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A Tour Through Benny Farm

Benny Farm was first developed in the years immediately following the Second World War. Returning veterans needed homes for their families and the country needed housing to deal with the impending baby boom. In the Late 1940s the Canadian government built a number of apartment buildings on the site of what was then a former farm on the western edge of Montreal. The project was, and remains one of the largest government housing projects ever undertaken in the country. The property and the apartments were maintained for a number of years under the auspices of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and then by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, (CMHC).

In the 1950s and 1960s thanks to most residents being of the same age, community life at Benny Farm thrived due the prevalence of many young families (hello baby boom!) Historical accounts suggest that during the 1950s there were over a thousand children on the property. However in the 1980s the age homogenization began to work against Benny Farm as the mean age of residents rose to 70 years. Most of the buildings had not been well maintained, and the post-war three story walk ups with no elevators or air-conditioning were increasingly difficult for elderly residents.

In the early 1990s the the CMHC announced plans to redevelop the property with more accessible units for the aging population and reopen the door to new tenants in more modern units. In order to finance the redevelopment the agency planned to have the private sector develop the rest of the property. The scale of the private development; 1200 units in a number of 6 story buildings, the destruction of the existing post war buildings, and a fundamental change to the social role of the site caused an outcry from members of the community. What ensued next was a 20 year battle over the future of the Benny Farm site.

Arnold Bennett, and Jason Hughes helped spearhead the battle to keep Benny Farm affordable, arguing for public and affordable housing rather then private development.  For a long time it seemed that the site would end up going to private developers who would build standard condo style units that would price many area residents out of the market. While there are many people and events that were responsible for making Benny Farm what it is today, the eureka moment came when the team realized that nothing was stopping the the Habitations communautaires NDG, (HCNDG) a community-run non-profit corporation, from bidding on the parts of the site that were open to the private sector. The idea was to create a non-profit, community-run organization that would offer and manage the units at a below market rate. The proposal went over very well with the community and over 80 people had signed statements of interest by the time the HCNDG submitted a bid to the Canada Lands Corporation for three sites, with a total of 74 units. The ‘Affordable Home Ownership Initiative’ was awarded the sites after beating a number of private developers who submitted more traditional site concepts.

Claude Cormier Landscape Architects was selected to develop the master plan for the Benny Farm Housing project and created a network of promenades that ties the paths, and semi private courtyards of the project into the surrounding neighbourhood streets. An orchard of 170 ornamental crab apple trees is also distributed throughout as a nod to the sites agricultural past.

The new Benny Farm site includes a diverse mix of housing types, over 200 rental properties, a public health clinic, recreation centre, community garden, daycare, and other neighbourhood services. The property was also developed with sustainability in mind and features; Geothermal heat exchange, hybrid glycol/electric solar power, air- and water-based heat recovery. There were plans for grey-water and storm-water reuse, wetland treatment and sub-grade water-table recharge, but news reports indicate that the water reuse was never installed and I was unable to spot evidence of a  wetland on my site visit.  A non-profit, community-run utility owns and manages the energy infrastructure as well as continued  re-investment in sustainable construction for this infrastructure. The utility was set up with a legal structure similar to that of a cooperative housing development. Green Energy Benny Farm (GEBF) is owned and controlled by a voluntary, user-driven board, and the project has won at least one award; The Bronze Prize at Global Holcim Awards.

Of course most of this was laid out in the planning stage so what about now? As the pictures show, Benny Farm isn’t just a concept anymore, it is once again a living and working community. It appears that being at the cutting edge of sustainability in a non-profit housing complex has its risks. Hour.ca published an article in 2007 that reported problems with leaking geothermal pipes, that combined with other leaks have lead to a serious mould problem in one of the Co-ops, and some solar panels have leaked glycol, while some of the radiant floor heating systems didn’t balance, resulting in some residents freezing while others boiled. Some blamed a low-bid contract process while others suggested that there was not enough co-ordination between the parties involved in merging the green technologies. Most news reports on the project and issues stop after 2007 so presumably the kinks have been worked out.

