Even More Fantasy Métro Maps!

Trams at Place d'Armes ca. 1940s (Montréal)
Trams at Place d’Armes ca. 1940s (Montréal)

I love finding these – so much to think about.

It goes without saying I think we need to prioritize public transit expansion in our city. We need to transition off of our over-reliance on automobiles, cut down considerably on local pollution, gridlock and the endless cycles of roadway destruction. Train, subways, buses, trams etc. are all part of a veritable transit cocktail we’ll need to build over the course of the coming generations to make public transit the principle fashion by which we get around the city.

And there’s really only one fundamental underlying reason why we need to expand – it will make money for the city and allow you to keep more of yours. Cars cost a fortune in terms of fuel, insurance, repairs and maintenance. Roads require constant renovations because of the massive quantities of corrosive salt we need to pour on them every year just to keep the roadway passable in the winter months, and this in turn means every year your tax-dollars are being wasted repeating the same work. The combination of these factors have made driving a bit of a hassle in a city which is lovely to drive in – a shame. If we had a public transit system so well developed personal automobiles were used far more sparingly, not only would the value of the car increase while its associated costs decrease, we’d also be able to potentially cut back on costs associated with road maintenance as well.

And as our recent massive snow-storm has revealed, public transit is absolutely vital when the roads are otherwise impassable, especially the systems we have (such as the Métro and Réso) which allow the city to continue operating regardless of conditions outside. It’s a strong argument for why we need to expand the Métro system and Réso concurrently, and seek to include as much direct access to residential and office buildings as possible.

But there’s no single transit system which will solve all of our transit needs, and I’m very much in favour of utilizing different systems to connect different parts of the city in different ways. That said, even if we use diverse modes, there should be a single agency running the show for the whole of the metropolitan region. I point again to Vancouver’s TransitLink as an excellent example we should follow. A single agency with a single transit police, single fare, single union, single collective bargaining agreement and most importantly, a single (massive) pension fund and planning department. More organized, lower overhead cost, more accessible – we can’t go wrong.

This would be something I’d like to see in the coming years, as it would make public transit not only more effective but efficient as well. Greater public transit integration and efficiency passes the savings back to tax-payer in better service while allowing more revenue to be generated on the whole.

Put another way, the status quo is very expensive and the cost is going to rise. If the city gets out ahead of this issue and plans for a massive transition we can start reaping the benefits sooner, and we’ll be better off the earlier we start.

That said, let’s consider three new fantasy mass transit systems I’ve recently come across.

Métro extension and LRT proposal by Dashspeed
Métro extension and LRT proposal by Dashspeed

I’ve posted plans by ‘Dashspeed’ before as I found them all pretty interesting. This one’s novel because it presents a modest Métro expansion plan along with the development of an integrated LRT system.

Métro expansions would include a five and three-station extension on either side of the Orange Line (west and east respectively) without closing the loop and six stations to the Blue Line towards Anjou. These are very likely developments given population growth in Saint-Laurent, Petite-Patrie, Rosemont, Saint-Leonard and Anjou. What’s fascinating here is the idea that the airport ought to be served by a new Métro line which in this case would follow part of the once-proposed western extension of the Blue Line and link it up with Bonaventure and Peel stations (and Gare Centrale by extension) with an apparent stop somewhere very close to the Mountain. Based on the map I wonder if the idea isn’t to dig out a Métro tunnel alongside the existing Mount Royal Tunnel. What an impressive job that would be!

I like this proposed Red Line development, but I like the proposed LRT network even more. It’s an effective way of providing a higher capacity alternative to a bus while spending less on infrastructure. Examples: the Magenta Line connects Bonaventure and Windsor station with Griffintown, Goose Village, Pointe-St-Charles and Nun’s Island, the Grey Line crosses the Champlain Bridge and serves all the South Shore communities from Brossard to Longueuil, there attaching to the Yellow Line. A Violet Line connects Papineau station, crosses the bridge and on to Saint-Hubert Airport, a Blue Line LRT runs from a proposed intermodal station at the Université de Montréal through Cote-des-Neiges, Saint-Laurent and Laval onto Mirabel Airport. Dashspeed also includes some ‘redundancy’ lines, such as the tram running along The Main from Jean-Talon to Place-d’Armes on the Métro Orange Line and along Boul. Decarie and Marcel-Laurin.

