Green Space

Green space and biodiversity are often overlooked and under appreciated aspects of urban sustainability, yet they play a crucial role in the social, ecological and economic life of a city. Green spaces provide respite from the heat and noise of the city, perform important purification activities for air, water, and soil, and provide habitat for all manner of biodiversity. Green space and biodiversity are deeply influenced by urban planning policies and practices and broader theories around urban development. Here is a really great short video that outlines the importance of urban parks.

Green Spaces in Montreal

What is the best way to make Montreal a sustainable city in terms of green spaces and urban forestry? Should green spaces be managed to maximize biodiversity or to maximize accessibility? How much green space do people actually need in their city to be healthy and happy? How do we put a financial value on our green spaces? How should we measure green spaces to evaluate our actions? The answers to these questions are often context dependent. We also need to understand that what is efficient and realistic in Montreal may not require the same practices that were successful somewhere else. Policy decisions need to be supported by community action to help make citizens accountable for their actions within their urban parks. Green space on its own will not create a sustainable city – but it can play an important role in achieving that goal.

A Brief History of Green Spaces in Montreal

The perception of nature has evolved over time – when European settlers first came to North America, nature was something to be tamed, controlled, and conquered. With industrialization came a densification of cities, increased pollution, and decreased living standards. Soon the elite were leaving the city to get some fresh air out in the countryside, perceived as a pristine place of untouched beauty. Parks can be created for many reasons; for example, in the 1800s, local aristocrats following their British roots revived the sport of fox hunting on the island. This powerful group of people pushed for landscape preservation so that they could continue their luxurious sport.

Sylvia Oljemark provides a good history of Montreal’s urban parks and so does Les amis de la montagne so we only present a brief section here. In 1874 Mount Royal became the first protected area in Quebec, and the City of Montreal hired Frederick Law Olmsted to create a landscape design for the park, showing just how passionate Montrealers were about their parks and public spaces. But then an alarming amount of parks were then built over throughout the 1900s as the protection of green spaces and urban parks became less of a priority. Between 1986 and 1994, 50% of Montreal’s forested lands were built over, and another 750 hectares between 1994 and 2001 were destroyed. For comparisons sake, all of Mount Royal Park is only 200 hectares. Today, 1600 hectares of green space in Montreal are in peril.

This brief history showcases the sometimes unpleasant conflicts that can arise from park creation and maintenance. Land is highly sought after in an urban centre – conflicts continue today about development projects wishing to build on protected land. In addition, an urban park is an isolated ecosystem surrounded by the city landscape, making it vulnerable to pollution and invasive species. Just as Mount Royal is an important landscape feature to both locals and tourists, so are the many other urban parks on the island.

Current Status of Montreal’s Green Spaces

According to Montreal’s Indicateurs de l’état de l’environnement and the Policy on the Protection and Enhancement of Natural Habitats, the City of Montreal in 2006 had a 20% canopy cover and had 65 km2 of green spaces with a total of 1200 local parks and 17 large parks protecting 1,715 hectares of protected spaces and 4,399 hectares of public parks. These overlap with the island’s ten ecoterritories, which are a minimum of 15 hectares in size. Montrealers only have 1.2 hectares of green space per 1000 people (Toronto has 3.24 and Ottawa has about 8). The city of Montreal is targeting 2 hectares per 1000 inhabitants. Converting the metric, Montreal has about 12 m2 of green space per person (surpassing the World Health Organization’s standard of 9 m2). More work needs to be done to push Montreal above its current levels of mediocrity. In 2009, 5% of the island’s land area was protected, but is still far below Toronto’s 12%.

Current Policy Regarding Montreal’s Green Spaces

The city of Montreal aims to protect 6% of the island’s land area (up to 8% if you include protected shorelines) and develop a new program to push the creation of green walkways that would cut across the city’s most densely populated areas.  The Quartiers 21 projects were developed under the umbrella of Montreal’s Strategic Plan for Sustainable Development to experiment with different sustainable development practices locally in different neighborhoods of the city. The 2007-2008 report on the Policy on the Protection and Enhancement of Natural Habitats announces that the city is going to create an inventory of all conservation projects in parks, ecoterritories, and shoreline areas. This will be useful to find more information about Montreal’s tree nursery, for example. In addition, the Montreal’s Community Sustainable Development Plan 2010-2015 (the full document is in French – an English summary is available here) outlines specific goals for the future, which are summarized in the Action Plan as follows:

Goal: Improve Montreal’s green infrastructures by increasing the canopy cover to 25% from 20% by 2025, compared to 2007.

