News & Writer’s Block

Chicago-Gateway-Vertical-Farm-15
A plantscraper

There’s so much going on right now and I recognize I’m doing a poor job chronicling and commenting on the never ending supply of fascinating (and mundane) events that have occurred in our city over the past few months.

What can I say? Really. What can I say that hasn’t already been said – this is a good time for journalism, but an overwhelming one for an at-best occasional blogger.

Or perhaps I’m just following far too many journalists on Twitter… either way I’m overcome by a feeling there’s not much I can add that hasn’t already been said far better by someone else.

I’m hoping it’s just a bad case of writer’s block.

In any event, here are some thoughts on a few items I’ve come across recently.

First, from Alanah Heffez at Spacing Montréal, a novel proposal to create a temporary urban farm at the abandoned Blue Bonnets raceway. Though the borough intends on redeveloping the site as a high-density ‘planned community’ at some point in the forceable future, Ms. Heffez is of the opinion that we won’t see any movement for at least five years – I completely agree, and likely longer still. She reports that there is community interest to use the site for farming in the meantime, and at 43 hectares the site provides ample room for a wide variety of agricultural activities – I can imagine just about everything from large garden plots to indoor vermicology to aquaponics and hydroponics on that site alone, possibly utilizing the existing buildings. The soil is apparently a little gravelly but usable nonetheless; what can I tell you – I think this is an amazing idea and support it 110%.

Food security is important contemporary socio-political issue of particular importance to North Americans in general, but with the overwhelming cacophony emanating from the Charbonneau Commission and the hand’s down retarded debate over gun control happening south of the border I doubt we’ll get a chance to make some time to seriously discuss it. And it’s an issue I feel should be front and centre for all Montrealers. We are, after all, sitting on an island in the midst of a vast agricultural plain, and yet far too little of what we eat actually comes from it. Once upon a time not so long ago nearly everything we ate was cultivated or produced right here in the city or surrounding metropolitan region. Over the course of the last forty years food prices have increased considerably and in excess of the rise in inflation. More and more of the food we eat is heavily processed, imported and increasingly unnatural, as industrialized, corporate agriculture has grown over the past decades. As you might imagine, this is an unsustainable and extremely unhealthy phenomenon, one which must be addressed and corrected as soon as humanly possible.

Ms. Heffez’s proposal is well-rooted in a growing food-security and urban agriculture movement, one largely led by a retired professional basketball player and certified genius by the name of Will Allen (a recent recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant). Mr. Allen’s organization, Growing Power, has developed a simply wonderful urban farm by the same name in Minneapolis, and on a plot of land many, many times smaller than the Hippodrome he has managed to create a comparatively inexpensive and hyper-efficient supplier of wholesome produce for disadvantaged urbanites. Growing Power includes multiple greenhouses, hydroponic cultivation, fish farming (he grows tilapia and perch, indoors!) as well as traditional mixed outdoor farming and urban livestock (goats, pigs, chickens, ducks etc.). Imagine what we could do if we used his method and applied it to 43 hectares – we could provide a considerable amount of high-quality organically farmed produce from within the city limits. Citizens would be able to purchase food at a fraction of the current cost – this would quite literally increase the value of the Canadian dollar within the city. The implications, in my opinion, are significant. If our municipal government were to prioritize food security by, in effect, re-introducing agriculture to the city, we would not only be able to mitigate the local problem of malnutrition and malnourishment, but would further permit everyone to lower their annual food budgets. And considering the communal and cooperative nature of urban agriculture, we may wind up realizing just how inter-dependent the citizens of a large metropolis truly are.

Second, from Kristina Gravenor at Coolopolis, two neat proposals I’ll use to help develop a common thread. On January 30th he wrote about reviving the Mount Royal Funicular and the next day he proposed putting ‘green roofs’ atop the Decarie Expressway (something I’ve been on about for a while). Both of these articles are in effect calling for more green space in Montreal, in the first case by providing a more sophisticated alternative to reach the top of the Mountain than by using the Camilien Houde Parkway (possibly making it redundant) and in the second case by converting an open sore and concentrated source of vehicular pollution into parkland. Again, I’m in total agreement.

