A three-part game plan to make Westmount a municipal leader in sustainability
By Roger Jochym
Every so often opportunities present themselves. Westmount finds itself in such a situation. It has elected a new Council that has renewed energy and ideas. It has over the years built a solid foundation to issues of liveability and sustainability. Westmount has a history of always being conscious to being green as witnessed by the tremendous set of trees across the whole of the city. And it rallied behind keeping Westmount Park green when it was proposed to install artificial turf. It has a wide-ranging recycling program and its composting program is available to most. It supported the Bixi bicycle sharing program at an early date, being the first municipality outside of the city of Montreal to join. And the Westmount Recreation Centre is an environmental achievement, a LEED Gold building.
So Westmount is favourable to being environmentally responsible. And after all these initial efforts Westmount has the opportunity to move to being truly sustainable. It has the opportunity to make a large contribution to alter the course of the climate crisis. The average global temperature change has reached 1 degree Celsius and this change is accelerating. Cities are the major piece in the puzzle to slow the rate of change and eventually bring it to a halt.
(Westmount) has over the years built a solid foundation to issues of liveability and sustainability… It has the opportunity to make a large contribution to alter the course of the climate crisis.
The opportunities that present themselves to Westmount may be seen at three levels. And together they form a game plan.
Those at the 1st Level of sustainability are simple actions in which every household can participate. And most households already engage in some of them. The 2nd Level incorporates several sustainable efforts into a holistic ensemble that makes a measureable leap towards being sustainable. The Westmount Recreation Centre is at that 2nd Level. Its designation as LEED-Gold is recognition of that effort. The 3rd Level is a city in complete harmony with its environment. Its energy balance sheet is zero, its degradation of the natural world near zero, its integration of Nature very high, and its yardstick of design is the human frame.
The reward at the end of the day will be a city that is not only more sustainable, but also more liveable and much more enjoyable.
Level 1 of sustainability
Although Westmounters engage in many Level 1 actions, they must be bolstered. Some results are not strong, and more actions should be added to our repertoire. Below is a list of such actions. Certainly others might be added. But until these Level 1 actions reach a certain percentage of participation they will need financial enticement so that citizens realize that these actions are highly valued, that citizens need to become involved, and that these actions are not simple suggestions of favourable things that might be done if so inclined. There should be a “Reimbursement Scheme for Sustainability”. Taking one example from the list, ‘white roofs’, a subsidy should be given to residences based on the area of white roof surface. This yearly subsidy would continue until a predetermined level of participation is reached. It might be 30% of residential roofs in the case of white roofs. Those who engage early in efforts of sustainability are thus shown appreciation for their leading effort with financial savings.
It is essential that there be milestones for Level 1 actions and that public reporting of progress in reaching them occurs on a regular basis. They could be published on the Westmount website, at Westmount facilities, and in local media. This makes sustainability visible.
Level 1 actions for sustainability (initial list)
• recycling of household materials
• trees on property*
• green roofs
• white roofs
• un-built part of property left in a green state
• rainfall management
• in-house water conservation
• ambient energy capture
• type of vehicle: none, Communauto, electric car, hybrid car**
Those actions in the above list that have an asterisk (*) already have a very high level of citizen participation and as such no reimbursement scheme is required. The “type of vehicle” action that has a double asterisk (**) would employ a sliding scheme of reimbursement. Those with no private vehicle would receive the largest reimbursement, followed by those who only have a Communauto subscription, etc.
Level 2 of sustainability
Westmount needs another holistic development similar to the Westmount Recreation Centre at a Level 2 of sustainability. It needs another project that will indicate that we wish to continue to be among the leaders. The imminent South East Redevelopment project offers such an opportunity. Like the Westmount Recreation Centre it should have a high level of holistic sustainability. And the same organization, the Canada Green Building Council, which evaluated and then awarded Westmount’s Recreation Centre with LEED Gold certification, should be employed. For urban development they have devised the Neighbourhood Development Rating System.
This Neighbourhood Development Rating System is within the same LEED accreditation system that had been used to evaluate the new Westmount Recreation Centre. It seems natural that the South East Redevelopment project should be evaluated in the same way.
‘Westmount needs another holistic development similar to the Westmount Recreation Centre at a Level 2 of sustainability… The imminent South East Redevelopment project offers such an opportunity.’
This project area has several advantages that make it an excellent candidate for sustainability. In terms of transportation it is extremely well situated. It adjoins the Atwater bus terminus and Atwater Metro station. It is near the protected de Maisonneuve cycling path. It would not be difficult to install a spur path that would connect to that cycling path. It is within a short walking distance of a great variety of shopping options, educational institutions, and cultural venues.