I also like how the tram lines anticipate future on-island densification, and that the West Island requires a comprehensive tram network if we have any hope of cutting back on their car dependency. I think buses have outlived their utility, and reserved-lane LRTs could serve the area much better. Also, interesting idea to have both LRTs and a Métro Line connecting directly to Trudeau.

Métro expansion by JohnQPublic (?)
Métro expansion by JohnQMetro

This plan is pretty bold and would, if implemented, greatly increase the area we consider to be ‘urban Montréal’. A lot of this based on other plans touted about for years, such as extending both ends of the Blue and Green Lines, having part of the Yellow Line twinned with the Green Line in the downtown, using the Métro to connect to Trudeau Airport and closing the Orange Line to form a loop.

What’s novel here is the orientation of the map, more aligned with true north than we’re used to. Doing so makes the case for eastern and northern development a bit easier – I think we too easily forget there’s 500,000 people on the other side of the river and another half-million living in the ring of northern suburbs. These areas need to be better connected to the CBD, in a more direct fashion. The Red Line in this example would connect Griffintown, PSC, Goose Village and Nun’s Island to the CBD in addition to the Plateau and McGill Ghetto. A true North-South Line is a very novel proposal indeed, and would seek to link to separate but nonetheless iconic neighbourhoods. We could call it the Hipster Line.

Other neat ideas here Рa Parc Avenue focused M̩tro Line linking the city with Brossard and Saint Laurent. Also, many more two-line access stations and a M̩tro linked directly to the Montreal General Hospital and Rockcliffe Apartments over Cote-des-Neiges road.

It also occurred to me looking at this design that spacing out stops farther away from the city is a neat solution to the problem of population density in transitional residential zones. One of the many arguments against Métro expansion is that many think it would require stops as frequent as we currently have, which in turn would make the commute very long indeed. By stretching the average distance between stations Métro trains could conceivably reach higher speeds. As population density increases new stops can be placed in between.

Métro expansion and surface tram proposal by Richard Sunichura
Métro expansion and surface tram proposal by Richard Sunichura

Our final entry is like the former heavily influenced by contemporary planning and proposals, including a Pie-IX Line going up into Montréal North and RdP, closing the Orange Line loop, and adding a few stations to the ends of the existing lines. I find this plan a bit underwhelming and think too many stations have been added to the Orange Line in Laval. I’m also not crazy about having a y-shaped Métro Line even if part of it is attached to the airport. This plan also utilizes trams, but does so as if to build bridges between Métro lines almost as if to bypass them. Final point on this one, utilizing the Mount Royal Tunnel for a Métro Line is one thing, but this makes it seem as if a Métro Line would be built under the CN track and AMT’s Deux-Montagnes Line all the way to Pierrefonds. I’m not sure what the logic is here unless.

In any event, glad people are still making these. If we truly want our city to grow we’re going to have to start thinking big about public transit in Montréal. The bigger and more useful the system, the more we all save in car-related expenses we no longer have. Not having to plunk down anywhere from $15,000-45,000 every ten-to-twelve years would mean a lot more money in your pocket.

Think about it – this isn’t hippy-dippy bullshit, it’s basic economics and the cost of a personal car is high and getting higher. Providing an efficient and comprehensive alternative throughout the metropolitan region by extension transfers a considerable amount of disposable income back into the pockets of the citizenry.

A thought for the New Year perhaps. Change is coming in November.

Thoughts

Merry Christmas.

I’m still very much an Atheist, but I nonetheless thoroughly enjoy celebrating Christmas, in the thoroughly modern Québecois fashion my family has evolved in to.

It is my combined family’s longest lasting tradition – my Dad’s side Christmas morning for brunch and my Mom’s side for dinner; in the last few years, as my elderly grandfather’s internal clock dictates, the supper has unfortunately become shorter, but is balanced by the brunch’s evolution into a late afternoon lunch followed by a ‘second-phase’ after we drop my grandpa off at his residence in a top-notch West Island round-the-clock care facility. Despite mild Parkinsons, hearing loss and a variety of other ailments, he was glowing tonight – happy, reminiscent – he told us stories, as is his custom, of his boyhood in Algeria. Tonight he told us of his experiences as a Scout meeting an old Bedouin clan-chief, who regaled his troop with stories of the desert, of Islam, of the Arab World in Antiquity, and offered them ancient butter cookies that stank terribly of naphtha, to which they couldn’t refuse on account of the old man’s generosity of time and experience! I’m often left adoringly speechless just thinking of how much living this man had accomplished before his life was irrevocably (and positively) changed by the Second World War.

