On the western borderlands of Montreal’s well-to-do Outremont district and the ultra-hipsterised and gentrified Mile End lies an expanse of land where the University of Montreal is currently building a new science campus. Just across is Parc-Extension, one of Canada’s poorest and most densely populated neighbourhoods and a port of call for many newly arrived immigrants.
The new campus has been touted as a model of “sustainable development”. It boasts LEED-certified buildings to reduce environmental impact, rainwater collection structures, energy-efficient lighting and heat recycling, infrastructure for electric vehicles and bikes, lots of greenery, and overall, a minimal carbon footprint. A number of tech companies, including Microsoft’s new AI Hub, are moving in and are expected to further enhance the “eco-efficiency” of the area.
The unspoken expectation is that once the green new campus is completed, capital and economic growth will naturally flow into the area. This means nearby neighbourhoods will get “revitalised”, especially the poorer ones, like Parc-Extension.
Thus, immigrant-owned grocery stores, halal butcheries and community centres will soon be replaced by vegan chain restaurants, hip vintage clothing joints, organic food stores and coffee-shops galore, as landlords push out poor tenants to make space for more well-to-do ones.
In the process, the implicit socio-economic violence behind gentrification will be invariably “greenwashed” and presented as development that would make the area more “sustainable”, “beautiful” and “modern”.
Unfortunately, creation by destruction is what capitalism does best, and its damaging practices are anything but green. This market-driven “sustainable” vision of economic activity, ecological-conscious diets and “hipness” within modern capitalism reinforce inequality and still hurt the environment.
Before I proceed further with my argument, I should mention that I am an academic, living in a “hip” part of Montreal and engage in activities that follow a particular aesthetic ethos, all of which make me very much a part of the reality I critique below. My aim is not to moralise, but rather to highlight the dangers of a political and economic system that profits from deceiving perhaps well-meaning self-proclaimed progressive folks into believing that a greener, more efficient capitalism is possible.