Why we need Major League Baseball

My favourite Expo: Bill 'the Spaceman' Lee - an example of hash & LSD's potential benefit to the game of baseball

I have often wondered why former Montréal Mayor Jean Drapeau put so much effort into supporting an MLB franchise here in our fair city. Drapeau wasn’t just a fan of the Expos, but a driving force in the team’s creation and popular support. The Expos were never a ‘dynasty’ club, though for a while they drew large crowds and some high-end talent. They also drew American attention to our city, something I’m convinced Drapeau must have understood all too well.

The 1981 and 1994 MLB seasons were cut short due to labour negotiations and lock-outs, and it just so happens that these two particular years were those in which the Expos had their best chances at making it to the World Series, a feat which would have doubtless secured the franchise’s existence for a considerable period of time. The 1994 season and the failure of the Labatt Ballpark project, in addition to the generally poor management of Jeffrey Loria caused countless headaches and resulted in significant cuts to the fan base. In the end, neither the City nor the Province would continue to support the Expos, and the rest is history.

We’ve been without an MLB franchise since 2004 and here’s the reality of sports in our city:

1. Both the Canadiens and the Alouettes have been doing very well for themselves over the course of the last decade. Their facilities are modern, their fan-bases are expanding and you’d be hard-pressed not to enjoy yourself watching either team play. Both benefit from well-oiled public relations and marketing machines, and both teams have a solid attachment to the citizens. Clearly the expertise exists locally to successfully develop and market pro sports teams to the local population.

2. The Expos are still very much a part of our collective experience. At least part of this is thanks to expert design, as the Expos logo endures on t-shirts and ball-caps; consider how often you see this potent symbol of a city.

3. New sports ventures may be profitable; consider the success of the Montreal Impact soccer team which will become a new Major League Soccer franchise in 2012 (they also have a brand new stadium, built adjacent to the Olympic Stadium, with a capacity of some 20,000 people!). Consider as well the several recent attempts to develop fan interest in other sports clubs, whether it be our numerous attempts to get a basketball team started, to more recent attempts at developing interest in indoor lacrosse and junior ice-hockey teams. Without a doubt there are more failures here than successes, but it also demonstrates that there’s a wealth of experience and expertise which could be used to develop more successful clubs.

4. Golf, boxing, tennis and Formula-1 racing are all major draws in the world of local professional sports, each with long local histories (implying a potential multi-generational fan-base, something which is crucial to establishing sports dynasties); all of these major sporting events, coupled with our major sports teams, give this city a reason to be known by outsiders too, and in this sense having a major league sports franchise is a useful tool in stimulating outside interest and potential investment. In an indirect fashion, sports teams keep cities on the map, and help stimulate our tourism industry.

5. We happen to have a wealth of major public sports facilities in addition to Olympic-quality installations, though some of these facilities are grossly underused and/or in dire need of renovation. These facilities are worth the investment, and it would be wise for the city to develop a master-plan to renovate and expand public sporting installations along with public minor-league sports organizations. Direct sponsorship arrangements with professional sports franchises may assist in deflecting renovation costs while boosting public interest in the franchise. Either way, the city must fully implicate itself in local pro-sports, heading multiple partner investment and diffusion strategies. In this way, a win-win situation may be possible, in which the city provides a large fan-base and the franchise provides investments to the city. Again, we should look to Drapeau as the inspiration for developing such relationships.

So, with all that in mind, ask yourself whether a resurrected Expos would appeal to you. Ask yourself whether such a team could be successful operating out of a (potentially) renovated Big-O, or whether a new downtown ballpark is a better investment.

What do you think? Do we need the Expos, or did we lose a headache and an embarrassment in 2004?

Nos Amours

Actually got a bit teary-eyed watching this video. Went to go see the Expos with my parents when I was a little tyke, but I strangely don’t remember it. I do remember losing my lucky red Expos cap when I was five though…

What will it take to get the Expos back? Merchandising alone may pay for a new ballpark… Tell me what you think, and feel free to share any odd anecdotes you may have about the Spaceman!

