Transcription of a TED talk delivered by Dimitrios Roussopoulos
This is my neighborhood – Milton Parc – where we decided to take on a major speculator who bought, over a number of years, a six-block area in the downtown of the city. They wanted to expand the center of the city towards the north, to demolish the whole neighborhood, to completely destroy that whole area and to build the so-called “city of the 21st century”.
We saved the whole neighborhood by saying NO. And how did we say no: over eleven year period we squatted, we had demonstrations, we had public information center sessions, we occupied the offices of the developer, we were arrested. I was one of the 59 people who were arrested. We were taken to jail. We had a magnificent trial where we brought tremendous experts before us and we were found not guilty. We were not found guilty because the jury decided that we had the perfect right to fight to save our neighborhood.
We created the largest nonprofit cooperative housing project in North America, consisting of 642 housing units with over a thousand residents being democratic participants in the project. What is also significant about this project is that we own the land in common. There’s no private ownership and therefore there’s no speculation. It is not possible to buy and sell property within the six block area.
We set an example in Montreal, in Canada, and in North America of what people power can do and it is recognized as a major accomplishment because it is encapsulated within a democratic sensibility of citizen participation. Can you imagine having Assemblies of many hundreds of people participating in the urban planning of their environment, of the use of green spaces, of issues of traffic circulation, of quality of housing and so on and so forth? All of that was made possible by the development of a sense of democratic citizenship and participation.
As these ideas grew we began influencing our city administration. We established this very important institution – the Urban Ecology Center in the center of the Milton Parc area. We influenced the city to adopt the Montreal charter of rights and responsibilities, which recognizes the human rights that we have within our own city: what are our rights in the area of housing, of transportation, of democratic participation, of water, of culture, of social activities, of environmental policies. All of that is a law and has now been celebrated by UNESCO. It has been duplicated in Mexico City, in Gwangju, and other cities throughout the world. There are world summits now that take place around the whole idea of citizen rights and responsibilities.
All this is very illustrative of the fact that Montreal has set an example that is now being duplicated elsewhere and it has affected society in general. It has radiated outwards this democratic desire for people to take their destiny into their own hands.
For further reading on the topic check the book Villages in Cities: Community Land Ownership, Cooperative Housing, and the Milton Parc Story (edited by Dimitrios Roussopoulos & Josh Hawley, published by Black Rose Books 2019).