While the process was long and contentious Benny Farm is considered a success for sustainable, affordable housing, and community renewal. I took a walk through Benny Farm in the fall and was very impressed with the site design and landscaping in particular, while a lot of modern buildings can look very similar and repetitive each area felt different enough from the others to make each seem distinctive while still maintaining a connection with the project as a while. There is also clear evidence that the kids are back with all the toys that were scattered about. So was Benny Farm a success? I’ll let the photo’s speak for themselves and you can make up your own mind.

For a great photo-spread of the property before its renovation, take a look at The Benny Farm Condemned Housing Projects @ Citynoise. Also check out our related gallery, Cave Art (ok not really) of  Benny Farm. Reference links and other great places to visit for information about Benny Farm. Story Telling At Concordia Benny Farm Calgary Housing Action Initiative, Alternative Housing Models: Benny Farm. Canada Lands Company: Community Success Stories: Benny Farm

Urban Infill: 130 St Philippe

Urban infill

In the urban planning and development industries, infill is the use of land within a built-up area for further construction, especially as part of a community redevelopment or growth management program or as part of smart growth. It focuses on the reuse and repositioning of obsolete or underutilized buildings and sites. This type of development is essential to renewing blighted neighborhoods and knitting them back together with more prosperous communities.[2] Wiki

The city is an every changing, ever evolving thing. Businesses and buildings come and go as needs and uses evolve. The St Henri neighbourhood in Montreal QC has been on a gradual progression to more a more genteel state and as part of this a number of lots in the area are being redeveloped, when I first moved to town 130 St Philippe was a friendly automotive garage that helped boost my car one winter when the battery died. However as time in this neighbourhood rolls on and property values increase the real estate that the garage was sitting on became a little more valuable then its use as a secondary parking lot for cars waiting to be fixed.  130 St Philippe is actually the back half of a larger project that started over on Rue St Marguerite, but I didn’t manage to catch any construction photos for that half of the site.

Infill can be a tricky proposition as in many ways it is simply the less maligned form of gentrification, people often ignore it in the debate as it is usually the creation of something new versus the property inflation of something that was already there, but the effects are usually the same.  Personally I take the long view on gentrification and the life cycle of cities.  Most neighbourhoods that are poor were at one time wealthy and a lot of neighbourhoods that are wealthy will become poor at some point in their lifespan, and eventually cycle back to wealthy, (I am looking at you Harlem.) The city is not a static entity and must be allowed to adjust itself. I just wish that more cities had effective and well funded property development arms so as to take advantage of infill sites in neighbourhoods when they are on the low swing to provide affordable housing. This particular street is a great example of how the Société dhabitation et de développement de Montréal took advantage of the downswing in Saint Henri, (When I first moved here most reactions were that I had moved into the hood) as there are already two low income apartment buildings and two affordable housing multi unit properties on this block. These will help insure that with the pendulum swinging back up, i.e. gentrification, that is  happening in St Henri now, there will still be a mix of income levels as the bourgeoisie move in.

This project was put together by Groupe Vistacorp,  Vistacorp is a property developer here in Montreal that specializes in residential properties and based on their website and project break down appears to develop two to three sites at a time. While the website doesn’t specifically state it, the company appears to specialize in infill and has a construction roll out that is reactive and flexible to the economic climate based on the number of units that they put on the market in a given year.

I was only able to get my hands on a couple of the unit plans by casting about in darkness of the Internet (think randomly adjusting page IDs) as the majority of the condo’s have already been sold. S Whatever your perspective on Infill stay tuned for future additions to the Saint Henri Infill Series as Vistacorp has already started the prep-work for the lot across the street.

Roadsworth: Crossing the Line

Over a period of three years, the stencil artist Peter Gibson, aka Roadsworth, made his mark on Montreal in the early hours of the morning by launching a self-described “attack on the streets.” Armed with spray paint and handmade stencils, he began to play with the language of the streets, overlaying city asphalt markings with his own images: a crosswalk became a giant boot print, vines choked up traffic dividers, and electrical plugs filled parking spots. Each piece begged the question, Who owns public space?

The Mitten Field

A Field of Mittens Appears in St Henri.

