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 MontrÃ©al 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.
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 MontrÃ©al 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 MontrÃ©al 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.