A new lab to help give vacant spaces a positive purpose

Par Marie Allimann | 1 septembre 2017 | City

The City of Montreal, home to almost 900 empty buildings, is launching a project designed to encourage temporary and transitional urbanism.

The City of Montreal recently launched its Heritage Action Plan for 2017/2022, in which the issue of empty spaces figured prominently. “This Action Plan shows the City is recognizing that filling these spaces is ultimately the best conservation strategy. This is a huge step for temporary and transitional urbanism in Montreal,” said Jonathan Lapalme, co-founder of Entremise, an organization founded in May 2016 with the goal of facilitating the temporary use of vacant spaces. The adoption of this Plan also marks the creation of a heritage observatory, which includes a transitional lab that will allow these types of practices to play a greater role.

Read more : Reinventing our built environment

The transitional lab is the result of a joint project between Entremise, the Maison de l’innovation sociale (MIS)Cities for People and the City of Montreal. It will help explore the many advantages that may be offered by transitional urbanism, a concept that aims to connect spaces that need people with people that need spaces on a short- or medium-term basis. The transitional lab’s activities won’t be limited to public or heritage buildings, but rather to any empty building or space, whether private or commercial. “One of the objectives of the lab will be to help make sure buildings like the Snowdon Theatre or the Robillard Building aren’t lost to fire because they’re empty and therefore not being regularly monitored or maintained.” Entremise has recorded close to 900 vacant buildings in Montreal, including approximately 120 heritage buildings.

_édifice robillard

The Robillard Building, which hosted Canada’s first cinema theater, went on fire by the end of 2016.

Montreal has had some successful experiments in recent years with revitalizing vacant outdoor spaces, like the Champ des Possibles and the Village au Pied du Courant. Montreal has never had so many empty big buildings; the recent example of the Royal Victoria Hospital, which has been unoccupied since April 2015, has made the problem difficult to ignore. That’s also why, since the beginning of August, a section of the building has been used to shelter asylum seekers arriving in Quebec. It’s a great example of the impact transitional urbanism can have,” explained Jonathan Lapalme. “This lab will allow us to influence legislation around vacant spaces in Montreal. Most importantly, it will help establish mechanisms to encourage the temporary use of certain spaces, while discouraging owners from leaving their buildings empty.”

Read more : Bâtiment 7, a former industrial site is inspiring an entire neighbourhood


The Royal Victoria Hospital, which has been empty since April 2015, has recently been partially used to receive asylum seekers.

Among the various measures under consideration, the City may decide to give higher fines to owners who abandon their buildings or land, or create temporary occupation permits to facilitate transitional urbanism initiatives.

** Top photo: The Village au Pied-du-Courant, an under-utilized empty space along the St. Lawrence that has been transformed into a fun boardwalk park.



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