He’s 92 and I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do!

But I digress, this year was like so many past and as such feels like an accomplishment; we’re all here, together, enjoying each other’s company and sharing considerate gifts. Who could ask for anything more?

I know I’m not alone, and as such we all share in something special, something real we can be truly grateful for.

This is what Christmas means to me, and it has nothing to do with my thoughts on gods or Jesus Christ.

I can imagine this is true for a lot of other people as well.

So here’s to us and everyone else too for that matter – we got through another day on Earth together, and hopefully it was a good day for you as well.

What more can we ask for?

New Real Estate – L’Avenue Condominiums


L’Avenue Condos perspective rendering, from the southwest at the bottom of Drummond.

I’m keen on the design of this building even though I’m not 100% sold on how this area is being developed. There’s no doubt in my mind L’Avenue is going to be an important landmark on our future city-scape, but I’d nonetheless prefer to see the city take a leading role in conceptualizing an overall design plan for the area. Perhaps I’m jumping the gun though, the four principle projects in the immediate vicinity of the Bell Centre are all still in their sales phase, it will be a while still before we get to see this.

But once it’s up, I think it will be a stunning addition to our skyline.

It will be the tallest residential building in the city, stacking up at fifty storeys with 325 suites offering one, two and three-room models, each fitted with high ceilings, and a private balcony, not to mention what would doubtless be some rather spectacular views up amongst the giants of the city centre.

The tower is composed of three distinct volumes blended into one another in a staggered fashion, growing out and up from the southwest towards the northeast much like a fountain. It’s stationed on an eight-storey base the developer hopes will be primarily utilized as commercial retail and office space, following a trend I noticed recently in Vancouver combining commercial and residential properties into an iconic building where the attractive tower is principally mixed-use residential. The L-shape will have the tower focused on Rue Drummond, with a spacious courtyard providing an exclusive address on an otherwise uninhabited part of the street. The alternating use of dark tinted glass and dark exterior finishings with the slight blue tint of the less opaque glass does a good job hiding the balconies, which the developer pointed out as one of the fundamental elements of urban living – access to a full size exterior space on an individual level is key, though like many other recent condo towers and urban living concepts, residents will also have access to large shared facilities as well.

Suffice it to say if I had the money I’d consider living here, as at the very least I’m already convinced the building will age well and likely be a coveted address for some time to come. If the market stabilizes and we somehow evade a major housing market correction, this could become a valuable piece of downtown property.

What concerns me is that the city is completely uninvolved in any form of urban planning in this new high-density, urban residential neighbourhood. It’s both fascinating and somewhat confounding. The projects listed (such as L’Avenue and it’s soon to be neighbours, Roccabella, Icone and Tour de Canadiens de Montréal) are listed as part of the Montréal 2025 ‘master-plan’ but the city is so far leaving this plan’s ‘design’ up to market demand. So far the market has proven at least interested, but without the city’s involvement some no-brainer elements of neighbourhood design are being forgotten entirely.

My primary concern is that the city has so far made no plans to utilize the massive amount of development in this sector to expand the Underground City.

Here we have L’Avenue, in addition to the other buildings to go up in the parking lot adjacent to the Bell Centre, but they won’t be connected to the Réso system quite literally across the street. If the city were to mandate the construction of a Réso tunnel running north from the Bell Centre towards Boul. de Maisonneuve, several buildings (such as those to be built, in addition to the Cité du Commerce Electronique, the Sheraton Centre, Tour CIBC, La Crystal de la Montagne and the future Maison Ogilvie redevelopment) would be directly connected to the underground infrastructure, two Métro lines and four Métro stations. In addition, we would finally have a legitimate residential component to the Underground City and we’d further have the means to link up numerous additional medium sized residential buildings located between Peel Métro and the Réso component at Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus. It would help ease traffic circulation, increase the value of attached properties, and allow greater access to the public mass-transit system. Of all the natural extensions of the Réso, the concentration of large-scale redevelopment projects in the sector roughly bounded by de Maisonneuve, St-Antoine, de la Montagne and Peel makes this area the best choice for expansion.

