Viewpoint: Sustainable urban development: Important for Montreal, essential to Quebec's strategy

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Added on 23 March 2005 in Viewpoints

Original text signed by Isabelle Hudon, president and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, published in Les Affaires and Le Journal de Montréal.

March 23, 2005

Sustainable urban development:
Important for Montreal , essential to Quebec 's strategy

It was in light of its mission to actively promote and support the economic development of metropolitan Montreal that the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal studied the Sustainable development plan that is now the subject of a public consultation by Thomas Mulcair, minister of sustainable development, the environment, and parks.

In general, the Board of Trade is very pleased by the commitment expressed by the Quebec government to launch a new era, where economic development is carried out no longer at the expense, but to the benefit, of the environment and the well-being of Quebecers. The Board of Trade is particularly aware of the need to find a good balance between economic activity and the improvement of the environment and living conditions.

The new emphasis placed on knowledge, innovation, and creativity highlights the fact that, more than ever, an economy's greatest asset is the people that participate in it. This awareness of the economic importance of individuals and their talent also requires an awareness of the factors that attract and encourage them to remain here. Clearly, quality of life, quality of place, and quality of the environment are among the most decisive.

This is particularly important for Quebec . On the one hand, we cannot escape the global trend toward the increased mobility of workers. On the other hand, Quebec is facing a demographic slowdown that could lead to a lack of skilled labour. Indeed, within the next ten years, the net growth of Montreal 's labour force is expected to depend exclusively on immigration. Under these conditions, offering an attractive environment and an exceptional quality of life is no less than a necessity for the economic competitiveness of Montreal and Quebec .

It is this concern for economic prosperity that leads the Board of Trade to propose that sustainable urban development should be recognized as a fundamental component of the Sustainable development plan.

For the Board of Trade, the idea is that the critical importance of the metropolis to the sustainable development of Quebec be acknowledged as an integral part of the plan. At the same time, we would like the unique features of the urban environment characterizing the metropolitan area to be recognized.

In short, the sustainable development of Montreal , along with its economic development, is of such importance to Quebec that there is good reason to make it a clearly stated priority.

The quality of urban life

The consultation paper on the Sustainable development plan identifies quality of life as the ultimate objective of sustainable development – an objective we support. It also specifies that quality of life results from the interaction between living environment, life style, and standard of living – an analysis we also agree with.

We believe, nevertheless, that to paint a complete picture of the situation, an important distinction must be made: the interaction between living environment, life style, and standard of living is based on a profoundly different dynamic depending on whether you are in a highly urbanized environment or outside the major urban centres. In urban environments, this interaction has a unique degree of complexity.

Forty-eight percent of Quebec 's population lives in metropolitan Montreal . While this concentration enables the region to produce 50% of Quebec 's GDP, it also has consequences on a scale seen nowhere else in the province – such as road congestion, to cite just one example.

The impact of this phenomenon on the living environment is obviously the easiest to see and measure. Not surprisingly, it is in Montreal that greenhouse gas emissions produced by automobiles are most heavily concentrated, and metropolitan Montreal experiences the most frequent smog episodes.

But the consequences of road congestion do not end there. On the contrary: the impact of heavy traffic on lifestyles and standard of living may be less dramatic than a cloud of smog but it is no less tangible and complex.

Just think of:

  • the time lost in traffic and the effect that has on efforts to balance work and family life;
  • the economic costs of road congestion to businesses;
  • the impact on public health and the resulting health-care expenses;
  • the appeal of a higher environmental quality and the consequences and costs of urban sprawl.

The comprehensive, exhaustive approach needed for a sustainable development plan in the metropolitan region is thus, in itself, a major intellectual challenge.

And this is just one example: the consumption of water and energy, the management of waste matter, the use of public transit, and urban revitalization and densification are all issues that take on particular weight and significance in Quebec 's largest urban centres.

To ensure the credibility of the sustainable development plan, the Board of Trade therefore considers that sustainable urban development must be considered by the government as a priority basis for action.

In our opinion, the plan must not adopt the same incomplete vision of the development of Quebec presented in the Shine among the best document where, while identifying regional and rural development as a priority, nothing is said about the metropolis and other urban centres.

As Quebec 's primary focal point for investment – and above all, talent – Montreal understands the value of a high-quality environment and an exceptional quality of life. It is equally true that a good sustainable development strategy is particularly important for the competitiveness and prosperity of the metropolis. A metropolis developed in a sustainable manner is thus essential if Quebec is to “shine among the best.”