Of Montreal and Manhattan

How much of the Island of Manhattan do you think would fit into the space above?

I want you to imagine driving along Highway 40 heading west. Imagine starting at the intersection of Highway 13 and driving all the way to the Ile-aux-Tourtes Bridge. How long would that take driving at the speed limit with no traffic? Fifteen minutes? Maybe five minutes more?

Now imagine tracing that same route as the crow flies, and you are surveying the roughly one-tenth of the entire Island of Montréal which stretches out to your right. It would include Pierrefonds, DDO, part of Pointe-Claire, Kirkland, Ste-Anne’s and Senneville. That area, my friends, which seems so diminutive to so many West Islanders, is in fact just slightly larger than the entire Island of Manhattan. That most vital of New York City’s five boroughs, where 1.6 million people live, could easily fit in that space. In fact, you could put ten Manhattans on the Island of Montréal. Put another way, Manhattan is roughly the same size as Ile-Perrot. Or, if you were to look at the photograph above, everything south of Highway 40.

So what does this all mean? Well for one, we live in an exceptionally low-density city. And as the cost of petrol increases and citizens continue to move back to first and second ring urban suburbs on island, land value on island will invariably increase. As the urban core fills with medium-high density condominiums, the core will expand, as will the area in which high residential density is expected. I can imagine that if these trends are supported proactively by the city’s administration, a great many citizens may find themselves living on land worth far, far more than the value of the house they live in! Suburban land-owners may retire wealthier than expected by selling their properties for larger-density developments given that most of the newer generation of suburbanites have moved to the far less expensive (and lower density) developments off island, notably in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Ile-Perot, St-Eustache and Deux-Montagnes areas.

Just spectacular, I don’t know who took it, but great job.

In Manhattan, there are families whose wealth is owed principally to at one time owning large tracts of land which they sold for development. There are many more land-owners (and far more land) in private hands today on the Island of Montreal than on Manhattan in the late-18th and early-19th centuries, when the city extend much further than what today would constitue their Downtown. If our city were to invest in major public transit infrastructure development, such as a massive expansion of the Métro and commuter-rail network, we could encourage this conversion process. City’s densify along public transit system corridors, and there’s more than enough demand for greater accommodation on island.

Manhattan has a population density of roughly 27,000 per square kilometer, whereas Montréal has a density of 2,200 per square kilometer. The total area of the Island of Montréal (including Ile-Bizard, Ile-Ste-Helene, Ile-Dorval, Ile-Notre-Dame and Ile-des-Soeurs and several other small islands in the archipelago) is roughly 500 square kilometers. If Montréal was a single city covering that area, with Manhattan’s population density, it would be home to 13.5 million people.

Now I’m not advocating that we seek Manhattan’s population density, but we might want to consider the actual massive size of our island, and whether or not we’re using our land as efficiently as possible. Imagine if we were to double or triple our population density – it would still be less than a quarter the density of Manhattan spread out over an area ten times its size. That’s a far higher return on property taxes for the city while being able to simultaneously provide the additional tax revenues to protect a significant quantity of land for a much-discussed greenbelt.

More people paying taxes to a centralized city administration, with far more people making excellent use of our city services, stimulating our businesses etc, provides a more stable local economy. There’s no greater foundation than a lot of people living in close proximity, sharing a city they equally enjoy and appreciate, and running businesses providing all manner of services. The more people, the higher the land value, the greater the city’s budget grows, meaning larger sums can be issued as down-payments on loans for major development projects.

In any event, just some thoughts when comparing two interesting islands. I think we need to get bigger in order to exert a stronger influence in provincial and federal projects, not to mention greater economic muscle. There’s a perfect foundation for precisely this kind of growth which lies in a bigger population under a single administration.

Final thought – New York City is about 500 kilometers due south of Montréal, a pleasant drive through the Adirondack region along the Hudson River Valley. Montréal is the preferred tourist destination for Manhattanites right now, and that could be potentially very lucrative. There are restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn specializing in Montréal cuisine, and some people have commented that Montréal has replaced Brooklyn as the new epicentre of the music scene. I think we may have the start of a special relationship – so why not capitalize on it?

