The Canadian Press
Vancouver has vowed to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. New condos in Toronto are going up without any parking spaces [see the Residences at RCMI by Tribute Communities]. Regina is doing away with one-way streets to improve public transit access in a revitalized downtown.
And in Montreal’s trendy Plateau Mont-Royal borough, Mayor Luc Ferrandez is doing his best to bring a little more country into the city.
“We’re looking at streets and asking ourselves, ‘Is it really useful’,” he said in a recent interview. “We’ve identified about 20 streets that are not useful, that can be taken out and retransformed into green spaces.”
Concerns about the environment have topped opinion polls for the last five to 10 years, says Pascoal Gomes, a spokesman for Montreal’s Urban Ecology Centre.
But in ever-increasing numbers, people — and cities — are acting on those concerns.
“I think people are waking up to the fact that while we might still be OK, our children and grandchildren might not be,” said Beate Bowron, a consultant with the Canadian Institute of Planners.
Many measures probably don’t seem that radical.
Traffic calming — the rerouting of vehicles onto major arteries and away from neighbourhoods — is one. Narrowing streets to dissuade cars is another. More trees is yet another.
“Generally speaking, people have finally, from a planning point of view, started to look at a street as something beyond just moving traffic,” Ms. Bowron said.
And not just vehicle traffic but pedestrian and bicycle traffic as well.
“Everybody is thinking about streets as multi-use,” she explained.
“Smaller streets have a huge role to play in the neighbourhood, not as thoroughfares necessarily but as a place where people meet and where you push your baby carriage and you have your kid learn to ride a bicycle.”
The increased use of neighbourhood thoroughfares is something that’s furrowed Mr. Ferrandez’s brow for quite some time.
When he and his Projet Montreal team swept into power in the Plateau district in last fall’s municipal elections, he vowed to do something about it.
His full-court press for the environment has had its critics — including merchants who worry the repurposing of streets will deprive their customers of parking spaces, and residents who will have to walk farther from parking spaces to their destinations.
“Parking is very sensitive,” acknowledges Mr. Ferrandez, an avid cyclist who occasionally rents a car to go cross-country skiing.
But he suggests the end does justify the means.
“What we’re trying to give to the city is a quality of life that is not just on a par with the suburbs but superior,” he says.
He wants to eliminate the main excuse for moving to the suburbs — the city’s too noisy, it’s not safe and it’s not green enough.
Mr. Ferrandez says there has to be a big push in the Plateau because it has one of the highest population densities in Canada, possibly only beaten by east Vancouver because it has more high-rises.
Besides traffic-calming measures, back-alley gardens are also on the agenda and the Plateau administration is repurposing some streets into green spaces, extending parks into such places as some cul-de-sacs.
“We want every citizen to be in contact with green spaces, not just a park that they walk to,” Mr. Ferrandez says of the ultimate goal.
Montreal is extending the international Car-Free Day on Sept. 22 to a full week in some parts of the city. Mr. Gomes’ group, which is active in pushing greener neighbourhoods, will host a symposium with experts from Europe giving ideas during the same week.
In Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson vowed last year that his city would shrink its ecological footprint in the next 10 years.
It would do this through a variety of measures: reducing solid waste going to landfills; encouraging more walking and use of public transit; creating green jobs by promoting energy-efficient technologies; and making the city a leader in the design and construction of green buildings.
Ms. Bowron says other cities are making inroads, too.
Toronto is getting longer bike lanes and seeing a shift in some of its architecture.
“Some buildings in Toronto are being built without any parking whatsoever . There’s a building on University Avenue, a condo development, that’s being built with no parking. That’s fairly radical,” she said.
“In Regina, they are revitalizing the downtown, widening some sidewalks, doing away with major one-way streets, which is an achievement to get the cars off the roads,” Ms. Bowron said, adding the transformation of one-ways to two-ways improves public transit access.
“I think you could say almost any city in Canada is looking to become more environmentally sustainable.”
Ms. Bowron says the push in the cities comes from wanting to deal with climate change and also to be environmentally sustainable.
While some may see the pace of change as slow, she notes that people have to see the necessity of measures.
For instance, the creation of some so-called cool islands — pavement turned into a small oasis of green — in Toronto didn’t work years ago because the neighbourhood was supposed to look after it and didn’t.
“You have to bring everybody with you otherwise it’s never going to be implemented properly.”