Actions: The city and its partners will

  • Establish a collaborative framework for protecting and developing highly biodiverse territories.
  • Make use of green infrastructures and their ecological services in the city.
  • Publish information to raise awareness of biodiversity and encourage the public to take action to preserve it.
  • Reinforce the eco-friendly management of the city’s green spaces.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Challenges to park creation and maintenance abound, but can be summarized in the three typical components of sustainability – economic, environmental, and social/political challenges. Some economic challenges include the steep competition for land uses in a city, and the resulting high price of land which many developers are willing to pay. In addition, funding is always a challenge for non-profit organizations protecting public goods such as green space. The City of Montreal has played an important role in mandating and funding parks on the island. This funding is necessary for park upkeep and education programs. Some unsurprising environmental challenges for park management would be protecting the biodiversity and resilience of an isolated ecosystem – often parks are small pockets of low biodiversity, which have low resilience to system pressures, making them especially vulnerable to pollution and invasive species. Social and political challenges include proving the value of land protection. In this, the metrics used can play an important role in end results; corporations and governments will want to see the economic benefits of the park, whereas citizens might be more interested in community-building and recreation opportunities. This point also ties in closely with the importance of education programs to raise awareness and public appreciation and support for green spaces. Citizen participation and mobilization are of utmost importance to remind governments that green spaces are an important part of city infrastructure.

Metrics Used to Examine Green Spaces

It is difficult to define a desirable green space; should it be very manicured, tailored for recreation, or imitate more “wild” and “natural” spaces? Quantifying the amount or quality of green spaces is surprisingly difficult – you can measure canopy cover, protected area, equity of acces­sibility, and even carbon sequestration! To compare green spaces between cities, you can compare the area per 1000 inhabitants, or the percent of land cover. Some sources cite the World Health Organization (WHO) as recommending a minimum of 9 m2 of green space per person, and others state that 2 hectares per 1000 inhabitants is ideal (this is the equivalent of 20 m2 per person). You can also discuss the ideal distribution of green spaces – are a few big ones more desirable than many small ones? You will likely get a different answer if your goal is to maximize biodiversity or if it is to maximize accessibility. Other more financial metrics include contingent valuation, hedonic pricing, and deliberative valuation.

Sources of Information


The Greening Saint-Marie Project

The Greening Sainte-Marie Project is trying to increase vegetation in Sainte-Marie by 20% over a five-year period by planting 300 trees along streets and in parks and about 1000 trees on commercial, industrial, residential and institutional properties, including some abandoned land. They also have various activities aimed at awareness and education for citizens of all ages and particularly for those of school age. So far the project have successfully revitalized almost 150 residential properties, planted more than 4000 plants and landscaped five lanes, tripled citizen participation rates, and made visible improvements to the neighborhood appearance and cleanliness.

Les Amis de Meadowbrook

A group of concerned citizens founded Les Amis de Meadowbrook in 1989 with the mission to protect Meadowbrook (located in the south-west of the island) from development with the goal of transforming it into a new 57-hectare nature park open to all residents of the island of Montreal. For the past 20 years they have been successful at holding off development through interventions by producing briefs to public hearings, organizing citizens forums and conferences and holding media press conferences (Les Amis de Meadowbrook 2012)

Les Amis de la Montagne

Les amis de la montagne is a registered charitable organization founded in 1986 and concentrates its activities on protecting and enhancing Mount Royal through community involvement and environmental education. Their advocacy initiatives, education and awareness-raising activities, and enhancement and improvement projects all help the community become involved in the preservation of Mount Royal.

Montreal Urban Ecology Centre

Montreal Urban Ecology Center is an independent non-profit organization located in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood that was established in 1996. Their mission is to “build and share expertise concerning the most viable and democratic approaches to sustainable urban development.” They have many projects that involve increasing vegetation and green spaces in the city. Recent projects include:

  • Planning of 5 Green, Active, Healthy Neighbourhoods in Montreal
  • La Ville en Vert, a project to reduce urban heat islands by promoting use of vegetation and improve the environment of low-income housing complexes in Montreal
  • Development of Green Roofs with the neighborhood
  • Cool Islands 2010: main objective was to increase vegetation in the urban environment

Greening Duluth

Greening Duluth is a volunteer-run, community-based project aiming to breathe life into the neighbourhood by creating green spaces, people spaces, and opportunities for people to gather. Founded in 2008, they have held workshops, brunches, conferences, discussions, social, concerts, classes and other activities to help fund their projects. In 2009, they transformed half of the parking lot in front of the House of Friendship into a garden, pathway and community space.