Thus with all these transportation options at its doorstep Westmount should designate this South East Redevelopment project to be free of private vehicles. It would be in line with former Mayor Trent who was never shy to say he did not own a car. In fact with a car-sharing option such as Communauto, the transportation cocktail adjoining it, the nearness of services, shopping, and institutions, and the proximity to the protected de Maisonneuve cycling path, the private car is not needed. It would be joining other 21st century neighbourhoods which are disengaging from the private car, a most detrimental factor of civilized urban living.
Moreover a growing part of the youngest generation would like to have housing that is free of the private car. They want to see the regained space that had been monopolized by cars given to “near to home” public space amenities instead. In the South East Redevelopment project, the regained space could be shifted to gardens, parklands, and playground. For example Tupper itself could be partially converted to some of these uses while retaining access for emergency vehicles. Gladstone could be converted into a pedestrian way.
‘… a growing part of the youngest generation would like to have housing that is free of the private car… In the South East Redevelopment project, the regained space could be shifted to gardens, parklands, and playground.’
Thus the South East Redevelopment project could become an urban haven. Its architecture must reflect the southern side of Dorchester. It would be continuous in its built form and not exceed four stories in height. There might be the possibility of two more stories but in setback. This continuity and respect for sunlight would allow the creation of that urban haven within the development.
In its efforts for Level 2 sustainability for a neighbourhood Westmount would not be alone. In Montreal the Technopôle Angus Neighbourhood (bounded by the streets Molson, William Tremblay, Augustin Frigon, and Mont Royal) is aiming to obtain LEED-Neighbourhood Development Gold certification for its entire site. When built, it will substantially reduce its environmental footprint by recovering energy and transferring it between buildings and by converting a portion of waste generated onsite into energy.
Level 3 of sustainability
There is one more level of sustainability beyond that of the 2nd Level of the Westmount Recreation Centre and the South East Redevelopment project. That 3rd Level is a city in harmony with its environment. Its energy balance would be zero, its degradation of the natural world near zero, its integration of Nature very high, and most importantly its yardstick of design would be the human frame.
It is important to see the zero energy balance in a global perspective. Many institutional buildings in western Canada are being designed in that way. The European Union in 2010 passed a directive that requires each member state to develop plans to achieve near net-zero energy for all new public buildings by 2018. It defines this type of building as having a very high-energy performance with an on-site or nearby renewable energy supply that covers a significant portion of its energy needs.
‘The European Union in 2010 passed a directive that requires each member state to develop plans to achieve near net-zero energy for all new public buildings by 2018.’
Westmount has consultant help right at its doorstep to attain this 3rd Level. Concordia University’s Centre for Zero Energy Building Studies has a good track record. It was the critical partner in the realization of the Varennes Public Library, the first institutional net-zero solar building in Canada. This library has a very high energy performance with on-site renewable energy supply that together cover its energy needs when averaged over the year.
The planning for Level 3 sustainability must start now. It will involve legislation at the municipal level regarding new construction. It will require advanced methods of construction for any new municipal buildings. And as an overall review of design so as to be sure that the human scale is respected the Jan Gehl office is excellent. He had given an inspirational speech a few years ago to Westmount Councillors in the Gallery of Victoria Hall. It is his architectural firm that in the late 20th century reinvigorated the city by changing the design paradigm so that the human scale is a priority.
Game plan recap
Very briefly, the game plan has three parts. The first is to enhance the participation rate in Level 1 actions by the use of financial enticement until a desired percentage of participation is reached. There must be public reporting of progress in meeting milestones. The second part is to have the South East Redevelopment project developed as a LEED Platinum Neighbourhood. It should be free of all private cars. The regained space can be given to “near to home” public space amenities. It should be continuous townhouses so as to create an urban haven for young families. The third part concerns regulations for new construction and major renovations within Westmount so that they have zero net energy balance and integrate Nature and the human frame in design.
These efforts towards sustainability present a formidable task. We are fortunate in having motivated citizenry and a strong tax base by which to bolster these efforts. We are a community with exceptional potential. But it will require concerted effort. There is an immediate need to draw up a list of possible consultants who might be called to give input. There is a need to decide upon objectives, timelines, and priorities. And it is important to organize site visits for decision makers to local facilities and neighbourhoods that have had success with sustainability. We have a golden window of opportunity.
Feature image: Shanghai Gubai Gold Street – SWA Group
Read also: Southeast Redevelopment: essential considerations
Roger Jochym is a 25+ year resident of Westmount. He is the founder of the Ry Arp Studio, a firm dedicated to generating 21st century planning ideas that are engaged in regaining the city for the human scale, interlacing it with nature, and invigorating it by culture, the arts, and sciences. His background is that of architecture from McGill and many built projects, notably the trans-border and international wings of Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport.
Excellent. It would also be great to tap back into observable existence such natural systems as the cemented over stream beneath Lansdowne where on a really good downpour the manhole cover at St. Catherine will shoot up into the air. Why bury our water courses?