Then of course there’s the lack of social services. The city hasn’t mandated any new schools, daycares, medical clinics, community or cultural spaces of any kind in this area (or any other part of the downtown for that matter). Granted the developments are principally being oriented towards singles and young couples without families, but in order to better establish a sense of community in this sector, such facilities are necessary so as to attract and retain families. Families are typically far better wealth generators and wealth maintainers than individuals and couples who are invariably more mobile; in other words families might be less inclined to simply flip their property relatively shortly after initial purpose. Why will people continue living in a place so many quickly move out of? What’s the attraction for someone to stay here?

Providing an access tunnel would give the new developments a degree of marketable cachet, but going a step further, so as to include the building blocks of an identifiable neighbourhood, would help these buildings acquire something more valuable – a sense of permanency.

Without such a sense, buildings like these will be more greatly affected by changes in the market and personal tastes. In my eyes, the development’s investment potential and financial security is more secure if the city matches private investment with public, sustainable social development.

With this in mind I would hope the city takes the very broad 2025 plan and divide it up into smaller constituent parts, conceptualizing our shared space in terms of small-scale viable neighbourhoods in a large, multi-faceted urban centre.

Nonuments

(artist unknown); from the foot of Mount Royal facing northeast, upon the introduction electric light
Crystal Palace (Montreal ca. 1879 – artist unknown); from the foot of Mount Royal facing northeast across Fletcher’s Field, upon the introduction electric light in the city.

If I may be so bold as to coin a term, nonuments.

Broadly defined, a former monument that, for whatever reason, no longer serves any real purpose. An ex-landmark, no longer on anyone’s horizon. A kind of de-facto folly. Broader still, the realm of monuments that never were, conceptualized and forgotten. I would consider such breadth of a term only because, even if never actualized they often left traces of themselves; shadows of what could have been.

I think you’d find nonuments in most cities – hell, some cities could be described as nonumental (such as Downtown Detroit – there’s a definite intersection between my idea of a nonument and urban decay, such as has been seen in the de-industrialization of the Great Lakes/Saint Lawrence/Hudson River conurbation; example). And of course, as you might imagine, I’ve compiled a list of sorts of notable local examples.

There’s something I find particularly sad about these nonuments – it’s the idea a close-knit social group, such as a city, would lose a bit of its prestige, of its demonstrable wealth, the built environment as tribute to local success. I suppose it’s the loss of something that once inspired many people, often simply by looking at it, or the idea that we’d forget the significance.

But perhaps I’m being overly sentimental. Most of these examples could be revived in one way or another.

In any event Рenough pontificating. Some Montr̩al nonuments for your consideration.

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Alcan Aquarium as it appears today as an underused pavilion at La Ronde

Top spot goes to the Alcan Aquarium, operated from 1967 to 1991. The Aquarium was once considered to be among the very finest in the world, and it sported an extensive collection of species, in addition to performing dolphins and a colony of penguins in a reconstructed Antarctic habitat. Back in the day the city was far more directly implicated in the operation of local attractions and as a result of a city-workers strike in the early 1980s several dolphins perished due to neglect, their care-takers apparently unable to gain access to tend to these poor mammals. Attendance pretty much nose-dived after that.

The two buildings still exist, though they are now part of La Ronde. I’d love to have another Aquarium, though I’m not sure if the former facilities could be re-used for that purpose, given that they’ve had their interiors re-modelled for vastly different purposes. This is part of the trouble of these nonuments, it’s not always possible to resurrect them in any meaningful way, and Parc Jean-Drapeau has an unfortunate number of examples. Ergo, it would likely be simpler to build a new aquarium in the most modern and sustainable fashion, and locate such a facility in a more convenient location, either in the Old Port or Cité-du-Havre.

crystal palace 2
Montreal’s Crystal Palace, in it’s last location in what is today’s Parc Jeanne-Mance

Next, Montréal’s Crystal Palace. Built for the Montreal Industrial Exhibition of 1860, it was based off the plans of its namesake in London, and was used for similar purposes, albeit on a smaller, more provincial scale. Its original location roughly corresponds with Palace Alley downtown, as it was moved in 1878 to Fletcher’s Field as noted above. It would continue serving as a kind of multi-purpose exhibition space until consumed by fire in 1896. The move to Fletcher’s Field would play a significant role in the development of modern ice-hockey, as McGill skating and hockey clubs used the Palace as a natural indoor ice-rink in winter months. The first known photograph of a uniformed hockey team playing on an indoor ice-rink was taken at the Crystal Palace in 1881 in a location somewhat ironically currently largely used for beach volleyball in the summer.

