Should we model ourselves after vibrant New York City, Paris or Hong Kong — or sprawling Atlanta?

Urban congestion is attractive

Should we model ourselves after vibrant New York City, Paris or Hong Kong — or sprawling Atlanta?

By Raphaël Fischler and Norma Rantisi, Special to The Gazette June 7, 2012

Dense urban development, not big homes and large lots like this Brossard development, is a better way to go.

Dense urban development, not big homes and large lots like this Brossard development, is a better way to go.
Photograph by: John Kenney , John Kenney / THE GAZETTE

Wendell Cox’s piece on the virtues of unchecked sprawl (“Urban Sprawl gets a bad rap,” Opinion, June 1) is an ideological manifesto, not a serious piece of reflection on the future of our cities.

Its purpose is to make us believe that cities are simply engines of economic opportunity and that policies that intervene in market processes are doomed to cause economic pain and nothing else. The fact that cities are also communities and ecologies doesn’t appear to matter to Mr. Cox. That public policies can help to mitigate the negative impact of market processes appears to be irrelevant to him.

Mr. Cox’s argument is an utter simplification of a complex reality. Even his economic argument that deconcentration and high mobility are good for urban competitiveness is unfounded. Urban densities are not inimical to innovation, quite the contrary; congestion downtown is a sign of its attractiveness. Think about New York City, Paris or Hong Kong, and ask yourself if Montreal should really model itself after Atlanta in order to become more competitive.

Mr. Cox makes some claims about Montreal and other Canadian metropolitan areas to buttress his ideological views. But his assertions are not tenable.

He argues that commuting times are longer in Canadian metropolitan areas than in their U.S. counterparts because of our land-use policies. This is nonsense. If commuting times are longer in Montreal than in Dallas, it is in large part because more people here use public transit than in Texas and because we have allowed for faraway urban sprawl in an archipelago. (Commuting times for travel by car generally don’t include time walking to and from the car, or looking for a parking spot; on the other hand, commuting times for travel by public transit generally do include the time needed to walk to and from bus stops or subway stations.)

Mr. Cox also argues that the upsurge in real-estate values in Montreal is due to our policies on land development. This is nonsense as well. Despite agricultural zoning in the Montreal region, we have enough land zoned for residential development to accommodate at least 20 years’ worth of new construction. And nothing of significance was changed in our policies over the past 10 or 12 years, a period during which housing prices rose.

If anything, our municipalities have relaxed their zoning regulations to allow for more construction. The recent adoption of new growth controls by the Montreal Metropolitan Community has followed the rise in housing prices, not preceded it. This rise is due principally to economic factors: higher incomes and lower interest rates have fuelled demand for condos and homes.

We agree that wise policy-making on urban development requires weighing social, environmental and economic factors against one another.

It may be that creating a more environmentally sustainable city will increase the cost of housing per square foot, and that demand for large homes on large lots will become harder to satisfy. But the debate about such trade-offs should be conducted in a thoughtful manner, without resorting to what we contend has been manipulation and obfuscation.

Raphaël Fischler is director and associate professor at the School of Urban Planning, McGill University. Norma Rantisi is associate professor in the department of geography, planning and environment, Concordia University. The authors wrote this response on behalf of the Institut de politiques alternatives de Montréal.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette



Montreal, March 12, 2012 – On the occasion of the announcement of the coming into force of the Greater Montreal Planning and Development Plan (PMAD), the President of the Institute for Policy Alternatives of Montreal (IPAM) ), Mrs. Phyllis Lambert, and the Chair of the Planning Commission of the Montreal Metropolitan Community (CMM), Mrs. Helen Fotopulos, welcome the support of the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Land Occupancy, Mr. Laurent Lessard, at the Agora Metropolitaine who will be responsible for the implementation of the PMAD.

The first Citizen Agora, organized by IPAM in December 2010, paved the way for an exceptional public consultation during the fall of 2011 on the PMAD project.

This contribution was notably reflected in a significant increase in the PMAD’s targets for the localization of households in the TOD neighborhoods, in terms of the modal share of public transit and in the protection and enhancement of natural environments.

“Our experience last fall shows that constructive dialogue between elected officials and civil society allows for more ambitious policies for our region,” said Lambert.

The Metropolitan Agora will be held in the winter of 2013. This is a unique formula that will bring together elected officials and representatives of civil society from all sectors of the Community so that the development of Greater Montreal further reflect the aspirations of citizens.

This biennial event will also ensure that the actions identified to reach the orientations, objectives and criteria of the PMAD are implemented quickly with a concern for quality and distinction.

