The Urban Forest, or Forêt urbaine, celebrates its 10th anniversary outside the McCord Museum in downtown Montreal this year. Each year, Victoria Street is refashioned into an imaginary pedestrian environment for the summer months. The urban oasis is the creation of Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Paula Meijerink, along with Melinda Hart and Jared Brocklehurst, who comprise the project's design team at WANTED landscape.
The Urban Forest is an initiative of the museum to broaden its audience and to continue its engagement with Canadian and Montreal social history. It is also a joint effort with the City of Montreal to support more engaged public spaces. The project raises awareness of urban density issues and the lack of green space and trees in the city center, and creates a place of cultural democratization dedicated to improving the quality of life of people living and working in this area.
"The design intent is to invoke a more permanent future transformation of the streetscape with 'nature,'" commented Meijerink, "and promote a programmatic diversity that implies a critique to the dominance of the car in the organization of the city."
The 2020 Urban Forest is a pivotal anniversary; it celebrates the project's tenth edition. This year's Urban Forest is also deeply affected by and engaged with the COVID-19 crisis. During the closing of all civic institutions and the abandoning of social encounters, the museum made it a priority to open the project as soon as the city granted permission. "As a celebration of the reopening of the city and of public life, this project provides a much-needed positive outlook for the city, and speaks to the essence of what is public space," Meijerink said.
Despite the project development challenges presented to the design team through remote collaboration, work-family conflicts, health concerns, and fluctuating governmental guidance, the project was open to the public on June 23rd and was well received. Additional project collaborators included the City of Montreal Arrondissement Centre-Ville, hART architecture, Suzanne Sauvage, and Maria Luisa Romano.
While the Urban Forest is usually heavily programmed, all organized events this summer are cancelled, with the notable exception of a Mohawk dance performance that occurred in mid-September. Open until October 4, 2020, the forest offers a unique wellness area in downtown Montreal, providing a temporary respite from daily responsibilities, a place to linger, to eat, and to talk. Over the last five years, the Urban Forest has received more than a million visitors.