A clever website brings Montreal’s diverse eco-projects together for everyone to see. It makes it easy for citizens to get involved
A clever website brings Montreal’s diverse eco-projects together for everyone to see, making it easy for citizens to get involved
There is plenty of wild in the city, and that
wildlife can be nearby. It’s not just the squirrels and raccoons we share our streets and parks with, the butterflies in the garden or the birds that effortlessly soar above our congested traffic. (Oh, to travel as the crow flies during rush hour.) More exotic creatures like deer, fox, coyotes and more can also be spotted, merely by paying attention to abandoned lots, roadside gullies and cemeteries.
No, it is not hard to find nature in the city. In reality, for conservationist urbanites, the greater challenge in any Canadian city is finding other like-minded lovers of nature and wildlife. There are so many city-dwellers who are passionate about making a difference — people who are getting out and pursuing their passions right there in the city. But how and where do they connect? How do you discover the big and small conservation projects? How do people get involved?
In 2016, a Montreal group launched biopolis.ca. Today, the website is, to use their words, a dynamic “reference tool that adapts to current issues and needs.” They define their objectives thusly: to connect urban biodiversity stakeholders, to share knowledge and projects, and to communicate, inform and promote initiatives. Working from the galvanizing principle that nature is facing existential threats from the harm to habitat, overexploitation, pollution, invasive species, all occurring under the foreboding reality of climate change, biopolis.ca aims “to encourage and inspire initiatives that will address these issues and challenges.” Judging by what you can find by logging on to their site now, they have started well.
Unlike many nature-oriented sites, the look is more urban than rural, sleek and modern with large images and minimal copy. The site is divided into nine sections focused on central topics geared to different audiences: best practices and innovation; ecosystem services; education and awareness; green infrastructure, habitats and connectivity; invasive alien species; soil; species diversity and conservation; urban agriculture; and water. In each section, the visitor is offered an introductory overview of the topic and an exploration of what it might mean in the urban context.
It doesn’t stop there. What follows is inspiring. Under each heading, the website offers a listing and description of projects currently underway around the Island of Montreal. There are a lot of them, some underway for some years, others brand new, each with enough information for the wannabe activist to get involved. For example, under green infrastructure, you can learn about Vertical, an innovative rooftop project launched nine months ago exploring food production technologies and techniques. Or, under species diversity and conservation, you can learn about protecting and surveying common tern colonies on small rocky islands in the St. Lawrence River, just offshore from the Montreal boroughs of Verdun and Lasalle.
This sort of information for too long has been hiding in plain sight. The fact is that in cities across Canada, many people are undertaking important grassroots projects that their fellow travellers never know about. This website addresses that very problem for Montrealers. An interactive city map catalogues and profiles the projects, enabling anyone to see what is occurring right in their neighbourhood or across town. Beginning to get involved then becomes as simple as walking by and taking a look, or just dropping an email to find out about the next meeting.
But listing current projects is only one access point to engagement. To encourage uptake and action, biopolis.ca offers help getting started. There are resources for how to set up your community’s project, from academic articles and city reports to plans and how-to guides. It is familiar material largely, but useful. For those ready to commit, the site lobs a few key questions you need to answer for yourself before embarking. There are also useful startup hacks. Equally central to the site’s raison d’être, when a new local group is functioning, it will register with biopolis.ca and become part of the city-wide web of opportunities for action.