On the Death of Creation and Hope

Why is it so attractive to believe (if not proselytize) the notion that change cannot happen, and that any proposal or advocacy on behalf of change, subtle or radical, is delusional or naive?

We don’t need to make this conversation so philosophical as there are many simple, straightforward and tangible examples to use, wherein a proposal for change to the given situation is typically met with a torrent of gratuitous opposition.

Take free public healthcare for all citizens in the United States as an example. The mere fact that such a proposal would be considered as a political issue boggles my mind. For myself, its a matter of basic human rights – all citizens in this country deserve by the grace of God and the State the right to full medical care provided through a common tax pool. South of the border they’ve conflated it into some kind of quasi-moral issue based on what I consider to be a generally poor understanding of some of the basic tenets of the philosophy behind the founding of the American state and the religious inclinations of the so-called Founding Fathers. Medicare causing a pseudo mass existential panic seems absurd in a Monty Python-esque vein to me.

We are not merely possessed by mediocrity as a societal handicap, we defend it, sometimes in terms that seem to suggest a a general desire to pursue the path of least resistance because it is ‘virtuous’ not to rock the boat. Or is that we’ve lost the will to defend any proposal that doesn’t meet with the near total acceptance of those within immediate and arbitrary geo-political boundaries? Perhaps I’m naive to believe we were ever any different than how we seem to be today, or perhaps I believe the situation to be more grave than it is. My academic inclination to doubt camouflages me into the background of the pop-contrarians inasmuch as it sets me apart as part of the ‘idealistic Ivory Tower elite’. How fucked are we really? To fight the tide of humanity’s combined multi-millenial anti-intellectualism? For those in power, for whom any change is potentially personally destabilizing, the inclination towards preservation is great and the resources they can tap into are buried deep into our subconscious mind. This is the result of 99% of humanity’s past and present spent under the boot of the rich and greedy. This is what happens to the suppressed born blissfully ignorant of their socio-economic reality and led to believe they themselves are participating in the machinations of a Capitalist society. When the realization is made – on an individual level – that the citizen is truly, generally powerless, the resulting crise-de-conscience leads to a perpetuating class-based malaise. Perhaps this is why we dare not dream of improving our society in any real way.

I see cities as fluid, living organisms. Evolution is citizen powered, but not by individuals, by societies and communities cooperating to achieve shared goals. They conspire towards greatest.

Is it time to create West Island transit authority?

So I just saw this post from the West Island Gazette concerning the problems commuters can expect what with the commencement of major renovations to the Turcot Interchange next year. Apparently, the MTQ will allow an eastbound lane on highway 20 to be used exclusively by buses, which will certainly be a benefit to West Island commuters. However, there is also a proposal to cut back on one lane on St. John’s Boulevard so that it can be used exclusively for buses; this will no doubt add to the gridlock experienced by West Island motorists on its North-South Axes. The illustration above is a proposed roadway designed to serve as a new North-South axis connecting highways 20 and 40 in addition to Gouin and Pierrefonds boulevards, on the western edge of residential expansion on the West Island. Doubtless, construction of a large suburban boulevard would certainly lead to additional development further West, on effectively what is one of the few large open tracts of raw Montréal wilderness left on island. I can imagine the land between this proposed road and the Anse-a-l’Orme Trail could see a rapid and degenerative transformation within a few years unless certain protective practises were adopted, such as those observed in the United Kingdom with respect to the established green belts. In spite of this danger, this new roadway would at the very least help minimize congestion in the West Island. And if I’m not mistaken, this seems to be the same location for the once proposed highway 40 to highway 440 link, a project which has been dormant since about 1977. See more about that here.

This plan would see a major highway built to run from the 40 up along the Timberley Trail, across Ile Bizard (effectively bisecting the island) towards Ile Bigras and then through Laval-des-Rapides to join Highway 440. Now while I’m generally not in favour of new highway construction, if we were to go forward, developing with ecological and economic sustainability in mind, we can built efficient roadways and integrate public transit systems as well. The biggest issue for me is that Montréal is missing key links to create an effective ‘ring-road’ system, and this route could alleviate congestion on highways 40 and 440, not to mention the other North-South axes serving the West Island. With an southern extension, it could intersect with Highway 20 as well, which would be even more efficient.