There’s been talk of a high-speed rail line running between our two cities, in the bucolic Hudson River Valley, for years and years now. There may be no better time to find private sector investment for such a rail line to capitalize on our newfound interactions with New York City, as the citizens of that city represent a considerable investment potential.

A high-speed line with pre-boarding clearance operating on a segregated track could potentially reach speeds in excess of between three and four hundred kilometers per hour.

Imagine Gare Central to Penn Station in an hour and a half. What could that mean for our tourism industry, not to mention our economy in general?

Instead of That, Try This {a starting point for urban redevelopment}

This is neat conceptual art, but the building still seems somewhat uninspiring, IMO

Imagine you’re some kind of oracle or mystic and you’re tasked with advising the mayor and you suggest the following:

1. On an island, beaches without bathing.
2. A major airport adjacent to medium-density residential neighbourhoods (while a potentially bigger & better airport rots in a field).
3. Train stations disconnected from rail lines.
4. Condominium construction prior to an expected downturn in the housing market.
5. Enforce a draconian and Charter-violating law that can potentially adversely affect roughly 17% of the city’s population.

I doubt you’d keep your job very long.

And yet, all of these are true of our somewhat beleaguered city. It could be comic if it weren’t so tragic too. Fixing any of the aforementioned baffling traits would do wonders for our collective morale, let alone help develop the city in a more sustainable fashion.

It’s beyond ridiculous, in my opinion, that our city has but one beach where bathing is permitted, and it’s in Cap St-Jacques Park. If we were surrounded by clean water and if we bothered to repair the wetlands ecosystems which once thrived at water’s edge, we could also develop a network of public and private beaches. Committing to do so is no frivolous exercise: they could provide myriad new small-business opportunities, and would be beneficial to our tourism industry. If we committed to cleaning our own waterways and building these beaches we would all profit, not least because we could go enjoy a dip in the river. And it would be one less thing to be embarrassed about too.

Or consider how ridiculous it is to have a jack-of-all-trades international airport surrounded by medium-density residential, industrial and commercial zones, with landing and take-off corridors over tranquil middle class neighbourhoods, while what could be a much larger and better designed airport surrounded by farmers fields sits unused at a more strategic junction, slowly being reclaimed by mother nature, and apparently only suitable for receiving a strongly suspected murderer. For a city that places such value on tourism, you’d think we’d have made the decision to keep the state-of-the-art super airport with an eventual 50 million passenger per year capacity. But no, we chose modesty and lost our position as Eastern Gateway. We could get this back with a high though temporary initial cost to the tax-payer to fund the infrastructure development which would be required to get Mirabel back up and running. But if we insisted that we finish the plan as originally conceived and offered preferential services and landing rights to various national air carriers, we would help guarantee sustained business so as to render the project profitable. Again, it’s an civic embarrassment that we choose to keep our White Elephants in stasis, as trophies for failure, rather than tirelessly seek means by which to remove the obstacles and complete the original intention. It’s not like we can go without an international airport, and the facilities at Trudeau have reached capacity. It’s time to make the move we should have done fifteen years ago. With three airports in the Montréal region, it would be advantageous to develop a division of services so as not to eliminate much needed capital infrastructure, but rather use it more efficiently.

How many train stations can you think of that are not connected to rail lines or otherwise inoperable? Westmount, Viger, Windsor, the one built under Trudeau airport, the other built under Mirabel airport, Parc, LaSalle, Rigaud – just to name a few. Granted, some on this list are simply unused though still adjacent to railway lines, while others have been re-purposed. Still, it makes me wonder – commuter train use seems to be growing rapidly, and it would be beneficial for all citizens to expand their commuter rail network. So why then are so many of our train stations simply cement platforms with unheated glass shelters? It’s almost as if there was a concerted effort to make taking the train unnecessarily uncomfortable. And for all the money spent investing in TV screens (many of which have been vandalized) to tell you when the next train is coming, why not just have a station with a small staff who can do just that. An actual person speaking over the PA would be far more effective than the automated system currently in use, which cannot tell you anything about when the next train is coming. And we have some beautiful train stations worth utilizing, and yet we seem to prefer leaving them empty or used for unrelated purposes.

