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UPDATE (Dec. 2, 2011):  Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay has announced that a public consultation on urban agriculture will be held this spring. The city clerk has confirmed that the petition meets the criteria for the right of initiative and contains 29,068 valid signatures.

They did it. On November 15, 2011, the Work Group on Urban Agriculture (GTUA) announced that it had collected 25,082 signatures on a petition calling for public hearings on urban agriculture. This is well beyond the 15,000 signatures required to meet the City of Montreal’s criteria for launching a public consultation by right of initiative.

In effect since January 1, 2010, the right of initiative 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 (on paper) by at least 15,000 people, ages 15 and over living on the territory of the city of Montreal, within a three-month period. The GTUA is the first group to successfully make use of  this new tool.

The GTUA hopes the City will mandate the Office de consultation publique de Montréal to begin public hearings soon. This would allow citizens and experts to express their points of view, and would help establish a profile of the state of urban agriculture in Montreal, the group explained in its Nov. 15 press release.

Public hearings could highlight the economic, social and environmental benefits of urban agriculture. (Photo: Eve Krakow)

“The reflection process will foster the emergence of a concerted vision as to the place that urban agriculture should have in the Montreal of tomorrow,” the group stated (in French). “It will allow for recommendations for reaffirming the necessity of gardening in the city, on the social, economic and environmental levels.”

On Dec. 2, 2o11, Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay announced that a public consultation on urban agriculture will be held this spring. The final count on the petition was 29,068 valid signatures.

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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.”

Where to sign

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.

Related articles

Montreal urban agriculture blossoms despite red tape,” by Brennan Neill (OpenFile Montréal).

Elsewhere

Check out Columbia professor Dickson Despommier’s idea for vertical farming.

Lots of interesting urban agriculture projects in major U.S. cities.

UPDATE: They did it! On November 15, 2011, the Work Group on Urban Agriculture (GTUA) announced that it had collected 25,082 signatures. See “Over 25,000 people support urban agriculture petition”

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