Major projects: A question of attitudeViewpoint by Isabelle Hudon

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Added on 24 January 2008 in Viewpoints

Text signed by Isabelle Hudon, president and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal,
published in Voir on January 24, 2008.

Major projects: A question of attitude

With Griffintown, the Viger station, the Bonaventure expressway, Notre-Dame street, the CBC building, the Outremont campus, the Old Port, the mega-hospitals, the Ville-Marie Technopole, and the Quartier des spectacles,  Montréal is overflowing with proposed development projects – and many people are asking  (with good reason) which ones will actually see the light of day.  What will make the difference?  I believe that, much more than economic or financial factors, the key to success is primarily a question of attitude.

We shouldn't underestimate the effort needed to remain optimistic and enthusiastic.  Pessimism, on the other hand, is easy:  since nothing will happen anyway, why bother making any changes yourself?  A winner's attitude may be much more exciting, but it can also be somewhat demanding.  It means being willing to dare, to explore the unknown, to take risks, and to make sacrifices.  In short, far from involving a pair of rose-coloured glasses, a winner's attitude requires effort, generosity, discipline, and determination.

Not obstructing but improving

Unfortunately, when a new project is announced, we're much more likely to hear talk of opposition than of a desire for improvement.  Hearing many points of view regarding a development proposal is, in itself, a good thing.  But once the problems have been identified, it would be nice to also hear some proposed solutions.

Bottom line:  I'm not talking about abandoning our critical faculties.  It's important to identify all potential flaws in a project, but there's no point throwing out the baby with the bath water!  In fact, what we need is not rose-coloured glasses, but bifocals – a perspective allowing us to see not just the challenges facing us now but also what can be achieved over the long term.

All this requires a strong dose of confidence in our judgement and our means – and that's another important component of a winner's attitude.  Remaining both positive and critical at the same time is not, in itself, contradictory.  That said, it's not necessarily simple, either!  It means giving up cut-and-dried opinions and being open to exploring nuances.

Cultivating openness

From this perspective, it's important to create an atmosphere that promotes discussion, where both grievances and suggestions for improvement can be expressed openly and heard calmly.

The people in charge of major projects have a key role to play in creating such an atmosphere. First of all, they must demonstrate their willingness to listen to the various concerns expressed.  This means showing their openness during the preparation phase of the project by involving local stakeholders as early on as possible.  If difficulties arise – and, let's face it, that's only to be expected – the lines of communication will already be open.  This doesn't guarantee solutions, but it does make them far more accessible!

This atmosphere of openness will also make the due process procedures of public hearings much less combative: the developer should be familiar with everyone's point of view long before arriving at the formalized process.  Indeed, this approach could even accelerate it.

Writing happy endings

All this reminds me of the organization of the recent Rendez-vous November 2007 – Montréal, cultural metropolis.  This was a bold, complex, and ambitious project.  Despite all the obstacles – and, believe me, there were quite a few –, the organizers stayed focused by repeating to themselves: “This will work!”

Since we had to encourage the participation of both artists and business people, we were careful to resolve our differences quietly – not because we wanted to operate in secrecy but because the cause of the Rendez-vous was too important to let hints of conflict undermine its credibility – and ultimately reduce its mobilizing impact.  After all, who wants to get involved with people who are bickering among themselves?

That's why, as we prepare to write the stories of several major Montréal projects, we must make sure they are happy ones.  Stories that are not naïve, but that showcase openness, cooperation, discipline, and, inevitably, lots of challenges.  And, above all, stories that all Montrealers will want to be a part of.

That is my wish for 2008.

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