If the Work Group on Urban Agriculture can collect 15,000 signatures on its petition by November 8, 2011, the City will be obliged to hold a public consultation on the state of urban agriculture in Montreal. The group hopes such a public consultation would facilitate the development of urban agricultural projects, making the city a greener, more sustainable and more enjoyable place to live.
The Work Group on Urban Agriculture (or GTAU, for Groupe de travail en agriculture urbaine) is exercising the Right of Initiative, a tool in effect since January 1, 2010, that allows citizens to initiate a public consultation on any matter that concerns the City or their borough. In the case of a City matter, the petition must be signed by at least 15,000 people, ages 15 and over living on the territory of the city of Montreal, within a three-month period.
“What kind of city do we want to have in 5, 10, or 15 years? Cities are about much more than just roads, condos and parking lots.”
Marie-Ève Voghel Robert, GTUA spokesperson, explained that the group has been trying to get the issue of urban agriculture onto the City agenda for more than a year, through letters to elected officials and gestures such as offering the Executive Committee baskets of Montreal-grown vegetables. “Unfortunately, the City hasn’t responded or shown any interest,” she said. “So we had to think of what else we could do. In talking with various officials, we were told our request fit in perfectly with the new Right of Initiative.”
Initially, the GTUA was composed of seven or eight organizations; today, a network of close to thirty organizations across the city is helping to promote and collect signatures for the petition. Projet Montréal also supports the initiative.
Why a public consultation on urban agriculture?
“At the moment, there are a great number of urban agriculture projects underway in Montreal, and new ones are continually being initiated,” said Voghel Robert. However, she said, these initiatives receive little recognition, and community groups struggle to obtain financing to keep their projects going.
According to the GTAU, challenges to the development of urban agriculture include pressure on land use from development projects, the presence of contaminants in some soils, the absence of a strategy for urban agriculture, and a lack of availability of plots in the community gardens of central neighbourhoods.
Voghel Robert explained that a public consultation would enable the city to take stock of existing projects and then to reflect, as a society, on what place urban agriculture should have in Montreal, and finally, on how it can be facilitated (bylaws, policies, funding). Of course the results would depend on who would present briefs at the public consultation. “It’s important that this be an open consultation, to bring up other points of view.”
“Urban agriculture concerns everyone, even though most people probably don’t realize it,” said Voghel Robert. “How many people have flower boxes or herbs growing on their balconies? The idea is to put measures in place that will make things easier on a larger scale.” She adds that this isn’t a controversial issue, where people are being asked to put themselves on the front line.
Ultimately, she said, it’s about improving our living environment. “What kind of city do we want to have in 5, 10, or 15 years? Cities are about much more than just roads, condos and parking lots.”
Only signatures on paper count. Consult the GTUA’s website for a list of organizations that have petition forms available for signing. Or, download the petition form, collect signatures in your neighbourhood, and then bring it to one of the participating organizations.
For the latest developments, visit the Facebook page, Pour l’agriculture urbaine à Montréal.
“Montreal urban agriculture blossoms despite red tape,” by Brennan Neill (OpenFile Montréal).
Check out Columbia professor Dickson Despommier’s idea for vertical farming.
Lots of interesting urban agriculture projects in major U.S. cities.