Community developments that aim to reclaim public spaces for urban agriculture are becoming more numerous in Montreal, Canada. The projects selected from the latest edition of the Transform Your City program from the Montreal Urban Ecology Center (Centre d’écologie urbaine de Montreal, or CEUM) illustrate this trend well.
Multiple factors could explain the popularity of this type of community development. The architecture type and the density of the central districts in Montreal, which limit the availability of front or back yards to residents, is certainly one. Nevertheless, the multiple encounters and visits we made in the past four days have shown us that the motivations of the urban farmers are rarely uniquely tied to the crop production per se. The majority of the contributors - if not all - see the agricultural production in an urban setting as a means of reaching a variety of objectives - increasing awareness, education, participation, socializing, etc. - rather than an end in itself. The multidimensional nature of urban agriculture, within the framework of community developments for the reclamation of public spaces, opens multiple possibilities. However, it also poses questions about its impact on the nature of the public spaces and, incidentally, about the eventual transformation of the districts (arrondissements) or city roles in the management of these spaces. A recent visit to the Mange-Trottoir vegetable planters clarifies this subject.
The Mange-Trottoir vegetable planters is a community development that took shape in the Villeray neighborhood two years ago. As Richard Archambault explains, one of the founders of the project, the idea was born after the sidewalks were redesigned on the corner of Drolet and De Castelnau roads. Initiated by a resident of the neighborhood in the winter of 2014, it was at the conclusion of collective brainstorming by several citizens that the idea took shape. Today, many well-designed planters are arranged on the curb on either side of the road, containing a collection of native plants, to the great delight of the residents who come to do the harvesting. Mainly financed by the citizens through plant sales - and with the aid of the Ecodistrict Villeray, of the University of Quebec at Montreal, and of the CEUM - this project is above all an occasion for the residents of the district to form relationships and to exchange views surrounding the theme of agriculture. Furthermore, the ambiance created by these arrangements is far from disturbing the shopkeepers on the corner. On the contrary, the latter go as far as offering the gardeners access to electricity and water when necessary. The proximity with the shopkeepers appears to be assuring security for the planters since few acts of vandalism or theft have been committed.
The layout of both sides of the sidewalks, traditionally assumed by the arrondissement, is carried out by the citizen community, and this, without any financial aid by the local governments (with the exception of the compost which is supplied by the city-center in the beginning of the season). “In the end, it is everybody’s project; it is the community’s development,” underlines Sophie Paradis, one of the founders of the project. Subsequent interest from citizens (658 members in the Facebook group) is what sustains the project.
Following this framework, could the example of the Mange-Trottoir vegetable planters represent the emergence of a new type of space, where traditional lines of the private and public are blurred and where the use surpasses the strictly aesthetic dimension to make a dynamic social space of production, education, participation and even of economic revitalization? In any case, Mange-Trottoir really asks the question of the role of the city and the arrondissements in the management of public spaces adopted by citizens. In this regard, would it not be interesting to apply the same governance structure to community gardens on the edges of sidewalks and other similar public spaces? Such a structure avoids a top-down approach by the city, while making community developments durable through stable and adequate financing.
Do urban agriculture initiatives in your city include sidewalks as in this case? What are the main issues that could face the implementation of a sidewalk community garden in your city? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.