Post temporary urban development | Dare to rethink public space in a sustainable way

While vaccination is in full swing, the Quebec government’s vaccination plan suggests a return to normal. Residents have already begun to restore public spaces and these places are expected to be hit by a storm this summer.

Veronique FournierVeronique Fournier
Director General of the Montreal Center for Urban Ecology

The situation is encouraging. However, the current health context demands caution: we must learn from last year’s experience from a long-term perspective.

In addition to major social and economic disruptions, the pandemic has changed the relationship that citizens maintain with their living environment. Public spaces have become distinctive places for exercise, recreation and socializing, which are essential to the good mental and physical health of city dwellers.

How can we do this if 45% of Quebecers live in apartments and travel outside the living environment is limited? Last summer, municipalities quickly opened their streets to economic and cultural activities. For more than a year, interventions have been taking place in the public space and are paving the way towards a new paradigm.

permanent changes

The first summer of the pandemic demonstrated the ability of Quebec municipalities to respond and to propose temporary arrangements that provide space for physical distancing. Terrebonne, Victoriaville, Sherbrooke, and many others set out to construct pedestrian walkways in commercial arteries, install street terraces, and create ephemeral installations or one-off activities. 1

These strategies have brought about rapid and innovative responses adapted to local contexts, but they also identify other ways in which it can be a way to navigate and enjoy public spaces Transform the city, dare, try: the stakes are low given the great potential of these initiatives!


The Saint-Laurent Boulevard pedestrian project in Little Italy sparked controversy last year.

However, in order to learn from fleeting experiences, it is necessary to assess their effects in depth. In the past year, projects such as Slitting Commercial Arteries generated media coverage that revealed a lack of social acceptance.

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To break down the most stubborn prejudices and show the benefits of such methods, let’s stop sticking to stories and let’s examine what is really happening on the ground.

As pointed out by Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá who has worked actively to restore pedestrian space in his city, we know good habitats for Siberian tigers better than good habitats for Siberian tigers.sane man. It’s time to change the tide.

This pandemic is also a powerful reminder of social inequality and issues of regional justice. In addition to supporting informed decision making, data entry allows for more comprehensive arrangements to be considered. Uncovers the case of Bryant Park in New York, where the presence of women has been used as an indicator of the quality of the place. After the park was renovated, a daily census was taken of the number of women and men using it. When the presence of women was less than 50%, we took action to promote their presence, whether through the safe maintenance of public restrooms or an adequate entertainment offering.

Photo by Angela Weiss, AFP

Bryant Park, in the heart of Manhattan

This approach, which considers the characteristics of the people in the public space, has been taken up in downtown-level studies in Vancouver and Toronto, where it has allowed us to better understand the issues and set clear goals through inclusion and planning.

Learn how to make better cities

These pandemic seasons are in a way a laboratory for a public space in transition to better address health and environmental challenges. Besides disintegration, changing the vision in the way our cities are planned remains the preferred way to achieve the learning imposed by the health crisis.

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Because at the same time as the advent of sunny days and the relaxation of sanitary measures that revive the desire to occupy public spaces, the main reflections on a better life are taking place in the city. Examples include the National Urban Planning and Land Use Strategy or the Montreal Urban Planning and Mobility Plan 2050 (PUM).

Building on the lessons of the past year and the bold actions currently being taken, public authorities should use this second summer to promote lasting changes. Measure, Count, Document: Getting data is one of the foundations of tomorrow’s cities.

1Pedestrian facilities in the context of a health crisisQuebec Infantry (2020).

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