WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: NICHOLAS DI GIOVANNI
Students across the world made headlines in March by protesting for climate change awareness, in an effort to save the planet’s future and fight against global warming. Here in Montreal, local municipalities and boroughs want to do their part by introducing urban agriculture, but are facing challenges.
“Sometimes a person wants to put a pool in their backyard, and I tell them, ‘Okay, put a tree,’ but then they tell me they don’t want a tree, they want a pool,” said Dollard-des-Ormeaux (DDO) mayor Alex Bottausci about a city bylaw concerning trees on private properties. “We planted 800 trees last year but we’re aiming for more than 2,000 this year. It’s simple, I just sign a paper to plant trees, but there are more problems to that.”
Across the island, from the suburbs to the concrete jungle of downtown, experts acknowledge the task of developing a more environmentally-friendly city. Ricardo Duenez, an urban planning professor at Concordia University, said cities need to get their priorities straight before promoting urban agriculture.
“They want to promote development and economic activities, but, at the same time, they’re aware people want to expand urban agriculture and open-space activities,” Duenez said. “It’s a real basic battle”
Duenez added some of the suburban cities, such as Dollard-des-Ormeaux, face less challenges than in downtown because there is more space available. However, all over Montreal, the potential of adding green spaces is handcuffed by roads and commercial areas.
“The challenge is with residential, commercial and industrial,” Bottausci said. “We have these hot zones, where there’s so much asphalt it gets hot and there are no trees nearby.”
Duenez said gardens will never replace supermarkets, but are still beneficial to personal health.
In DDO, the city has tried to reduce the effect of these hot asphalt zones by adding trees close to roads. When Saint-Jean’s Blvd was repaved last summer, trees were added along the sidewalk. Bottausci has also asked for commercial building owners to add trees in their parking lots, but that would reduce parking spots.
“Arboricultural [cultivation of trees] approaches compliment any urban agriculture that’s taking place, so you’re adding more green, more shade and intercepting the sun a lot more to reduce heat,” Duenez said. “You’re not going to reduce streets. We like to get around and drive.”
In Kirkland, a city that neighbours DDO, there was an attempt to implement community gardens in the 1990s. “We tried it for three years, but at one point, there was a lack of interest from the people,” said current mayor Michel Gibson. “In Kirkland, we have mostly detached homes, so there’s ample land for personal gardens, and we see lots of them.”
With land not as available in more urban settings, like in downtown Montreal, Duenez suggests building rooftop gardens. He said architects need to meet more with city planners to plan vertical farming built alongside other commercial buildings.
“In other developed countries in Latin America, Europe, and Asia, they use so much more of the available space, because it’s culture,” Duenez said. “Here you see some older communities growing their own fruits and vegetables because it’s a part of their life. How can we reconnect with nature to grow our own food, and in an urban setting?”
For now, Bottausci wants his city to keep planting trees to improve day-to-day life and eventually improve the environment. “Trees are just great because you go outside and you just feel better,” he said. “It gives more oxygen to the air and people want to go outside.”