Facilities of this type aren’t much in fashion anymore, and we’re not running short on exhibition space. The idea of having a large, public, interactive cultural space in this part of the city still seems attractive to me, perhaps as either a public market or museum of local natural and social history.

france-001
SS France

Our third entry never made it past the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, the funnels were too high.

Mayor Drapeau had this idea back in the mid-1970s that Montréal would acquire the recently decommissioned ocean liner SS France and use it as the Olympic Village for the 21st Olympiad (still a novel idea IMO). He further proposed that the ship could later be used as a permanently moored floating casino, hotel, resort and conference centre. Again, not the worst idea I’ve ever heard. The SS France had already stayed in Montréal during Expo Summer, as an extension of the French Pavilion.

The story goes that the ship would have had a hard time getting under the Québec Bridge, though it had managed to do so in 1967, and ultimately the mayor would have his arm twisted into constructing the Olympic Village we know today. The Olympic Village was, much like the beleaguered Stadium, inappropriately designed for the local climate and neighbourhood, becoming a city within it itself as opposed to the centre of a residential revival in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Petite-Patrie areas.

If we ever host another Olympiad, we should seriously consider purchasing an ocean liner and use it as a floating convention centre, hotel, resort and casino after the games. It would add a lot of life to the Old Port and, given that it would be a cruise ship or ocean liner, would of course come equipped with everything needed to begin operations, immediately. Not to mention it would look good too, and could give the Old Port and Old Montreal a year-round tourist-driven economic activity generator.

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Montréal-Paris Tower, proposal mock-up

Our fourth entry is the Montréal-Paris tower, designed to be the principle Montréal pavilion (of sorts, in the end the city would not have its own pavilion at Expo 67, or if you’d prefer, the city was the exhibition) and the culmination of Mayor Drapeau’s desire that Montréal have an iconic tower. He would eventually develop the Olympic Tower, delivered late in 1987 and aesthetically unimproved since, a veritable static time-machine, though our existing tower pales in comparison to what he had intended in 1964. The land intended for the tower is today a vast parking lot at the easternmost tip of Ile-Ste-Hélène.

I’m still a fan of our mountain serving as the best view in our city; would love to see this space redeveloped into a vast parkland of sorts, it’s a nice place for a picnic. The amount of land dedicated to cars at Parc Jean-Drapeau and vehicular traffic is far too high, in my opinion. I can imagine an integrated, automated parc-centric mass transit system, such as the former Expo Express easing the dependency on automobiles at the park and, if suitably connected to the downtown, potentially serve to better unify the diverse collection of activities on the islands.

projects_62_Expo_67_Opening_Ceremony_PC001
Expo 67 Opening Ceremonies at Place des Nations

At the other end of Ile-Ste-Hélène, the abandoned Place des Nations, once the great entrance to Expo 67, a place in which roughly fifty million people passed through over six months in 1967. It was the first stop along the Expo Express LRT after the ‘Expo pre-game show’ along Avenue Pierre-Dupuy in the Cité-du-Havre. This is what the Cité-du-Havre looked like in 1967:

Cite_du_Havre_Expo_67_longview-1ABCD
This was once Montréal

Place des Nations was a large public plaza attached to a major transit station, with regularly-scheduled performances and ceremonies. It wouldn’t be of any use in this function today given it’s no longer attached much to anything, no longer serves as the entryway to tomorrowland, but the area is nonetheless rather picturesque, especially along the water’s edge. I enjoy this space very much, as there are typically so few people around, and you can enjoy the tonic of Montréal’s river weather and feel someone alone standing in the midst of a roaring river, surrounded on all sides by examples of our urban reality. The trees have grown up and the whole area has the feel of a kind of post-modern ruin. I’d say a must see as it is, but it wouldn’t be so bad if this public space were renovated and actually used by the public. Of all the nonuments on this list, Place des Nations could easily be made to be something worthwhile again, I think it’s just a matter of giving people a reason to go there, and find its purpose.

c1_9g
The gutted interior of the Montreal Forum

Our final entry, though i’m sure I’ll think of additional examples later on, is the saddest entertainment complex I can think of – the former Montreal Forum.

The winningest team in pro-hockey’s greatest shrine is an underused shopping mall, multiplex cinema and poorly conceived entertainment hub. It could have been transformed into anything and I’d argue it still can. The Pepsi Forum (or whatever it’s called today) doesn’t really work, and there’s an absolutely massive quantity of unused space within the building.

