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The Village Éphémère: The Transformation of a Vacant Public Space in Montreal

Facing the St. Lawrence River, just steps away from the Jacques Cartier Bridge, exists a vacant concrete lot called Pied-du-Courant. Used as a snow dump during the winter, it remains unused throughout the rest of the year. This summer the Urban Design Association of Quebec (ADUQ), along with other collaborators, worked together to recreate this space located in Montreal's east end.

Village Éphémère with Jacques-Cartier Bridge, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

In its second year of operation, the Village Éphémère aims to bring locals to lesser-known areas around the city in order for people to experience a different side of Montreal. Last year, the success of a one day event at the Peel Basin transformed this year's project into a two month-long affair. Open Thursday through Sunday, from June until August with free admission, it allows citizens to enjoy food trucks, drinks, music, a sandy beach, city views and installations and interactive art work.

The original intention, as stated by one of the collaborators Pépinière, was to create a new Montreal underground scene, separate from the central city. In this case, psychological boundaries caused by the major bridge and the rail yards act as a barrier for citizens, deterring many from crossing over into this area. However, "re-creators" are encouraged to walk, bike, or take public transport to the lot, as there is no parking available to automobiles. This encourages people to assimilate to new surroundings and also diminishes the notion of inaccessibility to the area.

Village Éphémère, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Village Éphémère itself is organized as a continuous, albeit small, promenade where multiple pavilions face a central multifunctional space, and beyond that, the river and a view of the LaRonde Amusement Park. Different installations from different Quebec designers reinforce the visitors' experiences. Twenty projects were chosen to set up their installations on the site and were further aided by a crowd-funding campaign to do so. Each piece of work can be easily dismantled, and thus marks the transitory nature of the project. It allows people to see the potential of the vacant public space. Once the event is finished, people can then go back to make their own experiences, transforming the space to suit their own needs though doing so within the boundaries of the law. Residents of the Ste-Marie neighborhood, who also collaborated on the project, hope that it will bring further attention to the under-utilized Bellerive Park which lies adjacent to the lot.

As in Daniel Campo book The Accidental Playground, he shares the value of ad-hoc and incremental urban design. When people are able to alter a space to suit their needs and desires, a learning process is able to flourish based on the trial and error of ideas put forth into action, as well as the sense of adventure and self-discovery that happens when doing so. Thus the Pied-du-Courant lot in its seasonal vacant form can be reclaimed by users as a site for creation, experimentation, and leisure.

Village Éphémère and Molson, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The success of the two renewal projects led the collaborators to create another pop-up space this winter in a new location. Thus the third installation of the Village Éphémère will do double duty in bringing attention to another under-used space in the city, while also reinforcing the creative use of outdoor spaces during the colder months.

How are under-utilized public spaces treated in your city? Are pop-up events or shops occurring in your community?

Credits: Images by Caitlin Dixon. Data linked to sources.