Urban conflicts and socio-territorial cohesion: consensus building and compromise in the Saint-Michel neighbourhood in Montreal.

Author:Trudelle, Catherine


Our research highlights the structuring effect of initiatives that mobilize social economy and community action resources with the aim of promoting the conversion of local spaces and the implementation of a dynamic of local development and socio-territorial inclusion. Using the case study of the establishment of La TOHU in the Saint-Michel neighbourhood in Montreal (Quebec, Canada), for which we conducted a literature review and an interview survey, we show how urban conflicts contributed to the construction of a cohesive environment. In the path taken by Saint-Michel, one of the most sensitive neighbourhoods in Canada, our conflict analysis sheds light on (1) the relationship between urban conflicts and legitimate representation for sites of consensus-building, (2) the importance of the instances allowing for debate and discussion between the various types of actors (social, business community, public) such as to generate strong coalitions centered on the social development of the local community and the improvement of the quality of life for citizens, and (3) the relationship between consensus-building among the actors and the development of compromises for the territory under study. The debates provoked by the conflicts thus allowed for the social construction of rallying points, which in turn promoted the reaching of compromises, in this case, the one leading to the establishment of La TOHU. However, although La TOHU was a success as a strategy of integration and socio-territorial connectivity, the roots of the borough's socio-economic problems have not been resolved: Saint-Michel is still a poor neighbourhood in which socio-territorial exclusion has not disappeared. Finally, the 2008 riots which took place in Montreal-North, an adjacent neighbourhood, point to an important direction to pursue in our continuing research on the role and place of conflicts in socio-territorial regulation: the analysis of ethnic riots and conflicts related to social integration.

Keywords: Urban conflicts, consensus-building, compromise, socioterritorial innovation, socioterritorial inclusion, social cohesion


Nos travaux mettent en lumiere l'effet structurant des initiatives qui mobilisent des ressources de l'economie sociale et de l'action communautaire en vue d'assurer une reconversion des espaces locaux et de mettre en place des dynamiques de developpement local et d'inclusion socioterritoriale. A l'aide de l'etude de cas de l'etablissement de la TOHU (1999) dans le quartier Saint-Michel a Montreal, pour laquelle nous avons mene une recension des ecrits et une enquete par entrevues, nous montrons comment les conflits urbains ont participe a la construction d'un milieu cohesif. Dans la trajectoire de developpement de Saint-Michel, l'un des quartiers les plus sensibles au Canada, l'analyse des conflits donne a voir (1) le rapport entre conflits urbains et legitimation de la representativite dans les lieux de concertation, (2) l'importance des instances permettant le debat et la discussion entre les divers types d'acteurs (sociaux, milieux des affaires, publics) de facon a generer des coalitions fortes centrees sur le developpent social de la collectivite locale et sur l'amelioration de la qualite de vie des citoyens et (3) le rapport entre la concertation entre les acteurs et le developpement de compromis sur le territoire a l'etude, car les debats provoques par les conflits permettent la construction sociale de points de ralliement, lesquels favorisent le developpement de compromis tel celui ayant conduit a l'etablissement de la TOHU. Cependant, meme si en tant que strategie d'integration et de connectivite socioterritoriale, la TOHU est une reussite, il n'en demeure pas moins que les problemes socioeconomiques ne sont pas resolus a la base : Saint-Michel demeure un quartier pauvre d'ou l'exclusion socioterritoriale n'est pas disparue. Enfin, a la lumiere des emeutes de Montreal-Nord (2008), quartier adjacent, une piste de recherche importante se degage de nos travaux pour continuer notre reflexion sur le role et la place des conflits dans la regulation socioterritoriale : l'analyse des luttes autour d'enjeux ethniques et des conflits lies a l'integration sociale.

