Perspective on the City {No. 11} – the Bickerdyke Pier

The Bickerdyke Pier during its Expo 67 heyday - not the work of the author

I can’t get enough of this picture.

From this perspective we see the Bickerdyke Pier in its Expo 67 glory. In the foreground is Habitat 67 with the assembly crane from Dominion Bridge Co. which demonstrated the work-in-progress aspect of Habitat, a big kick for visitors. Behind Habitat are the Man and the Community and Man and his Health pavilions, Labyrinthe, the Olympic House, Québec Industries Pavilion, the launch site for the Expo Hovercraft, the International Commerce pavilion, the Hospitality Centre and Man and his Music. Key arts and media pavilions were located next to the Place d’Acceuil (the building just above the middle of the pic, with the tent-like roof, next to the stadium with the train-line running out of it); including the Photography and Industrial Design pavilion, the Art Gallery, the Expo Theatre, the International Broadcasting pavilion and the News and Administration pavilion. The Art Gallery is now used by Lotto-Québec, while the theatre has since become Mel’s Cité-du-Cinéma and the Administration pavilion is now used by the Cité-du-Havre Corporation. Condos now stand where the Man and his Community and Labyrinthe pavilions once stood, while the Corby Distillery and a Canada Post sorting facility occupy the former site of the Autostade, which in turn occupied the site of the former Goose Village. Near the top right corner of the picture, you can see the vast parking lot built on land created by piling massive quantities of garbage along the shoreline and then paving it over. After its brief tenure as a parking lot, this space was then transformed into the Victoria STOLport, a short-take-off-and-landing airport similar to Toronto’s Billy Bishop serving a largely business and political crowd. The idea never really ‘took-off’ as it were, and the site was then developed into the Montréal Technoparc, one of at least three I can think of in this city.

As you look down the length of the jetty you’ll notice the Expo Express train and the station near Habitat 67. Consider that this space would have been Expo’s introduction, the appetizer if you will before reaching the spectacular national and thematic pavilions built on the park islands. Consider as well the type of pavilions located here in comparison to what would lie beyond. Note that while the area contained some rather interesting and attractive architecture, it was certainly muted when compared to the other Expo super structures. Consider the centralization of key services in this area and the general-taste atmosphere of the site, its proximity to the city and CBD, not to mention the pairing of communication and transportation infrastructure in the same place. Finally, notice how clean, manicured and modern this space is. Today much of the Pier and the park islands are overgrown, especially the former Place des Nations.

It’s amazing how quickly large tracts of the city can be temporarily ultra-modernized, and then fall back into a more natural state almost as quickly.

The other Montr̩al music scene Рa retrospective:

The Arcade Fire - photo not the work of the author

Montréal seems to be doing fairly well as far as our international appeal as a major creative centre is concerned. Aside from Arcade Fire’s big Grammy win and some solid buzz for Barney’s Version, we all know the music scene is well developed and growing. I can think of many people I know who are in bands, or who spin, or who have hosted radio shows, or otherwise perform. We have great music festivals and, in some cases, half-decent buskers too. It is a city which lives and breathes music – but in order to achieve and attract greatness, you have to pump out a lot of experiments and blind-stabs-in-the-dark; here’s a retrospective:

The Montréal Playlist:

1. Corey Hart – Sunglasses at Night
2. Men Without Hats – The Safety Dance
3. Offenbach feat. Vic Vogel – Les Blues me Guettent
4. Priestess – Run Home
5. The Planet Smashers – Life of the Party
6. Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush – Dragonfly
7. Jerry Doucette – Mama Let him Play
8. Harmonium – Depuis l’Automne
9. Aldo Nova – Fantasy
10. April Wine – Fast Train
11. Chromeo – Tenderoni
12. Kid Koala – pretty much all of Your Mom’s Favourite DJ
13. Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan (every Montréaler’s dream)
14. William Shatner – Common People
15. Beau Dommage – Tous les Palmiers
16. Walter Rossi – Sniffin’ the Breeze
17. Pink Floyd’s The Wall – inspired by an unfortunate event at the Big O

This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it even that great of a playlist, and there are many artists I purposely excluded – just trying to demonstrate that there’s a lot of trends and currents at play, and a rather immense pool of culture to draw from.

