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Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has been praised for her dedication to enhancing the city's environmental initiatives and expanding green areas. Since she was elected in 2017, Montreal has added parks, planted trees, expanded its bike lane network and refurbished public transit.

However, some residents complain the green largesse has not benefited everyone equally. In underprivileged neighbourhoods like Hochelaga, locals are rallying to protect their green spaces.

On a recent cold spring day, despite temperatures dropping to -12 degrees, a group of residents and activists gathered to construct a barricade on Assumption Boulevard, symbolizing their fight to preserve Boisé Steinberg. This natural haven, which resembles a miniature forest with its untamed growth of trees and bushes, is beloved by the community.

Parts of Boisé Steinberg are set to be mowed under by construction of a new highway. Despite opposition from local residents, the project is scheduled to begin in the fall, and city officials held the first neighbourhood information sessions in March.

“We lack green space in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve despite the urgent need to plant trees for climate change," emphasized Monique Dessureault, a teacher who has lived and worked in the area for 40 years. "Why cut existing trees for new projects? We have too many cars and roads already. We don’t need more."

City officials acknowledge some neighbourhoods have limited access to green spaces, but note there are many other problems that must also be addressed.

"Certain neighbourhoods face several environmental and social vulnerabilities," says Laurence Lavigne Lalonde, the executive committee member responsible for “grand parcs” (large public parks) in the Montreal municipality.

"We can think of heat islands, the lack of green spaces as well as restricted access to resources, such as public transport, public spaces or sports and leisure facilities," she adds.

Lalonde said residents were presented with two scenarios for Boisé Steinberg, and one will be selected "in collaboration with citizens and partners."

Montreal wins applause for its green initiatives but disadvantaged neighbourhoods often get short shrift when it comes to green spaces. #montreal #trees #CarbonDioxide #GHG

The first involves constructing a highway on one part of Steinberg to redirect truck traffic flowing out of the Montreal port, while also providing space for more public transport.

“The second suggestion is to avoid building that road and preserve the whole Boisé. However, that option would increase truck traffic in the neighbourhoods,” she says.

Montreal’s scattered green havens

Environmental advocates, including Anaïs Houde from Mobilisation 6600 Parc-Nature MHM, highlight Boisé Steinberg as a prime example of a threatened green space in Montreal. However, it's not the only one facing challenges. Vimont Woods is also at risk of being transformed into a shipping container yard for Ray-Mont Logistics following a 2022 court order.

Even parts of Technoparc Wetlands are vulnerable, lack protection and could face the imminent loss of their biodiversity and trees, says Carly Ziter, an assistant professor at Concordia University’s Department of Biology. Boisé Assomption and Fairview Forest are other spaces that come up on Ziter’s list of wild spaces that could be at risk.

Ziter, an expert in urban green space management for healthier communities and combating climate change, says these spaces are important for two reasons: they reduce planet-heating carbon dioxide in the air and cool urban areas.

“Adding trees to or protecting the existing trees in our cities can store carbon in vegetation instead of as CO2 in the air,” she says. “As extreme heat events will be much more common with climate change, green spaces can mitigate those summer temperatures.

"Trees cool off the environment around them."

A 2002 study conducted in Los Angeles found that a tree planted in the city prevents the release of approximately 18 kilograms of carbon each year, suggesting a single tree in Los Angeles holds the environmental impact equivalent to three to five trees in a forest.

Yet, in Canada, the number of green spaces is shrinking at a time when they are most needed.

Numbers released by the Canadian government revealed that the average level of greenery in urban areas throughout Canada decreased by five per cent between 2001 and 2019, with larger cities experiencing an even more substantial decline.

A black bird perches on a cattail
A red-winged blackbird in Montreal's Grand Parc de l'Ouest. Photo by Kyle Elliott

Environmentalists take the lead

Environmentalists and neighbourhood preservation activists in Montreal are uniting to address this issue by demanding protection for unofficial green spaces. Some of these spaces, such as La falaise, were transformed into a protected green space that is in the process of becoming Montreal's seventh large public park.

Lisa Mintz is among the environmentalists who founded two activist organizations, Sauvons la Falaise and UrbaNature Education, that helped protect those spaces in 2015 and 2018. These initiatives continue the legacy of activism dating back to the 1980s that aimed to preserve La falaise.

In an interview with Canada’s National Observer, she explained that one of the main reasons for her success was being "in the right place at the right time."

"Securing La falaise in just four or five years was a great success," she reflected, acknowledging the challenges typically associated with such endeavours. Mintz stressed the importance of sustained pressure on policymakers and the mobilization of citizens to effect lasting change.

Now, Mintz is part of an even greater initiative: connecting Montreal's fragmented green spaces into a unified green belt. Though daunting, she remains undeterred, recognizing the pivotal role of communal effort to achieve this ambitious goal.

"It's important that our organizations foster a strong sense of community from the beginning," she asserted. "That way, if you are worn out, there’s always someone ready to carry the torch forward."

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
April 30, 2024, 09:54 am

The cutline on the main image for this story has been corrected to reflect the right provenance of the photo.

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