Mots cles: conflits urbains, consensus, compromis, innovation socioterritoriale, inclusion, cohesion sociale


In the context of social diversification and of restructuring of urban spaces, the relationships between civil society and the government evolve continually, as demonstrated by the experiences of local collectivities adapting to globalization (Fontan et al. 2005). Social inequalities and increasingly complex territorial dynamics lead to more frequent conflicts. These conflicts often become particularly intense in the metropolitan areas, due to the diverging interests and values of the diversity of actors there.

However, in certain circumstances, urban conflicts contribute to the implementation of place-specific forms of conflict resolution and to the creation of compromises and local governance. Our research highlights the structuring effect of initiatives that promote the conversion of local spaces and a dynamic of local development and socio-territorial inclusion through the mobilization of resources from the social economy and community action (1) (Tremblay et al. 2009; Klein et al. 2009a). Using the case study of the Saint-Michel neighbourhood in Montreal (Quebec, Canada), we show how urban conflicts contributed to the construction of an inclusive local governance.

We will further demonstrate that this reconfiguration of regulatory measures at the local scale draws from two main types of actions. The first is linked to collective conflict actions opposing a local population to public and private bodies. The second is linked to land revitalization actions that rally a variety of internal and external actors of the territory. The case study of the establishment of the Cite des arts du Cirque (or La TOHU) (2) in Montreal's Saint-Michel neighbourhood allows us to understand the role played by conflicts in a phase of identity reconstruction of the territory. We shall see that the integration of La TOHU, in fact an external project, into the social fabric of the neighbourhood demonstrates the capacity of the actors to adopt a project and to turn it into an asset for the local community. As we shall see, this capacity is the result of a decade of conflict and collective learning.

Our article unfolds in three stages. First, we describe our case study and specify our sources of theoretical inspiration, namely, urban regimes, collective action, and neo-institutionalism. We show that the combination of those approaches allows for an adequate reading of the conflicts marking the formation of this neighbourhood at the institutional level, including its capacity to generate regulatory schemes for strengthening the local community. Second, we present the methodology. In a third step, we examine, for the neighbourhood under study, the evolution of the different waves of conflicts that allowed for the creation of an environment amenable to the establishment of a major cultural project. In particular, we show that social conflicts have contributed to the cohesion and the development of partnerships between the local actors and the external actors, but that consensus-building does not come about on its own, requiring, rather, constant pressure and involvement from the representatives of the Saint-Michel community.

The effects of conflict on urban governance

The long process that shaped the social environment leading to the integration of La TOHU into the Saint-Michel neighbourhood was marked by conflicts and compromises (Figure 1). Our analysis of this process is based on a paradigm that sees power as a set of complex power relations in which public, private, and social actors form alliances or confront each other as they define strategic orientations that represent the interests of the coalitions and the compromises resulting therefrom. Here, confrontation leads to compromises which (re)build themselves from within the organizations constituting the environment as well as from the relations between those organizations. Moreover, compromise here refers to a macro-sociological regulation, both in its social and, in particular, its political dimension. Compromise is seen as linked to the co-existence of actors as well as the forms of exchange and social transactions. Lastly, as a keystone of community life, compromise can be understood as a practice that is normal, regular, and likely to prevent or end conflict and disagreement (Nachi 2004) as the actors agree to meet somewhere in the middle. Given these characteristics, compromises could facilitate the implementation of territorialized forms of governance. The different social groups and interest groups each carve out a place for themselves in order to take part in decision-making concerning the management and development of territories before the territorial administrative bodies (cities, boroughs), including spaces they feel personally attached to (e.g., a neighbourhood or living environment). Social conflicts are often coupled with territorial conflicts, and sometimes with ethnic conflicts, which then leads to disputes over the legitimacy of a territorial claim.


Governance can be regarded as the social dimension of regulation in the sense of the "regulation school," whose systems theory approach is inclusive of all actors and is not limited to the formal government sphere (Boyer and Saillard 2002). Governance includes the contribution of civil society to the definition of development strategies and the overall steering of society. While other approaches contribute to the understanding of urban, political economics and social dynamics, urban regime theory appears to be the most appropriate method for analyzing the role of many stakeholders participating in governance. According...

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