Montreal could be doing more to create green spaces, report finds

Montreal is famed for its large, beautiful parks, and Montrealers are known for their affinity for them.

But according to a recent report that compares Montreal's parks to those of 23 other municipalities, the city and its citizens could be doing more to develop and maintain green spaces.

"I think we definitely have some [gains to make], and a lot of areas of Montreal are lacking green spaces," said Caroline Magar, a landscape architect and lead agent with Montreal for Park People, the non-profit that published the report.

For every 1,000 people who live in Montreal, there are 2.4 hectares of park space, according to the report — roughly the equivalent of two rugby fields.

This ratio is low, but also in line with other major cities like Vancouver and Toronto.

"Those are some of the lowest numbers in Canada," said Jake Tobin Garrett, manager of policy and planning at Montreal for Park People.

Cities with less population density have more opportunities to provide open space, he said.

Montreal did do well in other categories, though.

The city spends more than any other Canadian city surveyed on park construction and design — over $240 million.

In February, the city announced it would invest $75 million over three years in public parks and shorelines.

In operating and maintenance costs, the city spends about $103 per person. That spending is in line with Toronto, but higher than other major urban cities like Calgary, the report says.

City plans to protect large swath of West Island

The report comes as Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced plans to build Montreal's largest urban park on the western tip of the island.

To be dubbed the "Grand parc de l'Ouest," the park would span 3,000 hectares — four times the size of Mount Royal — and would include 1,600 new hectares of protected area.

It would become the largest municipal agricultural park in the world. However, not all the land belongs to the city —  a private developer owns about 365 hectares and plans to building housing units, schools, day cares and sports fields on the land. 

Plante said since the area is in a flood zone, it can't be developed anyway. She hopes to reach some sort of settlement with the developer, Les Immeubles l'Équerre. 

The park would link Île Bizard to Cap-Saint-Jacques Nature Park, through the regional park of Anse-à-l'Orme, the Bois-de-la-Roche Agriculture Park and the Morgan Arboretum

Magar said the concept of connecting the parks sends a strong message.

"In terms of ecological benefits, also in terms of social connections, it's important," she said.

Parks also help fight climate change, minimize the negative impacts of the heat island effect and create a more absorbent landscape that can help reduce flooding, she said.

"Often we think about parks as these sort of additional elements of the city, as a frill sometimes, but they're actually critical pieces of infrastructure that can save lives," Tobin Garrett said.