Four Things The Écoquartiers Need

Four Things The Écoquartiers Need

by Farnell Morisset

Ever since the city first announced its intentions to build the first ecoquartiers (environmentally-friendly neighbourhoods) in eastern Canada back in 2009, Québec City ultimately wound up searching far and wide to find investors in the new development projects. But, it seems, everything is now set to get going on these new eco-friendly living spaces. According to the promoters, everything will be done by 2016. 

As a young recently-graduated professional with a penchant for new developments and an ingrained appreciation for the importance of environmentally healthy living, I can’t help but feel compelled by these developments.  It remains to be seen if they will be geared towards the younger pre-family crowd, the growing older post-retirement market, or some balance of both. One thing, however, is for certain. If these projects are going to work, people are going to have to want to live there – and to attract me (as I consider myself a fairly typical potential resident), here is a short list of the things I feel are essential if these projects will work.

1 – Car accessibility

No, I’m not completely missing the point of ecoquartiers, hear me out. I know personal vehicles – and the inevitable traffic jams they cause – are among the world’s leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption, on top of the inevitable traffic problems they cause being a socioeconomic nightmare for the development of any city. I’m also aware of the fact that a staple of ecoquartiers is removing the single-occupancy-vehicle mentality of its residents. However, I’m being practical. I want to stop relying on my car for my daily life just as much as anyone else, but the fact is even with all the goodwill in the world there are still times when unless you live downtown, having your own vehicle is unavoidable in Québec City. We live in a city of hills and considerable urban spread, and our public transportation system is simply not up to every challenge we face. Concretely, this means accessible nearby parking – though with proper planning something like a centralized campus parking lot would surely be more than enough – and planned access to the major highways.

With that said, there better be electric car recharging stations everywhere.

2 – Streamlined public transport

That doesn’t mean we can’t make considerable progress in using our cars less, however, and this really touches general urban planning more than local ecoquartier projects. The current Quebec City bus system is… counterintuitive, to say the least. Probably as a vestige of the pre-fusion days, the bus system seems to run on some kind of ad-hoc fractal pattern without any city-wide cohesion. This means it can take a long time waiting for several transfers while you hop from one strand to the other of a the RTC’s spider web.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe you should be able to get from anywhere in the city to anywhere in the city with only one transfer and less than 5 minutes of walking, for instance. The city is already taking important steps towards this with the new bus routes, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. This then connects to the first point – better public transport will mean we don’t have to use our cars every day.

3 – Genuine tangible eco-friendly techniques

If the “green” ecoquartiers are ever going to take off with the mainstream, they can’t feel like a fringe hippy movement lifestyle only open to people with the holier-than-thou mindset of environmental protection at any cost. This means living in these ecoquartiers can’t demand significant sacrifices to our comfortable way of life. There needs to be running hot and cold water, adjustable thermostats, and dishwashers in every condo. These apartments will likely cost a pretty penny – if we’re going to shell out the cash to save the environment, we still should expect all the comforts of our friends who don’t.

On the other hand, if we’re shelling out the extra cash for the conscience-gratifying ecoquartier life, it’s because we fundamentally believe in the importance of taking tangible steps to preserve the environment. We, as residents, will have to feel we are actively making a difference every day, and since we’re increasingly more educated in terms of ecofriendly technologies, these can’t be minor gimmicks or simple greenwashing. I want to see the geothermal ducts, the solar water heating pipes, and the wind turbines hooked up to hydrogen fuel cells. I also want you to put an energy counter in my house that I can check, and keep statistics of it to help me improve my energy use. These things will convince us that we are living cleaner – and validate our decision to live there in the first place.

4 – Most importantly: winterized design – for our winters.

This is really where the lynchpin will be. Ecoquartiers and other similar developments mostly stem from Europe, and we in Québec seem to love copying designs from France. This generally works rather well, given our relatively similar climate… for 6 months out of the year.

The other 6 months are going to be the true challenge. To my knowledge, there exists no other currently existing models of ecoquartiers which experience the snowfalls and biting cold of our lovely corner of the Great White North. Not that intelligent designers can’t find some way to work this to their advantage. However, if these ecoquartiers are to seriously work – and I hope they do – they’re going to need to flourish in the same winter conditions were our typical infrastructure generally struggles just to keep up… and without relying on the environmentally devastating methods we currently employ.

I’m confident our best minds can find a solution to these issues that will be both environmentally sound and financially secure. After all, we lose if either of these criteria are not met – we can design the greenest homes but still fail if no one wants to live there. With the first condos being supposedly ready as soon as 2013, let’s hope for the best.
Article and photo courtesy of FourFourSeven

About the author:

Born and raised in Québec City, Farnell Morisset attended English school throughout his primary, secondary, and CEGEP studies, before ultimately choosing to stay in Québec City and study civil engineering at Laval University, where he served as president of the civil engineering student association. It was there that he discovered his affinity for writing and commentary, preparing a weekly column in the student newspaper dealing with the issues he, as president of the association, felt were important and relevant.

Having completed his engineering studies, Farnell felt there was a lack of reasonable, moderate discussion on the issues of modern social identity for many Québecois who, like him, felt deeply connected to the Québecois nation and culture yet did not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image. He was also alarmed by what seemed to be an invasive and aggressive polarization of complex social issues for which there are no black-and-white answers. This eventual identity crisis, he feels, will only be solved through good faith in, and honest communication with, all sides pulling on our ever dwindling “pure laine” blanket.

It is with his in mind that he founded, which he hopes will become one of many voices of reason in what may become our generation’s most important critical debate on national identity.

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About Author

Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset has an engineering degree from Université Laval and common law and civil law degrees from McGill University, where he also studied economics.