The Last Spring: A Need for Preserving Green Spaces in our Cities

The Last Spring: A Need for Preserving Green Spaces in our Cities

For many green spaces, forests, farm land, and wilderness areas in Quebec, especially in the Greater Montreal and Quebec City Regions, this will indeed be a last spring for many trees, shrubs, plants, and wild flowers and via their loss, no longer be places for wildlife to count on as sources of food and safe places to live.

We all lose when green spaces, arable land and wilderness are lost to development, particularly when there are so many brown fields that can be cleaned up and built upon for residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial uses. It is estimated that nearly 10 percent of the Island of Montreal consists of brown fields – former industrial and commercial lands that are polluted to various degrees, with many containing abandoned buildings and structures.

This is why we need Quebec City, the City of Montreal, and other cities and towns to place an immediate moratorium on the development of green space and to only permit brown fields to be built upon. I recently visited London, Ontario and taking the 401 there and back, it was clear how the growth of cities such as Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and those in southern Ontario are eating up forests, farms, and green spaces relentlessly. Towards London, off the 401, one saw many signs put by farmers that advertized thousands of acres of land for sale for commercial and residential development. Between Toronto and the exit for London, one saw isolated forests and farms that were still hanging on, knowing that they will eventually be swallowed up. It was depressing.

In the Greater Montreal Area, particularly in the West Island, despite the fact that there are hundreds of commercial and industrial buildings along Highways 20 and 40 and others for rent, new buildings are still being built and there are many signs noting that this field or forest will be the future home of this building. With so many vacant buildings and presumably at reasonable rents, why is there a need to build more structures on fields and forests that should be preserved? They need to be preserved to help protect the environment, provide homes for wildlife and threatened flora, be places where people can connect with nature, and serve as much needed lungs for our urban ecosystem that is already over-developed with sprawl and a clear lack of urban and ecological planning.

Having recently visited a cabane aux sucre outside of Sainte Eustache – Constantin, one clearly saw how residential, commercial, and industrial development is gobbling up green space and how little is being done to stop the advance of development. In far too many cases it is being welcomed with open arms, without any thoughts to future impacts.

Many of the shopping malls that are going up today are merely adding to an already saturated market and the new venues only diminish the overall profitability of many stores and restaurants; and the residential development that is taking place, is essentially cookie cutter architecture with no merit or sense of urban planning. If we had unlimited land, this would not be a problem, but that is not the reality we are dealing with.

We should and must have a responsibility to promote sustainable development. This can be done, but it will not be easy and it will be costly, but it must be done in order to protect the heritage that we have and set examples of environmental stewardship for future generations of Quebeckers. Rehabilitating brown fields is expensive and disposing of the contaminated soils will be a Herculean task. However, with the building of the new McGill University Health Complex in West End Montreal on the site of the former Glenn Yard proves that we can act responsibly when we want to. Many who want to see a new hospital built in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges area seem to conveniently forget that the plan is to build it on the site of a thriving forest. And often when one hears about construction slated in Montreal and Laval, which is destroying much of its forests, farmland, and marshes for various types of development, the phrase most often used is that sites are “vacant.” They are from vacant and are home to many plants and animals and are green spaces that are appreciated by many people – often seen as essential to good quality of life.

When the Mount Royal Park was being planned, it was deemed essential to remove homes and roads that had been built on the mountain. The ethos of the city at the time was that this park had to be created to protect an ecosystem and green space that was key and precious to Montrealers – to have a thriving wilderness in the center of the growing city. This was at a time when much of the island was still covered with farms and forests and some of the smaller rivers were still flowing above ground.

A few years ago The Gazette ran a story about the struggle to preserve farmland and wilderness on the borders of Quebec City and how residential development and urban sprawl was leading to the destruction of many farms in areas where it was easy for developers to construct new buildings. This meant that marginal farm land and wilderness, mainly on steep hills and rocky areas, were being left alone and became isolated.

As noted, we have a responsibility to the current and future generations of Quebeckers to promote sustainable development and to protect our farming and ecological inheritance. This is a serious responsibility and considering the amount of brown fields that we have in the province, the opportunity is before us to become leaders in North America on the protection of green spaces and re-use of developed urban areas.

The “Quebec Model” for economic development is proudly touted by many. While our province experiences many divisions and strife, the one thing that can unite us is the protection of the environment and working together as a team to preserve the beautiful province that we have, which is home to many unique and wondrous ecosystems from Ungava and James Bay to the Eastern Townships and the Ottawa Valley to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Lower North Shore. We also live in a province that is home to amazing animals such as the Belugas, a freshwater seal (the Ungava Seal, with fewer than 300 individuals) , polar bears, Monarch Butterflies, various reptiles, and is a territory where rare trees and plants are just hanging on due to losses caused by logging, agricultural, and industrial development.

So while, sadly, this will be a last spring for many green spaces and farms, we can, should the effort be made, prevent other threatened lands from being developed and be all the better and richer for it. The ball, as they say, is in our court.

Categories: Opinion

About Author

Irwin Rapoport

Irwin Rapoport, a resident of Montreal, studied history at Concordia and served as a school Commissioner with the former Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal. He has long-standing interests in environmental issues, the protection of individual rights and freedoms in Quebec and Canada, and education.

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