More trees and diversity, even microforests, and also more clover and rain gardens. Climate change is leading to rethinking the layout of urban parks, where grass has reigned for a long time.
“Even the birds didn’t want to come here before!” jokes Yvan, a resident of the Rosemont district who has lived near the park of the same name for many years. Formerly an ordinary park that housed a children’s playground and a large grassy area used as a soccer field, Rosemont Park has been completely transformed.
At the end of June, residents of the neighborhood were able to discover this renewed space of 15,000 m2 laid out in three areas: the Place, where the chalet that will be renovated is located, the Clairière, made up of a trefoil, wooden game modules promoting free play, water games and an ice ring in winter, and the Urban Woodland, a micro-forest where young plants have been planted at high density. A dry river and a rain garden, installed at the lowest point of the site, help collect runoff water.
About 400 trees and shrubs have been planted in Rosemont Park’s microforest, the fifth largest in the borough. “Having a forest like this has several advantages,” points out Audrey Boulanger-Messier, forest engineer at the borough. With its complex and layered structure, the microforest promotes biodiversity. On an individual scale, trees can intercept a certain amount of fine particles in the air, reduce the amount of rainwater in the municipal network and create shade. “The shade created by plants has more advantages than that of buildings because when it transpires, the tree also cools the air,” she says.
According to Alain Paquette, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) and holder of the Urban Forest Research Chair, it is necessary to rethink the urban forest which, like humans, is affected by climate changes. For the City of Montreal, there is the challenge of increasing the canopy, in parks and on streets, at a time when many trees have been decimated by the emerald ash borer.
This resilience comes through diversity.
Thus, the species planted at Rosemont Park were selected based on functional diversity. “By having a greater diversity, we have a greater diversity of reactions,” explains Audrey Boulanger-Messier. There are some trees that we will lose depending on the vagaries of the weather, but the majority will be fine. We are ready for everything by planting everything. »
With the recent enthusiasm of municipalities for this concept launched by the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, we see these microforests sprouting up in various Montreal boroughs and in cities such as Repentigny and Candiac. But challenges arise. Their location must be well chosen so as not to diminish the feeling of safety for users. A balance must also be found between free play areas, which allow the practice of sports activities, spaces under differentiated management where tall grass is left and densely wooded areas.
“If we stopped only at ecosystem services, filling our parks with trees becomes obvious, but people have to be able to meet, do sports activities, underlines Alain Paquette. Playing frisbee is very bad in a dense forest. We are not going to replace our grass parks with semi-natural forests. But, between the two extremes, there are plenty of options, including these famous mini-forests. »
“When we meet with citizens, they want 200 things,” notes Félix Champagne-Picotte, head of the urban planning, permits and inspection division of Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie. “One wonders: ‘This park, what is its purpose?’ The goal is for all our parks to be in ecological transition, but to be different from each other. »
Work will soon begin for the redevelopment of Parc Montcalm, where the principles of ecological transition will be pushed even further. “The idea is to come and create small ecosystems throughout the park to bring back small mammals, bees, birds,” says Champagne-Picotte.
“I can’t wait for the forest to grow,” said Suzelle Beaulieu, whom she met at Rosemont Park while she was reading to her granddaughter Clémence. “In all the parks where there are children’s games, there is a lack of shade. »
However, you will have to be patient. Most trees are still too young to provide shade. Mortality is also to be expected in the microforest, which is normal, even positive when trying to recreate a natural environment, says Alain Paquette.
One element sorely lacking in Rosemont Park, according to many users: garbage cans. During our visit, a resident who was walking her dog, plastic bag in hand, expressed her displeasure to a borough representative. Every day, she lamented, citizens pick up rubbish that litters the ground. Have the bins been forgotten? No. This is a borough pilot project to encourage people to take responsibility for their litter and reduce it. The borough says it has taken inspiration from other public places around the world that have adopted this approach, including Frederic-Back Park in Montreal. “The borough wants to be an agent of change,” says Guylaine Déziel, director of land development and technical studies for Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie. You have to get the message out and educate people. The ecological transition is everyone’s business. »
In other boroughs too, the ecological transition is taking place in parks and public places. This is the case of Place des Fleurs-de-Macadam, in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, which has become a multifunctional place subject to flooding, and of Dickie-Moore Park, inaugurated last year in the Parc-Extension district. Covering an area of 4000 m2, this former vacant lot now has a few trees, several shrubs, a rain garden and wooden game modules.
“There are exercise classes, children playing in the water, it’s inviting for everyone: young children, our tenants, adults, families,” enthused Arnold Fox, one of owners of the neighboring rental building. This is a park that has been well thought out and is a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. And a plus also from a real estate point of view.
Although the City of Montreal has made biodiversity and green spaces one of its priorities to accelerate the ecological transition, the interest given to the urban forest varies greatly from one borough to another, notes Alain Paquette, professor in the department of biological sciences at UQAM. “It’s so easy to plant trees where people want them. You have to plant them where people have no voice. For many Montrealers, the only nature to which they have access in most of their life as a child, then as a young adult, are the parks around them. »
In a written response, the City of Montreal indicates that its 2020-2030 Climate Plan provides for the planting, maintenance and protection of 500,000 trees as a priority in areas vulnerable to heat waves and that “each borough does its part to achieve this ambitious goal”.
While there is a fairly accurate portrait of the urban forest found on Montreal’s public right-of-way, relatively little is known about the trees that adorn private land. However, it is by knowing the species that are around your home that you can better choose which ones to plant in your yard.
When asked which tree species Montreal homeowners should favor to increase the diversity of the urban forest, Alain Paquette, professor in the department of biological sciences at UQAM, takes a long detour. “People think we have knowledge of the urban forest, but the inventories that are available all over the world are public trees, that is, trees that are planted in the public right-of-way and which are therefore under the responsibility of the municipality, says the holder of the Urban Forest Research Chair. Nothing is known about the private forest. The private forest is the residential, commercial, institutional forest. »
By conducting research around the UQAM Science Complex, his team found that private forests are very different from public forests. “That’s good news, because people are making different decisions, so our forest is more diverse than we thought. »
To further the research, the team is currently taking an inventory of trees within a 200 meter radius of 25 targeted “plots” across the city. To do this, they need the cooperation of the residents of these sectors, who will receive an informative brochure inviting them to take an inventory of the trees on their property.
However, the researcher refuses to name species. “People who deal with landscaping know not to answer that question because in the days and weeks that followed, sales of this species exploded and it goes a little against what we’re trying to do. We want to increase diversity, we don’t want people to jump on the latest thing. »
To get inspired, he invites people to visit the IDENT-CITÉ urban forest, inaugurated in 2015 near Maurice-Richard Park and Park Stanley Avenue, in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough. Around a spiral-shaped path, the public can discover about twenty species of trees, less known, but all adapted to the urban environment, some of which have low or medium deployment for small spaces.