I’ve always felt that the location is ideally suited for a major performance venue. I think it’s all that’s missing from the Atwater/Cabot Square area – a socio-cultural anchor that draws in large quantities of locals on a regular basis for the purpose of seeing a show of one kind or another. Something that would help stimulate the development of a ‘Western Downtown’ entertainment hub centred on the new Forum, with ample bars, restaurants, bistros and the like.

Today the area has a bit of a ‘has-been/once-was’ reputation I think is directly attributed to the loss of the forum as our city’s principle sports and entertainment venue. Re-developing the building has certain advantages, in that there’s not much to preserve of the physical building aside from it’s shell, and there’s a vast amount of space within the current building which is completely unused. Ergo, it’s possible current tenants could be relocated within the building’s basement with a new performance space built on top. A major re-design of the façade would be required because, quite frankly, it’s an eyesore as is.

A concert hall/ performance venue of 2-5,000 seats would certainly attract a lot of small business opportunities, let alone stimulate additional residential development. Furthermore, an ideal redevelopment of the Forum would involve a direct extension of the Underground City between the Forum, Alexis-Nihon and Atwater Métro station. Considering our limited downtown space options in terms of large-scale, high-capacity performance venues, reviving the Forum as such a facility could have the desired effect of returning its status as lieu de mémoire and securing a wealth injection for an otherwise somewhat downtrodden part of the city.

I think there’s something worse reconsidering here.

We should never have lost those dolphins…

The Exciting World of Montréal Urban Planning & Municipal Politics

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Fantastic graphic design from the City of Montréal

No, I wasn’t being sarcastic…

Kate McDonnell’s always informative Montreal City Weblog brought these little bits of information to my attention – hats off to you Kate, you do damn good work keeping me and a whole mess of other people well informed about our city and its diverse affairs.

I figured I’d add my two cents while they’re still in circulation.

The first comes from a report in Métro concerning a recent UQAM conference, the URBA 2015 Forum, where organizers advocated that Montréal’s diverse transit services, and indeed everything concerning public transit and transport in our urban area, be folded into a single organization, such as Vancouver’s TransitLink.

TransitLink has a rather broad portfolio, in charge of making key decisions about roadways, bike paths, freight transport, buses, LRTs and commuter rail. It’s comprehensive, including the 20 municipalities comprising Metro Vancouver. Imagine if we could roll the MTQ’s Montreal division, the STM, the AMT, Federal Bridges, the RTL, STL etc all together into a single operating entity?

It would certainly allow for a drastic reduction in operational waste. Administering a single pension fund wouldn’t just be comparatively cheaper, but potentially better performing too. Security operations could be streamlined and there’d be far better options for career advancement within the larger organization. We’d be much better off this way, I think, and we’d likely have the means, under a single organization, to execute some impressive expansion and renovation projects.

Otherwise I fear we’re going to get bogged down in expensive, disconnected and disorganized mass-transit, more of an inconvenience than municipal revenue generator. I don’t know how much more bickering between the AdM and AMT I can stand.

The second concerns a successful measure by a Projet Montréal councillor in St. Henri which has temporarily stalled the conversion of the old Archivex warehouse (right behind Lionel-Groulx Métro station) into a seven-storey commercial building for 2,000 white-collar jobs.

I’m a little puzzled as to what the manner of the objection is.

If it’s due to a lack of centralized civic planning I can only say, well, what do you expect from Montréal under the direction of Union Montréal? There hasn’t been too much in terms of a cohesive city plan, and less still for neighbourhood redevelopment. Their opinion is – if it’s on private land, hands off, let the market dictate development as it sees fit.

This isn’t the best way to plan a city but it’s what we have at the moment. The developer suggests that the new building would be LEED-certified and, given it’s potentially direct-access to the Métro, naturally progressive and ecologically sound in design.

The point about LEED-certification is a bit laughable since it’s an industry standard, and has in the past been dismissed as the ‘Oscars of Green Washing’, but I digress, I don’t know enough about the particulars.

My view is simply this. It’s a private building – a warehouse without any heritage value – and as it stands it’s a waste of space. There are better places for warehouses than a residential zone. Building a commercial office tower would be breaking new ground for St. Henri, an area without any purpose-built large-scale office space. A seven-storey building isn’t overly large, not imposing when set against the large open space around the station (there are apartment buildings and loft buildings of similar height in the area) and the economic potential of 2,000 some-odd office workers could be a major boon for the area’s small businesses, especially those at the Atwater Market, along Notre-Dame and St. Jacques.

