Labo Climat Montréal

Launched in 2019, the Labo Climat Montréal project aims to understand, document and increase the integration of adaptation to climate change in the development and implementation processes of urban projects in Montreal, through the redevelopment of Lachine-Est, used as a case study.

The Labo Climat Montréal for the Lachine-Est project is part of the partnership between the City of Montreal and Ouranos. Following a call for projects issued by these two organizations, this Living Lab-inspired initiative aimed to collaboratively develop new urban project planning practices that integrate adaptation to climate change. This action-research was based on the case of Lachine-Est, an industrial brownfield undergoing redevelopment. The governance framework and planning practices were at the heart of this research. For 18 months, the project team observed, documented and led workshops, some of which were linked to the Atelier Lachine-Est concerted approach, in an attempt to develop an academic reflection and support adapted to the integration of climate change adaptation into this vast urban project involving a multitude of partners and stakeholders. The research reveals that stormwater management issues are taken into consideration in urban planning, while other climate change impacts, such as urban heat islands, are less often considered.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The Lachine-Est district is a former industrial area now composed of numerous abandoned buildings and underutilized contaminated lands. However, the presence of heritage buildings, its proximity to the historic downtown of Lachine and the Lachine Canal make it a subject of interest for the borough administration, the City of Montreal, as well as many local citizens and community groups. Studies are underway since 2004 to assess the redevelopment potential. In 2020, given the scope of the opportunities and challenges, the City of Montreal began using a concerted planning process. The City of Montreal and Ouranos have launched a call for projects to integrate adaptation to climate change for the implementation of a Living Lab-inspired research project aimed at understanding, documenting and increasing the integration of adaptation to climate change in the development processes of urban projects in Montreal, through the case of the redevelopment of Lachine-Est.

The specific objectives of the Labo Climat Montréal were to identify and act on issues related to coordination and expertise, and better clarify the choices related to climate adaptation throughout the process. The research group followed a 3-step iterative method:

Understanding current practices and their potential to leverage/constrain adaptation, the issues faced by professionals, and the governance context;

Experimenting by integrating new actors, expertise and ways of formulating the issues, at different moments of the urban project process;

Documenting exchanges on a continuous basis to ensure analysis and follow-up of the process, reflexivity of researchers and practitioners as well as the implementation of the lessons learned.

The Labo Climat Montréal worked in co-construction with planning stakeholders. The approach aimed to identify and act on 1) coordination between stakeholders; 2) expertise used in climate change adaptation, in the context of an urban project; and 3) clarification of adaptation choices.

Identifying Actions

During the process, the project team cross-referenced the results that emerged from the workshops with certain issues established by the scientific literature concerning the impacts of climate change. To feed this part of the process, the project group relied on the climate projections produced for the southern region of Quebec by Ouranos in 2015 regarding temperatures. The projections used are based on RCP4.5 (moderate emissions) and RCP8.5 (high emissions) scenarios. For precipitation projections, the group relied on a specific report produced by INRS, the City of Montreal and Ouranos, based on a RCP8.5 scenario. Two important themes stood out for the Lachine-Est sector, namely stormwater management and urban heat islands. These two issues are related to the built environment in Lachine-Est, which is a former industrial area with a high mineral content and a combined sewer system. Stormwater management in particular was studied in detail, with a portrait of the area, the existing infrastructures and an overview of their capacity to manage the more frequent torrential rain events. Constraints, such as different levels of regulation, environmental standards and the complexity of land ownership in the area were also analyzed and summarized to serve as reference material for exchanges during the planning process.

Finally, the project team looked at the issue of green infrastructure. This type of infrastructure has demonstrated its effectiveness in stormwater management, both in terms of volumes by allowing on-site retention and infiltration into the soil, and in the control of pollutants through phytotechnologies. In addition, green infrastructures can play a role in reducing urban heat islands through the canopy created by frequently planted trees. The issue of green infrastructure was addressed through both an extensive literature review and subsequent workshops. This work highlighted several barriers to the implementation of these infrastructures: lack of understanding of the concept of green infrastructure, lack of expertise and resources, lack of information for citizens, scale of implementation to small and inadequate planning tools.


The documentary research and literature review carried out in the first stage were enriched by the information shared by community stakeholders during the three workshops that were held from December 2019 to October 2020, in addition to the collaboration in workshops organized by the complementary initiative Atelier Lachine-Est, coordinated by the organization Concert’Action Lachine. Each Labo Climat workshop had specific objectives:

  • Workshop 1 aimed to develop relationships between participants to begin the process. It also aimed to initiate discussions about the projected climate hazards for Montreal, in the context of the urban project process.
  • Workshop 2 aimed to use the case of Lachine-Est to imagine the concrete impacts of climate change, with two scenarios of poorly adapted districts in 2035.
  • Workshop 3 aimed to reflect on the issues surrounding the implementation of new green infrastructures, particularly the consideration of their multifunctionality and ecosystem services in the context of climate change.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The research-action process has made it possible to identify certain findings on the integration of adaptation to climate change in the urban project process in Montreal. The living lab workshops and participation in planning and consultation practises enabled us to identify lessons learned for the planning of sustainable living environments. Concepts and new practices are being discussed: the pooling of infrastructures, the creation of resilient public places, planning within a shared project planning office structure and consultation workshops, the development of planning and regulatory tools that promote adaptation, while maintaining a certain flexibility. This process contributed to the development of interdepartmental collaborations and coordination between the City and its borough, which was strengthened with the creation of the Shared Project Office (Bureau de projet partagé) in March 2020.

From a local perspective, the workshops allowed for networking and knowledge sharing between City professionals and external stakeholders, which could foster future collaborations on other urban projects or in subsequent phases of the development of Lachine-Est. This process also resulted in the production of a wealth of documentation, both on the participation process and technical information on the Lachine-Est area. The technical information namely includes fact sheets on local climate hazards, reviews of scientific literature on the links between development and climate, fact sheets on the Living Lab method, as well as summaries of legal tools that allow municipalities to act on climate change.

Finally, Labo Climat Montréal was able to issue recommendations resulting from the process. Four of them concern a better integration of adaptation in the urban project process of the City of Montreal:

  • Integrate climate change into the collective assessment of the project’s relevance and constraints.
  • Include climate change during the study of different development scenarios.
  • Clarify the role of the private sector in the adaptation process, particularly in terms of urban planning regulations.
  • Ensure performance, ownership and resilience of green infrastructure.

Four additional recommendations were made specifically for climate change adaptation actions related to the district in question:

  • Implement a heat wave adaptation strategy for brownfields redevelopment and their surroundings.
  • Mobilize external institutional stakeholders for adaptation
  • Sustain interdepartmental collaboration and learning within the institutional structure.
  • Improve the fragmented governance of green infrastructure.

Next Steps

The project has completed its active phase and the research team is working on the dissemination of the results, in particular on the website created for the occasion. Different reports, summaries, as well as thematic summary sheets are published on this platform in order to share the learning developed during the living lab process. A book is also being prepared with some of the project partners, which is scheduled to be published in 2024.


Link to Full Case Study (in French only)