W/r/t the funicular I would argue in favour of it specifically as a means to get rid of the road which currently bisects the mountain. If a funicular were installed within proximity of the original on the east side, then the road leading from Mount-Royal & Parc could be returned to the mountain, thus permitting better access to the entirety of the eastern portion of the mountain from within the park. I’d like to get rid of the parking lots too, but I suppose they still serve a purpose. That said only the western portion of the road (the inappropriately named Chemin Remembrance) is really vital. If the eastern part of the Camilien Houde parkway were eliminated, not only would Mount Royal park be larger and potentially offer many more hiking trails, it could further permit connection of the park to the U de M campus and Outremont as well. And all of this is aside from the fact that the increase in preserved parkland could permit a greater biodiversity on the mountain.

And if it’s well designed, unobtrusive, efficient – we may have a source of modest constant revenue and another tourist destination too – what’s not to like?

As for covering the Decarie, I agree with Kristian whole-heartedly. We should cover all the exposed highway trenches (i.e. the Ville-Marie Expressway downtown), and turning the top into a simple open green space is an excellent proposal for a wide variety of reasons. First, it allows the pollution to be trapped in a tunnel, and ventilation systems can be fitted with ‘scrubbers’ designed to clean polluted air before releasing it back topside. Second it provides much-needed multi-use green spaces in the urban core. Third, and perhaps most importantly, adjacent land value, especially along Decarie, would skyrocket, and I can imagine quite a bit of new development would follow as the Montreal real estate market adjusts to the novelty of a massive linear park atop a vital highway. Finally, a way to benefit from immediate highway access without all that shitty pollution!

I can imagine such a project would ordinarily be presented as something to be done in segments, but if the plan were so bold so as to suggest covering the entirety of the Decarie Expressway in one shot, a streamlined operation and cohesive vision would definitely get us more bang for our buck.

And it may finally make the Snowdon Theatre a viable option for conversion into an actual performance space. No one wants to go on a date next to a grimy, stinking highway.

And just to wrap it all together, all the new green space wouldn’t just give us more opportunities to catch a breath of fresh air, but would also provide plenty of new land on which simple urban gardening and agriculture could be practiced. Consider for yourself – that’s a lot of land we’re not fully utilizing.

Third and finally, the proposal to move Calder’s Man from it’s current location at Parc Jean Drapeau to somewhere in the city – if I understand correctly Alexandre Taillefer, who if I’m not mistaken is the chairman of the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, wants the well-respected oeuvre of modern sculpture somewhere closer to the MACM, likely as a feature of the Place des Spectacles/ Place des Festivals. François Cardinal of La Presse, initially in favour of the idea, has thought better of it.

I’m of the opinion we’ve already done enough in this sector, and over-focusing all cultural activities and landmarks in one place is never a good idea. For the same reason you don’t pack every square inch of all the walls in an art gallery with paintings, we shouldn’t move Calder’s sculpture here. If Taillefer is indeed interested in developing a new building for the MACM, then let it be the landmark, or let it be designed to prominently feature a new piece that is representative of that particular space and the buildings around it. There’s no reason to parachute Man into the area, I don’t think it would fit and I’m beginning to grow anxious the PdA/PdS area is going to seem a bit too busy in a few years.

We’re a big city – there’s room to distribute our landmarks and major cultural venues and if we were smarter we’d do just that so as to spread out the positive economic benefits they bring.

I think the underlying issue here is that we’re cognizant the park islands are under-utilized, but the solution isn’t to gut them of what they have. But that’s another issue I’ve been writing and re-writing for months now – hopefully I’ll have something half decent soon enough.

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