The developer’s estimate is a $2.4 million annual cash infusion for the surrounding area, based on the number of potential employees spending roughly $25 a week at local businesses. And that’s not including municipal taxes on the building itself.

If the public hasn’t been adequately consulted, that’s one thing, but otherwise I don’t see what the issue is at all. Build it and make sure the developer is insured and the tenants ready to sign leases. If the market wants an office tower at Lionel-Groulx, I can imagine it will have beneficial consequence for local businesses and residents alike.

If Councillor Sophie Thiébaut reads this blog I’d like to know what I’m missing, as this seems pretty straightforward to me. Better planning, on a per-quartier basis, will be achieved when and if Projet Montréal is elected, but until then let’s not deny the people of St. Henri the potential economic benefit of 2,000 office workers in the meantime. Plus, why concentrate all office buildings in the downtown core. Let’s open up the real estate market to new speculation, growth etc.

Third, and this time from La Presse, concerns Projet Montréal councillor Josée Duplessis’ understandable vexation at the lack of transparency exhibited by the previous administration concerning municipal contracts. In this case, it concerns the never-ending story and complete disaster that is the renovation of the Hélène-de-Champlain restaurant at Parc Jean-Drapeau.

Apparently, it will now cost more than $16 million to complete structural renovations before another estimated $3-5 million is required to actually make the site a functioning restaurant again.

The restaurant was built in 1937, as were many other such pavilions build in public spaces as make-work projects during the Depression. During Expo 67 it was used as a VIP reception space, and post-Expo as a high-end gourmet restaurant of sorts. The last time I remember seeing it open it seemed to be more family-restaurant than gourmet treat, but that was some time ago. Renovations have been costly and this will invariably lead some to question whether the city ought to try and kick-start another restaurant in the same space.

Perhaps we just keep it was a VIP reception space, i think it would be a shame to tear it down, it worse still, turn it into a food court. Consider for yourself.

I think Parc Jean-Drapeau could use both higher traffic and somewhat of a dress code – it would be nice if we had a massive urban park that was also a kind of perennial exposition, the kind of place where you go to re-create Seurat scenes. Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but it would be nice to have a full service, ‘business-casual’ restaurant, especially given the large terrace and unkempt rose garden. Perhaps the building could serve other purposes as well – seems to big to be a single restaurant.

In any event – it all seems like more of the same doesn’t it?

The Horror of our Failure

I realize I’m writing this with therapeutic intentions; today’s shocking, horrifying news is only now starting to really sink in and I feel compelled to write as a way to process yet another senseless act of mass murder in North America.

In an odd way I’m reassured that I still have the ability to feel real sadness thinking about the awful events which transpired earlier today in Connecticut, but it’s very quickly overpowered by a deep sense of helplessness as well. This in turn compels to write, as it serves to numb the deep feeling of shock and terror. Despite all I’ve seen on the Internet, despite all the crazy shit this world manages to produce, and despite all the death anyone who watches the news witnesses on a weekly, if not daily basis, I had an emotional response. I feel it’s a bit of a rarity, perhaps an increasing rarity, as I feel I’m otherwise permanently numbed by exposure.

I processed this trag and I don’t think I’m alone. I remember checking the news earlier in the day and the headline didn’t initially register – for whatever reason, perhaps because the story wasn’t the lead story on the site (I suppose it would have just broken at around that time, and details would have been fuzzy) I supposed that a weapon had been found and a school evacuated, but not a mass shooting such as this.

A little later it became very clear what had actually occurred, and yet I continued on with my work – what else was there to do? My instinctual reaction was, ‘it didn’t happen here, no one you know is implicated, move along – you can’t get tripped up by every crazy thing happening in this world because you’ll likely get depressed’. This is what I thought. I had to stay focused on the task at hand.

Later during my lunch break, more details, and not surprisingly the inevitable deluge of debates from the opinion-slingers populating the social mediasphere. Had it not registered for them either? Are we all the cynical and emotionally numb?

Or is it that all any of us can do is blast opinion into the ether hoping our thoughts are appreciated by others, because we’re fundamentally emotionally incapable of real grieving, and forming a real reaction to this inexcusable action?