Perspective on the City {No. 10} – Expo 67

Venice on the Saint Lawrence - not the work of the author; presumably, 1967

Check out Expo Lounge to get your daily fix of all things Expo related. The photo above is fairly well-known and well-distributed – just found a large print in my uncle’s basement, and he in turn said it’s mine. Couldn’t believe it!

Look at this beautiful marvel we built on man-made islands. What a playground, what a testament to the imagination and creativity of a people. This is how dreams manifest. Why don’t we dream like this anymore?

Guns and Roses – a brief history of violence

Gazette(?) photo from the 2010 Anti-Police Brutality Demo, our annual headbashing festival

Another week, another round of cops killing unarmed, though ostensibly dangerous people. Three incidents in three weeks in which Montréal police discharged their weapons, resulting in two deaths. First, January 26th in Rosemont, then on Feb. 7th, in Beaconsfield, and again on Feb. 16th in CDN (see the view from Toronto); just a reminder – today is the 21st. Underlying these recent incidents is a long history of Montréal police brutality and several high-profile cases of lethal-force under questionable circumstances. The Villanueva Case has cast a long shadow, and the SPVM’s participation in last June’s G20 Conference in Toronto hasn’t done much to improve their public image. What’s worse is the Québec law which has cops investigating other cops – which means the SQ investigates the SPVM almost exclusively. It may seem as though Montréal has a high crime rate; the recent series of arson attacks and the still unsolved murder of local artist (and I’m proud to say I met him, he was a decent guy) Bad News Brown will only add fuel to fire come election time. As our belligerent and autocratic dictator Stephen Harper warns the people crime is spiraling out of control, he may be able to dupe more people than just Gilles Duceppe to follow him on an bogus anti-crime crusade. It’s great fodder for the electorate, as the Willie Horton Scandal demonstrated so clearly.

What may not be immediately apparent is that Montréal’s homicide rate, as an example, is comparatively low for a major North American city, and its been dropping too, hovering around 35 per year for the last few years. Gang violence, by contrast is supposedly rising. ‘Gang violence’ seems like a meaningless term to me because its so vague, but it hits home – especially in the middle and upper class suburbs, where the very idea of gangs operating nearby may translate into lost property value. Note as well, it seems as though every ‘gang member’ arrested in this city is either from Montréal North or Little Burgundy. I didn’t realize the gangs were as territorial as Hipsters. That aside, come election time, whether Provincially or Federally, the conservative elements in our society are going to push for a tough-on-crime agenda. Harper’s made it clear, he wants more cops and more prisons, and the mayor’s of major cities will want to get in on the spending spree. More cops with more guns – a quantity over quality situation develops and suddenly our homicide and ‘gang-violence’ rates will both skyrocket. Why? The Gangs and the Police are locked in an interminable war, and when you break it down, there are roughly the same number of major police forces as major gangs and organized crime syndicates. The police ultimately have the advantage, not because they appeal to the people, but because they operate as a singular force.

The level of collusion, corruption and inherent indiscipline in the SPVM, coupled with the very real possibility of fear-vote driven police expansion, could lead to many more examples of excessive force here in Montréal. This in turn will only cause the gangs to swell their numbers and increase the total number of firearms in the city. Getting-tough-on-crime legislation never works, because it generally only leads to more violence and death. Consider the LAPD’s approach to crime fighting in the 1980s and 1990s, when the CRASH Unit was unleashed to combat LA’s street gangs, and the Rampart Scandal demonstrated how quickly such units degenerate into unscrupulous corruption and outrageous abuse. When the police are seen by the people to be as bad or worse than the people they’re tasked to control, society breaks down in a big way. This is what happens when a police force decides to take an almost universally aggressive approach to fighting crime – eventually, the chronic stress will cause the people to go crazy en masse. Think winning the quarter-final against Boston is bad, check this out:

