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?

2 thoughts on “Of Montreal and Manhattan”

  1. Hi Kim – no unfortunately. And there’s another kink in the plan given that the REM light rail project designed by the CDPQ-Infra will actually slow down any attempt to link Montreal and Manhattan via a high-speed rail link, which is pretty vital at this point. Thanks for reading!

  2. Hi Taylor – has there been any development on such a rail line? Great article by the way, few years back I know but still a good read.

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