urban planning & infrastructures

Montreal, Canada: The city as a playing field

Dec 11, 2019

The term “active design” combines all the actions taken by urban planning and architecture stakeholders to encourage or multiply opportunities to be physically active and provide easy access to a healthy diet. In active design, the idea is to invite people to be naturally active without imposing them to be so.
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Tackling inactivity in an urban environment

The first cause for obesity is inactivity. Between 1990 and 2004, obesity increased by 70% in Quebec, according to data from the Quebec Institute of Statistics: the proportion of people affected is from 13 to 22%. Experts say that obesity, which causes many chronic diseases, generate huge costs for society.

According to the National Institute of Public Health (INSPQ), it cost $ 1.5 billion in care in Quebec in 2011, representing 10% of the total bill for adults. Decrease in physical activity of Quebeckers, observed for 40 years, is one of the factors involved.

Easy and equal access to physical activity is another challenge to be taken over. Increasing population puts pressure on available sports facilities. Although partially compensated by immigration, population ageing is another problem to concretely address. More generally, sedentary lifestyles have penetrated all segments of the population, due to major changes in our ways of working, moving, shopping and recreate. “There are many ways to prevent obesity and chronic diseases but one of great strategies is that people adopt a physically active lifestyle”, argues Sophie Paquin, urban planner at the DSP and Associate Professor in the Department of Urban and Tourism Studies, University of Quebec in Montréal (Urbanité, Spring/Summer 2017). This is where the principles of “active design” are mobilised.

Active Design for an Active City

The City of Montréal, Quebec, Canada, has consciously endorsed not only the concept of “active design” but also its concrete implementation. While the sedentary lifestyle causes increasing and chronic health problems, buildings and other urban facilities such as stairs, sidewalks, cycle paths, streets and parks designed to promote physical activity could help turn things around, experts say.

“Active design is an urban development approach that identifies recognised strategies for land use, urban planning, urban design and architecture to support the well-being of communities and more specifically to encourage a physically active lifestyle and a healthy diet. As part of the approach to environments that encourage healthy lifestyle habits, active design aims at developing and designing lifestyle spaces that foster healthy choices.” – Vivre en Ville, inspired by the Center for Active Design, 2013

The term “active design” combines all the actions taken by urban planning and architecture stakeholders to encourage or multiply opportunities to be physically active and provide easy access to a healthy diet. In active design, the idea is to invite people to be naturally active without imposing them to be so. Design has to lead people to physical activity.

Outdoor activities in an urban context

To encourage a physically active lifestyle, the City of Montréal is rethinking its approach to physical activity by promoting “outdoor activity in an urban context”. Beyond traditional outdoor activity, this term designates today non-motor-powered physical activities performed in a dynamic relationship with elements of nature, such as gardening, games, observation and outdoor sports, close to a natural urban setting.

The concept of urban outdoors rests on an expanded vision of the outdoors in which our cities’ physical and cultural environments are adapted to take greater advantage of nature in an urban setting. Outdoor activities are performed in a dynamic relationship with elements of urban nature, consisting of laneways, parks, green and blue beltways and walking paths, whether it is time spent in free exercise, more intense physical activity or daily travel. In this vision, residential neighbourhoods can be equipped with green and active corridors or pedestrian or shared streets that allow children to play, walk or cycle to school. This concept also enables public spaces to be occupied in unusual ways, for example, by building an unregulated form of playground between two buildings or on a vacant lot.

The urban outdoor network is a connectivity approach to green spaces and to the city’s sports network, aimed at integrating access to parks, public spaces, pedestrian streets, playgrounds and sports fields for everyone.

From concept to programme

The City of Montréal has developed a forward-looking Action plan (2019-2029) to frame this new approach. The Plan d’Action Décennal provides a framework of processes and sequences to be implemented, a monitoring and control method, a 10-year calendar and an overall budget. It identifies the administrative units of the Ville de Montréal that will be responsible for completing each of the actions, or partners tasked with their completion, as well as the compliance of these actions with the city’s various policies. Once the action plan is completed, a report is produced, confirming whether or not the desired outcomes have been achieved.