That said, planning highways through residential zones with ecosystems that need to be preserved presents additional complications which need to be taken into consideration. As an example, given the experience with the previous pedestrian crossing at Woodlawn and Highway 20, we know that highway traffic needs to be isolated from residential traffic, and so such a project would necessitate a service road, underpasses and overpasses, not to mention a couple of bridges as well. We also know that building an elevated highway is problematic, and not only because they’re eyesores that can negatively impact land values on either side. Moreover, additional new residential boulevards will be required to help with alleviate congestion on the three current principle arteries. As an example, Jacques-Bizard/ Sommerset should be extended to connect Gouin, de Salaberry, Brunswick and Pierrefonds Blvds with Highway 40 while Antoine-Faucon should be developed into a boulevard in its own right, to connect with the Anse-a-l’Orme trail.

Planning with this in mind would be made easier if the West Island communities consolidated their efforts into a single collaborative transit and transportation authority designed to administer road and highway development, public transit and transportation infrastructure. Imagine a West Island version of the STM, STL or RTL, with the added responsibilities of planning and executing the construction of new roadways (with public transit in mind). West Islanders need to plan for roadway construction with new development in mind, but this shouldn’t preclude us from integrating ecologically sustainable public transit systems into our new roadways. No matter which way you cut it, we need to be masters of our domain, and can no longer depend on others to solve our planning and transit problems. A West Island transit authority could do just this.

Depending on how you define the West Island, it’s population ranges from 225 to 300 thousand people and there is plenty of room to grow. It’s largely flat with long, wide boulevards and streets and there is a considerable amount of daily internal movement, making public transit a necessity both within West Island and between the West Island and the City of Montréal. Furthermore, West Island residents commute in large numbers; the two most used AMT commuter train lines both serve the West Island. Despite the generally good public transit coverage offered by the AMT and STM, many West Island residents feel public transit options are limited and roadways are as overly congested as the express buses and trains running between the city and suburbs. With all the new highway work projected over the next few years, residents have a pressing reason to unite and begin developing sources of revenue to build new roads, highways and public transit alternatives. Simply put we need our own lobby and leverage group, and taking on this responsibility will, at the very least, allow us to develop a system appropriate to our own needs.

Consider the following:

A) West Island residents have a legitimate reason to ask for a Métro connection to the West Island, ideally to Fairview along the Highway 40 corridor. Whether this comes to be as a new line or an extension to an existing line (such as the Blue Line, which could pass through Airport on the way to St. John’s Blvd), we have a large enough population to make good use of it, and this in turn would cut down on commuters using their cars or the multiple existing express bus lines. That said, unless the West Island municipalities are willing to develop a significant portion of the construction capital by themselves, the STM will have to focus on its chief customers; that is to say, the residents of the City of Montréal. A unified West Island transit authority would be in a better position to administer such a large project, and the transfer of public transit responsibilities to the new body may in turn liberate additional funds from the STM to help in the development of a new Métro line. But we need to be able to stand on our own two feet.

B) The West Island’s geography and urban planning have produced a large area defined by its flat topography and wide streets – ideally suited for a large surface tram or trolleybus network. Two dozen lines could cover all the principle North-South & East-West axes, in addition to express lines running along the highway service roads and a ring-route using Lakeshore, Beaconsfield, Senneville, Gouin and des Sources boulevards. Such a system would mean the STM and AMT could move away from using express buses given that the trams would connect to major transit junctions, such as the Dorval Circle area, Cote-Vertu Métro station, Bois-Franc station etc. The STM could then re-focus its West Island operations away from the major thoroughfares and instead better serve the vast expanses of suburbia. Trams have the advantage of carrying more passengers than regular buses and are quieter, more efficient and could more effectively shuttle West Island commuters into the higher capacity systems, such as the Métro and AMT commuter trains.

