Nos milieux de vie! Review of the initial phases of a transition experiment in Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie

This document presents a transition experiment aimed at adapting to climate change through a research-action approach. The project “Nos milieux de vie,” which is coordinated by Coop Carbone and Solon, was carried out at 4 pilot environments in Montreal and Quebec City from October 2016 to November 2018. The purpose of this article is to describe the project and report on the lessons learned in its initial phases and the resulting adjustments to the transition experiment approach. Four main points were learned through this work: the critical role of a mediating body, the existence of diverse temporalities within the project, the importance of adapting to participants’ demands and needs, and lastly the existence of social drivers of the sustainability transition. The projects discussed are aimed at addressing climate change by building on the potential for the engagement of citizens by and for the implementation of collective local energy and mobility projects.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

  1. Creation of a steering committee, evaluation and identification of environments

To that end, the authors developed a grid of 10 criteria (for evaluating physical, social and organizational aspects) designed to make the various environments comparable in order to assess their potential to implement the project. The committee undertook to document 11 environments based on the 10 criteria. The 11 environments had been suggested by various local community and institutional stakeholders. The 11 environments were assessed on the basis of five factors: (1) degree of citizen buy-in demonstrating a capacity to take on ambitious, foundational projects; (2) diversity of socioeconomic profiles; (3) diversity in terms of access to collective mobility; (4) diversity of commercial vitality; and (5) presence of other facilitating conditions (community support, presence of institutions, existing initiatives, etc.). Two sectors with different and promising profiles were selected based on this approach: Bellechasse and Masson Est (presented below).

Identifying Actions

2. Engagement of the two environments and development of a vision of a desirable future: reaching out to and engaging with citizens and stakeholders from the two communities and initiating the joint development of a vision of a desirable future for the community.

Analysis of the diagnostic and of the participants’ motivation to get involved in the project. The actions proposed by the participants are focussed on four aspects:

  1. Better communication to promote inclusion in the community: The proposed activities should therefore be inclusive; they should build on the “neighbourhood’s heterogeneity” and adapt the message to the various groups: e.g., presentations in schools, neighbourhood canvassing, participation in various neighbourhood activities, bringing “our families” to meetings, creating a Facebook group, etc.
  2. Community facilitation: particularly cultural and artistic facilitation (e.g., thought-provoking films, photo exhibits of people and backstreets in cafés, participation in days such as “resto” day, organization of a backstreet bocce club, even organization of a local festival in which local businesses could participate.
  3. Neighbourhood installation projects: e.g., close backstreets and carry out small installation projects to make the neighbourhood more appealing (e.g., installation of chairs in gardens)
  4. Development of a sharing economy: e.g., car sharing, community refrigerators and even a neighbourhood tool share.

Implementation

3. Selection and implementation of projects

Following the development of visions of a desirable future and the learning undertaken in the first two phases, the steering committee determined that it had to focus more on the substantive approach in order to promote the emergence of projects. The approach aimed at developing visions of a desirable future for the communities results in a substantive disconnect between initial project formulation and the effective joint construction by the community. This disconnect reveals the existence of social drivers of the ecological transition that should be theorized and further studied in the follow-up to the NMV project and other projects.
The participants from Masson Est established a neighbourhood committee that continues to mobilize to this day, whereas the participants from Bellechasse have continued to hold Wednesday exchanges to discuss community issues. It is worth asking whether such mobilization activities can go beyond what was intended and become part of an ecological transition and effort to address climate change.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

4. Evaluation and transfer
Four main learnings:

  1. The critical role of Solon Collectif as a mediator: Solon plays a mediation role from several different angles: between citizen participants and researchers, between the communities and the other project partners, between the process approach and the development of local projects, etc. This presence injects energy into the relationship between the stakeholders and is reassuring for all partners.
  2. The existence of three temporalities within the project: first, the participants’ time is counted as it is limited to evenings and weekends; second, the project time is structured by the phases of the procedural approach; third, the research time is perhaps the most irregular.
  3. The importance of adapting to the demands and needs of participants: the participants know how to identify very immediate problems in their community, e.g., safety and cleanliness, but they also reflect on issues of broader interest.
  4. The existence of social determinants of the ecological transition: the need for security and the desire for social connection and inclusion are such that a project can either be adopted by citizens (who feel a sense of ownership for it) or it can be simply rejected.

Next Steps

With the new funding that has recently been obtained and the lessons learned from the project, it will definitely be possible to include the project Nos milieux de vie! in the objectives of expanding and broadening that will afford the opportunity to promote the ecological transition of the communities of Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie and of the City of Montreal.

Resources

Link to Full Case study (in French only)