Reimagining carports as tools for food security: the first regulatory experimentation supported by the LICER

Led by AU/LAB and the Carrefour solidaire Centre communautaire d’alimentation, this project is aimed at increasing access to quality, locally grown food. Their approach is original: carports (car shelters) are converted into greenhouses! As LICER’s project lead, the Maison de l’innovation sociale (MIS) is interested in the regulatory implications of occupying public space this way during the winter season. By studying how the project functions within an existing regulatory framework, LICER can identify factors that will enable the permanent implementation and scaling up of these types of innovative urban agricultural practices.

Photo credit: Maxime Lapostolle

Converting use: producing food with carports

LICER examines the regulatory implications of the winter greenhouse project led by AU/LAB in collaboration with the Carrefour solidaire CCA. Together, they combine their expertise to keep the Promenade des saveurs, a collective garden, active during the winter by setting up passive solar greenhouses.

On October 12, 2021, the group began the work of transforming carports into passive solar greenhouses. The greenhouses are “passive” because they don’t require heat from artificial sources; rather, they are designed to capture and store solar heat.

Photo credit: Maison de l’innovation sociale (MIS)

The testing phase of the greenhouse prototypes will continue until March 2022, which will extend the fall growing season and provide a head start on spring seedlings, and thus the potential of year-round urban vegetable growing will be fully explored.

This research-action approach has a variety of outcomes, not least of which is learning about agronomy. Data will be collected to identify the best conditions for urban winter greenhouses and how well they perform. This will allow us to acquire more knowledge, for example, on plant production in passive greenhouses during the winter in Montréal. We will also find out what temperatures can be reached inside a polycarbonate carport, and the impact of energy efficient measures, like using snow for thermal insulation and semi-transparent coverings to protect crops.

In addition to its agri-food aspect, this experiment features another equally important element, which is the educational potential of the Promenade des saveurs. As an “edible” pedestrian street in the summer, the objective is to keep it active during the winter as a window onto urban agricultural experimentation. To facilitate this, we are working in collaboration with Sid Lee to design signage and a pedestrian pathway that will provide access to information, give greater visibility to this ground-breaking project, and educate the public on the beneficial impact it has on food security issues.

Photo credit: Maxime Lapostolle

The experiment: a matter of urban agriculture and regulatory innovation

LICER is committed to identifying the regulatory barriers and facilitators of its winter urban greenhouse initiative and to advise on ways of adapting regulatory processes for innovative projects that target socio-ecological objectives.

In addition to AU/LAB’s goal of democratizing urban greenhouses, LICER is interested in the potential of occupying public space with innovative socio-ecological projects. Public space occupancy permits are usually granted on a seasonal basis for summer-usage structures. LICER’s objective is to explore regulatory interventions that would allow the continued alternative use of roadways, for example during the winter months. To do this, LICER’s work must address the impact of public space occupancy on different aspects of the regulatory environment. One example is obtaining a regulatory variance on the extent of curb-side space occupied by a given piece of equipment (in this case the greenhouse). Although a variance was obtained for the passive greenhouse experiment, LICER is looking to address the sticking point between current rules and the regulatory needs of the project. In fact, LICER’s approach aims to inform the regulatory body on how it could be more flexible, and thus accommodate and maintain innovative projects like these more easily.

Another regulatory aspect to consider is the impact of the project on the role of different municipal entities. For example, the greenhouse installation had to take place in consultation with the Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal (fire prevention inspection service) to ensure the City could maintain quick access to the site at all times, and other borough services to plan for snow clearance and street parking.

By documenting the kinds of regulatory obstacles and opportunities brought up by the AU/LAB and Carrefour solidaire CCA’s winter greenhouse project, LICER seeks to create space to test and evaluate adaptations to the regulatory framework before they are applied. The experiment also hopes to scale up and to transfer skills and knowledge to other public stakeholders and project leaders. LICER works to support collective learning and regulatory flexibility in order to better respond to the needs of innovative projects that have the potential to support and accelerate Montréal’s socio-ecological transition.

Photo credit: Maison de l’innovation sociale (MIS)

Better innovation through experimenting

Upheavals caused by today’s social and environmental issues force us all to act now to maintain and improve our living environments. These new priorities involve re-evaluating existing regulatory frameworks to encourage the growth and sustainability of socio-ecological projects. LICER provides the means and the space to test and support innovative approaches, while ensuring these meet the needs of Montrealers.

This is why we’re planning a community feedback session that will gauge the level of public interest in these types of experiments in the spring of 2022! If you live in Montreal and would like to participate, register here. We’ll get in touch with you soon.


To learn more about the people behind the winter urban greenhouse project? Check out AU/LAB and the Carrefour solidaire CCA websites.

LICER was initiated by Montréal in Common, an innovation community founded as part of the Smart Cities Challenge. It is managed by the Maison de l’innovation sociale (MIS) in collaboration with the Cité-ID Living Lab of the École nationale d’administration publique (ENAP) and Dark Matter Labs. 

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