© civiliti, LAND Italia, Table Architecture, Biodiversité Conseil
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A visionary plan to reinstate natural habitats in the city
“The future corridor will enable us to transition from a landscape that has been greatly modified by human beings, losing its biodiversity and resilience, to an abundant and diversified urban nature, connected and linked to human beings," says Alan DeSousa, Mayor of the Borough of St-Laurent, particularly affected by Montréal’s fast-paced, car-oriented growth of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The disappearance of the borough’s tree cover and ground vegetation, including former agricultural lands, has left the area more and more vulnerable to climate change. In 2015, local authorities started looking into the idea of bringing nature back to its 42.8-square-kilometer territory, 70% of which is now a sea of asphalt occupied by industrial and commercial activities. Not to mention the fact that the borough is used as a major corridor for high-voltage power lines.
Detailed inventories of existing fauna and flora were produced, various studies were undertaken, and consultation sessions were held, leading to the idea of a Biodiversity Corridor.
A multidisciplinary competition
In 2018, the City of Montréal launched a national, multidisciplinary landscape architecture competition, in the hope of generating an innovative scheme to be implemented over the next 20 years. A team of four firms—civiliti, LAND Italia, Table Architecture, and Biodiversité Conseil—won the competition.
The winning project’s "backbone" is a narrow strip of wasteland located under the overhead power lines along three main boulevards. According to the plan, the currently sterile lawns will be transformed into flowering meadows that will attract birds, pollinating insects, and small animals. Ground contours and a modulated topography will enliven this enriched landscape, breaking away from a feeling of homogeneity. The plan also includes new pedestrian trails and upgraded bicycle paths, as well as activity or rest areas for the enjoyment of St-Laurent workers and residents.
Additional interventions will help reconnect existing and future green spaces, eventually creating a continuous corridor allowing animals, insects, and vegetation to regain their lost habitat. A spokesperson for civiliti, Fannie Duguay-Lefebvre summarized the proposal: “The corridor will enable the transition from a mostly asphalted, fragmented territory to a diversified urban landscape, connected to all living beings.”
For St-Laurent residents and workers, this Biodiversity Corridor will provide a special space to discover nature in the heart of a bustling urban environment. More importantly, it will also serve as a laboratory for Montréal, Canada, as well as other cities and countries. The plan, prepared in collaboration with professionals from the borough’s Environment Division, is about reconciling the logic of the city and the logic of life.
The Biodiversity Corridor is landscape infrastructure superimposed on the existing urban order, creating diagonal links between a highly fragmented set of environments and sites. Unlike a transportation corridor, this is multifunctional infrastructure that encompasses urban design, landscape design, biology and mobility. Underpinning the creation of the Corridor is a holistic vision that marries the logic of life with the logic of urbanization by integrating new designs into the borough’s pre-existing urban and social fabric. The vision also includes plans for the addition of an even larger territory, going beyond administrative boundaries and the distinction between public and private spaces.
One of the key aspects of our proposal involves the transformation of three long segments of Hydro-Québec rights-of-way into a vast flowery meadow. Like a large green canvas, the meadow’s impressive scale will allow it to connect existing and newly created fauna habitats. Our project could also be described as a threedimensional landscape composition: in addition to the richness of the new habitats, microtopographies will create inner spaces that break the horizon through the introduction of vertical vistas, and generate places and paths for discovery. There are also a multipurpose trail and clearings in the vegetation to facilitate active transportation and local social activities.
Can we say that “beauty” resides primarily in the natural fact – in the inherent goodness of nature? For urbanites such as ourselves, a flowery meadow sparks a feeling of wonderment, and sometimes a state of grace. Whether the meadow is indigenous or the result of an agricultural parcel being abandoned, or takes root in a former railroad right-of-way in a decidedly urban setting, we can only marvel at its captivating qualities. The textures, colours and smells of plants, swaying in the breeze or transformed by shadow and light, give us a soothing aesthetic experience. As a matter of fact, isn’t the beauty here that of life itself, its free spread, its intrinsic design? And yet, even though this new landscape is designed as a living painting, it has been created ex nihilo thanks to the mastery of two natural sciences, biology and ecology. These disciplines allow us to support life, even at the scale of habitats essential to the survival of small amphibians and bats.
National Urban Design Award
The Biodiversity Corridor Master Plan received a Special Jury Award for the category “Sustainable Development” in the 2020 edition of the National Urban Design Awards. Organized jointly by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP), and the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA), the award is one of the top distinctions in Canada. As commented by the jury, "The promise of urban design is sustainable development—creating economic, environmental, social, and cultural benefits. While this project focuses on the environment, it reflects all Seven C’s’ of urban design: context, character, choice, connections, creativity, custodianship, and collaboration."