Over the past 25 years, there have been major changes in the way that residents of Montreal choose to live and work. The most recent census, in 2016, showed that the number of people commuting within Montreal’s city core fell by 47.4% between 1996 and 2016 but that traditional commutes (from the suburbs into the city core) and reverse commutes (from the city core outward) grew by 47.3% and 48.8%, respectively.
Increasing numbers of Montreal residents are opting to live separately from where they work. Real estate developments have followed these trends and sought to provide residents with increased flexibility, particularly when it comes to transportation.
A new market trend called transit-oriented development (TOD) aims to create sustainable housing communities with a unique lifestyle centered around access to public transportation, a variety of residential options, offices, and shops.
Devimco, a major real estate developer in the province of Quebec, is currently working on Solar Uniquartier, a major TOD project that leverages Devimco’s experience in the area developing communities woven into transportation systems.
One example is District Griffin, which is located in the trendy downtown neighborhood of Grifftintown. While not technically a TOD project by itself, it is one of Devimco’s developments that united a large number of services, parks, and transportation options. At the same time, Devimco created Dix30, a commercial project in Montreal’s suburban South Shore with 200 shops, a cinema, a hotel, and a spa.
Solar Uniquartier launched in 2016 and seeks to take the retail offerings of Dix30 in the suburbs and pair them with residential and office buildings to create a walkable community with links to a reliable public transportation structure—a combination that you might expect to see closer to the city center.
Increasing transportation options
Solar Uniquartier’s location at the intersection of Autoroutes 10 and 30 provides easy access for drivers, but public transportation is a major consideration. Recent census data also showed that Montreal had the highest increase in traditional commuters using public transportation, growing from 38% in 1996 to 58% in 2016.
The commitment to public transportation is best demonstrated by the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM), a new public mega-transit project in Quebec launched in 2018, which will be a 100% electric, driverless light rail network with 26 stations across Montreal and 67 kilometers (41.64 miles) of tracks adapted to the Canadian winters. The Nobel Condominiums, one of the main towers being developed in Solar Uniquartier, will be directly connected to the REM by a footbridge.
The transit system will link downtown Montreal, the South Shore, West Island, the North Shore, Montreal-Trudeau International Airport, and three major stations connected to the city metro lines. The first trains are expected to start running in 2022, and other sections will be gradually put into service from 2022 to 2024. Construction is underway and has progressed to an advanced stage for the South Shore section.
The convenience of public transportation, savings on gas and travel time, and the environmental benefits are all expected to attract residents. The REM will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 680,000 tons over 25 years of its operation.
Diversified approach to residential units and retail
Devimco’s strategy for residential and commercial spaces provides a good fit for many different needs and for residents looking to either rent or own.
The Nobel Condominiums tower has 275 condominiums elevated above the commercial basilica area, targeting professionals working in downtown Montreal who don’t own cars or don’t want to drive to work. Oria Condominiums will add 400 units in two phases and will create townhouses surrounded by gardens and parks, perfect for families with kids.
For rentals, the Lumeo Apartments complex provides 248 one- to three-bedroom apartments facing a large park. Many utilities are included in the rent, such as electricity and heating, as are essential features like in-unit washer and dryer, stove, fridge, dishwasher, and microwave. The building has many amenities, like a swimming pool and gym, making this an easy choice for those seeking fuss-free fitness.
Devimco is also taking advantage of the mixed-use and easily walkable Solar Uniquartier community by incorporating apartments for seniors. Éolia Appartements will offer rentals for residents age 55 and older. With access to indoor and outdoor community activities and amenities as well as proximity to services and public transportation, Solar Uniquartier is expected to make life easier and more enjoyable for residents.
In total, over 1,400 units for rent or sale are expected to become available in the near future.
Offices are embedded in the various towers of the development and include a variety of floor plan sizes. Devimco is attracting companies, their own workers, and additional residents by locating shops, restaurants, schools, and day cares nearby, and the goal of the commercial development is to provide local neighborhood services, such as cleaners, hairdressers, bakeries, and cafes. Tenants will be able to access a high quality of life and develop a strong sense of living within an actual community.
COVID-19 and changing transportation habits
The Canadian Census of Population is conducted every five years, and 2021 may reveal how much has changed in the past year.
A survey conducted by researchers at HEC Montréal showed that Canadians are wary of using public transportation during the pandemic and intend to use personal vehicles instead. The authors note that buses may still be preferred over subways because there is no need to wait indoors to ride, suggesting that light rail may not be as affected.
A Statistics Canada report from June 2020 noted that 42% of public transit users in Canada switched to telework, and 74% of public transit users are concerned about using public transit.
Although many towers in Solar Uniquartier are still under construction, the development perhaps provides a model for future communities. Situated in the suburbs with connections to both expressways and public transportation, with easy access to the city center, it seems well aligned with changes in transportation trends. In addition, increased remote work opportunities could draw residents looking to escape the crowding while maintaining access to commercial services.
Residential developers and property managers will need to continue focusing on tenant needs and shifts in the larger underlying trends as they strive to create the best living experience.