The lot at the corner of Rue Saint Philippe and Rue Notre Dame spends most of the year as a ‘sort of’ green space that people mostly just cut across when they are heading to and from the Metro and Rue Saint Philippe. Every so often though one of the resident artists finds a way to turn it into an impromptu art space. One of these installations was a vast collection of mittens in various states of attention, most straight up, some on their way to the ground and some already there.
The mittens were of varying shape colour and size, most likely found in a bargain bin maybe or a lost and found? Whatever their origin they were a great addition to the neighbourhood before time and destructive individuals removed them.

*If you are the artist responsible for the mitten field please email us at: urbanneighbourhood@yahoo.ca so we can give you your due!

Dorchester Square shows off its new look

The Eastern Edge of the Park

Dorchester Square in downtown Montreal has spent most of the past two years behind a fence getting a make over. The square was originally inaugurated in 1878 and has four statues and a kiosk that are arranged to form a five point cross. Originally the Catholic Sainte-Antoine Cemetery for victims of the 1851 Cholera Epidemic, the majority of the bodies were later exhumed and moved to the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery on the Northwestern side of Mont Royal.

The square was long one of the cities preeminent park spaces due to its location adjacent to a number of high profile projects that were built in the late 1800s, the construction of the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral (started 1875 and consecrated in 1894) and the Windsor Hotel (completed in 1878) The construction of the Sun Life Building (completed 1931), Windsor Station (completed 1889), and the Dominion Square building; solidified its status. For many years it has been the centre of the central business district in downtown montreal. In later years the park suffered from a lack of maintenance and the city of Montreal undertook a major renovation to bring the square back to its former glory.

Since I work in the previously mentioned Sun Life Building I stepped out the other day to take some pictures. Of particular interest to note are the cross patterns randomly scattered through the paving stones. According to the city of Montreal spokesperson Philippe Sabourin, they were included as a reference to the park’s past as a cemetery and are only found in parts of the park that made up that parcel of land, which is why you wont find any up in the Northern end. The city has further renovation plans next year for the Northern parcel where the loading and unloading area known as Rue Dorchester Square and the kiosk sit.  Rue Dorchester Square is the main loading and unloading stage for the majority of the Tourist buses dropping off shoppers and tourists who visit nearby Rue Saint Catherine.


Turcot Quartier Eco Santé

The Turcot Yards in the City of Montreal is the type of property that could be considered a city builder’s dream. Conveniently located near a number of major transportation routes, minutes from downtown,  near the new super hospital, it has it’s own wooded slope and a canal runs along side. The City of Montreal and the MTQ (Ministère des Transports du Québec) have been arguing over what to do with this space ever since its fate came into question with the reconstruction of the crumbling Turcot Exchange.  What  follows is a proposal to weave this space back into the city. If you are looking for the City of Montreal’s proposal it can be found here.

The vision for the site is a development focused on healthy living and delivering better access to health facilities utilizing the McGill University Health Center as a pole in thein the development of the Turcot Quartier Eco Santé. With the construction of sucah a large development there is ample potential to make the site a center for innovation and creativity within the city of Montreal. Our emphasis on eco-city design creates an opportunity to put Montreal back on the map as a center for innovation. Our Project Coincides with the growing movement in eco-city design and we envision an opportunity to create a healthy human environment that can develop in stages depending on the needs of the residents and users themselves.

Stemming from this vision for Turcot Quartier Eco Santé, our objectives –  are to identify the site within Montreal while creating cohesion with the surrounding neighbourhoods. As the MUHC (McGill University Health Center) will cater to the entire island there is a great opportunity to conne ct both the local and regional through safe, effective and efficient transit corridors. It must also conform to the long term, sustainability – oriented vision adopted by the City of Montreal both in its Master Plan and Transport Plan, and to teh environmental vision the MTQ has set out in its own policy.

Turcot Quartier Eco Santé will not be developed like the traditional Montreal Suburb, rather it will demonstrate eco-city and sustainable development standards. The goal is to promote a development that effects how people travel in Montreal but also the way in which the urban fabric can be used. A vital goal is to incorporate various mixed use as well as mixed density and varying socio economic levels. Social and affordable housing will be combined with other types of housing, without allowing for differentiation based on design. The term Santé reflects our goal of creating a healthy human environment which promotes ecological ways of living and our goal to establish many specialized clinics in the new Quartier Santé neighbourhood in order to facilitate access to specialists and doctors working from the Mega Hospital and the local area.

