Montreal development part of Fitwel pilot project

IMAGE: Conceptual drawing showing the layout of the planned Quartier des lumieres district in Montreal, one of nine North American developments participating in a Fitwel Community pilot project. (Courtesy Group Mach)

Conceptual drawing showing the layout of the planned Quartier des lumières district in Montreal, one of nine North American developments participating in a Fitwel Community pilot project. (Courtesy Group Mach)

The planned Quartier des lumières neighbourhood in Montreal is one of nine on the continent — and the only one in Canada — participating in a Fitwel pilot project. 

MACH Group and Lemay architects are leading the 20-acre development in the Centre-Sud borough. They will help to lay the groundwork for a new international Fitwel Community certification. The user wellness pilot is being administered by the Center for Active Design (CFAD) in New York City.

Lemay is “already a tremendous partner to us as an organization, and a real leader in Fitwel and in implementing health promotion, design, and operation standards,” said CFAD president and CEO Joanna Frank.

The Montreal project was chosen for several reasons, including Lemay’s ongoing involvement with Fitwel. Frank said the firm has already utilized the Fitwel certification at scale prior to this pilot. 

Lemay architects a Fitwel champion

“They have one of only two three-star Fitwel projects in all of Canada,” Frank said.

She’s referring to Lemay’s Phenix project. The former warehouse has been transformed into an office and lab for sustainable practices.

It is the first project in Quebec to obtain Fitwel’s highest rating (the first is the BCI head office in Victoria). Lemay was also the first Canadian architecture and design firm to obtain the rating for one of its projects. 

Phenix is also owned by MACH, which owns or manages nearly 30 million square feet of commercial, industrial or residential properties in Québec. 

“So, there was already that kind of trust and existing knowledge of what Fitwel is and the evidence base, and the approach,” Frank said.

The new Fitwel Community standard is unique in promoting planning strategies with positive health impacts in seven categories: 

* Increasing physical activity;

* Promoting occupant safety;

* Reducing illness and absenteeism;

* Promoting social equity for vulnerable populations;

* Fostering feelings of well-being;

* Improving community health;

* Access to healthy food.

“It’s tremendously beneficial to work with pilot partners who already kind of speak our language and understand the origin story and the working of other scorecards,” said CFAD senior associate Bryan Ross.

“So, it just made it that much more practical from our point of view to partner with this group to test the new scorecard.”

Quartier des lumières features

The timeline for the Montreal project is roughly 10 years, said Lemay’s sustainability director Hugo Lafrance.

Pedestrian and cyclist connections will stand out within the Quartier des lumières, which will limit vehicular speeds and discourage truck traffic. The goal is to create a safe and peaceful place that builds community trust, social connections and civic involvement.

“We put a lot of focus on active transportation and all mobility issues,” said Lafrance.

This covers all aspects of design, including features such as benches “and furniture where you can rest, where you can park your bike,” and clear signage for points of interest and other useful information. 

The program prioritizes pedestrian and bicycle connections, access to quality public spaces and controlled densities to create an urban neighbourhood on a human scale.

Bike lanes and multi-use pathways will be prevalent.

“Once you arrive, it’s clear that you need to share the street with other users, whether it be walking, biking . . . ,” said Lafrance.

He said ensuring streets and alleys are safe and well-lit is another important design principle. The name of the project itself is a strong indicator of the emphasis in this area.

“The name of the project is Quartier des lumières so you would expect there’s some lights somewhere around,” said Lafrance.

Many trees, expansive parks

There is also emphasis on environmental harmony and social diversity. 

“Trees, lots of trees, giving a rhythm to the street, providing shade” will be “another way to contribute to the surrounding air quality in the neighbourhood,” Lafrance said. 

“More than 10 per cent of the site is going to be parks, so there’s two big parks in the neighbourhood because that was something that was lacking from the existing site.”

Quartier des lumières also includes large areas reserved for special projects involving social economy, community education and citizens’ groups.

A main park will provide an area of more than 56,000 square feet.

The project will also include the development of 1,000 social and affordable housing units, office space and residential components for a diversified clientele from students, young couples and families, to single and retired people.

The Fitwel pilot runs through the end of 2019.

“We’re really looking for and relying on our pilot users for their feedback in the implementation and practical application of the certification,” said Frank.

“So, with a new scorecard, like the community scorecard, we can provide the evidence base, we take that evidence base, we translate it into the design strategies.”

CFAD will publicly release the standards and scorecard for use through the portal in early 2020.

“Some of the projects will have gone all the way through to be certified in that time, and some of the pilot projects will be in the process of being certified,” said Frank. “But, we will have gone over all of that feedback to the point where we are confident about releasing the standard.”

IMAGE: The nine Fitwel Community pilot developments across North America. (Courtesy Fitwel)

The nine Fitwel Community pilot developments across North America. Click the link for a full-sized version of the map. (Courtesy Fitwel)

Other Fitwel pilot projects

* Lendlease’s Horizon Uptown, a 503-acre, mixed-use community in Aurora, Colo. It emphasizes pedestrian and bicycle connectivity, access to open space and community programming,.

* Camp North End in Charlotte, N.C., led by ATCO Properties. Breathing new life into a former Army base just outside the CBD, it is transforming former factories and warehouses into a district for innovation, creativity and community;

* Crosstown Concourse in Memphis, where non-profit Crosstown Arts and LRK Inc. teamed up to transform the shuttered Sears distribution centre into a vertical urban village;.

* The Farmer’s Co-Op site in Fayetteville, Ark., will be reimagined by Specialized Real Estate Group. It will become a mixed-use centre, connecting to a multi-use trail, creekside recreation and the city’s cultural arts corridor;

* The Heights District in Vancouver, Wash., led by the City of Vancouver, GGLO, and VIA. Transforming an underutilized mid-century mall site into a neighborhood center, weaving together parks and open space, streets, transit and other uses including mixed-income housing;

* One Paseo, in San Diego, led by Kilroy Realty. Providing a next-generation lifestyle centre with an emphasis on community spirit.

* The Plaza at Santa Monica in Santa Monica, Calif., by Clarett West and OMA. Reshaping a downtown block as a mixed-use community hub with specialty retail, cultural spaces and a public plaza.

* Silo City in Buffalo, by Generation Development Group. Reclaims an industrial grain silo complex for the city’s arts scene, offering sustainability focused, mixed-use, mixed-income, multigenerational housing on the banks of the Buffalo River.


Kelly is a freelance multimedia journalist in the Toronto area. Her daily news background includes TV, newspaper and digital (in that order). Kelly has also spent time in the classroom…

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Kelly is a freelance multimedia journalist in the Toronto area. Her daily news background includes TV, newspaper and digital (in that order). Kelly has also spent time in the classroom…

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