Over the weekend my cousin proposed an interesting solution to the recent spate of cop-shootings. He suggested that the Montréal police adopt a system pairing a rookie cop with a veteran cop and divide the weapons between them, so that the elder, more experienced constable would have the use of a handgun. The rationale being that an inexperienced cop may be more inclined to panic and use excessive force. I concur with the point on youthful inexperience serving as root cause for panic leading to the deadly use of a firearm, as demonstrated not only recently, but in the case of the Villanueva Shooting as well. However, a key element in an experienced officer’s more prudent use of a firearm is almost entirely dependent on their years carrying one. I would hope that a retiring constable would take immense pride and satisfaction in knowing they had never once used their weapon, and that they would be appropriately recognized for doing so. My cousin suggested 35 as the age in which SPVM officers would be allowed to carry firearms, though I can’t help but think there would be an “initial-use giddiness” regardless of age.

What if we were to adopt a more British style of policing? Specifically, I’m referring to the limited use of police firearms in a society in which firearms are already highly restricted. Increasing the penalty related to firearms offenses within the metropolitan area, coupled with a new policy which disarmed the majority of local police and placed a new focus on community relations (ie, by re-introducing paired pedestrian patrols), could have dramatic effects on reducing violent gun deaths and excessive force. Ideally two fit police officers, trained in hand-to-hand combat and equipped with mace, batons and hand-cuffs could operate just as effectively as the armed patrols we have today; how often do they really need their weapons? Armed officers in the UK are in the minority when compared to the entire police apparatus, and they are trained to exercise extreme caution in the use of deadly force. The UK has one of the world’s lowest gun-homicide rates in the world.

Unfortunately for us locals, we have a history of gun violence that begs the question as to just how well trained the SPVM actually is. The 1987 police killing of Anthony Griffin is still fresh in the mind of Montréal’s black community, while the 1991 killing of Marcellus Francois re-enforced the perception that the SPVM was careless, incompetent, or both. Things haven’t gotten much better vis-a-vis the SPVM’s use of excessive force since then, as the “flics-assassins” watchdog blog attests. Consider as well this 1995 New York Times article on being young and black in Québec.

The SPVM isn’t aggressive with immigrants and minorities uniquely, though calls of racial profiling are regular. The generally aggressive attitude of our police force is best defined by the extent to which one officer went during his career as principle SPVM enforcer. This is the infamous case of “Shotgun” Bob Menard, a Montréal police constable and undercover officer who is rumoured to have killed between 10 and 15 people while on the job, at least once with an assault rifle of his own choosing. It should be noted that Menard was initially responsible for taking down bordellos, gambling dens and gangs, but then progressed to neutralizing a mafia don and then finishing his career blasting away at bank robbers. At around the same time, the SPVM ‘morality squad’ was responsible for the Sex Garage Raid and subsequent police brutality which ultimately culminated in the unit’s partial disbandment, firings and a new policy towards peaceful protests. Still though, seems like a constant two-steps forward, one-step back.

There are many, many more examples of extreme force used by the Montréal police, and after these recent events, we as a society need to ask whether policing is working locally. Can it be improved? Can disarming a portion of the force and integrating police back into the community they serve lower the rate of violent gun deaths and reverse this terrible trend? Is it wise to have a police force which seems to be increasingly racially, economically and psychologically separated from the people they are supposed to serve?

This is an issue for all citizens in a society, and it must be taken very seriously. I would personally advocate for significantly fewer armed officers and stricter control of illicit weapons, increased community presence, mandatory urbanisation and diversification of the force and a substantial investment in surveillance, communications and intelligence sharing between different levels of law-enforcement. But most of all, police must be accountable to a civilian oversight committee charged with determining whether lethal force was justified in a case by case basis, with stiff penalties, up to and including prosecution should such a panel rule in favour of the victim.

We must take control of crime by controlling our fear, controlling inequity – we must never live under the constant stress present in a society in which the line between criminals and law enforcement is blurred into non-existence. We can’t allow anything remotely resembling the 1992 Riots to happen here, and it scares me to think how the situations may be more comparable than most would think. Los Angeles re-bounded successfully – would we be as lucky? Or is ours a fate worse than Detroit, Baltimore or New Orleans?

A critique of the hyperbolic newspaper *updated*

Another example of this terrible paper: is the actual situation this cut and dry?

