Governments and public institutions throughout Canada and the world build mega-projects – large-scale facilities and infrastructure – to improve health or other services. These projects channel investment into specific locations in the city, often generating new businesses and real estate development. They also may exacerbate economic and social tensions. Change in demographics, neighbourhood character or transport patterns may be followed by rising rents and taxes, displacement of residents or services, and further marginalization of low-income people. Because most mega-projects focus on the design and construction of physical infrastructure, and because financial pressures dictate a rapid pace of implementation, potential social and economic effects on the wider community often are understudied and, crucially, not properly addressed in the project itself. In so doing, opportunities to use major investments to build sustainable and inclusive communities are missed.
This project explores how mega-projects can be made to work better for communities and the city at large. The central question is: under what conditions, and through what mechanisms, can urban mega-projects contribute to the building of stable, inclusive and healthy neighbourhoods? The CURA takes as a case study the new Glen campus of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), a researchteaching hospital complex to be built on a site bordering two City of Montreal boroughs and Westmount. The MUHC and local organisations have agreed to work together, asking: What can be done to maximize benefits and minimize potential negative effects of the MUHC on surrounding areas? How can collaborative approaches to planning and implementation help to meet these objectives?
A rendering of the MUHC Glen Campus (Source: MUHC)
The project will address these questions through research and related training on:
- Neighbourhood quality and change, including spatial structure, residential quality-of-life, socioeconomic vulnerability, environmental risks, and potential impacts of the MUHC;
Planning strategies and projects that institutional, governmental or community stakeholders can pursue to foster
(a) participation and civic engagement,
(b) employment and economic development,
(c) affordable housing and appropriate land development, and
(d) sustainable urban environments.
- Community capacity to contribute to urban planning and development, including routes of access, effectiveness of different types of stakeholder alliances and interactions, and, importantly, the role of community-hospital collaboration.
This project draws on a strong and varied academic team, and an experienced and representative network of community organizations. A working relationship established among nine community organizations in 2001 was formalized in an Inter-Neighbourhood Coalition. These groups entered into partnership with the MUHC in 2004 to find mutually-beneficial forms of interaction. Academics from six Montreal research institutions – McGill University (Urban Planning), UQAM (Géographie, Études Urbaines), Université de Montréal (Architecture), Concordia (Geography), INRS-Urbanisation, Culture et Societe (Études Urbaines), and McGill's Douglas Hospital (Psychiatry and Community Health) – now bring expertise in municipal policy, sustainable design, economic development, community health, housing, social mix and participatory governance to bear on this process. Professors and students from these universities will work with neighbourhood, hospital, community health and government stakeholders to conduct research, train students and community members, and generate insights into collaborative, community-building approaches to mega-project development.
The key contributions of this research are:
- better understanding of how mega-projects affect their urban environments and how any adverse impacts can be mitigated;
- innovative, multi-disciplinary tools with which to evaluate a community’s well-being and improve its physical, social and economic conditions;
- increased theoretical and practical knowledge of the means by which diverse stakeholders can build partnerships and collaborate on plans across institutional divides; and
- application of this knowledge towards improved integration of the MUHC with adjacent communities.