In any large development there are both positive and negative aspects which may limit or enhance the development, however if we utilize all these in an equal manner just like a battery charge then the growth of the project can allow for a consistent distribution of pedestrian, transit and vehicular flows. This concept has the potential to charge the development by connecting our main concepts for green space and recreational space and thread them throughout the project in order to emphasize the potential healthy character of the site itself.

The average income in the areas surround the site are fairly typical for the Island of Montreal, excluding the highest distribution in Westmount. This allows us to stage development to attract a fair distribution of income groups while incorporating affordable and mixed housing and ideally attract those that would normally choose to reside in the suburbs. In and around the site there is a high distribution of both English and French schools, demonstrating a need to incorporate relatively few new educational facilities within the development. Access to educational facilities is however a key element in attracting families to Turcot Quartier Eco Santé and as such we envision the need for one French high school, one French elementary school and one English Elementary school. The service sheds are dependant on the proposed LRT (Light Rail Transit) station, and are measured to accomodate a 500m walking distance. The center of the sheds shall accommodate major services such as medium to large grocery stores, specialized commercial services, specialized health services, recreational services, and educational institutions.

Given a maximum estimated population for the given region of 22,000 people based on a 2.5km² area, we determined the mix of housing shown in the pie chart. Given the chosen five categories, we determined 15% social housing, 30% affordable housing, 35% middle income 10% middle high income, and 10% high income. These categories and percentages are based on socio-economic that we observed in the surrounding boroughs in Montreal, and are most logical in obtaining the largest possible population density.  A key component of the socio-economic plan is to incorporate adequate affordabel and social housing as it is currently in-high demand within the city of Montreal. Typically it is difficult to merge these housing types cohesively into the urban fabric as there is a stigma attached to housing provided for lower income residents. Mixed income areas can be considered more appealing by offering employment opportunities at a local level. For instance a portion of the residential units located above big-box stores could be affordable housign for those who are employed within those stores. Maintenance of green roofs and community gardens could also be done by those living in social housing, in order to provide gainful employment opportunities and encourage a sense of community.

Before the arrival of European settlement in Montreal, the area now known as Turcot was formerly a marshy lake know as lac St-Pierre or Lac aux Loutres (Otter Lake), which flowed into the former St-Pierre River. In 1832 the river began to be covered by engineers and it was eventually incorporated into the cities expanding wastewater and sewer system, while the shallow marshy Lac St-Pierre was drained and filled in during the construction of the Lachine canal. In the late 1800’s, the grand trunk railway established a rail yard in the area naming it the Turcot Yards. In 1923, the grand trunk railway corporation ceased to exist, and the Canadian National Railway took control of the Turcot yards and the adjacent rail lines. In the 1960’s construction began on the Turcot interchange, which was inaugurated on April 25th, 1967, in time for Montreal’s World Expo. The interchange was meant to ease traffic and connect Autoroutes 10, 15, 20 and 720. CN used the Turcot yards site until it was abandoned in 2002, and since then there have been various attempts to make better use of the vast empty land that the Turcot has become.

As the site has been a rail yard for nearly a century, and more recently has been used as a site for emergency snow dumping, there is high presence of lead and other toxins in the soil. As such it is necessary to attempt to decontaminate the soil before initiating development. A potential solution for this could be the use of Humic acids; they offer a cost effective, organic and simple way of remediating degraded and contaminated soils. Humic acids are nontoxic and biodegrade slowly. They have low oxygen demand and have excellent fixation and adsorption properties for xenobiotics in soil (Sita France, 2006).

A key factor in attracting suburbanites to move to an urban setting  and Turcot Quartier Eco Santé is not only the overall marketing of the project but also by way of providing more facilities that accommodate families. There must be an attempt to lure back residents who have fled the city in the past, but not at the expense of those who today call the district home (Gibson, 2002, p.262). If new housing opportunities are provided where in a private backyard that is commonly barely used is no longer considered more appealing than public green space consistent design elements could prove more aesthetically appealing. Private green spaces will also be provided both in the higher density areas through our regulations requiring active green roofs and our opening up of a number of the town home lots in the main residential zone for private purchase shall allow for this. The urge to attract suburbanites coincides with the socio-economic diversity, as it requires a sincere commitment to grapple with realities of class privilege in the contemporary urban landscape. As the Turcot site is practically a blank slate it proves easier to enhance this opportunity and not only attract the common demographic of the area, but also those from outside the area. As such the goal of attracting new residents must be coupled with an equally ambitious goal of expanding access to low-income and affordable housing. (Gibson, 2002, p.274). A component of this stems from attracting not only singles and couples, but families as well. Providing safe facilities to accommodate families in open space so that they feel comfortable using the ample public green space and parks.