Green Coalition Verte

The Green Coalition is a non-profit association of groups and individuals with a mandate to: “promote the conservation, protection and restoration of the environment and to promote the wise use of green and blue spaces.”

Projet Montreal

Projet Montreal is a municipal political party in Montreal. Their overarching vision includes creating a sustainable urban plan for the city linked with economic prosperity. More specifically they recognize the importance of green spaces as assets for Montreal and have included better protection and maintenance of these spaces in their program. This can be done by de-concretizing the City, increasing pedestrian space, retrofitting existing parks and encouraging urban agriculture, all of which contribute to reducing the urban heat island effect. Details on a few of their concrete projects such as “Le Plan de protection et de mise en valeur du Mont-Royal”, “For a car-free campus (UdeM)” and “For a car-free island around the metro Rosemont” can be found here.

Eco-Quartier Plateau

Eco-Quartier du Plateau is concentrating on greening the neighborhoods of the borough in 2012. Their Guide to Alleyway Greening 2012-2013 (Guide d’aménagement d’une ruelle verte 2012-2013) outlines the steps and process necessary for citizens to take if they would like to participate in greening their neighborhood. They also have a map of current green alleyways in the plateau.


Urbaniterre was founded in 1997 with a mission to increase the quality of life in urban setting by developing ecological and community based projects focusing on the sustainable aspects of food security, health and education. In summer 2012, they plan to work on a project to green the FACE School located at 3449 University street near the McGill Campus. They aim to green the currently concrete schoolyard by eliminating it to plant grass, trees, and flowers to help increase air quality and combat the heat island effect common in urban settings.

Conseil régionale de l’environnement de Montréal

The Conseil régionale de l’environnement de Montreal has initiated and coordinated the Relevez Votre Natureproject that aims to green the industrial and commercial sectors of Montreal. Firms are encouraged to plant trees on their land to fight the heat island effect, increase air quality, decreases heating and air conditioning costs, increase their land value and revitalise their neighborhoods. At the moment more than 45 firms have planted more than 1000 trees and 800 shrubs.

Association for the Protection of Angell Woods (APAW)

The Association for the Protection of Angell Woods (APAW) is a non-profit volunteer organization formed to “permanently protect and promote the responsible use of Angell Woods” in the north-west corner of the City of Beaconsfield. This includes seeking support from local and national communities, researching and applying innovative conservation strategies and raising awareness and appreciation of the Woods since they are constantly under pressure for development.

Municipal Plant Nusery (Pépinière de Montreal)

Montreal’s tree farm has been operating since 1948 to produce the trees planted within the city. This great asset means that the city is supplied with trees for its streets and parks that are well adapted to Montreal’s harsh conditions. The nursery is located in L’Assomption and has 80,000 trees over their 75 ha, making it the largest municipal tree nursery in Canada.
To learn more:

Montreal’s Trees: Ville de Montreal

Information available on the different types of trees in Montreal, the municipal tree nursery, urban tree upkeep (tree trimming, disease and use of pesticides), destructive insect pests.

Car Free Mile-end

Car Free Mile-End is a volunteer community initiative looking to improve the quality of life in the mile-end, while exploring urban design alternatives that focus on active transportation and the pedestrian. Their blog aims to promote dialogue to help shape the project according to the needs of residents and local businesses.

