The potential gentrification of a Montreal neighbourhood as a result of the Quartier de L’Innovation (QI) development project was the topic of a discussion group held by McGill’s Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office last Friday. The event was part of SEDE’s second annual Community Engagement Day (CED)—a day of discussions, speaker events, and activities aiming to bridge the gap between the university and the surrounding community.
The QI is a neighbourhood development project by McGill and l’École de technologie supérieure (ETS) that aims to foster research and innovation in the neighborhoods of Griffintown, Petite Bourgnone, Saint-Henri, and Pointe Sainte-Charles. The development project consists of various tasks and sub-projects led by professors and students organized into the four ‘pillars’ of innovation—industrial, education, urban, and social and cultural.
Attendees of Friday’s discussion included Vincent Perez, the representative of the community of Petite Bourgnone in the QI, as well as McGill professors and students.
“The main focus of the Quartier de l’Innovation is knitting together the fabrics of the neighbourhood,” said Professor William Straw, director of McGill’s Institute for the Study of Canada.
Due to the extensive changes to the district projected by QI, there have been concerns regarding potential gentrification of the area.
Nik Luka, a professor of architecture and urban planning at McGill who sits on the board of the Montreal Urban Ecology Centre, questioned the way that the initiative is going to proceed regarding the relationship between local residents and those involved in the development of the area.
“How can planners and architects in particular work with local residents and other stakeholders on projects that we always have to work on, in ways that are productive, generative, [and] positive? How can we tap into what people know about their area?” he asked. “How [do] you make the connections when something new comes into a certain area? It’s a very important theme that we haven’t done enough work on.”
According to Perez, McGill’s influence in the area will prevent commercial overtaking, as an educational institution would uphold an emphasis on the arts, sciences, and culture in the area.
“University existence within the city prevents the commercial overtaking that many fear when they hear about approaching gentrification,” he said.
Dan Moczula, Communications Coordinator for CED, described the event as a way to create dialogue among members of both the McGill and the Montreal communities.
“The way we try and do this is to use CED to put people in contact with organizations and with people who they normally wouldn’t meet in all the time they spend around the McGill downtown campus,” Moczule said. “This fosters the discourse that breaks down a lot of walls and a lot of preconceptions that students may have about these communities.”
Louisa Bielig, U2 Arts, said these efforts to connect the McGill community to Montreal made CED worth attending.
“I was at CED last year, and that’s how I got into volunteering,” Bielig said. “I met my organization [Entraide Bénévole Montréal at CED] and I’m still doing it now. You see issues through the eyes of other people […] and CED provides the starting point for this exposure.”
Emily Boytinck, the project coordinator from SEDE, pointed to this year’s continuation of CED as a promising sign for the event’s continued success in the future.
“The success of this year’s event is very exciting, and the momentum is steadily building,” Boytinck said. “Preparations for next year will be underway before the end of this year.”
Boytinck encouraged students who are interested in becoming involved to ask for more information at the SEDE office, located on McTavish Street.