Turcot Quartier Eco Santé will consist three main neighbourhoods, incorporating various areas with varying levels of activity depending on the location and time of the day, each generating different intensities of both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The site will contain Light Rail Transit, pedestrian and bike zones that promote movement from the main station located on Rue Cavendish, to public parks, local playgrounds, and sporting areas. The variety of transportation options will benefit movement in multiple directions throughout the area, while the Lachine Canal, and the escarpment provide natural barriers and give the neighbourhood a feeling of containment. The Turcot Village square, located adjacent to the proposed marina, will contain the highest level of intensity as it will be the place where all types of traffic converge within the site. The intensity level will decrease when moving progressively further from this main node, however the intensity will again increase at the main public areas of parks and playgrounds, which will be located adjacent to our Light Rail Transit nodes.

The Turcot Yards transportation infrastructure is of both local and regional importance. At present a number of important regional transit links run through the site, the intersection of provincial highways 20, 15 and 720 are located in the north-east corner of the site. Highway twenty, known as Auto-route du Souvenir as well as highway 720 known as the Ville-Marie Expressway currently pass directly through the centre of the project site and all these attract approximately 150,000 vehicles daily. The Turcot Yards also has a long history of rail infrastructure, and the main CN freight line from the west, along with the main Via Rail commuter line also pass directly through the centre of the site parallel to the Auto-route du Souvenir.

The redevelopment of the Turcot Yards will respect the integral part of the regional transportation network that these pieces play in the greater Montreal region, and the province of Quebec as a whole. However contrary to other proposals for the highway the Turcot Yards development project recommends that highway capacity be capped at status quo preferring instead to focus expansion on the rail infrastructure and other mass transit links. The intersection of highways 15, 20 and 720 is an elevated structure that currently sits above a large area of land, while the elevated nature of the interchange permits other uses underneath the structure’s elevation has an impact on the maintenance and lifespan of the highway, the Turcot development project will attempt to reduce the impact of this interchange by reducing the size and amount of space that it takes up. The new interchange will be designed to have multiple levels for ease of transit for through traffic and interchange to the other routes.

Panel Gallery

In order to maximize the Turcot Yards site the regional transportation infrastructure will be relocated to near the base of the falaise St. Jacques following the current route of Rue Pullman, and then buried. The highway covers a total of 110, 440 sqm , half of this comes from the expansion of the escarpment (55, 220 sqm) which allows the steep incline to become useful. The other half, will become part of the boulevard. If the highway was left at grade when expanding the escarpment it would limit accessibility and a total of 110, 440 sqm would be lost, 55,220 sqm of which would not be developable since the road and buildings would be pushed further south. When trenching or creating tunnels for highways it is critical to provide adequate ventilation, as such we wish to use as much natural ventilation as possible and incorporate other systems if necessary. The basic design for the trenched part of the highway (Panel 4) will use fan and air movement to correspond to the flow of traffic and the number of fans used will be dependant on the specific tunnel length. The extension of Boulevard Cavendish will provide an essential connection between the South West,NDG and Lasalle.

A key component in the Ecological emphasis of Turcot Quartier Eco Santé is incorporating green building strategies to promote long lasting development potential. They provide an outstanding number of public benefits in areas such as air quality improvement, reduction in greenhouse gases, storm water quality and quantity improvements as well as long term economic benefits for building owners. Opportunities are not only available for vertical architecture, neighbourhood gardens, and composting centers but also through sustainable development technologies such as permeable paving, as well as storm water management and alternative energy generation.

Photo Sources: Jenna Dutton, 2010
GIS Maps : Mike Rocco
3D Images: Peter Mouhteros
Sketches: Daniel Barham
School Maps: Google Maps

Gibson, T. (2005) Selling city living: Urban branding campaign, class power and the civic good. In International Journal of Cultural Studies 2005; 8; 259.