Some Interesting Initiatives

News Articles

Government Documents

Academic Literature

  • Bentsen, P., A. C Lindholst, and C. C Konijnendijk. (2010). Reviewing Eight Years of Urban Forestry & Urban Greening: Taking Stock, Looking Ahead. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 9, no. 4, 273–280.
  • Bjerke, T., Ostdahl, T., Thrane, C., & Strumse, E. (2006). Vegetation density of urban parks and perceived appropriateness for recreation. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 5(1), 35-44.
  • Brown, G. (2008). A theory of urban park geography. Journal of Leisure Research, 40(4), 589.
  • Chiesura, A. (2004). The role of urban parks for the sustainable city. Landscape and Urban Planning, 68(1), 129.
  • Coen, S. E., & Ross, N. A. (2006). Exploring the material basis for health: Characteristics of parks in Montreal neighborhoods with contrasting health outcomes. Health & Place, 12(4), 361-371.
  • Chiesura, A. (2004). The role of urban parks for the sustainable city. Landscape and Urban Planning, 68(1), 129.
  • del Saz Salazar, S., & Garcia Menendez, L. (2007). Estimating the non-market benefits of an urban park: Does proximity matter? Land Use Policy, 24(1), 296-305.
  • Dunnett, N., Swanwick, C., & Woolley, H. (2002). Improving urban parks, play areas and green spaces. Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions. London: Department of Landscape, University of Sheffield
  • Elmqvist, T., Colding, J., Barthel, S., Borgstrom, S., Duit, A., Lundberg, J., Bengtsson, J. (2004). The Dynamics of Social-Ecological Systems in Urban Landscapes: Stockholm and the National Urban Park, Sweden. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1023(1), 308-322.
  • Geoghegan, J. (2002). The value of open spaces in residential land use. Land Use Policy, 19(1), 91-98.
  • Gobster, P. H. (2001). Visions of nature: conflict and compatibility in urban park restoration. Landscape and urban planning, 56(1-2), 35-51.
  • Gobster, P. H. (2002). Managing urban parks for a racially and ethnically diverse clientele. Leisure sciences, 24(2), 143.
  • Godbey, G. C. (2005). Contributions of leisure studies and recreation and park management research to the active living agenda. American journal of preventive medicine, 28(2), 150.
  • Ho, C. (2005). Gender and ethnic variations in urban park preferences, visitation, and perceived benefits. Journal of Leisure Research, 37(3), 281.
  • Huang, S.-L., Chen, Y.-H., Kuo, F.-Y., & Wang, S.-H. (2011). Emergy-based evaluation of peri-urban ecosystem services. Ecological complexity, 8(1), 38-50.
  • Jim, C., & Chen, W. (2006). Perception and Attitude of Residents Toward Urban Green Spaces in Guangzhou (China). Environmental Management, 38(3), 338-349.
  • Kira, K. (2004). Women and physical activity in an urban park: Enrichment and support through an ethic of care. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(1), 117-130.
  • Kong, F., Yin, H. and N. Nakagoshi. (2007). Using GIS and lasncape metrics in the hedonic price modeling amenity value of urban green space: A case study in Jinan City, Cina. Landscape and Urban Planning. 79, 240-252
  • Konijnendijk, C. C. (2003). A Decade of Urban Forestry in Europe. Forest Policy and Economics 5, no. 2, 173–186.
  • Lohr, V. I, C. H Pearson-Mims, J. Tarnai, and D. A Dillman. (2004). How Urban Residents Rate and Rank the Benefits and Problems Associated with Trees in Cities. Journal of Arboriculture 30, no. 1, 28–35.
  • Loukaitou-Sideris, A. (1995). Urban form and social context: cultural differentiation in the uses of urban parks. Journal of planning education and research, 14(2), 89.
  • Loukaitou-Sideris, A. (2002). Children in Los Angeles parks: A study of equity, quality and children’s satisfaction with neighbourhood parks. The Town Planning Review, 73(4), 467.
  • McPherson, G. (2000). Urban Forestry Issues in North America and Their Global Linkages. 20th Session of the North American Forestry Commission. Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education.
  • Pouyat, R., and Zipperer, W. (1992). The Uses and Management of Urban Woodlands. In: Proceedings of the Fifth National Urban Forest Conference. Rodbell, P. (editor).  American Forestry Association, 26-29.
  • Price, C. (2003). Quantifying the Aesthetic Benefits of Urban Forestry. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 1, no. 3: 123–133.
  • Ryan, R. L. (2005). Exploring the effects of environmental experience on attachment to urban natural areas. Environment and behavior, 37(1), 3.
  • Sing VJ, Pandey DN, Chaudhry P. (2010). Urban Forests and Open Green Spaces: Lessons for Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. Rahasthan State Pollution Control Board. Jaipur, India.
  • Sister, C. (2010). Got green? addressing environmental justice in park provision. GeoJournal, 75(3), 229.
  • Solecki, W. D., & Welch, J. M. (1995). Urban parks: green spaces or green walls? Landscape and Urban Planning, 32(2), 93-106.
  • Van Wassenaer, P. and Kenney, A. (2002). Strategic Urban Forest Management Planning. Faculty of Forestry. University of Toronto.
  • Wolch, J. (2005). Parks and park funding in Los Angeles: an equity-mapping analysis. Urban geography, 26(1), 4.

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