Sure it looks good, but is there a market for it?

As to condo construction, well what can I say – it seems like we’re amping up development when the general housing market is expected to stall (and incidentally, has been expected to stall for some time). Is this really the best way to go?

And as to Loi 78, well again – is this really the best way to go? Now seems like an ideal time for Montréal to exert bit of its own sovereignty by refusing outright to enforce this law at all. Make it very public, and make it known that Montréal can stand on its own two feet by paying its own way, and doing as it sees fit. I can’t help but feel a major common denominator here is that our growth, our economy, our politics and our society is increasingly being influenced, negatively, by trends imported from places where they are of no use. There are almost 2 million Montrealers and nearly 4 million in our metro region. It’s high time, in my opinion, that we get a bit of our pride back, and work to eliminate our collective baggage of embarrassments. You and I both know there are many other possible additions to it, so perhaps that’s the most ideal place to start planning.

Pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, exert an increased local sovereignty in decision-making and development, and start by fixing the failures.

They do nothing for other than act as reminders of past deficiencies. Such landmarks are potentially ruinous, and I firmly believe our fine little collection has only pushed our expectations for our city ever lower.

So let’s start by removing the ruins of past greatness.

Corruption is Killing this City

Not the work of the author…

There’s no other way to say it, and I think we need to begin acknowledging that there are tangible roots to our city’s seemingly inherent corruption. What drives me mental is that, no matter which way you look at it, a far greater number of people all stand to gain a greater amount in the long-term if we simply eliminate a wide assortment of poor practices we’ve accumulated over the years.

How many water mains have burst in the past few days, let alone weeks?

How many times have St-Laurent and Parc Avenue been ripped open in the past few years?

And how times have mould or asbestos closed public schools and forced re-locations?

I’m likely preaching to the choir – if you’re a Montrealer you can read off a list of various problems our city has to do deal with, seemingly every single year. The infrastructure, in general, seems to be in the midst of a rather rapid degeneration. Perhaps this is because we never invest in long-term solutions, or preventative maintenance and forensic engineering. Because selling band-aid solutions makes quick friends in the political arena. But it’s a short-term gain for a select few at the expense of the greater gain for the masses of average citizens. I say our priorities are grossly out of whack.

What would it actually require to fix everything in one shot? Our city has an annual budget of $4.7 billion. If we were to demand a one-time only increase on property taxes for the very wealthy, and deviated all available discretionary spending towards infrastructure repair, surely we could help end the era of mass collusion by simply eliminating most of our recurring problems.

Consider this. It seems as though every year the roads are in bad shape and in need of repair. On top of that, we’re actively re-building major thoroughfares as it is, the bridges need constant (though far from preventative) maintenance and the viaducts, overpasses and tunnels are all in need of dire repairs.

In addition to all that, our utility network needs a massive overhaul, something which has only been piecemeal up to this point. Communications cables, sewers, water, steam and gas pipes, the electrical grid – all of it happens to be buried under the same roads which are in need of repair. And yet we seem incapable of coordinating the operations.

The railways infrastructure needs to be developed, as more and more commuters move to the suburbs to escape the constant repairs. And because we need to spend all our time and money repairing broken systems, we never get around to building anything new. Innovation takes a back seat to the pressing needs of now because of what we didn’t do yesterday, and thus is labelled as naive.

It’s a vicious circle in every sense of the term.

And this, in my opinion, is the fundamental root of why our construction industry and various levels of government are corrupt – they’ve created a system which provides lucrative contracts signed by enterprising politicians who promise overhauls of the previous system without actually overhauling it. All projects come out over-budget, behind schedule, and ultimately don’t work, as often it seems they weren’t intended to. It seems that the primary reason everything is always broken is because that provides a small, non-innovative industry every reason to try and secure more work later on by doing the job as inefficiently as possible. The level of corruption is so massive it nearly defies explanation – it is my great fear that nepotism is becoming as characteristic a Montréal trait as our joie de vie.