Re: the burqa ban – what do you think?

Which, if any, of these offends you?

So the French government recently decided to ban the burqa and niqab. The blogosphere has been abuzz with commentary of every shade and stripe, and I’ve been commenting relentlessly on reddit. There’s a lot of junk floating around out there, so just to be clear:

1. It’s not an arrestable offense for women wearing the burqa, though they may be detained for other reasons, but not for more than 4 hours and they can only be ‘handled’ by female officers.

2. Fines for women wearing the burqa is about 150 euros, but fines can be steep for those found guilty of forcing a woman to wear one (30,000 euros and a year in prison – this doubles if an adult is forcing a burqa on a minor).

3. Moreover, the so-called burqa ban extends to other kids of inappropriate face-coverings in public, such as wearing a motorcycle helmet with a tinted visor (while not riding a bike) or wearing face masks in public, something which is already considered suspicious.

4. It seems clear to me that the French intent is very straightforward; gender equity is a common societal goal and the current French gov’t feels the burqa is a symbol of male dominance and religious fanaticism. France is a modern secular state (and so are we here in Quebec), and therefore they are taking a necessary step to ensure the sanctity of their social values.

That being said, there’s still plenty of people who feel this is not the right to go about things, and that it is an afront to basic human rights. I can imagine this will likely make it to some level of international justice, but it remains to be seen whether this law will have any lasting, positive effect on inter-cultural relations, or for that matter, whether it will encourage conservative Muslims to adopt the gender-equity position of the majority of French society.

Incidentally, I believe that wearing a burqa and being a free woman are mutually exclusive.

What do you think? I have a feeling this may be heading our way sooner than expected, as Quebec and Canada are ‘secular-ish’ states. Where do we go from here?

Remember the G8/G20 protests when you head to the polls {shame, shame, shame}

If you’re thinking of moving here, if you live here, keep this in mind. Canada doesn’t exist anymore. This is the Republic of Harperstan, a country where a large group of patriots get trampled by pigs in riot gear, and run down my modern day cavalry in modern day phalanxes. Wish this was a bad dream, but its a nightmare caused by our inattention, our apathy and our ruthless failure to take full control of this nation’s affairs. Don’t vote strategically, vote against the people who allowed this to happen.

For more: http://www.youtube.com/user/TorontoG20Summit

The first five things I’d do as mayor…

So I’ve been trying to narrow it down and it’s not working too well. In any event, here’s something to chew on…

1. Transit: Build a new Métro system to cover the entire Island of Montreal, with 24hr regular service and express trains during peak usage hours. In addition, the Bixi service should be expanded to cover the entire island, and a new tram system should be developed in tandem to Metro expansion so as to provide a necessary additional layer of public transit – this way one could cover the other during service disruptions caused by new construction and station renovations, in addition to the tracking and switching problems that will have to be dealt with as the system evolves. No matter what, any major expansion to one public transit system will require additional expansion to the other services, and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ public transit solution. The sooner we accept that and plunge head-first into developing a full-coverage public transit infrastructure, the sooner we can eliminate a considerable amount of local carbon emissions and traffic gridlock. Moreover, such an expansion would likely result in a major increase in urban residential density on the island, as Métro access becomes a principle consideration for real-estate speculators. The intended goal is to develop an on-island real-estate market driven by and dependent on excellent public transit service; consider the trade-off for potential residents – moderately higher municipal taxes, but effectively no need for your own car. I think there’s enough interest amongst Montrealers – islanders and metropolitans alike – in addition to all those creative types from all over who flock here, to live an urban lifestyle. Ergo, we need to expand urban density, increase the tax-base for the city, and do so in a manner benefiting our local environment.

