This was originally going to be a list of ten items but I realized it was going to be an immense article. So I cut it in half and will finish it in part 2, due out shortly. I think it’s in our interest to keep these items in mind for our 375th anniversary, because frankly I’m starting to wonder just how we’re getting by without them. I can only hope this list serves as an astounding reminder of that which our metropolis is sorely missing.
1. Street vendors – I’ve complained about this many times before, and indeed, I do think it’s ridiculous for a city such as ours to have the kinds of restrictions we have vis-a-vis ultra-small scale business ventures. Especially in tough economic times such as these, the citizenry should have numerous options to sustain themselves through small-scale enterprise. Thus, we should relax restrictions so as to permit food vendors, newspaper kiosks with limited dépanneur services, busking and artisanal vendors within certain recognized public areas. Ideally, a network of city-owned kiosks, such as our Camilliennes, would be managed and rented to prospective entrepreneurs. Furthermore, free public markets akin to St. Mark’s Square in New York City should be integrated into urban residential areas. We are not completely without vendors in this city, nor we completely lacking in the necessary infrastructure. It’s just that we’re still too restrictive in an area of macro-economics that requires an open and competitive market. Let’s crack this nut wide open. In addition to providing numerous city and entrepreneurial jobs, such an initiative has the added advantage of ensuring our street corners and public places are peopled in part by individuals who have an interest in maintaining the security and safety of said place. It adds a lot of alert eyes and ears to our urban environment and can be used to increase security in the urban environment in a non-invasive fashion.
2. Public washrooms – a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. Our city is unfortunately battered periodically by knock-out blasts of shit, piss and puke. While the smell of manure tends to be seasonal (i.e. – any time large-scale field fertilizing takes place anywhere in the St. Lawrence agricultural basin), the piss and vomit affront to your olfactory sensibilities is largely the result of the fact that we have too few public washrooms in this city. Frankly, if you don’t want homeless people shitting and pissing in the Métro tunnels and are tired of having to negotiate using washrooms at fast food restaurants and gas stations, then we need the city to propose a proper solution. Public washrooms, whether in the form of full service rest stations or stand-alone ‘pissoires’ are a vital necessity in any metropolis. For one its convenient, helpful and can even be turned into a small-scale business opportunity. Second, it allows the homeless to retain some dignity by offering them a valuable and necessary service they all too often have to fight for. And while in the past public washrooms were a public nuisance, replete with old drunks and various debaucheries, today we can use design and technology to mitigate this problem. In some cases it could be as simple as posting an attendant to ensure public rest facilities are kept clean and safe for all to use. And whatever the cost, it will pay for itself in that we’ll all benefit from a cleaner, more sanitary and human city.
3. Ferry service – in case you haven’t realized, Montréal is an island, the largest in fact in an archipelago at the confluence of the Outaouais and St. Lawrence rivers. It’s densely populated central business district and urban core is wedged in along the St. Lawrence and the eastern side of Mount Royal, adjacent to the sprawling Port of Montréal. And yet, for a city with a long and proud seafaring history, we are completely lacking in ferry service. If you consider all the communities along the St. Lawrence, Lac-St-Louis and Lac des Deux Montagnes, you quickly realize there is an exceptionally large population within the metropolitan region that can be accessed by using our local waterways. With almost a million people living on the South Shore and four overloaded bridges, I wonder why no one has yet considered developing ferry services for commuters? Service to communities to the West of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge would require terminals to be constructed either on the outside of the Seaway or with modifications to the Seaway, but either way, ferries offer considerable advantages to commuters. Among others, ferries can transport large quantities of people (not to mention vehicles) quickly across open waterways and deliver them right into the heart of the city. They’re arguably more efficient than trains and could open up the commuter zone to many distant communities, not to mention leave a smaller carbon footprint than a high-capacity bridge or tunnel.
4. A pedestrian deck on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge – this is a no-brainer. Simply put there’s no nice way to walk across the St. Lawrence, and while the Jacques-Cartier Bridge has both a pedestrian walkway and a bicycle lane, it’s hardly a nice walk. Traffic is deafening, the pathway is narrow and caged in (giving the impression of a very narrow prison yard) and the fact is the walkway seems bolted on and not terribly sturdy. It’s a doable walk for the adventurous, but not exactly ideal for tourists, families, the elderly or handicapped. Building an overhead deck would provide an excellent solution to this problem, and make the Jacques-Cartier Bridge a tourist attraction in its own right, akin to the Brooklyn Bridge. A renovation of the Art Deco support structure on Ile-Ste-Helene could allow for the provision of services and shops, while the upper deck could serve artisans and buskers, saving the existing pedestrian walkways for the exclusive use of bicycles. Moreover, a pedestrian deck would allow the crossing to remain open to motor vehicles when it would otherwise be closed for spectators watching fireworks displays.
5. A design museum & research institute – back in 2006 Montréal was proclaimed an international city of design by UNESCO, and for good reason too. We are in effect a global powerhouse when it comes to design, featuring not only ICOGRADA but some of the very finest design programs offered at any university, let alone the massive advertising, media and fashion sectors of the local economy which employs a great number of designers. It’s clear we take our aesthetics seriously, and we pride ourselves on our excellent architecture and urban planning. Yet at the end of the day, we have no facility to educate the public as to the importance of design, nor do we have an associated research facility to propel innovation in design. As long as this lasts our hold on the UNESCO title remains tenuous and subject to market forces. A design museum and research institute would help secure our status as leaders in design, not to mention provide an attraction geared to a mobile, well-educated and prosperous international audience. If there are tourists we desperately want to attract to our city, it is certainly those with the potential to invest in our city and the connections to propel interest.
Here’s what’s next:
6. A bilingual university
7. An aviation museum
8. A monument to world peace
9. Linear parks
10. A hockey museum & research centre