Pointe-Gatineau residents unveiled a commemorative bench that wraps around a decades-old tree on a vacant lot Saturday — part of an effort to stem the tide of "ghost districts" after the 2017 and 2019 spring floods.
Nearly 200 residences in Gatineau have been demolished since 2017. The properties of dozens of disaster victims who vacated their land have been transferred to the city for the symbolic sum of $1.
"It's a way to take back these lands in a sort of a way, and put more beauty to it to make it more livable for people who reside here," Pointe-Gatineau Coun. Myriam Nadeau said Saturday.
There could be more beautification efforts in the coming months too, as Gatineau city council allocated $1.4 million last week for redevelopment projects on vacant properties.
There are currently dozens of such lots in both the Pointe-Gatineau district and nearby Lac-Beauchamp — some empty, others with with abandoned homes that will soon be demolished.
Previous revitalization projects were being paid for out of councillors' own expenses.
'Can still be something good'
Nadeau said she hopes initiatives like Saturday's bench unveiling will help the Pointe-Gatineau community move forward after the devastating floods.
"These lots are now public land," Nadeau said. "We know it will never be what it was before, but it can still be something good."
Gabrielle Beaudoin, a volunteer with commuinity group Association citoyenne de Pointe-Gatineau, said residents are still struggling.
"We want to show that we share their pain and we understand that there are still many hurdles for them," she said.
"We hope that these spaces that are now just vacant lots will actually flourish and become beautiful spaces with beautiful parks."
'This is a ghost town'
The Lac-Beauchamp district has already seen urban furniture, flowers and community gardens spring up on some vacant lots near Parc Sanscartier.
While the projects are part of the city's desire to avoid ghost districts from popping up, some say that's already happening.
Long-time Lac-Beauchamp resident Gerald Viens told CBC News Saturday that his neighbourhood now feels "abandoned."
"I think the community can do anything they want, but its people [are still] going to be afraid [to return]," Viens said.
"This is a ghost town. That's it. Along these parts, it's going to be a ghost town."
The number of vacant lots are likely to increase in the coming months as files from the 2019 spring floods are still being processed.
Lac-Beauchamp Coun. Jean-François LeBlanc said that while these initiatives are important, and residents have benefited from having new gardens and outdoor furniture at their disposal, it will take more to revitalize the district.
"They are still stuck with the flood problems," LeBlanc said. "But it sure shouldn't make it worse."
Nadeau said that in the coming months, planning and community consultations will take place in order to decide how to tackle other vacant lots.