Rebuilding Memories, Projecting Utopia in Lac-Megantic Reconstruction

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 8:50 AM
Room: 313+314
Oral Presentation
Yona JÉBRAK , University of Québec in Montréal, Montreal, QC, Canada
On July 6th 2013, a train carrying crude oil derailed in downtown Lac-Mégantic, a town of about 6,000 located in the Estrie region. The industrial accident caused a series of explosions, killing 47 people. The fire destroyed almost half of the main street and affected the surrounding residential areas. The disaster created an acute awareness of Quebec cities vulnerability to industrial risks. On one hand, it launched a debate among planners, business groups and other decision-makers on how to deal with still-in-use train tracks crossing densely populated areas. On the other hand, many questions remained on how to maintain sustainable local economies that relay very much on the presence of the railroad system. Reconstruction plans were laid out within weeks of the disaster, proposing to redevelop a new commercial area, and creating a memorial ground where once stood the destroyed buildings. The community seemed absent of the debate, seen rightfully as a victim of events, and yet not perceived as an actor of the reconstruction process. The destruction of the urban fabric of Lac-Mégantic raises issues of collaborative resilience and participatory planning: cities are spaces of the every day, of belonging. Studies have shown that connecting social and cultural resiliency to planning and policy can generate a stronger collective capacity in decision-making. The loss of space called for an affective response that traditional Canadian planning is sometimes overlooking. This communication proposes to discuss the use of cognitive maps as a methodological tool that can be used in understanding how people perceive their environment, the lost one, the one that is being lived in and the one that will be built. It will analyse how they can highlight the construction of overlapping narratives that can contribute to the resilience process, and how it can potentially be used in the reconstruction process.