I’ve been having trouble coming up with something to talk about. I have to thank Wikipedia author Chicoutimi for updating the entry for ‘Greater Montreal’ with this graphic, which got me thinking on a different level. The City of MontrÃ©al is represented in dark blue, with independent communities within the Metropolitan Region coloured pale blue. I would personally consider some of the grey areas to the left (like that part near Oka, or Valleyfield, Les Cedres etc) to be a part of the metro region, and I’m not sure the borders are laid out perfectly, but either way you get the big picture – MontrÃ©al anchors a massive metropolitan region with a population of nearly 4 million people (StatsCan predicts it will pass that number within two or three years, with about half that number residing on the Island of MontrÃ©al). Moreover, Metro MontrÃ©al is Canada’s densest metro region, with about 900 people per square kilometre, and that number is expected to quickly reach about 1,000 people per square kilometre within the next few years.
Perhaps you can imagine my frustration, looking at a map such as this and considering the economic power of 4 million people, when I see all these independent communities. What are they all independently working towards? Are our goals, needs and wants so different? Would these communities even exist without MontrÃ©al?
It strikes me as being exceptionally inefficient, and perhaps the greatest obstacle preventing our much deserved international recognition and further economic and political potential. We are held back by ourselves, each hoping to succeed independently when cooperation is what’s best for all concerned. I look at a map like this and can only ask why? Some of those borders were determined by the extent of investment in various residential projects. The people who live there have almost nothing in common (by design) with the people who built the community in the first place. Almost all bedroom suburbs are like this, so to what do they owe their independence? Market forces? The housing market? The whims of the CMHC?
And while these communities can build fences to force citizens of MontrÃ©al to pass through patrolled check points (see Town of Mount Royal), or build barriers to prevent motorists from using a much-needed by-pass (see Town of Montreal West), or exist solely to benefit international oil conglomerates which have abandoned much of the eastern tip of the island to ecological ruin (see the Ville de MontrÃ©al-Est), the City of MontrÃ©al finds itself having to deal with independent communities who all too often behave like spoiled children, completely lacking in vision and inherently contrarian in disposition. Although I would love to one day be mayor, I can only imagine the difficulties this situation creates. Clearly the best situation would be for a single metropolitan government with a borough and ward system for municipal government, with a large congress of representatives to ensure appropriate representation of the massive new city.
If the entire metro region you see above was a single city, we could review zoning and taxation across the entire region, establish a more egalitarian and proportional taxation system based on new data and subsequently establish new zoning ordinances to re-position certain economic and industrial activity to more advantageous locations while simultaneously increasing urban residential densification and renewal. Collecting taxes from a unified population of four million would allow us to independently lead on capital investment for new infrastructure projects, no more waiting around to secure federal or provincial input. Moreover, we’d be able to expand and increase public transit services, possibly even leading to the development of high-speed rail within the metropolitan region before expanding outwards to other cities. MontrÃ©al is the number one tourist destination for Manhattanites – so where’s the bullet train to serve and stimulate that sector of the tourism market? Investing today may secure it for tomorrow.
On a final note, consider as well that a metro city such as the one I’m proposing would be well-positioned to take on additional responsibilities, such as education, healthcare and welfare services. Devolving some of these concerns to a new metro city would allow greater day-to-day operational efficiency, not to mention guarantee a new higher standard of public education and full bilingualism of the population. A single metropolitan school board would have the resources to secure higher rates of pay, better facilities and provide additional after-school and specialist services than any of the current independent boards. Do our children not all deserve the same education, or are we willing to allow inequities to persist based on mother tongue and where one lives? How does that benefit society? This is but one example of how a larger city could have the economic and political force necessary to tackle some very complicated socio-economic problems. We need the same kind of thinking applied to health and social services as well – we need to run our own systems, adapted to our needs, united for our own strength, and no longer subjected to long-distance governing. We need operational sovereignty on a localized, metropolitan level – this is the only way to properly move forward and establish ourselves as a global alpha city.