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Montrealers invited to weigh in on Mount Royal

 

INGRID PERITZ

 

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

 

April 9, 2008 at 4:33 AM EDT

 

MONTREAL — Montreal's Mount Royal rises only 230 metres but looms much larger in the city's collective imagination. The "mountain" has been called the city's heart, soul and identity.

 

So it's little wonder that city hall announced this year it is taking new measures to protect it.

 

Mount Royal is constantly under assault - by bricks and mortar, commuters, mausoleums and grandiose schemes. Now civic officials are seeking ways of limiting the damage and inviting public input on how to go about it.

 

The city's public consultations bureau is tapping Montrealers' views about how to protect the mountain. Since the process began three weeks ago, about 1,500 people have responded.

 

The starting point is a document tabled in January, the Mount Royal Master Protection and Enhancement Plan.

 

Long on lofty goals and limited on specifics, the draft sets out objectives such as protecting 104 city views of the mountain, upgrading public access and shielding 423 hectares of natural lands.

 

But city hall says it's open to other ideas. Should parking on the mountain be limited? Commuter traffic or bicycle races detoured? Helen Fotopulos, who is responsible for Mount Royal on Montreal's executive committee, sees the participation process as a "collective project" about the mountain's future.

 

"Mount Royal is part of our urban landscape and we're all passionate about it. What better way of ensuring the perpetuity of the mountain than getting people involved?"

 

The latest plan - an update on a 1992 protection scheme - is being greeted with a fair dose of skepticism, however. The Montreal Gazette called it "little more than a bland list of pious hopes," and groups that have devoted years to tightening safeguards for Mount Royal are underwhelmed.

 

"There are no priorities, no schedule and no budget," said Peter Howlett of the preservation group Les Amis de la Montagne.

 

The group is concerned the city has provided no mechanism to ensure community oversight for projects touching the mountain in the future. About the only constant in the history of Mount Royal, which slopes into downtown Montreal, is that it's perpetually under pressure.

 

"The No. 1 issue is the protection of the mountain for future generations," Mr. Howlett said.

 

Héritage Montréal also worries that Mayor Gérald Tremblay's administration, heading into an election next year, is more concerned with looking like it's protecting the mountain than actually protecting it.

 

"There's a sense that the current exercise might be futile," said the group's Dinu Bumbaru.

 

Part of the challenge is Mount Royal's sheer size and the wealth of real estate that covers it. The city's protection plan doesn't merely cover Mount Royal Park, the beloved green space used by millions each year. It encompasses a vast swath of the city designated a natural and historic district by the Quebec government in 2005. The area includes landmarks such as St. Joseph's Oratory, as well as federal armouries, universities, hospitals and cemeteries.

 

It's why vigilance is critical, preservation groups say. But Ms. Fotopulos says the city wants to protect the mountain without freezing it in time.

 

"The mountain is not a museum. It's not going to be mummified," she said.

 

The public consultations bureau is to submit its recommendations to the city this summer.

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