Either way – just like Laval and Longueuil, the West Island has particular transit and transportation needs, and we should form a collaborative organization to support the sound development of a better local system. We should do this not out of frustration but because we need to take responsibility for our own development, and such a large enterprise gives us real economic power, not to mention potential political leverage. We should do this ultimately to help empower ourselves, and potentially improve public transit throughout the region as a result of our inspired leadership.

This is something that we can accomplish and it would be a great credit to our community. We’re only going to get bigger, so we can’t rely on outside agencies and land speculators to dictate development any more. The West Island needs to recognize it is a viable community now, with a history and a culture all its own. We aren’t merely a local Levittown, a random collection of houses built according to market directives, and so we need to start thinking bigger, and thinking more precisely about what we can achieve and build for ourselves, together. We may be inclined at some point in the future to unite the independent communities of the West Island into a single urban agglomeration to best represent our needs and desires on a larger scale. Frankly, I think it’s inevitable that this will happen. Building our own transit agency is a good stepping stone to realizing this goal, not to mention a strong foundation on which to base it. And if we were to embark on such a plan, there’s no doubt in mind we can conspire to make public transit the preferred method of getting around the West Island and for commuting into the city. It would help stimulate our economy and ultimately lead to better living and healthier lifestyles. These are but a few reasons, I’ll elucidate the rest later on.

New on Vinyl: Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues

The phrases that most easily come to mind when I think about this album are ‘burning down the house’ for obvious reasons and the refrain of ‘stop making sense’ from the track “Girlfriend is Better” off of side A. This makes a fair bit of sense, given the former was the band’s only American top-ten hit and the fact that by David Byrne’s own admission, he made an album and created lyrics subsequently to fit the nonsense originally sung over the music composed by Talking Heads.

It is not a typical Talking Heads album given the previous prevalence of Brian Eno’s production. It is still a seminal work for the band andy Byrne in particular, in that it is as though the student has finally demonstrated a mastery of the teacher’s technique. It is more musically minimalistic than previous albums, especially if compared to Remain in Light, though lyrically it seems far more complex. Perhaps it is a commentary on the public discourse of the era, in which mass corporate communications were first beginning to make headway into the American popular discourse and create their own authority via the immediacy of their preferred medium. In another sense, perhaps it is the Talking Heads recognizing the danger of the new meta-talking head, made dangerous by combining sub-par intellect with state-of-the-art tools of communication. If the lyrics on side-A leave you confused about what exactly you’re listening to, then maybe Byrne has succeeded more than he expected.

I find the album perfectly listenable, enjoying the highs and lows, the elements of new wave, funk and reggae blending into one another, the stripped down instrumentation covering the sonic range while re-enforcing the cooperative ‘drum-circle’ spirit Byrne had explored with Eno on previous collaborations. That said, I remember the first time I listened to this album, perhaps about eight years ago, and finding it almost unbearable. It grew on me, and still does. And aside from the admissions of gibberish and nonsensical lyrics, and i can only say I agree completely with Robert Christgau in his opinion ‘Swamp’ is one of the greatest anti-Capitalist songs ever written (indeed, the album is exceptionally political and highly critical of early-1980s American society) and This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) is perhaps one of the greatest pro-Love songs of all time. I couldn’t agree more with that last bit too – it is an exceptional love song; sincere, timeless and real.

Key Tracks:
– Girlfriend is Better
– Slippery People
– Swamp
– Moon Rocks
– Pull Up the Roots

* Like this: more album reviews can be found at Vinyl.

The White Horse of Fort Senneville

Is it me or are we lacking in ghost stories in this city?

Every year Halloween comes around and I get asked if I know any decent local ghost stories. Each year I come up short. It’s a problem for me, because in my opinion it’s a demonstration of a slightly larger, more complex problem – lack of local folklore. What we know about our city is very often defined in terms of what can be demonstrated – we speak of our city in scientific terms, in measurements, in percentages. When we discuss culture, we often tend towards using scientific terminology to discuss our society. There is a reason for this, or perhaps there once was, when it was necessary to demonstrate our local society as a measurement against a larger, more imposing cultural mass. But I firmly believe those days to be of another era, and that we have the cultural and societal strength and confidence to begin loosening our previous approach. What I find odd is how little is written on points of common cultural experience, of shared history and discourse between the two majority-minority groups that so define our peculiar nation of nations.

