Recently, in The Globe and Mail there was an article about the future of the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. According to the article, annual maintenance costs $32 million and the roof needs replacing to the tune of $200-300 million.
There is a new mayor, Ms. Valerie Plante, who campaigned on less talk, more action. The Big O presents an opportunity for her to put her campaign promise into action. I don’t particularly like my tax dollars going towards a venue that is under-utilized and high maintenance, especially when there are plenty of productive alternatives that could be done with the space. We are at a critical time when cities are feeling the effects (and increased spending) of extreme weather events. Montreal was fortunate and able to sit on the sidelines of the onslaught of hurricanes and forest fires that affected the US and other countries – but our turn will come. Using the acreage the Big O now occupies to provide a living lab to carbon-curbing solutions would provide a better use of our tax dollars while advancing new technologies and generating revenues through business. And, as Montreal is a member of the 100 Resilient Cities network, a group of cities dedicated to fighting climate change, we have a responsibility to actively find, test and implement solutions.
The City of the Future Is Smart and Green
Cities need to reinvent themselves to prepare for larger populations, ageing infrastructure, more extreme weather events, and increased automation. More and more cities are starting to experiment with underutilized plots of land to see which technologies will be successful moving forward. Montreal not only has the land, we also have a solid tech sector, four universities and an experienced construction sector. Imagine the possibilities!
If you’re wondering what features a smart, green neighbourhood would include, below are just some of the possibilities:
- Smart meters for water and electricity to understand and monitor how water and electricity are used (and can be moderated during peak usage)
- Sensor Technology for street lighting to help with traffic flow or lighting of pedestrian and cyclist pathways
- Micro-grid and grid storage solutions to help take pressure off the grid at large
- Communications infrastructure to read the flow of people, cyclists and cars
- Driverless car technology for shuttling people through the neighbourhood creating a need for fewer owned-cars
- Advanced waste management technologies such as on-site wastewater and food waste management
- District heating and cooling for better energy efficiency
- Better stormwater management to create less run-off
- Alleviation of heat island effect
- Stricter building codes, and demands for movable walls for expanding and contracting family sizes
- Bird-friendly buildings so migratory birds don’t crash into glass buildings
- Urban gardens and food forests
- multi-use buildings, housing and business communities
- Public spaces and art that can serve multi-function…
There are several venues across North America where new, “smart” cities are being built. Plots of land are being dedicated to building and testing new ideas, technologies and infrastructure for cities of tomorrow. One Canadian example is the partnership between Google’s Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto, which is itself a partnership between the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government. Waterfront Toronto has turned out to be a successful experiment: Building codes are stricter than the province’s, new technologies have been introduced (UV treatment of stormwater in the guise of outdoor art), outdoor public spaces are well thought-out. There is a mixture of businesses, education, housing (including social housing), and leisure activities, and the residences are snapped up as soon as they are put on the market. The area the development is built on previously underutilized, industrial brownfields. The partnership with Sidewalk Labs is just taking the space to the next level.
Montreal’s Smart Neighbourhood?
If instead of continuing with the inertia and throwing good money after bad, the Big O was replaced with a neighbourhood that became an example for forward-moving cities piloting new technologies and building practices, the benefits would accrue year over year. Housing, jobs, businesses, as well as a testing ground for new state of the art infrastructure technologies would make Montreal the place to be, attracting a young, talented population, generating revenue and revitalizing an under-used asset.
Montrealers are reticent to tear down their iconic stadium, but if you could replace it with something exciting and more productive than what currently exists, chances are you could convince its citizens to rally around the initiative.