This action plan is based on the 2018 Plan directeur du Sport et du plein air urbains (Urban Sport and Outdoor Master Plan) which uses quantitative and qualitative data to compare and clarify various aspects of urban planning to create environments that encourage a physically active lifestyle.

Focused on the human being and active design, the plan builds upon the connectivity of green spaces and the city’s sports network to integrate access to parks, public places, pedestrian streets, playgrounds and sports fields for everyone. It addresses areas that need upgrading in the sports network, such as park chalets.

The objective of the Plan d’action du sport et du plein air urbains 2019-2029 is to create environments that foster physical activity and sports to encourage people living in or travelling to Montréal to become and remain physically active.

Montréal’s recreational and sports equipment network, however, is facing a general maintenance deficit that has serious repercussions for the use of some of the most popular fields. Sports clubs and the population as a whole are affected by this situation as free exercise becomes an increasingly popular trend today. Despite major assets, several boroughs are experiencing disruptions in service due to the requirement that all group sports and outdoor equipment be appealing and safe (i.e. upgrading, maintenance, facilitation, communication and investment).

From programme to projects

At the end of a bidding process, the City of Montréal selected 19 projects to be implemented in the first phase of the action plan.The selection process was inclusive and aimed at maximizing geographical and social balance. Among the criteria to be selected, the following were key:

  • Inclusive approach considering all marginalized or excluded groups (young people, newcomers, universal accessibility, etc.);
  • Intersectionality, e.g. promoting inclusion, the fight against multiple discrimination (gender, class, ethno- cultural background, disability, socio-economic status, sexual orientation or gender identity, etc.), the reduction of inequalities and an adequate response to the needs of a diverse population through carrying out projects aimed at all citizens.
  • Active design encompassing all strategies to encourage people to adopt a physically active lifestyle.
  • Planning in a global perspective of the park and collective appropriation in harmonising interventions, rather than doing them piecemeal and promoting better collaboration between sports stakeholders and the City of Montréal.
  • Innovation to adapt to technological and climatic changes, as well as in sports practices.
  • Adequacy with the Urban Sport and Outdoor Master Plan, that is, the stowage with the major findings and issues of the plan.
  • Integration in its environment

In addition, the proposed projects had to respect the identity of the environment by their compatibility with the surrounding and projected developments in addition to integrating with urban, economic and social plans and the physical and contextual environments by their complementarity with the infrastructure and services already offered in addition to considering the visual aspects, safe (eg. visual barriers).

Last but not least, projects had to present the ease of access to active, current, and planned public transportation (eg metro, bike path, etc.). They were also evaluated according to their connectivity potential to the urban sport and outdoor network. Optimal location would require universal accessibility, notably by promoting mobility, accessibility and the clarity of terrain and equipment identification.
“For our administration, it is important to give boroughs the necessary leeway to maintain, improve, adapt and transform our network of outdoor sports facilities where they are needed. Thanks to the PISE programme, all sports, but also all types of equipment, can benefit from an assistance from the City of Montréal. The large number of applications received demonstrates the need for a comprehensive and inclusive program”, said Hadrien Parizeau, Hadrien Parizeau, Associate Councilor for Youth, Sports and Recreation when unveiling the 19 projects selected.

Four types of projects are supported, namely the upgrading of existing sports facilities, the development of new sports facilities, the development of sports facilities dedicated to emerging sports and the development of spaces for free practice. The projects selected touch a variety of sports, such as basketball, soccer, tennis, skateboarding, athletics, beach volleyball and BMX. The estimated investments, which represent 80% of the project costs, amount to nearly $16.5 million. A second project call is planned this fall to allow the boroughs to improve their projects or to propose new ones. The outdoor sports facilities program has a total budget of $29.5 million over three years.

As Hadrien Parizeau concluded, “Whether it’s building, upgrading or redeveloping, each of these interventions contributes to making Montréal an increasingly active and inclusive city, and enhances the appeal of our living environments”.

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