2. Micro-Commerce: Introduce a citywide micro-financing initiative to stimulate the creation of ‘street-side’ commerce, such as newspaper kiosks, hot dog stands, buskers, artisanal craft vendors, shoe shine stands etc. A key component of this plan would be the provision of publicly funded kiosks, similar to our ‘camiliennes’, for full-service public washrooms, cafés, bistros and dépanneurs. A city agency would provide small-business loans and licenses via lottery to local entrepreneurs and would further regulate placement, so as to assure proper distribution of services.

3. Cover the Décarie and Ville-Marie Expressways: pretty-much self-explanatory, as they are, in my humble opinion, eyesores which happen to do a lot of damage to the urban fabric. The Décarie trench would be turned into a tunnel from the Turcot Exchange to the intersection with Highway 40. On top, a massive linear park, a Montreal Champs Elysees with a tram running along the center. Inside the tunnel, an air-circulation system designed to suck polluted air into an ‘air-cleaning’ device, before being cycled outside. City-run agencies would assist in transforming the sector into a major retail, entertainment and residential hub, with the intended goal of gentrifying parts of Cote-des-Neiges and NDG. As for the Ville-Marie, a new park to run from St-Urbain to Sanguinet, designed to accommodate massive outdoor events and serve as a ‘central park’ uniting various diverse sectors of the downtown. From St-Denis to the foot of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, a park more akin to the one planned for Décarie, though in this case involving a renovation and redesign of Viger Square in addition to a several new public monuments, along with a triumphal arch located in the current Maison Radio Canada parking lot, between Wolfe and Montcalm. In the West End, a massive new housing project, based on Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, the first phase would cover the Ville-Marie Expressway and CPR line from Guy Street to Rue des Seigneurs. A second phase would span from Atwater to Lewis Avenue in Westmount. Part of this project would involve placing the CPR line under Ville-Marie and encasing both in a massive two-tier concrete tunnel, and then building a new ‘Safdie City’ on top, bridging St-Henri, Westmount, the Shaughnessy Village and Little Burgundy.

4. Develop three new mixed-urban commercial, institutional and residential sectors: the first would extend the ‘downtown’ south along the Bonaventure Expressway corridor. In effect, this would be a continuation of existing revitalization projects, but I’d expand this new sector to include everything from Peel to McGill south of St-Antoine. Emphasis here would be to mix new medium-height office towers with middle-income condos and subsidized lofts/studios for local artists. Ideally, an influx of residents would provide the tax-base for an elementary school, CLSC, public library, community center and other vital community services. The second sector would occupy the area bounded by Cherier, René-Lévesque, Amherst and St-Denis and would seek to expand on the Réso sector concentrated on Berri-UQAM. As in the last case, mixed housing would be introduced with an emphasis on middle-income families and medium height office towers. Also, the Berri Street trench needs to be covered over; a large urban green with a farmer’s market would be a great addition to this otherwise bland part of the city. A third area prime for a major re-development would be the large industrial sector between Viau and Dickson, south of Sherbrooke to Notre-Dame in the East End. A large concentration of tall condo towers here would offer spectacular views of the city and river, not to mention the Olympic Park and the Botanical Gardens. But the area would also have to serve as a focal point for most of the eastern parts of the city, an area which has been cut-off from the rest of the urban fabric for some time. This means a significant investment would have to be made in terms of developing new entertainment venues, social and community services, retail space and, perhaps most importantly, hotels. The area already boasts several key tourist attractions, but there’s very little available locally for short-term stays. This particular location benefits from being well-served by public transit and would serve to link Hochelaga, Maisonneuve, Prefontaine, Rosemont and St-Leonard districts, creating a viable high-density urban area in the middle of the East End.

