Community Vitality at Work
In 1991 a citizens group in the beleaguered Saint-Roch district acquired the empty lots left behind after the demolition of condemned buildings to make way for a highway and an office tower project that never got off the ground. Instead Îlot Fleurie took their place, a project that would change the dynamics of the district and contribute to its revival.
Reversing the trend
In the 1980s Saint-Roch was grappling with poverty and crime. Projects to revitalize the district hinged largely on major investments and radical reconfiguration of the area. Promoters saw big, but residents were hardly heard from. With time, the vacant lots exacerbated existing problems instead of solving them.
In early summer 1991, artist Louis Fortier and two friends planted flowers and put up a sculpture on a section of the no man’s land at the corner of rue De Saint-Vallier and rue Fleurie. A radio host gave their initiative airtime and soon it snowballed. In a matter of weeks, hundreds of people worked to beautify and bring life back to this lot, which became a veritable outdoor community centre.
During the same period, the City was revising its revitalization strategy for the district and it was comforted to see that the grassroots movement was using the same approach.
Taking back the neighbourhood, a source of inspiration
The grassroots movement continued for several years. Îlot Fleurie became a haunt of locals and artists. Between 1993 and 1996, painting and sculpture symposia and sky art and land art events took place. A community garden was added. This wasteland was given purpose, dignity, and beauty by local residents.
The municipal government seized the momentum and made improvements of its own by creating a lovely garden, Jardin de Saint-Roch, right beside Îlot Fleurie, thereby turning the page for good. Henceforth, the emphasis would be on quality of life.
Another site, same commitment
After Jardin de Saint-Roch was created in 1993, signs that the district was coming back to life were everything. Îlot Fleurie had helped reburnish Saint-Roch’s image and bring back hope. People had had an opportunity to express themselves and play a role—revitalization was not just the City’s doing, but theirs, too. The strategy was now to renovate where possible, bring back businesses, repopulate the neighbourhood, and relocate civil servants and educational institutions to Saint-Roch.
Investors showed new interest in building on the vacant lots around Jardin de Saint-Roch. Îlot Fleurie’s existence was threatened until the group of citizen volunteers charged with moderating and organizing a broad range of activities with the city moved its headquarters to a location under the Dufferin-Montmorency highway ramps. Starting in 1997, the new Îlot Fleurie was once again an artistic venue, a sculpture studio, and a place of poetry readings and music, community celebrations and picnics, gardening, and friendly games of petanque.
A changed district
By 2003, even though the City had agreed to a protocol for using the space and had pledged to support the development of Îlot Fleurie, the organization was showing signs of losing steam. Activities took place there from time to time until 2008, but the neighbourhood had changed so much that the grassroots movement no longer had a role.
Îlot Fleurie had been there when it was needed and made a constructive contribution to rebirth of Saint-Roch.