Greening and gentrification

How greening initiatives could also negatively affect Parc-Ex

A green alley project implemented by residents between Durocher and Querbes. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

The lack of green space in Parc-Extension is becoming an increasingly important issue in the neighbourhood. The past election made it abundantly clear that the lack of green space was on the minds of many electors and political parties, both for environmental, social and economic reasons.

Although seemingly beneficial, some researchers have brought up how some greening efforts can also have negative effects, claiming it can also lead to increased property prices while exacerbating the effects of gentrification and the displacement of low-income residents. 

A group of researchers recently published a report about Ville en verts’ greening initiative Vert le Nord and how their activities paid for through public municipal funds are contributing to an increase in property prices in Parc-Extension and exacerbating the effects of gentrification in the area.

How greening can raise rents

Alex Megelas is a Ph.D. student in educational studies at McGill University and a programs coordinator at the Concordia University Office of Community Engagement. He works in a community-based action research network in the Park-Extension and is a co-author of the report looking into greening in the neighbourhood. 

“The improvements with space aren’t going to benefit everyone in the same way,” he said of greening initiatives. “It’s primarily going to benefit the folks who are likely to stick around in those communities,” added Megelas.

As trees are planted and green space is increased in urban areas, Megelas points out that this also increases the attractiveness and quality of life in the area, leading to an increase in property prices.

“If you’re someone who’s renting your home, and all of a sudden, there’s trees that get put up and your alleyway gets cleaned up, your property owner sees a pretty decent bump in his property value, decides to sell, someone buys it and evicts you,” explained Megelas.

Although the initial gesture of offering greenspace to lower-income residents may seem benevolent, it may result in them having to relocate to a more affordable neighbourhood. “That beautiful alley that your kids were playing in, well it’s no longer there because you’ve had to move up to Montréal-Nord or St-Leonard,” he continued.

“The improvements with space aren’t going to benefit everyone in the same way,”

Vert le Nord

The report focuses on Ville en verts’ practices in its Vert le Nord program, claiming that the group has lacked community engagement and does not take into account the gentrifying effects the greening may have on Parc-Extension.

“The actual process by which the project was conceived and is being carried out does not adequately fulfil this stated commitment to community engagement,” read the report, citing a  lack of links with local organizers and reciprocity and transparency with residents.

The report cites an unnamed community organizer saying that “Ville en vert simply wanted to validate their process without actually consulting with them or any other community organizations”, and did not believe that “their intentions reflected the actual needs of residents.”

Authors also say that Ville en vert’s approach remains very hierarchical, with no mechanisms to help implement or fund grassroots greening initiatives. “We see initiatives that are legitimized because of relatively vague and kind of hand waving commitments to positive environmental impact,” explained Megelas, underlining that a broader range of strategies would have a more meaningful impact. 

When contacted to comment on the matter, Ville en vert did not respond to the issue prior to the deadline.

The construction of new parks, such as that of Dickie-Moore on Beaumont, tend to raise nearby property prices. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

Important for residents

On election day, greening was the number one concern on the mind of resident Arnaud Lafortune. He feels that the area is in dire need of more green space and trees, as he says the summer months in Parc-Extension remain insufferably hot. 

“It’s a super important issue, it’s true for Parc-Extension as well as Villeray,” said Lafortune in front of the William-Hingston polling station, adding that “there aren’t enough trees.”

This is the viewpoint of a large portion of residents in the neighbourhood, as urban heat island effects and the greening initiatives implemented to mitigate them have come to the forefront of political discourse.

“It’s not only beautiful but it’s also important for air quality and people’s mental health,” explained Lafortune, outlining that he had voted for a political party that he thought was the most likely to implement greening. “It’s more than aesthetic, it’s functional,” he added.

Need for increased consultation

Megelas recognizes the desire for greening measures among residents and policymakers and acknowledges the positive effects they can have when properly implemented. But Megelas said that greening cannot be seen as purely positive, especially when implemented with minimal community consultation. 

“Clearly they didn’t know a heck of a lot about what some of the community organizing dynamics are like,” said Megelas, adding that he had noticed the dynamic taking part across the city. “The same thing happened when folks developed the Lachine canal,” he added.

The group instead recommends that organizations like Ville en vert include residents and community organizations throughout the planning process, both through consultation and staffing. This would tailor greening initiatives to the neighbourhoods in which they are implemented.

“It would have been nice to see Ville en vert hire some local folks from Parc-Ex to help lead this initiative instead of white francophones without any understanding of the broad range of local cultures that we see in the neighbourhood,” explained Megelas.  

They also recommend that a broader range of measures be implemented to mitigate the urban heat island effect in the area, instead of just planting more trees. This could include building more underground parking, decreasing heavy vehicle traffic and working with industry to reduce emissions.

Map showing the difference in temperatures differences between the Town of Mount Royal and Parc-Extension. Source: Data compiled by the City of Montreal.