The organizing committee of the Agora Metropolitain will be made up of eight representatives from civil society designated by IPAM and eight elected representatives of the planning commission chaired by Mrs. Helen Fotopulos. “This joint event will allow to continue this exceptional citizen mobilization developed during the consultation of the PMAD. Our goal is to maintain this level of interest during mplementation,” concluded Fotopulos.

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The Institute for Policy Alternatives of Montreal (IPAM) is a citizens’ initiative whose mission is to contribute to sustainable urban planning in Montreal, its economic and sustainable development and local democracy. IPAM is an independent, multi-disciplinary body that aims to play a key long-term role in the municipal debate on policy choices for a fair and prosperous society.

* * *

Created on January 1, 2001, the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal is a planning, coordinating and financing organization that brings together 82 municipalities, or 3.7 million people spread over more than 4,360 square kilometers. The Community has expertise in land use planning, economic development, social housing, public transit and the environment.

What kind of Economic Development for Montreal? : A IPAM policy analysis

11 August 2011 – Montreal’s 2011-2017 Economic Development strategy, unveiled on June 13, is an exhaustive document that takes stock of Montreal Island’s current economic situation and puts forward some broad approaches for the next five years. Such an overall strategy, which highlights the role played by social economy, entrepreneurs and other economic actors in Montreal’s development, is a useful and necessary tool. Linking the city back to its river, promoting collaboration and innovation, encouraging entrepreneurship and increasing GDP are all desirable objectives that this strategy document encourages and supports.

How about Montrealers?

The document, however, is essentially outward looking. The proposed strategy is principally aimed at attracting outside talent and investment, in particular by proposing major real estate projects. In a sense, the document presents Montreal as a city for sale. It shows little preoccupation with Montreal’s current inhabitants in all their diversity and dynamism. An economic strategy’s first priority should in principle be the current residents’ future well-being. Relying on major real estate projects  to spearhead the city’s development risks creating tourist attractions at the expense of local workers, artists and businesses who are busy building up Montreal’s wealth and innovativeness. Overall, the strategy document abstracts from Montreal’s existing social and economic realities and glosses over concrete actions that could be implemented to increase the standard of living and economic integration of Montrealers themselves.

Another economy

An economy does not consist solely of talented people, big investors, university graduates, culture and high-end services. The manufacturing sector, which is still dominant in Montreal’s economy, but where thousands of jobs have been lost over the last decade, is hardly mentioned in the strategy. The homeless, the unemployed, refugees and recent immigrants are also economic actors – they represent an underutilized potential which, if it is not successfully channeled, risks becoming a burden to the public purse. The 2011-2017 strategy does not put forward any vision which would allow for the enhancement and support of these people’s economic capacities. For instance, much emphasis is put on increasing the number of graduates: but there is no mention of adult education, of lifelong training, of training for people who have been displaced by current structural changes in the economy, or of formal recognition of their competences. Similarly the reduction of unemployment and poverty are explicitly omitted from the ‘new paradigm’ promoted by the strategy document. Finally, amongst the wide array of partners that are listed, the associative sector – such as unions and community groups – is not mentioned.

An island without a metropolis

The strategy is focused exclusively on Montreal Island. Laval, and the North and South shores are presented as competitors, not as partners. There is therefore no mention of the strong complementarities that exist, or that could be promoted, between the island and its suburbs. However, the clusters that are promoted – such as the aeronautical and eco-technology clusters – do not suddenly stop at Montreal’s bridges, and many on-island jobs are held by off-island residents (and vice-versa). The underlying causes of the migration of increasing numbers of Montrealers to off-island suburbs are not presented, and nowhere does the document propose a strategy for building affordable housing: only major real estate projects are mentioned, and possible participatory processes aimed at better understanding Montrealers’ housing and employment needs are absent.

The means to act

Finally, the question of the means available to implement the strategy is nowhere raised. Whatever the proposed strategy, whatever its qualities and limitations, the agglomeration of Montreal – that is to say Montreal and the other municipalities on the island – does not have the political, fiscal or material capacities to really influence the island’s economic trajectory or that of its businesses and population. When a financial initiative is taken – such as the recent internationalization of Bixi – it rapidly becomes apparent that the city simply does not have the necessary authority to act. Re-balancing the powers of action, finance and decision-making between upper levels of government and municipalities – a consideration that should be at the heart of any economic strategy elaborated at the municipal scale – is the single most important omission from the 2011-2017 economic strategy.
On behalf of the Institut de Politiques alternatives de Montréal :

Phyllis Lambert
Chair of IPAM, Founding Director and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Canadian Centre for Architecture

Norma Rantisi,
Member of the Board of IPAM, Professor, Department of Geography, Concordia University.

