Gorilla Park is situated on a disused railway track: an irregular shaped parcel of post-industrial land located in Montreal’s Marconi-Alexandria neighbourhood. The neighbourhood is commonly referred to as Mile-Ex.1
As Mary Sprague and Norma Rantisi (2019) explain, the Mile-Ex neighbourhood is a small inner-city industrial and residential enclave. In contrast to other formerly industrial hubs in Montreal, Mile-Ex was once home to a mix of small and medium-sized industries located near residential streets. Following a period of disinvestment (the closure of factories) and depopulation between the 1980s and the early 2000s, factories and blue-collar jobs gave way to architecture studios, office buildings, and an influx of creative techs in this area of the city (ibid.). The city of Montreal began to envision Mile-Ex as a creative hub, adopting a more active role in guiding a ‘state-led’ gentrification process and urban beautification schemes that physically modified this neighbourhood’s built environment (ibid., 315).
In 2013, Les Amies du Parc des Gorilles, a collective of concerned neighbours and stakeholders living and working in this part of the city, emerged in response to the illegal removal of fifty trees on the site by Olymbec, a real-estate developer that had previously bought the terrain from Canadian Pacific Railway. Olymbec was issued a $500 fine, and the city borough implemented a land reserve that legally protected the sale of the land for future development (Corriveau 2017). In 2015, the Les Amies du Parc des Gorilles established itself as a registered non-profit organisation, with the mission to operate as an intermediary between the Rosemont Petite-Patrie borough of Montreal and the Marconi-Alexandra community in the process of transforming the site into a park. The organisation’s mission and objectives are to contribute to, coordinate, and maintain the greening of the Marconi-Alexandra sector, paying attention to community needs while keeping the wild character of the site. Its values draw from notions of social ecology, interdependence, power decentralisation, collective autonomy, and local participation. Before the land reserve expired in May 2017, and after failed negotiations with Olymbec, the borough expropriated the terrain on 13 March 2017. The decision to expropriate the land was in line with the city’s plans for the site, as outlined in the 2013 PDDUES (Plan de Développement Urbain, Economique, et Social) for the Marconi-Alexandra Sector, and responded – at least partially – to the political pressure by community mobilisation spearheaded by Les Amies du Parc des Gorilles.2
In addition to community collectives such as Les Amies, Montreal-based academics and university researchers 3 also became involved with imagining Gorilla Park’s future as an urban park through organising community consultations and co-design initiatives with local stakeholders.
We knew when we started to engage with Gorilla Park that the site’s indeterminacy mobilised community activists and local stakeholders to make public their concerns for the site’s future. But, for us, building a contextual map of the site also meant looking at its peripheries. Relatively new to the neighbourhood, surrounding tenants like Element AI, MILA, and Microsoft have drastically changed the urban landscape in a way that is relatively undetectable. The arrival of these corporate tenants has instigated a different type of ‘invisible’ gentrification, both in terms of their deep-pocket capabilities and their far-reaching technological aims.
1 Branded by real estate developers to combine the adjacent neighbourhoods of Mile-End and Parc-Extension.
2 For example, the collective released a video on Facebook in early 2017 calling on City officials to ‘act now or never’. The video can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/LesAmisDuParcDesGorilles/videos/636950959835569/
3 See, for example, ‘Mobility Pilot Project; Gorilla Park: A Sustainability Project for All’ (De la Llata and others 2020).