weeks. Spring floods are nothing new to the west island; low points in roads along the riverfront are often dotted with deep puddles; low-lying parklands become marshes, tree trunks rising from the pooling water.

This was different.  Just getting to the street in question was a challenge as the Pierrefonds / St-Jean central axis of our borough was flooded and cordoned off. When I finally arrived, a man in a boat was rowing slowly along the street. Journalists were standing waist-deep in water, giving live clips to morning news programs. Others were in their cars, trying to warm up before venturing out for another interview. 
Lire la suite

Donald Trump is President. Everything’s Not Okay.

 Credit: National Review

He’s in charge now.

It’s been one month now since Donald J. Trump officially became POTUS.

«How bad can it actually be?» ,we consoled ourselves at the time. Most of what he had said during the election campaign could be put down to inflated campaign rhetoric, not meant to be taken literally, just meant to grab headlines and to rouse voters from their natural state of peevish indifference. Or so we thought.

Well, as we’ve since found out, it actually is that bad. Lire la suite

A Cup of Cardamom Tea

A cup of tea and conversation can go a long way towards building a peaceful society.

Last Sunday, fifteen Montreal mosques opened their doors to visitors. The gesture was both concrete and symbolic, a necessary step in the healing process following the savage shooting at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec mosque on January 29.

Still, I couldn’t help thinking that opening the doors to invite in the wider community takes a great amount of courage. Had my house come under attack, how willingly would I open my door to visitors? The natural and quite understandable tendency in the aftermath of an attack is to withdraw, to close doors, to protect oneself.

To open up to the outside is to surrender oneself to the goodwill of neighbours, to declare one’s vulnerability but also one’s faith that the world is, essentially, a good place and that people are, essentially, good.

Taking off my boots and shaking the snow from my coat, Lire la suite

À nous le changement!

Boys' Club.

Bienvenue au Boys’ Club de Denis Coderre – Photo du Journal Metro

Réponse à : Mettre fin au malaise des jeunes femmes au pouvoir

En offrant ses félicitations hier à la Députée Catherine Fournier, qui détient à présent le record
de la plus jeune députée élue à l’Assemblée nationale, Elsie Lefebvre dit faire un «triste
constat»: que l’égalité des femmes recule.

Je n’ai pas la même lecture. C’est peut-être parce que je trace mon propre chemin, en tournant
mon regard vers des modèles positifs de leadership féminin. Lire la suite

La vie à grande vitesse

Il y a présentement un éveil collectif par rapport à nos villes. Les gens s’intéressent aux villes qui, d’après les prédictions, accueilleront près du 70% de la population mondiale d’ici 2050. Il faudrait donc qu’on planifie l’urbanisme de nos villes pour accueillir cette croissance.

Déjà, il y a un débat concernant la voie publique: est-ce qu’il s’agit d’une voie réellement publique quand elle est réservée à l’utilisation exclusive des automobilistes et des camionneurs? Clairement il trône depuis longtemps une hiérarchie de l’utilisation des voies publiques qui se traduit dans leur design, presque exclusivement centré autour de l’automobiliste et où le cycliste, encore plus que le piéton, est marginalisé.

Nous tentons de démocratiser ces espaces en greffant des pistes cyclables, en élargissant les trottoirs, parfois avec succès, mais parfois aussi dans une cohabitation qui incommode les uns et met à risque les autres.  Lire la suite

Le pot au feu

Malgré tout, les enfants vont bien.

Réflexion sur la conciliation famille-politique

La démission très médiatisée de Pierre-Karl Péladeau de la chefferie du Parti québecois lundi dernier a fait beaucoup d’échos; elle a fait réagir des politiciens et militants du PQ, bien sûre, mais elle a aussi alimentée des réflexions sur «le sacrifice» politique (François Cardinal) et plus globalement sur la conciliation famille-travail dans un contexte politique.

J’en sais quelque chose.

Ça fait depuis décembre dernier que j’ai pris le leadership de mon parti politique, un petit parti municipal sur le bord de l’extinction. Lire la suite