Dimitri Roussopoulos,
Vice-Chair of IPAM

Richard Shearmur,
Member of the Board of IPAM, Professor, INRS Urbanisation Culture Société

In collaboration with :

Jean-Marc Fontan, Professor,
Department of Sociology, UQÀM

Vincent van Schendel,
Economist, Community Services, UQÀM

The above-mentioned professional  titles are only provided for identification purposes.

Montreal: Today and Tomorrow

IPAM Bilingual Roundtable

Co-chaired by Phyllis Lambert, architect, IPAM president and Dinu Bumbaru, Policy Director for Heritage Montreal, member of the Board of Directors of IPAM.

[1] Environment with Alex Aylett, Trudeau Scholar, Urban Geographer, UBC and senior research associate, Sustainable Cities International (A Critical Overview of what has been achieved in going green, and what  more should be done now. A multi- issued approach dealing with building codes, transport,climate change…)

[2] The Housing Question with Edith Cyr, executive director, Batire son Quartier
(An overview of housing needs, particularly social housing and the homeless, and what new goals are needed)

[3] Social Justice and the City with Winnie Frohn, urban studies, UQAM
(An critical overview of outstaning issues  like poverty, food security, unemployment, prostitution, drugs and human rights…)

[4] Democracy with Dimitri Roussopoulos,vice-president, IPAM
(An overview of the democratic tools in place, their use, the problems of governance, and what needs to be done)

Palais des Congres
1001 Place Jean Paul Riopelle
Room 517 D
Friday 26 August 2011
This session takes place within the Ecocity World Summit 2011

Download the program

Open letter posted in the Montreal Gazette on November 17th, 2009

Monday, November 16th 2009

IPAM: Towards a credible model of development for Montreal

The economic, social and ecological challenges to urban development require an open-minded and forward-looking dialogue accessible to all sectors of Montréal society. For these reasons, we have founded the Institut de politiques alternatives de Montréal (IPAM), a non-partisan, think tank made up of researchers, practitioners, and other stakeholders who will contribute to urban development in Montréal over the long term.

IPAM is created as a think tank, a research centre, and an open public forum where different publics can meet, exchange ideas, and debate. Its purpose is to document, analyze, and make proposals for a better urban development of Montreal and the metropolitan region. It will act to provide a way for civil society to contribute its own innovative solutions alongside those of municipal bodies to help shape Montréal’s long-term future. Without replacing existing organisations, this citizens’ initiative seeks to contribute to viable urban planning in Montréal, to its economic and sustainable development, and local democracy. As an independent and multidisciplinary organization, IPAM aims to play a key role in the on-going municipal debate on policy choices leading to an equitable and prosperous society.

By combining the strengths and expertise of a wide range of specialists in complementary fields of activity both locally and from elsewhere, including university research, business, socioeconomics, neighbourhood roundtables, women’s organizations, ethnic communities, and environmental NGOs, we will create a centre of reference composed of people who will mobilize around issues of ecology, sociology, economy, democracy and physical planning related to urban development and recommend courses of action for the municipal administration in each of these areas.

As a first initiative we call on the new City Administration to engage in the following three actions in the next 100 days, and offer our cooperation to do so:

  • Convene a Summit 2010 jointly with civil society on the future of Montréal to identify the priorities and the orientations for the city and the metropolitan region, including the objectives and projects anticipated to mark the 375th Anniversary of the
  • Launch a consultation process on the obligatory update of Montreal`s Urban Plan and of the overall plan for the metropolitan region, to identify priority orientations and credible rules for their implementation in relation to the Summit 2010;
  • Reinforce citizen participation by reinforcing the independent consultative agencies and at the end of Sommet de Montreal 2010, a social contract should be concluded between the city of Montreal and civil society that recognizes an ongoing formal partnership. Such a partnership would require decision-makers to regularly consult Montreal’s civil society on the priorities of our city. This partnership should result in a more holistic approach to urban development of our city/region.

These three actions would initiate for everyone that makes up the city and region’s civil society, an understanding and agreement on a definition of the parameters of city planning and development, and share a clear vision of their rightful place in a permanent, constructive, democratic and effective dialogue with political decision-makers.

Phyllis Lambert
Institut de politiques alternatives de Montréal (IPAM)

Dinu Bumbaru
Institut de politiques alternatives de Montréal (IPAM)

Dimitri Roussopoulos
Institut de politiques alternatives de Montréal (IPAM)