Over the past decade, the condominium industry has seen an astonishing amount of growth. In some cities like Montreal and Quebec, the industry even seems to be growing out of control: the city’s landscape is undoubtedly being changed by the numerous condo buildings appearing everywhere, in every neighborhood.
Some people have expressed concern about the “spread” of condo buildings, fearing that this trend can change a city’s landscape for the worse. It raises an important question: what can be done to preserve a city’s heritage, given the ever-growing condo industry?
National Heritage Protection
Historical buildings are often spared the risk of being destroyed or modified by condo promoters. Provincial and federal governments provide protection by declaring these buildings part of the national heritage – a designation that comes with a strict set of rules for their preservation.
Sometimes this governmental protection can be given at the last minute. For example, the Carmelites’ Convent in Montreal’s Plateau Mont-Royal got close to being destroyed a few years ago, at the behest of a condo promoter. But citizens, historians, and sympathizers acted against it, and the Quebec government got involved. The building is now classified as a national heritage site, and cannot be touched.
Protecting the Carmelites’ Convent was “easy”, so to speak: it is historical, unique, and continues to be occupied by a religious community. But this kind of national patrimony lies not only within renowned historical buildings. There are areas and buildings in certain neighborhoods that don’t necessarily have the prestige of a nineteenth century monastery, but are still valuable to a city’s heritage. What can be done to protect them? The answer of some politicians and activists: letting local citizens have a say in what is destroyed and what is preserved.
Montreal’s Griffintown Sets an Example
Montreal’s Griffintown, an old industrial and working-class neighborhood, has a rich history. Most of the neighborhood’s factories and Irish immigrants houses were destroyed; but those that remain, while being precious to Montreal’s heritage, are in urgent need of restoration.
This situation has made Griffintown the scene of lively debate: what should happen to it? What should be preserved, and what shouldn’t? A significant gentrification process has already started, and condos are being built in the area. But should it stop? If so: where, when, and how?
The Office of Public Consultation of Montreal held a symposium on January 20th and 21st of this year during which citizens could come and give their opinion on the future of Griffintown. That was a Montreal first, and perhaps it will set an example for other neighborhoods in the province’s largest city.
Paying Tribute to a Neighborhood’s History
While discussions concerning the future of Griffintown are ongoing, condo projects are still being developed in the area. Among them is District Griffin: one of the largest and most ambitious condo projects in Montreal, where the proliferation of new buildings is transforming the face of Griffintown. The promoters of District Griffin certainly intend to gentrify the neighborhood, and give it a cleaner, slicker look. However, it seems they also have an interest in honoring Griffintown’s historical and cultural heritage.
Griffintown’s Horse Palace—a precious and unique building in Montreal—is facing destruction in the near future. The Horse Palace was built 150 years ago and is still being used by Old Montreal’s horse-drawn carriage drivers. The Horse Palace is now for sale by its owners, and various organizations are fighting for its preservation.
Among the condo promoters interested in The Horse Palace, one of them intends to keep sections of the stables intact, transforming them into a Griffintown interpretation center. Perhaps herein lies the solution to the problem: if condos are necessary, and gentrification is to be considered part of a city’s natural evolution, then perhaps preservation and gentrification must go hand in hand. While new buildings are being constructed, efforts must be made to preserve a city’s heritage, giving citizens a chance to make sure the history of their neighborhood lives on.
Condo Building – © District Griffin
Griffintown’s Horse Palace – by lalyphoto on flickr - Some Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Mireille Mayrand-Fiset is a freelance blogger for District Griffin, a developer offering condos for sale in Montreal.
She is also a theater, music and travel enthusiast and writes for stage and television.
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