It is an infectious and paralyzing desease which has managed, over the past thirty years at least, to dig itself into seemingly every element of our modern cosmopolis. $3200 garbage cans, new bus shelters that cost five figures, an an apparently 3-5 billion dollar bridge to the South Shore. Why is it that this all costs so much, will invariably wind up costing more, and does nothing to actually solve some of our more pressing issues facing the city. It’s no just that we seem to uniquely employ bandaid solutions, but that we also spend so much time arguing about new development it never comes to pass. We’re so used to the inflation and inefficiencies of corruption in industry, government and commerce, that we have no idea how long things should take to build and how much they cost. Consider that most of the infrastructure we need to upgrade and develop is in fact fifty year old technology and design. It’s not all bad, but given the perception that our last crack at original design and civic-pride-fuelled development resulted in the degeneration we face today, we’re loathe to ever try something novel, or expand on the innovations that actually work quite well. Mind you, the last time we tried expanding the Métro, it cost nearly as much as building the Blue Line as we know it today. We’ve been debating Métro expansion for nearly a decade with no new construction despite rising demand and necessity.

Do you realize we built the first 26 Métro stations in 4 years in the early-mid 1960s? This includes the entirety of the Yellow Line, and about 60% of both the Orange and Green Lines. Four years, on time and on budget. It immediately began making money for the city. Today it requires a sprucing up of epic proportions, but ever there – in a system beloved by the citizenry and worthy of the investment, we’re loathe to commit any money to it.

And so it is – we’re letting things crumble all around us and the electorate, for whatever reason, seems helpless to stop it. At least part of the problem is also a result of a lack of real economic planning on the part of our administration – how much new growth is funded by outside money compared to what wealth is created here? Why is it that our city cannot improve its infrastructure without necessarily engaging two other levels of government? Why can’t we do what is best for ourselves, easily, effectively, with long-term gain and durability at the forefront of our minds?

Our current system, as it manifests itself daily in crumbling infrastructure, is economically untenable. It will drive us to a complete economic collapse, as it somewhat savagely erodes consumer and investor confidence alike.

The idea that someone could become rich off of collusion needs to be proven false. The gain comes at a very real cost, and we can see it demonstrated every single day.

What we need is a committed effort to find and implement solutions to these problems on an escalated time-span. A single year where we commit to fixing everything in a single shot. A year-long property tax raise for those who can afford to pay, in addition to a diversion of considerable sums towards implementing a city-wide infrastructure upgrade and city-beautification initiative, organized through a single centralized command. It would require more jobs than people currently available to fill them, meaning it would create a year-long surge in job creation, and a three shift system would be required to avoid paying expensive over-time, not to mention avoiding operational exhaustion.

And here’s the kicker – this is not entirely new, we’ve done things similarly in the past.

So what are we waiting for? 2013 is around the corner, another mayoral election is due, and once again it seems like the two central figures – Harel and Tremblay – are embroiled in controversy, petty politics and poor associations. But who cares, right? Voter turn-out in the last election was around 30%. Pathetic. Is it any wonder we have the problems we do? Is it any wonder we’ve lost our economic prowess – we’re an expensive comedy of errors. Corruption is killing our city.

All we need to make it stop, is to stop doing what we know isn’t working. The very definition of insanity is repeating the same action expecting a different outcome each time. So are we collectively deranged? Or just disinterested, demoralized? Our lethargy and resistance to exercising our most fundamental duty – to be vigilant and engaged citizens – is keeping us all down, preventing our mutual success.

What is a Nation Without Goals?

Maybe it’s me, but he’s always struck me as a somewhat lethargic individual…

This article was originally posted to the blog of the Association for Canadian Studies, and can be accessed back there where you see the hyperlink.


When will Canada build a bullet-train network?

Will the first sesquicentenarian be Canadian?

Will Canada solve global warming?

Will Canada prevent the next genocide?

Isn’t Canada a more suitable nation to host the UN General Assembly than the United States?

