Redefining the role of streets in the cities of the future

Earth Day Canada webcast panelists included Deputy Mayor Stéphane Boyer

Earth Day Canada, which organizes Earth Day activities every spring while keeping the spirit alive through the year, held a panel discussion last week on the ecological transition of cities.

The webcast panel discussion, which featured Laval Deputy Mayor Stéphane Boyer, was part of Montreal-based Earth Day Canada’s EcoHack-a-City initiative.

The EcoHack-a-City event’s aim was to bring together leaders from various sectors to develop original solutions to major environmental challenges facing Canadian municipalities. Two previous meetings, organized with the cities of Moncton and Ottawa, were held last May and June.

Rethinking our streets

The discussion revolved primarily around redefining the role of local streets in cities of the future. While up to now city streets have been thought of primarily as means for cars and other motorized vehicles to transit from place to place, increasingly city streets are being re-conceived not only for pedestrian and bicycle transit, but also as areas which would be car-free or prioritized for pedestrian use.

Apart from Stéphane Boyer from the City of Laval, the panel also included Élodie Morandini of the Conseil régional de Laval, Sylvain Gariépy from the Ordre des urbanistes du Québec, Pierre-Yves Chopin of Vivre en ville and street artist Peter Gibson (otherwise known as Roadsworth).

A fundamental issue

“The City of Laval is extremely proud to be participating in an event as prestigious and as important as this across Canada and also for an issue as fundamental,” said Boyer.

“The environment is important and this type of event is important to bring together different people and different ideas, because the solutions that are proposed can be very useful if we hope to deal with issues such as climate change, greenhouse gases and the protection of the environment. There isn’t just one answer.”

Boyer said changes made over the past few years to the City of Laval’s urban planning code allowed certain new regulations to be introduced, including requiring the installation of green roofs for certain new buildings, as well as banning the use fireplaces that burn wood, thus reducing contaminants being introduced into the air through wood smoke.

Laval and environment

Other measures taken by the city that are friendlier to the environment include the purchase of asphalt containing recycled powdered glass which makes paved road surfaces more resistant to wear, as well as new regulations that allow the City of Laval to require contract bid winners to furnish materials which are compliant to environmentally-sustainable standards, rather than just awarding contracts to the lowest bidders.

And, of course, there is also the City of Laval’s implementation of the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal’s “densification” plan, requiring Laval to increase the density of development in strategic areas of its territory where there are also public transportation hubs.

Dealing with ‘backlash’

“This is an orientation that the municipalities in the Montreal region as a whole adopted,” he said, while also noting that implementing such measures sometimes runs the risk of a “backlash” by some residents who don’t feel prepared to accept rapid changes. Boyer said the city is moving ahead with some projects during the pandemic.

The EcoHack-a-City event’s aim was to bring together leaders from various sectors to develop original solutions for major environmental challenges

“We want to do something useful during the pandemic in order to bring about a change of thinking,” he said. “People generally don’t like the idea of change. But a crisis is a good time to change attitudes so that old habits and ways can be broken. So, we have the opportunity at this moment to do things in another way.”

Layout of future streets

Urban planning expert Sylvain Gariépy gave an interesting presentation on the creative ways to redesign and lay out future streets in cities and small towns, in order to de-emphasize motor traffic while re-orienting such areas towards foot traffic and active modes of transport such as bicycles and self-propelled vehicles.

Montreal-based urban artist Peter Gibson gave a fascinating overview of his work creating colourful and imaginative drawings and paintings on streets, sidewalks and other urban infrastructure in cities all over the world.

Streets are his canvas

Gibson first came to attention as a street artist using a stencil-based technique to alter and subvert, in often playful and humorous ways, various elements of the urban landscape.

This early period of his career was chronicled in the National Film Board documentary ‘Roadsworth: Crossing the Line.’ His paintings, murals and installations have been commissioned throughout North America, as well as in South America, Europe and Asia.

He combines art and activism and has worked closely with organizations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International.