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UD/MH Associate Andre Williams discusses one city's solution for increasing residents' access to green spaces.
Overstimulation combined with limited access to green space poses a threat to urban mental health. Urbanists throughout the decades have attempted to alleviate these challenges through the creation of parks, waterfront developments and other urban public spaces that belong to everyone and can create a sense of peace and respite in the city. This is the case for Montreal, which experiences extreme weather conditions for half of the year, but in warmer months, the city’s inhabitants flock outdoors in search of sunlight and nature. Montreal has increased availability to these urban oases with an initiative to reinvent public spaces previously perceived as seedy and undesirable, or as insecure due to their use for parking.
“Ruelles Vertes”, which translates to “Green Alleys”, is an initiative that started as a residential movement in Montreal in the 1960’s and is now backed by the city government. Its objective is to add to city’s greenspaces whilst simultaneously revitalizing communities. In addition to residential efforts, the project was propelled by Eco-Quartier Montreal in the mid 90’s, a branch of city of Montreal which focuses on environmental education at a citizen level. The initiative’s participative nature is a good example of different ways in which cities can foster urban change that comes from the citizens. Residents of certain areas can apply for alleyways behind their homes to become a “Ruelle Vertes” and are provided with knowledge and resources to create urban gardens, add greenery, and bring art into their neighborhoods. It is very common for murals and decorations to be placed in the alleys. In the summer months, the beautified alleyways create an attractive space perfect for a relaxing stroll. The concealed alleyways act as green walkways that are removed from Montreal’s noisy streets and provide pedestrians with peaceful, attractive and safe walking routes. By implementing this strategy to create something new from a pre-existing element, the initiative is an example of urban revitalization at a citizen level, its finest form.
An example of an alley that participates in the Ruelles Vertes intiative. Photo by Andre Williams.
The initiative was started for a number of reasons that benefit urban communities in Montreal. Alleyways have been perceived as undesirable and often unsafe spaces; by transforming them with nature and art, the initiative aims to help regenerate places that have been subject to urban blight. The plants and trees used by the Ruelle Vertes are native to the region and support local birds and insect species; the vegetation also helps address the heat island phenomenon, extremely common in many Montreal neighborhoods.
Beyond those benefits, this initiative has created unique and communal spaces in Montreal that support mental health and wellbeing. These green and quiet alleys expand accessible green space provision in the city; by doing so, they help create a sense of peace, safety and inspiration in places that previously had the opposite effect. They have stimulated positive changes in pedestrian security as public gardens and fostered urban safety and additional pedestrian life by slowing down vehicular traffic.
The Ruelle Vertes initiative has also stimulated public life in alleyways through the form of localized activities in the summer open to visitors and residents alike. These activities are mostly free of cost and have included films, gardening workshops, conferences, coffee-talk events, guided tours of alleys, games for children, and concerts. Through a resurgence of public life one can observe a resurgence of public health.
For more Ruelle Verte's guide to greening alleyways click here
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