When will Canada develop its own independent space launch capability?

When will we finally fully ratify the Constitution?

And when will we finally get down to business and enter into negotiations for the acquisition (or voluntary integration) of the Turks & Caicos?

None of these have to be national goals, there just examples of things we’ve pondered, issues we’re concerned about and various initiatives that we’re once considered but in which there’s been no follow through. We’re remarkably good at dreaming, but of late haven’t been great at creating. One without the other is rather pointless isn’t it? But really, would it kill us to start thinking, sincerely, about who we’re going to be and we’ll be doing twenty, forty, sixty years from now?

We have no goals, and I sincerely feel this may be our ultimate undoing. A nation without any definable goals is a listless one, and this is inherently unstable.

To say we have no goals doesn’t mean we haven’t been working – all of us, as individuals, have certainly been diligently performing our duties. Our economy is strong, our resource sector is booming, as is the value of our dollar. Canadian banks and corporations are doing well despite myriad potential threats to their stability. All in all, though there is a high level of popular discontent amongst certain key demographics (namely youth, creative & intellectual capitalists and primary cultural minorities), the vast majority of Canadians are still relatively content and appropriately compensated. None of us are overwhelmingly rich, and, for the moment, too few of us are sufficiently poor so as to effect broad societal change.

That being the case, why not utilize the general social stability to further stabilize the economy of the future? Why not secure a booming resource-based economy with a new foundation of major infrastructure projects to further unite the nation? Why not capitalize on security by thinking big and implementing long-term nation-building projects?

It’s what we’ve done historically, and we know that it works.

From the construction of the Canadian Pacific in 1885 to the construction of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s, Canada has always been a nation of great national projects. The Canadarm, the Arrow, Alouette I, Medicare, Peacekeeping, the Charter – we have done so many great things it’s ridiculous to try and list them in a single blog post – the point is ultimately that national aspirations are a worthwhile endeavour, as it gives all of us, in no uncertain terms, something which we know we all can work towards, regardless of whatever function we happen to have. It’s the dream which pulls you out from your specific task and insists that you are actively contributing to a project greater than every individual, simply by going above and beyond every day. in order to produce a hyper effective, efficient workforce, we need dreams with just this much reach.

Without a driving force, we’ll invariably wind up circling the drain. Nothing exists uniquely in stasis – we must have social propulsion, drive, movement.

Today there is discontent in Canada – it’s palpable. Yet we also have security and, perhaps for the first time, real immediate wealth. We can’t afford to squander it. Let us find balance between these poles and seek to define what we want for the future and how we can better utilize our relative current riches into multi-generational, self-perpetuating wealth. We need to craft a wish-list to determine exactly what kind of future nation we want, now. And if we can go a step further, and identify key investments we wish to characterize as having a particular Canadian accent, then we can position ourselves to be, conceptually, the nation at the state of its respective arts. Whether it’s the best transportation network, the highest quality of life, the finest schools or global leadership in terms of eradicating poverty, disease, war or exploring outer space, whatever we choose as our national dreams, let it ultimately reflect who we wish to become.

The single greatest tool for economic stability and real growth is a society committed to achieving national goals for the greater good. As long as there’s a national dream that is driven by the wants and needs of the people themselves, and the people understand that these goals go to benefit the whole inasmuch as the individual, they’ll work harder, work better and save to live peacefully in the future ideal they wish to create.

And the best thing about living in the 21st century? Not only is this doable, but we have the communications technologies and media techniques to keep everyone focused on whatever goals we come up with. Heck, we could turn it into a very real, very addictive, game. Hard work can be infectiously enjoyable.

An Update on Updates

Aislin, poignant as ever – May 19th 2012


It’s been a while.

What can I say, you know the drill, I’ve been busy. But I haven’t forgotten about you.

