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.

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