Folklore is cultural currency. A strong local appreciation of a city’s folklore, it’s common history, will provide the local arts community with a strong foundation of reference material. Look back at the works of some of our great artists, past and present, many have demonstrated in their seminal works a profound attachment to local culture and society through an understanding of our folklore.

Folklore is extremely important. Its typically packaged as morality tale wrapped in pertinent historical and cultural information, designed to convey an idea about why we live where we do, and why our society is how it is. Montréal, as a result of its history and linguistic divisions, has so far largely turned its back on developing the common folklore. Perhaps this is as a result of the Quiet Revolution, which aimed to turn away completely from the Grand Noirceur and the perceived backwardness of our provincial, agrarian past. But if there is a legitimate interest on the part of Québecois nationalists, sovereignists and/or cultural enthusiasts to protect the local French dialect and the cultural heritage of the people of Québec, what would be better than developing a local folklore, in which the stories are designed to be as relatable to the Montréal experience as possible regardless of which language they’re expressed in. For this, we need to take a good long look at who we were as a city, as a people, hundreds of years ago.

Montréal’s colonial era history has always fascinated me, though partially as a result of it being so overshadowed by American and Spanish colonial era history. We were intimately involved in the early history of the United States, Great Britain and the halcyon days of the Bourbon monarchy in France, and yet we retreat from the realities of the colonial experience.

When I was younger I heard stories of frontier folklore with an American colonial bent, whether in literature or through television and movies. It made me wonder what life was like back then, only here. Who were the ghosts of our past, and what perspective on the human experience could be gleaned through such stories. In my search I came across one story that’s always stuck with me. It’s the story of the ghost of a white horse, said to run down Gouin Boulevard in Ste-Genevieve. There are rapids in the Back River by Riverdale High School, by the park at the top of Boul. des Sources, and they are named after this galloping spectre.

As best I know it, the story goes like this. There are the remnants of a fort built by the French colonial administration in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, once called Fort Senneville. The fort has been destroyed twice, once by the Iroquois (in 1691) and then by Benedict Arnold in 1776 (though at the time it wasn’t in use by any party, and Arnold destroyed it so it could not be used by the advancing British regulars, Canadien militia and Iroquois warriors making their way up from Les Cédres). It was built to defend the vital trading post and community at Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, not to mention the king’s road which linked Ste-Anne’s with Ste-Genevieve to the North and Pointe-Claire, Lachine and Ville-Marie to the East. It was during this first attack on the fort in 1691 that a dispatcher was sent out along the King’s Road to Ste-Genevieve, to warn of the possibility of attack. Riding a white horse he sped off down the trail, only to be killed by the attacking Iroquois. The horse carried on, terrified from violence and the deafening blasts of muskets, galloping down the well-trod trail until it eventually came upon the sleeping village of Ste-Genevieve. As one might imagine, a terrified horse would make enough noise to wake up the residents, and they were able to piece together what had happened what with the mangled corpse I can only assume was being dragged by the horse. The story goes on that the horse dies of exhaustion and that the spirit of the terrified horse would surge forth from the powerful rapids nearby each year on the anniversary of this fateful ride, determined to simultaneously remind the inhabitants to be vigilant and to look for his dead master.

Anyways, that’s what I heard. Two cops my brother found creeping around the fort a few years ago related it pretty much as I just did.

Something tells me it’s a bit of a mess story-wise, perhaps the synthesis of a variety of different local legends. I’d certainly like to know more about this if any of you know.

And aside from that, as far as ghost stories go, well, what would be worse than finding yourself on Senneville Road or Gouin Boulevard only to see the white flash of a mad steed barreling down you? I guarantee at the very least this spirit has certainly caused a couple traffic accidents.

Besides – when was the last time Mary Gallagher turned up? It’s time we find ourselves some new ghosts, no?