I think this might be the case. It didn’t take long for progressive and contrarian alike to take to the great media apparatus and strike up an orgy of vitriolic debate. It seems this happens every time there’s a particularly savage crime or mass shooting. And in case you already forgot, there was a mall shooting in Portland Oregon not three days ago.

Between the time the story broke and my afternoon coffee this depraved act of savage brutality had doubtless spawned millions of comments, tweets, updates and debates – all in our effort to stave off actually having to recognize what ought to shake every one of us to our very cores, as if Sandy Hook Elementary School were located up the street from where you live. When this happens it is a societal failure, one we’re all responsible for. That tragedies like these should happen so frequently, and to such devastating effect, should be indication enough a real problem exists.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a sizeable number of people who must feel compelled to exorcise whatever feelings they have by supporting the notion no such problem exists and anyone arguing in favour of gun control, at a time such as this, is out of line.

I thought interviewing the kids and parents was pretty out of line, but that’s not the point. It seems as if we’re in a race to argue about something related to this tragedy than to allow ourselves to come to terms with it.

It was because of the ensuing, related, debate that I discovered there was another school attack today, this time in China where a 36 year-old man slashed and stabbed 22 children aged 6-11 outside a school. No deaths occurred, thankfully, but what’s troubling is that this is but one in a series of such attacks in China. It was brought up as a reason why gun control won’t prevent a mentally disturbed individual from carrying out their intended crimes.

Perhaps it is indeed the Chinese equivalent to American spree shootings; gun ownership is virtually non-existant in China and so I guess, in a sick way, it makes sense that there’d be mass stabbings. Fewer people killed, incidentally. I saw a stat floating around earlier today that said whereas 20 Chinese children have died in slashing or stabbing attacks, over 200 American children have died in school shootings in the last six years.

Which in turn reminds me that media outlets were busy organizing information so as to be used in ‘conversational debating’ – HuffPost just tweeted a ‘gun control stats cheat sheet’, anticipating the little debates we’ll carry around with us over the next little while, at the dinner table, the water cooler etc.

It’s incredible how much time and effort will doubtless be devoted to the ensuing debate, and nothing productive will come of it. And why should anything come of it – social change is hard, acquiescing and accepting these spree killings as an inevitability much easier.

Just pray it doesn’t happen to you.

And so I guess that’s what we’ll do until Christmas. Talk about gun control. Debate gun control. Argue gun control. News programs will invite ‘passionate defenders’ of whatever side they represent, and we’ll collectively poor over and create copious amounts of ethereal digital thought and opinion. and be told, over and over again, to pray.

***

We don’t need prayer.

I’d argue the Americans don’t need gun control either; they must eliminate individual gun ownership altogether and take broad measures to eliminate existing weapons. Further still, penalties associated with simply having a firearm in your possession would have to be incredibly stiff (in China, as an example, an individual caught illegally transporting firearms for the purpose of sale, could conceivably be put to death) and the vast lobbying organization designed to prop up the American firearms industry would have to be very publicly dismantled as well.

In my eyes there’s simply no other way. There are too many easily accessible firearms in the United States, and too little in terms of a social safety net – tragedies such as these will assuredly happen again in the future unless massive changes are made in a short period of time.

Evil did not visit a small town in Connecticut today. A man fell off the edge, probably some time ago, and went on a killing spree, taking many innocent people away from their loved ones forever. Evil is not a tangible object or force, it is not a presence, and it can’t be wished away.

If, as a society, we absolve ourselves of our collective responsibility and entertain the notion nothing could be done to avoid it, that the spree shootings are random occurrences we have no control over, then it implies not only could anyone be a potential victim, but could be a potential perpetrator as well. If, by contrast, we accept collective responsibility to do whatever can be done to avoid such a tragedy from happening again, then we will simply pay the requisite amount of tax-revenue for the implementation of all the policies, programs and plans designed to do so.

And we could do it too, if only we weren’t so easily distracted by the endless soothing debates we engage in in-lieu of working to prevent future disasters. America’s gun problem isn’t a new issue – it’s been a clear and present danger to contemporary world society for quite some time now.

But we keep choosing not to come together; we keep choosing to hack away at the social safety net, we keep choosing to omit and ignore. We quite literally drown out the noise by burying our heads in the sand.

Is it any wonder we never see the market dropping out from underneath us? Can never manage but to be caught off-guard by a hurricane?

We’ll one day soon have to learn we can’t pray or wish our problems away.

My heart goes out to all the grieving families; the loss of a single child is unbearable, this is simply beyond words.