Concrete Blocks (may) Fall Off Building!

The scene around quarter to six in the evening.

I’m going to get a picture!

* Update *

I got a picture!

** Update II **

A security guard yelled at me for taking pictures!

*** Update III ***

The photograph seen previously was in fact the bullet-riddled carcass of a building in Bosnia taken during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. The similarities to what we’re dealing with here in Montréal are…
none whatsoever.

But depending on who you talk to, you may have the impression Montréal is in the midst of a massive crisis with regards to crumbling infrastructure. In some respects I think we may very well be – at least it seems that way in the media:

From the Gazette.

From Spacing Montreal.

From the Toronto Star.

Here’s the basics regarding today’s street closure.

If you followed this story* throughout the day you may have noticed slight discrepancies between the lead and the actual situation. Nothing feel off the ten-floor building at Cathcart and University, a window-washer noticed some of the slabs were loose. That’s pretty much it.

Now, that said no one’s quite sure when the last time the building was inspected, and it got me wondering whether the City needs to go on an all-out inspection blitz, literally inspecting every single building, street, bridge, viaduct and tunnel larger than a bus shelter in the entire metropolitan region. One shot, it would probably take an entire year to complete with a massive team of ‘deputized’ building inspectors. I can imagine a six-week intensive training course and a source of part-time employment for every university student in the city. The following year would be spent analyzing the data and getting those responsible to make the necessary repairs.

Honestly, how else are we going to get our confidence back? Such a study may just be the ticket to, at the very least, have a thorough understanding of the shape we’re in. I would hazard to guess such a report would indicate the majority of structures are sound and in no danger of having pieces fall off, but that said, a thorough city-wide inspection of everything would doubtless net a long list of repairs. It would be a massive wake-up call and may be enough to get the citizens to realize more is needed to keep our infrastructure safe and secure.

What do you think?

Is the media over-doing it? Is this to be expected in any urban environment? Or does the City of Montreal need to take dramatic action to counter years of inaction, as some suggest?

Let me know…

7 thoughts on “Concrete Blocks (may) Fall Off Building!”

  1. Howdy Mike – thanks for the comment!

    That building in particular I believe was built in the 1950s, though most of our city was largely built between 1960 and 1992. During that time a considerable number of commercial buildings were built of steel and glass (such as PVM, the Telus Tower, 1000 de la Gauchetiere etc) while a considerable amount of our infrastructure and residential towers use concrete. Generally speaking, concrete is an excellent building material – like liquid rock. Since concrete was first invented, it has been improved many times. My uncle, who works in the construction industry, told me recently that concrete today uses fibres to further strengthen the concrete, my guess would be to prevent flaking and erosion. There’s also the fact that concrete generally gets stronger with age, though Montreal’s particular climate seems to wreak havoc on concrete’s ability to last. If nothing else, I would fully support a local concrete R&D lab to come up with a new concrete designed specifically for our city, and further to find cheap and efficient methods to fix existing concrete structures.

    There was some initial confusion as to what the blocks are actually made of, with CTV Montreal reporting (in the same paragraph I might add) that the blocks were both concrete and cement (but not a mixture of both). I’d like to know exactly what the blocks are made of, seeing as many people use concrete and cement interchangeably, as if it were the same thing.

    I agree fully with your last point: the over-riding capitalist approach to building and infrastructure development seems to have left many Canadian and American cities struggling to keep up with necessary maintenance and repairs. Infrastructure maintenance and repair has not been appropriately financed, in my opinion, at least in our city. And as a result, we find ourselves in this current predicament. We can’t afford to continue designing bridges, viaducts, tunnels or skyscrapers as though they were consumer goods (which in a capitalist society means they are designed to eventually wear-out and break down, so that they can be replaced with more consumer goods). Moreover, the City must enforce stricter building codes, inspections and have emergency funds available so that property owners aren’t completely blindsided if massive repairs are made.

    But, moving forward, the City will have to become more ‘socialistic’ with regards to infrastructure and building construction. A balance must be struck with private interests so that buildings are designed to last and are kept safe and secure via preventative maintenance, in the same fashion ground crews maintain aircraft or dry-docks are used to maintain ships.

  2. Ah, so that’s what was going on. I was biking up University on Thursday and rode past the roadblock.

    It seems crazy, but this is happening in a lot of cities. Many buildings are showing their age and starting to crumble and I suspect that it’s mainly buildings from the 50’s and onward which were built quickly and not necessarily to last.

  3. Citizens cannot simply wait around for private interests to regulate themselves, especially not when it is easier to pay damages after a lawsuit than to engage in regular inspections and preventative maintenance. Further, large property owners have the legal resources to further render payments to victims of partial structural collapse quite small. The people get fucked no matter which way you cut it when the public’s safety is entrusted in private hands.

    If the citizens don’t want any more partial collapses or chunks of concrete falling off, then they will have to demand the City take appropriate action, which in turn may require a mass inspection. But the citizens must understand the city likely cannot afford to do so without additional revenue. Taxation will go up for the people who likely own and manage the properties, and they’ll likely cry about socialism etc etc.

    The last point seems off though – the infrastructure and buildings have all been built properly. If not they would have failed catastrophically soon after construction was completed. Such is not the case. It is the lack of thorough inspections, corruption and the lack of preventative maintenance which has left some buildings in bad shape.

  4. Extra regulations are only required when companies do not regulate themselves.

    If owners of high rises in Montreal did regular inspections on their own, we would not be having this discussion.

    If those who built the buildings (and infrastructures) in the first place did it right, we would not be in this situation.

  5. I guess the problem is that the real-estate and property management companies don’t want additional oversight. Part of the continuing problem – capitalism needs regulation, and that means higher taxation and a bigger local government. The people must decide what they want.

  6. How many close misses and deaths would it take for Montreal citizens to demand serious changes in the way our buildings and infrastructures are managed?

    How many people read Professor Mirza’s commentary (and related report on the state of our infrastructures)?

    “We built extensively and in a hurry and the result was that we did not have the same quality control on them as should have been exercised,” said Mirza, adding that much of the infrastructure now eroding at 40 years old should have lasted 75 to 100 years.
    “Because of lack of quality control, the quality was poor and these are the results we’re seeing now.”

    source : http://ca.news.yahoo.com/authorities-rip-down-another-concrete-beam-montreal-one-175802926.html

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