This is the letter I just fired off to David Johnston of the Gazette for the rather poor working of this particular article: Westmount Mini-war

Sir –

“Mini-war”? Really?

A bit hyperbolic don’t you think? I think what’s going on in Bahrain, Libya or Yemen right now qualifies as a ‘mini-war’. Ask an Iraqi or an Afghani what war is like and you’ll be surprised to learn there’s usually very little talk of burying hockey rinks or ameliorating community services.

From my experience, debates of this nature during war time are typically interrupted by massive explosions, choking via chemical gas and the constant, droning rhythms of machine gun fire.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you want to be taken seriously – and trust me when I say this applies to the Gazette as a whole – you can’t keep submitting ridiculous headlines and bylines like this. It’s not the first time I’ve written to complain about your paper’s poor (or exploitative) command of the English language, but I’ve typically been given the run-around. A lot of ‘it’s not my decision, pass the buck, I’m not responsible etc etc’.

The Gazette likes to think it is a Montréal institution, and it should be. But as long as it feeds the innate human desire for scandal and uses the worst kind of Fox News rhetoric to convey information, it will remain a joke. A bad joke, one which brings shame and humiliation to the entirety of the local Anglophone population.

We need a newspaper of record, one which is taken seriously. But more and more I see a scandal rag with an editorial board taking cues from Hearst’s portrayal of the Spanish-American War.

Try harder…

With utmost sincerity,

Taylor C. Noakes

_____________________________________

And here is Mr. Johnston’s response:

Hello Mr. Noakes:

Thank you for your letter. I couldn’t agree with you more. You might not know that writers don’t write their own headlines. That’s a job for copy editors and, like writers, they have good days and bad days, good habits and bad habits. I also think that war metaphors are greatly overused in our business – and as you say, they are particularly silly and inappropriate these days, given what we are seeing in the Middle East. I’m going to talk to the senior editors here and see if we can start making it a policy not to use the word war so loosely.
Thank you,

Dave Johnston

***

Frankly, I couldn’t be happier with this response. I think we have a friend on the inside!

North-South Axes in Montr̩al РPerspective on the City { No.9 }

The Plaza at Place Ville-Marie - work of the author, Summer 2010

The plaza at Place Ville-Marie was most recently renovated in 2005, which resulted in its current configuration with significant new green space, flora, planters and glass skylight/entrances over the staircases leading o the shopping concourse below. Back in 1968, this space was the site chosen by Pierre Trudeau to hold a major election rally. As it was far more open-concept back then:

Pierre Trudeau's 1968 election rally at PVM - not the work of the author
Construction on St-Urbain, Summer 2009

Looking down St-Urbain with the ubiquitous summertime construction going on. I suppose the new concert hall is going up immediately to the right of this shot. Anyone know if the entrance will face St-Urbain or will it face inwards to the plaza at Place des Arts? Any chance there will be both?

I’ve always felt this stretch of St-Urbain is without much character, or at least there’s not much unifying the streetscape. It’s unfortunate that it serves as a continuous ‘loading dock’ for several blocks. Still, pretty to see the Aldred Building, rising steadily like a self-conscious fountain – never ostentatious as its almost invisible from ground level, muted in context when seen from a distance.

The view of the city from McGill Street, looking North towards Square Victoria

I love the view from this spot; so much character and bold vitality. Since the renovation and opening of Square Victoria circa 2002-2003, this area has become more ordered, though curiously this order provides better vistas along McGill, Beaver Hall Hill and within Square Victoria. Not to mention the covering of the open trench along Viger helped mend a terrible tear on the urban fabric. Now, this axis connects the uptown corporate and retail hub with the International Quarter downtown. Make no mistake, this is the link which will allow for continued development of the Faubourg des Recollets/ Griffintown region of the CBD, along with the Duke Street developments on the other side of the Bonaventure Expressway. Is it possible that the Montréal of the future will have two pronounced southern-reaching ‘arms’ of office towers and condos, tapering down along McGill while tapering up along Duke?

A key component to successful redevelopment of this area will be the introduction of more ‘street-level’ services and some low-density housing. Moreover, it could certainly use public services, such as schools, community centers, theaters, libraries etc. No city is built uniquely of condos, lest we wish to look like Toronto.