Admittedly this article isn’t based on the results of scientific polling, or polling of any kind really. It’s just a compilation of various ideas that various friends and acquaintances have recommended when asked what they thought was particularly important vis-Ã -vis improving and developing our dearly beloved city. In essence, it’s what the candidates aren’t talking about, though I think some of these are neat if not really smart and useful, though unconventional and unlikely to be mentioned simply because they likely wouldn’t poll well at all.
I’ll keep the individual ideas short and sweet, let me know what you think. Let’s get a conversation going.
1. Smarter, less crime-infested snow removal. After Maisonneuve Magazine threw the spotlight on bid-rigging w/r/t snow-removal contracts in the city I expected action from city hall, though so far it looks like we’re sticking to the existing plan. Snow removal is of particular concern for Montrealers given our long and generally snowy winters, so I think this one has broad appeal, especially when considering the city subcontracts numerous local construction and landscaping firms to handle snow removal on our city’s streets. Generally speaking it seems to make sense that we subcontract out a lot of this work; private construction and landscaping firms have the equipment and the equipment generally isn’t being used in winter months, so it’s particularly valuable for those firms to get lucrative snow-clearance contracts as it allows them to keep operating in an otherwise ‘dead’ season. This system is also thought to be good for the citizens in that the city doesn’t need to pay for all that expensive equipment and long, often irregular hours of work.
But this system now appears to be broken; not only are we now aware of bid-rigging, there’s the other troubling issue of the state some of these snowplough drivers are in when they’re doing the job. I’ve heard about eighteen hour days without rest being the norm rather than the exception. Granted they’re not doing this all the time, but still. Private contractors take that risk, despite government labour laws. I know a guy who did this for his father’s company for many years; he told me the training, on average, lasts about fifteen minutes and is entirely focused on the operation of the vehicle. There’s no safety training. Each year we lose at least one person, more often than not a child, during the hectic snow clearance operations that take place after every major storm.
Snow removal is something we have to contend with – it’s a fact of life – so why not get smarter about it?
For one there are systems that have been developed – and if I recall correctly are being used in some Scandinavian cities – wherein rubber mats are placed over city streets in which a heating system melts snow atop the mat and then funnels the water into the sewer system. If implemented city-wide, well, I think we may have a possible solution to our snow clearance problem.
Now if only we could figure out a use for all the snow that will inevitably accumulate everywhere else…
2. Open street commerce. Yes, the food trucks experiment is definitely a step in the right direction, but what has so far confounded me and a lot of other people is why there’s such strict regulation. There’s no question there’s a need for health inspectors and service standards, but to limit potential entrepreneurs to only those who already have a restaurant, a truck and ‘who provide products of gastronomic excellence, highlighting Quebec culinary prowess etc. etc.’ The end-result has been that it’s not quite street food, it’s expensive and more a fad or gimmick than legitimate arena for small-scale business.
Ultimately, its this latter point that needs to be addressed – a citizen should still be able to hock a product even if they can’t afford to rent downtown real estate to do so. Walk down St-Catherine’s and see for yourself – the businesses are mostly large chains, often repeated – there’s no room for small-scale operations. The city needs to relax restrictions on commerce, especially at the small-end of the scale. Taking street food as an example, I don’t care if the food is prepared in a restaurant or on the curb, and I don’t mind if it’s from a wagon, a truck, a horse-drawn cart or a 64 El Camino – as long as it meets health code standards I’m down to try it. If the rules were relaxed we’d suddenly have much more choice and many more small business operators and I guarantee you St-Catherine’s Street merchants would see major returns if only there were vendors and kiosks on every corner. We need to bring business back, and the city needs to become more of a market in the broadest sense. We don’t have to go to the extreme one might find in New York City, but I don’t think it would be so bad if we pushed a little in that direction.
3. Our very own Rikers Island. Another good idea from NYC; why not use one of the many uninhabited islands in the Montreal Archipelago as a large jail? I was discussing this one with a cousin who’s completely enamoured with all things New York – Rikers Island is a massive correctional and detention facility that houses about 14,000 inmates and is the city’s main jail for all manner of offenders. It’s accessible only by a single unmarked bridge. Now while we clearly don’t have such a large prison population, we do have several correctional facilities on-island that could just as well be located elsewhere. Moreover, removing these institutions from the island and putting them together on an island of their own not only further facilitates their isolation, but removes some NIMBY-typed obstacles from our urban environment. I think we should ask ourselves whether we want to keep the Pinel Institute or Bordeaux Prison operating where they are – near residential zones – or whether these facilities might be better off relocated.
4. Public rest facilities. Why? Because that’s not what Tim Hortons are for. They could even be their own small businesses, with attendants both keeping things clean and hocking various toiletries, smokes, gum etc. Point is, if we want this city (and the MÃ©tro in particular) to stop reeking of piss, we should probably do the bare minimum to address the problem.
5. The Forum. I don’t care who and at this point I don’t really care what, but this eyesore needs to go and get replaced with something better. The Forum, as it stands today, is a hopeless mess that somehow manges to work despite itself and looks like shit every waking hour of the day. I would personally consider it a wise use of tax revenue if the city were to simply pay for a neutral, modernist facelift. The unfortunate people who call Cabot Square their home deserve something better to spend their days looking at.