The Electric Pencil

Residents reclaiming The Point

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Residents of South West Montreal haven’t had it easy over the last few years when it comes to how the land in their neighbourhood is used. Fights against casinos, luxury condos and high-end shopping malls – all unaccessible to or unwanted by many residents – have marked the political and social landscapes.

Throughout it all, residents and community organisations have been putting forward their own counter-proposals, particularly in Pointe-St-Charles where the future of the CN Railyards has been especially contentious. While some community proposals are languishing at city council, particularly an extensive plan submitted by local organisation Action Gardien, some residents are taking action into their own hands.

Starting today, and lasting all weekend, the Carrefour d’Éducation Populaire de PSC (2356 Centre Street) will house the launch of Montreal’s first Autonomous Social Centre. The ASC is an lofty undertaking with the goal of providing community-run resources independent of the city and development corporations.

Throughout the weekend, residents of the neighbourood and Montrealers are invited to take part in Reclaim Your Point. Visitors will be able to take part in a plethora of programs and resources including a bike repair centre (and the launch of a free bike fleet), a community kitchen, an indymedia centre and a wide range of workshops on everything from dance and games to alternative ways of community organising. Tonight also features film screenings and tomorrow night there will be a parade from the centre to Café Paradoxe (255 Rue Ash, 8:30 pm) for a community cabaret featuring local acts, including personal favorites Swamp Sex Robots and the Gumboots.

As a weekend undertaking the event is impressive enough, but the goal is much higher. The next two and-a -half days mark the beginning of a year long campaign to establish a permanent space for the ASC. ASCs aren’t as common in North America, but have a rich history in other parts of the the world, including France and Italy. More often than not they are based on reclaimed spaces and squats, where residents, tired of waiting on local elected officials and of the commercial (instead of community) focused plans of developpers, take over an unused building and turn it into a centre providing for the needs of the neighbourhood.

This new ASC has the same goal for the Pointe-St-Charles nighbourhood and is focussing on unused buildings in the CN railyards. While a final location has not yet been picked, the group’s goal is to use this weekend’s event to kick-off a year long drive to gather broader community support so that, by next summer, the can establish a permanent space in one of the railyards many unused buildings.

I’ll be swinging by tomorrow and will have an update (hopefully with pictures) by the end of the weekend…

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