Longing and Belonging in Montreal: The Great Transition – Whom Does the City Belong To? by Louis-Thomas Kelly

Cet article a été soumis dans le cadre du projet Journalisme Citoyen de la Table de quartier Peter-McGill. Veuillez noter que les opinions exprimées dans ces articles ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles de la Table. Le projet vise à faire entendre les voix des résident.e.s et ami.e.s du quartier par des soumissions d’articles, de photos, de vidéos et de balados. Intéressé.e à contribuer? Contactez-nous au benevolat@petermcgill.org!

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Intuitively, when thinking about urban life in Montreal, matters of community activism, real estate development, and municipal governance may not clearly intersect – but in response to the question “whom does the city belong to?”: there is a striking connection. On Saturday May 22nd, this very question prompted panelists and animated discussions during The Great Transition’s online, 2021 edition. The event in question – The Great Transition – is an annual occasion for twenty-two panel discussions to bring into consideration democratic questions for public ponderation. In particular, one of the round-table discussions surrounded the pressing question: whom does the city belong to?

Notably, speaking on the state of metropolitan affairs, the theme of civic belonging was brought forward in discussion, while adjacently, there was talk of a shared longing for a tangibly, participatory democracy in Montreal. Detailing efforts of civil organization surrounding issues of urban co-occupancy, housing access, and consultative urban development, speakers contoured the constraints facing citizens who wish to reshape the city that binds them together.

Commonly having to overcome bureaucratic barriers to citizen engagement in the decision-making surrounding the built forms that make up the city, panelists commonly concede that Montreal is a city where the realm of urban affairs – as is – is simply out of popular reach. Addressing the transformation of the Bridge-Bonaventure sector in Pointe-Saint-Charles, alongside testimony from the Louvain-Est Site in Ahuntsic-Cartierville, then followed up by an account of the citizen struggles hoping to address the Société Québécoise des Infrastructures’ (SQI) management of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Ville-Marie: panelists reveal that Montreal hosts public contests of urban development, and this democratic deficit take an urban form.

Aside from the identification of constraints on community action, The Great Transition’s panelists outlined transformative strategies for civilian, political resistance. Morally tied to a commitment towards community well-being, panelists argue that resolution to the city’s metropolitan malaise is found within public accountability, inter-organizational solidarity, and evidently, in a participatory democracy.

Fortunately, those in attendance on Saturday May 22nd, were shown a remedy for Montreal’s ailment in urban environment – and in effect, it is a community-driven cure. Accordingly, to counter-act the difficulties facing the common person hoping to engage with public processes of urban development, Montreal’s community organizations have forged their own tools to rework the soils that surround them, but also reform the structures that encase them.

In particular, representing the Coalition Royal Vic pour le bien public, Dimitri Roussopoulos tells us that effective community engagement in urban affairs requires both accountability and solidarity in the management of shared space. Notably, identifying possibilities beyond market transactions in the real estate sector, there are methods of urban management that allow the citizen to be closer to decision-making, and the Milton-Parc case is Roussopolos’s convincing example.

This community campaign to impact the shape of the city is especially relevant to the Peter-McGill district of Ville-Marie. A place in downtown Montreal where buildings seem to rise with little consideration for their surroundings, the Peter-McGill district requires the accountability and solidarity demanded by the panelists of the Great Transition. Locally, the SQI’s partnership with McGill University over the redevelopment of the Royal Victoria Hospital site at the base of Mount Royal is an instance in which there are community concerns over questions of public accountability and social solidarity.

Promisingly, already underway in the Peter-McGill district, there is community organization that puts into action the principles brought forward by this year’s Great Transition panelists. In light of popular concerns over the management of the site and its use of space, the Royal Vic pour le bien public coalition of community groups campaigns for public accountability and helps build bonds of social solidarity.

However, the negotiation of the city is not yet complete, and if the city is to truly belong to everyone as the panelists suggests: anyone can contribute and provide their own authorship. Therefore, whether it would be contributing to this Citizen Journal, or instead getting involved with the Royal Vic pour le bien public community coalition, in case you hear this call to action, there is a place waiting for you within the resistance. If you equally wonder to whom does the
city truly belong to and wish to contribute yourself to the campaign for public accountability and social solidarity outlined by panelists, make sure to get in touch with the Table de Quartier’s mobilization team at benevolat@petermcgill.org.

To watch the panel discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLr29qwuqao&t=1s