5. Eliminate all empty lots (including parking lots) between Guy and St-Laurent, from Sherbrooke to St-Antoine. This plan would see the construction of below-ground parking lots where possible, with new high-density buildings of any type above ground. The city would mandate that all new construction take place on these ’empty lots’ in this sector and would introduce a ‘development-project’ lottery for local construction companies and architectural firms. The idea here would be to try and maximize the number of residents living within the downtown, hopefully increasing the amount of social traffic and maximizing the tax base. In spaces where new construction is far from ideal, or where parking lots would be impractical, new parks and plazas would be built. No matter what, we need to focus on maximizing urban density and ensuring available land is used as best as possible. I can think of nothing more pathetic than parking lots where prime real-estate ought to be, and a fantastic example of this would be the massive lot across from the Bell Centre. These otherwise empty lots are signs of bad design and poor planning, and there not even that efficient either. Consider how many more cars could be parked in a multi-level underground lot. Consider how much better driving into the city would be if there were an abundance of underground spots available, and the city’s massive parking complex was hooked up directly to the Réso.

Anyways, food for thought…

New development proposal for Mountain/St-Antoine district

Cadillac-Fairview proposal for Mountain/St-Antoine district

The Toronto-based Cadillac-Fairview Corporation recently announced their intention to build new condo towers and a commercial office building around the Bell Center, occupying the site of Centennial Plaza. From the looks of things, the plan would include demolishing the old Canadian Pacific accounting building on St-Antoine, a nondescript 1950s structure located between the Bell Centre and Windsor Station. Cadillac-Fairview also owns property south of Windsor Station on St-Antoine it also hopes to develop in the future.

It definitely sounds like a good idea in theory. The area is in dire need of revitalization, though the Bell Centre has always seemed to be a gigantic box obstructing any sense of place or community, and as such a leading cause of the area’s poor state. Unfortunate too, as the area should be a major junction, linking the already established Underground City to Little Burgundy, the northern edge of Griffintown and the CBD of Montreal. However, while 710 new condo units, retail space and two new office towers would likely bring new life to the sector, it may come at the cost of permanently losing the possibility of revitalizing Windsor Station as a functioning train station.

Though construction of the Bell Centre cut Windsor Station off from the CPR tracks, and the station had not been in use for over a decade when construction began in the early 1990s, the Bell Centre is hardly an established, heritage building. For more on the details of the project, click here.

Allow me to explain: the Bell Centre was constructed to replace the Montreal Forum as the Forum had simply grown too old and was no longer capable of meeting the demands of a major sports and entertainment venue. In other words, arenas are designed either to be replaced or extensively modified, but the latter option can only go so far. The Bell Centre does its job extremely well and is located in a high-traffic area, but it is already beginning to show its limitations. Acoustics are far from ideal, and this is a problem given it serves as one of a small number of high-capacity concert venues in the downtown. Capacity has pretty much been met, and its my understanding that Habs games are regularly sold-out, so it is reasonable to think that Montrealers may be flocking to new arena sometime within the next twenty years, perhaps considerably sooner. There are other locations for a high-capacity arena (personally, I think either the site of the old Canada Post sorting facility in Griffintown, or the parking-lot of the Maison Radio-Canada would be ideal), and we should consider what we’ll do with the Bell Centre once it becomes obsolete.

I recommend destroying it completely, and re-activating Windsor Station as a primary urban train station with VIA, Amtrak and AMT service. Unfortunately, it seems as though Cadillac-Fairview and the AMT have no interest in seeing Windsor Station used as an actual train station. Andy Riga writes about this issue somewhat pessimistically on his blog, Metropolitan News.

The question as far as I see it is why the city doesn’t seem to be involved in determining how train stations are used, and what role they play in determining new development. Why is it that the real-estate speculators and developers come up with the plans? Shouldn’t the city be making the proposals, calling for tenders and such?

I’d like to see this development take place south of St-Antoine, between Peel and Mountain – there’s ample land available and several derelict and/or abandoned buildings. This kind of development would be ideal for this area, and as far as I know, it seems Cadillac-Fairview already owns the land. But building condo and office towers around a hockey rink that may already be obsolescent seems idiotic to me.

I think this city needs a more proactive planning agency – otherwise, as plans like this demonstrate, we may be creating more problems for ourselves and our future city.