Dreaded Development

It can’t all be bad, right?

I’m kinda impressed with this proposal rendering of the new Icone condominium project. I’d have chosen a different name, and I’d like to put it somewhere else ideally, but if it actually looks like this and is placed over an ugly parking lot, well, then I’m typically sold. That said, I’m curious as to what they plan on doing with the heritage property half-way up the block from René-Lévesque.

It doesn’t look like a Montréal skyscraper per se, but then again I don’t think we’re so easily pigeonholed. I have a feeling, with the recent spate of new condo and tall-building construction that we may be in for a very well-defined local look in twenty years. The question is, do we want this kind of look?

It’s not just condo towers, though there certainly seems to be a lot of interest, capital and active projects, there are whole neighbourhoods which may very quickly disappear and get replaced with something wholly foreign to what was there prior. As one may imagine, it’s pissed off Phyllis Lambert.

And for good reason. I’m not keen on the development taking place in Griffintown, though that’s largely because I’d prefer to see new versions of the classic Montréal triplex going up in neat tree-lined rows instead. Whether these new residential developments will actually lead to the creation of viable neighbourhoods and a real sense of community remains to be seen. I’ve noticed very little in terms of cultural or social development. No new schools, no libraries, no community nor cultural centres. Can the city afford an urban high-end real-estate market dominated by singles? Where’s the long-term investment? If we develop new residential areas as mere geographic manifestations of our consumer culture, well, guess what? These new towers will be tall slums as quickly as tastes may change, leaving the buildings either uninhabited or sold to the lowest bidder. Unless community is constructed, new towers are white elephants in waiting.

I’ve looked over a lot of the conceptual drawings for new condo and office construction and a lot of lit looks very similar in style and general layout. I approve of the fact that these project are mostly slated for empty lots or parking lots, but there’s still the potential danger of losing a landmark like the Lafontaine House or the Horse Palace. Then there’s the issue of scale – a lot of these buildings are very, very large compared to the buildings around them, yet are typically on smallish plots of open land, meaning there’s a requirement to maximize space use that may give the impression of a large and obtrusive box where a view once was. This is a city built on exceptional perspectives on the urban core made available to the everyman. We should be cautious to proceed in such a manner that this doesn’t become a thing of the past, inasmuch as we ought to sincerely develop a broader cultural attachment to heritage architecture and urbanism. When it was far more complicated to build a high-quality city, you better believe people took their time and worked fastidiously to produce beautiful landmarks.

Are any of the recent additions or towers going up majestic or awe-inspiring in their own right? or we just happy to finally see a skyline choked with construction cranes?

Looks can be deceiving…

And in other development and re-development news:

There’s a new plan for the Empress Theatre, but it seems to be little more than a new conceptual rendering and the added provision that among the Empress’ supposed limitless possibilities, an analog film institute.

Neat.

But why?

Although I suppose if there’s enough room to accomodate that and everything else on the Empress wish list, it’s no harm no foul. No official word on who’s ponying up, but apparently there are ‘several interested parties’. Cost estimated at $6 million. This seems very low to me, but what do I know?

Having been inside on a few occasions and from my previous experiences discovering the ECC, I feel the cost just to bring the building up to code (and to pay off the construction companies) may bring this well into double digits.

That said, I really hope they accomplish their goal and make it profitable. If the ECC works as so many NDG residents want it to, the whole community will experience a dynamic transition. Call it the Plateau’s western cousin, but a brand new performance venue in the dead centre of NDG will have a positive effect on the local economy to say the least. It may very well stimulate a vast renovation and gentrification of the Sherbrooke West corridor, and this would be very good indeed. An economic and societal anchor if there ever was one.

And finally, yet another bump in the long railroad saga that stubbornly refuses to resolve itself (what else might that remind me of? Hmmm…), Clifford Lincoln’s Train de l’Ouest lobby group has refused to endorse the ADM’s new ‘elevated light rail’ proposal (which apparently might even share track and run in the same corridor as VIA, CN, the AMT and CP trains).

Once again, the issue is not about how to get people from the airport to the city and back again in the quickest and most efficient manner (which may actually lead to a rise in tourism, but that’s another issue), but about West Islanders not having enough regular service on commuter rail lines.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – these issues are distinct and need to be treated as such. Aeroports de Montréal should know better than to clog the highest traffic rail corridor in the Americas with yet another train, and Lincoln’s group should be looking at making better use of the existing branch lines which may just as easily serve commuters’ needs. Further, I’m pretty sure there’s a rather large stockyard just next to the airport, and several other branch lines which approach the airport from the North rather than the high-traffic South.

Find another way, and I’d like to ask the AdM to not pursue the absolute most expensive alternative they can think of. An elevated line is unnecessary and impractical, especially if it will cause disruptions on the existing CN/CP infrastructure. You may as well build a Métro tunnel at that rate.

Frustrating!

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