Reach the beach!

Water's Edge, St-Anne-de-Bellevue, at the Western tip of the Island of Montréal

I took this picture several years ago as part of series I took in and around John Abbott College, a CEGEP, or state-funded post-secondary community college, I attended between 2002 and 2004, at the western tip of Montréal. The town of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue is an independent community whose population swells considerably from September through May during the school year. It’s a key component of the culture and society of Montreal’s West Island, a massive traditionally Anglophone though multi-cultural suburb west of the City of Montréal. Of the dozen or so communities which constitute the West Island, St-Anne’s is a very particular place, about as distinct from the rest as one could imagine. During the summer, it is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and a pleasant escape . I’ve often wondered what it would take for the town to reclaim its former status as a sort of micro-resort. Indeed, back before the Second World War, most of the north shore of Lac-St-Louis was lined with vacation homes and lakeside cottages. As the suburbs developed thanks to better, more efficient transit infrastructure in the post-war period, many of these homes became prized jewels for the suburban upper-class. So, to an extent, the transformation from country-escape to wealthy suburb has been successful in that the aesthetic character of the suburb is reminiscent of rural settings. But increased human traffic and pollution has lead to a loss of the West Island’s once-famous and well-frequented beaches.

So what would it take to get them back?

Lac-St-Louis is notoriously polluted, thanks primarily to years of dumping raw-sewerage directly into the Saint-Lawrence River and having it collect in this pond of a lake. Massive water-treatment plants in addition to the construction of new beaches and wetlands would be necessary to restore the lakeside eco-systems so heavily damaged by years of mis-use.

I find it odd in general that Montréalers could be so cognizant of the raw natural beauty of this island so as to build massive parks to protect it, and then drive several hours north on congested highways to escape it. If only we better recognized and understood the value of having clean natural wilderness nearby. A start would be to clean the lakes and rivers around the city, and though the process would be long and costly, the potential economic benefit of a “Montréal-as-Eco-Resort”  development program could lead to less volatility and higher general sustainability for Montréal’s tourism economy. And all of this is aside from just awesome it would be to live in a major city with clean beaches on a freshwater lake 20 mins from the Downtown.

I think St-Anne’s could use a re-branding of sorts. It is spectacularly beautiful at all times of the year, and benefits (tourism-wise) not only from two colleges (with dorms), but a massive veteran’s hospital, an arboretum, an eco-museum, marina, adjacent golf courses and the spooky remnants of Fort Senneville, the former veterans hospital and a very old church. The concentration of unique cultural and societal institutions and artifacts in this area means there’s plenty to do and see, and yet the community has struggled with a recent dip in tourism dollars.

So there it is – Montréal should think about making itself an Eco-tourism destination sans pareil, and an on-island resort community in St-Anne’s ought to be the jewel in the crown. Take the 211 from Lionel-Groulx and see it for yourself.

Where’s the pork? New bus shelter to cost 16k per unit!

Proposal for new bus-shelter design

Andy Riga of the Montréal Gazette reports on the STM’s new design for bus-shelters, part of the transit society’s new, and so far successful, branding and design campaign. However, each new bus stop, and the current figure is 400, will cost 14-16 thousand dollars per, with the total project costing somewhere in the area of 14 million. This project is supposed to be implemented by 2013, which means there must be a degree of modularity and/or production-line assembly if they’re to be installed so quickly. The last design cost 6-8 thousand per, though they were admittedly simpler. The new ones are to come complete with motion-sensor lighting, electronic display screens, anti-graffiti treatments and, perhaps best of all, sleek, modern design, worthy of our UNESCO City of Design status. There will be no heating installed, which makes me wonder how these bus stops are as expensive as a small car. Moreover, at prices like this, it makes me think perhaps the cost is inflated, an indication of our province and city’s never-ending problem with getting ripped off by unions, the construction industry, other levels of government, or any combination of the three.

Personally, I like the design, and the features of each stop, though for the price I would hope we’d be able to get more than 400 built. Now, if the 14 million dollar price-tag is paying for the project to be completed on-time – that is by 2013 – I’d have to grudgingly accept its probably worth it.

But that I’m suspicious of a potential inflated cost and, further, that part of the cost may simply be insurance that the project comes in on-time, reminds me that this city has a problem sustaining development. The list of stalled, delayed, and defunct projects in this city is long and growing, and it ultimately rests with the voting public to insist on self-correction. If not, the paralysis of inertia may swallow us whole.

On purely aesthetic grounds though, I have to say well-done. Not outstanding, but superior to what we currently have. Unfortunately, a bus-shelter is hardly an artistic statement, and I think the STM knows that despite the potential for an aesthetic justification of cost.

A modest proposal { No.2 }

Biosphere in Winter

This is the former American Pavilion, designed by Buckminster Fuller for Expo 67. See this site Рperhaps the best Expo 67 website ever created, an excellent resource. Currently, it is the location of the Biosphere of Montr̩al, an Environment Canada museum dedicated to the ecology of the St-Lawrence River Valley.

Originally, the geodesic dome was covered by an acrylic skin, which burned off in an amazing fire (no one was hurt). Fuller had the idea that perhaps large tracts of city could be placed under massive geodesic domes so as to trap pollution within, filtering it out through special ventilation systems which would clean the polluted air before releasing it into the atmosphere. As you can well imagine, such domes would trap greenhouse gases within, so if they implemented this on a larger scale in Montréal, well, winter wouldn’t be such a pain in the ass now would it?

The American Pavilion aflame, 1976

The question that needs to be asked is: should the Biosphere get its skin back? And/or – should we build a dome to cover a part of the city, perhaps a large residential area close to the downtown, and create an artificial environment within? Fuller had some far out ideas for how we should re-organize our lifestyles to anticipate future environmental concerns, and I’d have to recommend Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth as an excellent example of very avant-garde thinking. The effects of our poor long-term environmental planning are starting to manifest themselves, and any move to counter-act the carbon footprint of a major city would be a step in the right direction. And hell, if we built a large dome, people would notice, people would come and visit and ask us for help in building their own. I mean, who’s building gigantic geodesic domes these days? It’d be something…

Expo 67 was a very modernist exhibition of solutions to environmental and design problems discovered over the course of the twentieth century, and the American Pavilion was preserved because of the statement it made – solutions for future problems exist now, and people can orient themselves towards the future in order to anticipate and better react to what’s coming.

So, the second modest proposal Рbuild a geodesic dome over a part of Montr̩al, and create an artificial biosphere within. Demonstrate in no uncertain terms how such a construction can reduce the local carbon footprint, and give our citizens a tropical place we can escape to when its -30 C!