A few things I’ve been thinking about;

Regarding the murder, what can I say – it’s so vile, so depraved. What I find particularly distressing is that this contemptuous lunatic is getting, from what I gather, to be precisely what he always wanted – infamy. I can imagine no greater justice than to secure him, heavily sedated, in a small padded room, wherein he would placed under constant observation, reminded daily that though every element of the remainder of his life would be recorded, studied, he’d never be able to relish in it. Justice in this case is complete and total isolation and anonymity for the accused. To be cut off absolutely from the world he wished to sensationalize with his excess. If only I could think of another level of Kafkaesque punishment to induce a world of exceptional existential angst and self-loathing.

I fear the notoriety he has already managed to obtain for himself pales in comparison to what awaits once his extradition is completed and his trial begins. If our society is worth a damn we’ll collectively abstain from any sort of media circus, and we’ll deride those who move to utilize this horrific crime as a tool to achieving strict socially-conservative and authoritarian political goals. It didn’t take long for the latter to occur, we have to decide whether or not we allow the former.


The single greatest threat to Canadian unity is not the Québec independence movement. It is Stephen Harper, and everything he has done and has come to represent which presents a clear and present danger to the very sanctity of Canadian society and culture. His political career must end well before 2015, as his amply-chinned predecessor’s career similarly ended. Let the scandals mount, let the cracks grow, let Quiet Revolution 2.0 spread across the nation. All we have is time and time is all we need – there’s simply no way he can irreversibly damage Canada, even if he were to complete his term, but what’s been done so far is damage enough. I think it’s time the silent majority of Canadian progressives pronounce themselves and utilize all political and civil disobedience tools we have at our disposal to remove Stephen Harper from 24 Sussex Drive. We don’t have to do much more than make it known we will no longer support any government which aims to so viscously undermine our nation’s great accomplishments. And so, whether you’re issue is free post-secondary education, a move back towards a manufacturing economy, a commitment to solve climate change, pro-active diplomatic involvement in geo-politics or the funds necessary for a Canadian cultural renaissance – whatever your cause, there’s never been a better time to organize against an individual who will likely go down in history as the most reviled prime minister we ever had the misfortune of electing.

And by the way – Charest has to go as well. He has failed to clean up the construction industry, he has failed to find a solution with the protesters and his cavalier attitude belies what can only be described as a thoroughly incompetent misunderstanding of public sentiment in Québec. Moreover, he’s pursuing natural-gas fracking which is reason enough to ask him to split.

The people must take their country back, and uphold democracy and the rule of law. If the people of Québec succeed, they may very well push an already rising tide of change throughout the land. I find it curious that Québec may, right now, have the most relative strength of any demographic political group in Canada, as its dissent has spread past the borders.


Well no shit. The status of the French language in Montréal – safe, secure, on the rise in business, universal in services, signs etc etc. The commonly held perception that it is threatened and/or in decline is completely wrong, Montréal is unequivocally, unabashedly French. And of course it would be, given that it’s also, still, the second largest French city on the face of the planet. That said, the OQLF is still going to get a larger budget for more inspectors to look for problems which don’t exist.

Another fantastic example of Jean Charest’s brilliant political mind in action.


The flash-flooding last week was a freak act of nature. 80mm of rain in one hour. As I exited Tour de la Cathedrale at 17h01 it had just begun to drizzle a little bit, then bigger, heavier, pulsating rain came in. By the time I made it to Place Ville-Marie five minutes later, to take shelter under the massive concrete pods, it was coming down in sheets and you couldn’t see down Boul. René-Lévesque. I have never seen anything like it before in my life, but apparently it has happened once before in my lifetime. In 1987 something similar happened, which winded up killing some guy caught in a flooded Decarie Expressway. Long story short – it’s a rarity, and the flooding was not as a result of poor infrastructure. Sometimes shit just happens. At least it was spectacular to watch, and gave us something to talk about other than what had happened the day before.


Finally – the never ending Train de l’Ouest saga. Aeroports de Montréal has come out with a new proposal which may or may not involve elevated trains that could also use tunnels, possibly, and apparently would be separate from the CN/CP lines while mirroring them (by being built beside and/or above the existing lines) and would have a downtown hub located on the site of a new condo project or at an existing train station. Maybe.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this last one in a forthcoming article.