1,000 tons of asphalt cleared by citizens’ hard work

Laurent devient ambassadeur en 2012 © Laurent Richer-Beaulieu
  • Laurent devient ambassadeur en 2012 © Laurent Richer-Beaulieu
  • Les voisins mettent « la main à l’asphalte » © Laurent Richer-Beaulieu
1,000 tons of asphalt cleared by citizens’ hard work

In creating the Base Camp of the 1000 Days for the Planet mission, Space for Life launched a movement for biodiversity. The ambassadors, people who decided to make public the action that they’re taking for the planet, are so inspiring that we wanted to share their story with you. Who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired and become an ambassador yourself!

Laurent works part-time in a little shop on Beaubien Street. Often he can’t help overhear customer’ confessions about how the area has been transformed. “Have you seen what they did on the corner of the street? It changes the face of the neighborhood; people are looking happier. It’s cleaner.” All around are city blocks lined with trees and flowerbeds, more of them every year.

The man behind the green transformation of the sidewalks

Without knowing it, these customers are sharing their thoughts with the instigator of this green sidewalk transformation… But those anonymous accounts, more of them all the time, are what pushes Laurent Richer-Beaulieu to keep on with his initiative – the simply named Jardin de rue. “You’ll notice that the expression ‘jardin de rue’ is in the singular. Because even if a few blocks are involved, it’s like a single garden on the whole street. Everyone takes care of other people’s little plots of trees.” The idea began to germinate in Laurent’s head when he was 15 years old and had to draft a major project during his studies at the École internationale de Montréal. He showed up at the office of his city councilor, Marc-André Gadoury, with two crumpled sheets of paper on which he’d set down the roots of his dream. His plan: dig up the asphalt parts of the sidewalk on his street together with his neighbors in order to make more room for the plots of trees and create a gardening area for citizens. “The sidewalk, that’s where people walk, get around, leave their homes. Everyone benefits from it, even people who don’t live there.”

Good gardens make good neighbors

In four years, Some 1,000 tons of asphalt from sidewalks on about ten streets have been replaced by gardens. There’s no other project like it in America, because the borough of Rosemont is the only place where this type of citizen-driven development project for public areas is officially authorized by the city. This year, in the month of June two new sidewalks will get the green treatment. About 80 people will get together to tear up the superfluous asphalt by hand, with crowbars or with chisels. “People always want a better quality of life, and there’s the human side to all this as well. They lift chunks of asphalt together, then they have supper together. A real sense of community takes shape.”

The bees are back on the tarmac

The city backs the initiative, because it entails a reduction in the cost of maintaining sidewalks, clearing snow, dealing with sewer backups, and paving. Not to mention all the benefits for citizens. If you walk in the area of Cinéma Beaubien on Des Écores St., you’ll discover that it’s less hot there, that life is buzzing once again with all the pollinators making themselves busy among the flowers, and that the sidewalk is cleaner. “People don’t throw their cigarette butts into a garden. They don’t spit their gum out into a garden.” Will the modification of the urban landscape lead to a lasting change of mentality? Laurent thinks it will. The positive way he looks towards the future is infectious. The fact that the active young citizen is starting political science studies at UQAM isn’t surprising. “When you plan the organization or the construction of a street, it should be an obligation to think about the environment and the people who live there. It makes absolutely no sense not to ask them what’s happening in their street, what they need, what isn’t working the way it should.” When will the cuttings from this project take root in other boroughs? For the time being, Jardin is administered on a volunteer basis by Laurent and the city councilor. Motivated citizens with a green thumb – anyone interested?

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