Montreal – Horizon 2000

Fascinating clip I found on the YouTubes called Montréal Horizon 2000. Its a promo piece for the 1967 City of Montreal Master Plan, otherwise branded as ‘Horizon 2000’. Put together by the city’s planning department, this film, and the plan from which it is derived, plots the development of the city from the Summer of Love to the dawn of a new century. At the height of Expomania, as one might imagine, the plan was bold and ahead of its time. That said, after watching this clip you’ll realize much of the plan would end up getting realized anyway, though perhaps to not as large of a scale and not always to our collective advantage (spoiler alert – they figured our highways would be over-saturated, quel surprise).

The plan clearly has one major goal in mind – population growth, with a targeted population of seven million souls by century’s end. Mayor Jean Drapeau and Chair of the Executive Committee Lucien Saulnier were elected into office in 1960 largely on a ‘one island, one city’ platform and during his time in office the communities of Saraguay, Rivières-des-Prairies, Saint-Michel and Pointe-aux-Trembles were voluntarily annexed into the city of Montréal. Horizon 2000 points to a future city that would occupy all of the island, inasmuch as the South Shore and Laval, with economic influence and a commuter zone stretching towards the borders. A city of seven million in thirty-three years, starting from almost three million in Greater Montreal at the time.

They estimated thirty some-odd years to more than double in size.

They were optimistic, but on the whole the vision and plan of the Drapeau administration (and it’s insufferably uninspired quasi-extension under Bourque) at the very least realized growth through annexation. Though we now know forcing annexation on independent communities through provincial government initiative is extremely unpopular, it shouldn’t prevent the city of Montreal from pursuing voluntary annexation now or in the future. The thinking goes that over time, the larger tax pool of a larger city (and the efficiencies that would come with service standardization and streamlining throughout the metropole) would permit the city to offer better bang for the collective buck. It seems clear to me Horizon 2000 looks forward to the annexation of bedroom communities and commuter suburbs to enrich the public purse, redistribute zoning for maximum economic impact and operational efficiency, and further still to ensure the city on the whole maintains a diverse and balanced local ecology. And their boldness vis-a-vis annexation might be explained by the view that the suburbs were mere extensions of the city made possible by the city’s investment in local transit and traffic infrastructure.

Suffice it to say, the city planners of Montreal in 1967 may not have anticipated much if any opposition to the growth of Montreal at the expense of the political sovereignty of the tiny farming villages that constituted the rural belt around the city. I assume they figured few in the year 2000 would be going around calling themselves a Lavalois or Pierrefondsienne.

The plan anticipates a wide variety of issues and considerations a much larger city would doubtless have to contend with. Congestion, environmental degradation, access to public education, health, social and civic services, representative democracy, sustainable economic growth and general viability were all primary concerns for the authors of Horizon 2000, who seem to anticipate a larger city-proper might actually have the financial means to properly address and triumph over these problems.

Despite the various socio-political factors which stalled our growth and development, the city grew in some of the ways anticipated by Horizon 2000 (meaning, to me at least, that it’s worth re-investigating this plan in particular should we ever got our act together to build a bigger and more significant city).

Unfortunately we’re starting to occupy as much space as was once deemed large enough to hold twice our number. Suburban sprawl is one problem, but a larger problem might be our inability to increase density in extant suburban areas. We occupy an inordinate amount of space.

While we’ve managed to develop an enviable public transit service, it’s far from the elegant and sophisticated ‘grand social equalizer’ envisioned for a more egalitarian future. While comprehensive, what we have isn’t nearly as large as the system that was conceptualized to move so many more people (and as you might suspect they expected much larger Métro and commuter-train systems as a matter of fact necessity), further expecting the highway system they were designing at that time to be as over-loaded as it is today.

In any case, take a gander, seems interesting enough.

It makes me wonder what kind of master plan we have today. The nearest example I can find is the Montreal 2025 plan (which for some -cough- inexplicable reason default opens to its English-language page), but this is nowhere near as bold or as driven as Horizon 2000.

Sure it’s aesthetically more appealing to most (especially when you compare 3D renderings to the grainy 60s modern film styles of the video above) but unlike Horizon 2000 (an actual plan which was pursued despite some major and unforeseen economic problems), Montreal 2025 is little more than a list of private residential and commercial projects and provincial or federal development initiatives. The city doesn’t have a reason or a goal, even such a simple goal of becoming a bigger city.

Food for thought – does this city have a project? If not, why not? And why don’t our apparent leaders share their visions with us?

In a video like the one above you see an example of a city that respects itself and takes itself seriously (this would have been expensive in the late 1960s, and keep in mind this is just a promo piece for the actual written plan). It confronts the big problems that can come about with big dreams in a straightforward manner, and further still it suggests confidence in our ability to overcome the difficulties of growth to produce an world city sans pareil. Montreal 2025 is hardly such a plan.

It occurs to me that too few of those who have thrown their name into the ring to run for mayor – as though it were nothing more than a popularity contest – have any idea what this city’s goals ought to be, and worse still would be loathe to spell anything out concretely for fear they can’t meet their commitments. None of the popstar candidates whose names have been batted about have a plan at hand.

It wasn’t too long ago this would have been considered the bare minimum. Perhaps our standards have fallen.

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