Kives, B. (2010) Take one downtown, fill it with people. In Winnipeg Free Press Online Edition, February 8, 2010.

Sita France (2006) Global Skills for the Environment: Site and Soil Remediation. Retrieved from www.sita.fr on March 18, 2010.

Maples on Mackay

Mackay Maple

View looking south east down Mackay street in Montreal QC next to Concordia University taken as part of a study for the Greening Mackay project. Photo by Jeremy Kloet.

A Prayer for the Animals and Earth

Street Art painted on the back of a garage on Rue Maria in Saint Henri , Montreal Quebec.

Montreal 2025

A copy of the Montreal 2025 part of the city of Montreal’s counter proposal to Transport Quebec’s $1.5-billion Turcot redevelopment project.
Présentation médias_2010-04-21

Panel Gallery

Under the Expressway

A view towards the underside of the Autoroute Jean Lesage after the Echangeur Turcot. Taken as part of a photo survey for a project I worked on to redevelop the Turcot Yards, that included a redesign of the Turcot Interchange and Highways 720 and 15.

Summer Over Downtown Montreal

With spring upon us its nice to remember what Montreal is like in the summer some times. Place Ville Marie, the Sun Life Building, the Cathedrale Marie Reine Du Monde, the Queen Elizabeth hotel, Gare Centrale and the Canadian National Railways building make up the view.

Corridor Of Life – Ave du Parc LRT Proposal

Corridor Of Life

Live, Learn, Work & Play

Daniel Barham, Jeremy Kloet, Jade Layton, Allison Reid, Marilyne Trembley.

Concordia University 2009

Go to Chapter 1

Go to Chapter 2

Go to Chapter 3

Go to Chapter 4

1. Where We Are Today

Park Ave Corridor Development Strategy

This first section, “Where We Are Today,” introduces and  describes a series of important questions: What is the history of the communities surrounding Avenue du Parc, and the history of the Avenue du Parc tramway? How would be community react if it were reinstalled? How can these neighborhoods be described today, socioeconomically, as well as physically? The purpose of this section is to introduce the central corridor, and to provide some background on the role and importance of the study of the implementation of a tram along the avenue.

In this section you will find:
Section 1.1 – “History and Background” which describes the history of the surrounding neighborhoods and communities, provides a background of the tramway along Avenue du Parc, as well as provides a survey of residents’ reactions to the idea of implementing a new tram.

Section 1.2 – “Neighborhood Analysis” provides a detailed analysis of the corridor as a whole. For formatting purposes, the corridor was divided into three sections for analysis of key destinations, neighborhood characteristics, commercial activity, as well as dominant modes of transportation.

Section 1.3 – “Physical Analysis” is a broad look at the opportunities and constraints along the corridor; transportation flow, important streets, physical and psychological barriers, and zoning.


2. What We Want

Park Ave Corridor Development Strategy

Section 1 details the nature of our corridor, highlighting the opportunities and constraints the existing urban fabric posed on the potential LRT development. This section, “What We Want,” solidifies the vision and framework of the development strategy for the integration of the LRT system in the corridor to support the local and regional functionality. It also explores the concept for the development strategy.

In this section you will find:

Section 2.1 – “The Vision” describes the corridor we wish to create.

Section 2.2 – “The Goals” sets out three key concepts to guide the realization of the vision.

Section 2.3 – “The Concept” allows to visualize the enhancements we want to implement.


3. What It Should Look Like

Park Ave Corridor Development Strategy

With the completion of our contextual analysis, and the identification of our vision statement, section three of the Avenue du Parc Light Rail Transit proposal outlines a number of objectives and strategies that will help reinforce the primary neighbourhood functions within the transit corridor. These strategies are intended to enhance, support and provide additional opportunities for local and regional residents to LIVE, LEARN, WORK and PLAY.

The following section will be broken down into four parts:

Section 3.1 will briefly describe how the LRT will be introduced within Avenue du Parc.

Section 3.2 will describe how a balanced transportation system will be achieved.

Section 3.3 will explain how the LRT will be integrated into the corridor.

Section 3.4 will identify opportunities to enhance the vibrancy of the corridor.

Section 3.5 will Introduce the Master Plan.