Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spacing, Montreal and the gentrification debate...

This video is a  very interesting discussion about gentrification and what it means for certain Montreal neighborhoods. Not being a native Montrealer, I am often surprised at the knee-jerk response to terms like development and gentrification. I certainly understand that gentrification changes a city radically and there are many negatives. But there are also many pluses to it, as well.

What I appreciate about this documentary is that it looks at the issue with complexity and doesn't rely only on cliches or overly emotionally laden terms like gentrification to do the arguing. It shows different assumptions about what a "gentrified" neighborhood might mean to various people.

This issue is on my mind after the ELAN conference last week. One comment that was frequently heard was that Montreal was no longer as good a place to be an artist or writer as it once was. That it has simply become too expensive and one can't work part-time to pay rent, buy food (as humble as this life might have been) and then write or paint or dance or whatever the rest of the time. It's just not possible, the argument went. And it's probably true. Certainly it's not as easy to do that unless one wants to live far out in the suburbs or the real working class areas of town.

But I guess that's part of this discussion: it is possible to live in Montreal and be a struggling writer. It's just that poor artists don't generally live in Westmount or the Plateau or Outremont or the Village or even downtown. One has to live out in Cote-Vertu or East Montreal where rents are affordable. I don't know if a writer or artist can easily work part-time and afford an apartment out in these areas, but the point is that it is still possible. And there are other options as well (anyway, almost all of the writers I know live in the central part of the city and manage to survive, some even flourish. That doesn't mean it's easy but whose life is "easy"?).

One of the central questions, of course, is whether it will still be possible in the future. After all, it's probably nearly impossible to be an artist and live in Toronto or Vancouver or New York unless one has some independent income or teaches full-time.

That's why documentaries like this and the organizations it features are so key to Montreal's future and future development. I am not of the mindset that development is automatically bad nor do I think that gentrification is a horrible word (there is something about the "us vs. them" implicit in that word that I don't think reflects reality, as if developers were these monsters who live in glass towers: I live in the Plateau and I'm not rich). We need people to ask these questions, we need to people to make sure we question our assumptions. We don't want to give power over to big condo developers who have no interest or stake in how they change a neighborhood long-term. We should have a place for writers and artists to live and create work, and we should be a city that is open to this and encourages it. But we shouldn't stand in the way of things which make our city better and stronger. Investment is good. New housing is good. New retail can even be done well. Development and, yes, even gentrification can be done well if it's done properly...

No comments:

Post a Comment