Restoration Project Likely to Gentrify Atwater Neighbourhood

The term revitalization might conjure up images of a lush, green sanctuary in the heart of a bustling downtown metropolis—but in the case of Cabot Square, some activists say it’s an example of a whitewashed area in a gentrifying city.

Located in Shaughnessy Village near Atwater Metro, Cabot Square is in an area of downtown that has been considered a “dead space” for quite some time. But the reason it’s going to waste because no one is using it. At least, that’s the theory behind a $5.5 million restoration project announced by the city earlier this year.

But as student and community activist Kelly Pennington explained, Cabot Square isn’t dead space to everyone.

“That [designation] just means no one with money,” she said.

Due to the low rent in the area, Shaughnessy Village has been home to students and low-income families for years. On Sept. 26, the city announced that pursuant to the results of a public consultation, it will go ahead with its sweeping plan to build 420 new apartments in the area, as well as clean up Hector ‘Toe’ Blake Park, located on René Lévesque Blvd. just east of Atwater Ave.

Before the revitalization project, abandoned buildings like the historic Seville Theater served as an unofficial shelter for the destitute and homeless. Not any longer.

“Our rights are really based on identity and property,” said Pennington. “If someone doesn’t really fit into the legal system, if they don’t have property, if they don’t have a phone number, if they don’t have an address, it’s a lot easier to marginalize them. […] They don’t have any legal grounds at all, so it’s easy to just push them aside.”

The three main goals of the Cabot Square revitalization project are boosting economic prosperity in the area, preserving heritage and improving quality of life. There are also, according to Pennington, terms like: improving green space and making it safe for families that make this project sound so appealing to the public.

“It’s aimed at a different class of people and those people are going to end up demanding a certain quote-unquote cleanliness or standard of the area,” said Pennington. “Ownership means they have more of a right to speak up, to say, ‘This is my property, I want these people out of here.’”

Because there is no legal way to kick someone—even a homeless person—out of a public park, the revitalization will work something like this:

The new condominiums that are being built around the neighborhood—including where the Seville used to be—will attract young, rich families. When those families bring their children to the park—Cabot Square—to play, they won’t feel very comfortable with the homeless people sharing their space.

“There’s maintenance of the premises […] and there’s increasing a police presence. If you’re looking at studies of dealing with homelessness, it usually leads to criminalization and then displacement of the homeless.” said Pennington.

Then it’s just a matter of who has the higher legal ground to use the public park.

It might not be a violent or aggressive displacement of the homeless—quite likely, the police will just ask them to leave. In that manner, anyone who can’t afford to live in Montreal—or any city facing a similar problem—will be pushed further and further away every year. It doesn’t matter where they go, as long as it’s not here.

This article originally appeared in Volume 32, Issue 07, published October 11, 2011.