Oddball Ideas for the New Mayor

Denis Coderre - credit to The Gazette
Denis Coderre – credit to The Gazette

Denis Coderre was sworn in as the 44th mayor of Montréal last Thursday, along with the city’s estimated 50,000 councillors (I kid, there are 102 councillors, and I’m not altogether certain we’re over-represented, but I digress).

Coderre said everything one would expect from an in-coming mayor. He promised to bring honesty and integrity back to the civic administration, return our city’s pride, work for the people and turn a page. Whether there’s any sincerity in these statements remains to be seen – Montrealers are understandably suspicious of municipal politicians these days given that our last two (who made similar promises) are implicated in a vast system of organized corruption, collusion and fraud that only served to further handicap the citizenry and the city’s financial well-being.

Mayor Coderre’s inauguration was over-shadowed by the veritable gong-show going on in Toronto and Rob Ford’s unintentionally hilarious declaration that, given the apparent orgy of cunnilingus taking place in his own abode, he had no reason to state to a female staffer (or prostitute, it’s not entirely clear) that he wanted to ‘suckle upon the life canal’, as it were.

If you haven’t seen it yet, get out of the cave, this may be the single greatest statement in the history of Canadian politics to date.

I’m being fantastically ironic of course. This is the greatest statement in Canadian political history:

Every time I watch this clip I’m struck by the patience and intellectual sophistication of the exchange. At the very end, Trudeau says to the reporter ‘I see you’re playing Devil’s Advocate, it’s a hell of a role…’ to which the reporter is left momentarily speechless. Contrast this with the relationship between the vast majority of today’s politicians and the press in general – it’s passive aggression from the former and undue reverence and politesse on the part of the latter. It seems the relationship was more respectful, and mutually critical, forty some-odd years ago.

There may yet be hope not all is lost – the Rob Ford scandal came to light because he pissed off so many people, and a lot of good journalists too. Andrew Coyne summed it up perfectly: the Rob Ford mess is a monster born of divisive and condescending populism.

Nail’s head, meet hammer hit…

But back home for a moment and our new mayor.

Mr. Coderre has an opportunity to turn a page and I would encourage him to do so. I think people want to see action, but not just in the form of establishing an office of the Inspector general, as he has proposed to do. Ergo I would strongly encourage our new mayor to start doing things – perhaps small things – and build up a list of real, actual, accomplishments. I want a checklist of reasonable, sensible and above-all-else realizable projects for the new year, and I want things done on time.

The people can be helpful in this case; the mayor has said he will work for the people, so it stands to reason that the people help him draft such a list.

So I put the question to you; what would you include on a list of simple, straightforward improvements for the city of Montreal?

My trouble is that I all too often think in terms of mega projects, so I’ll try to steer clear of such grandiose ideas in my own list.

1. Fix Place Émilie-Gamelin and Cabot Square. These are two large public green spaces roughly equidistant from the downtown core, and they’re both pretty beat up. New landscaping, lighting and design (and perhaps on-site services) are only part of the equation; both spaces can at times seem ‘overrun’ by the homeless. Our parks, plazas and public spaces must remain open to all; they cannot be a last resort, a place where the unwanted go. I would encourage the new mayor not only to beautify these spaces and better integrate them into our socio-cultural fabric, but further endeavour to develop new facilities to house the homeless and offer drug treatment. Long story short, no more needles in our parks, and no more police handling the homeless situation.

2. Reserved bus lanes, bike lanes and BRT systems. Probably the easiest improvements to public transport a mayor could make without implicating the province or adjacent cities, though these would need to be involved to truly make a dent in the broader, metropolitan traffic problem. Within the city the STM could develop more reserved lanes and, potentially a Bus Rapid Transit network that could alleviate some congestion on the Métro (which is now getting a bit out of hand, in my opinion). Key streets, avenues and boulevards for either reserved lanes and/or a BRT network: Pie-IX, Papineau, Jean-Talon, René-Lévesque, Sherbrooke, Saint-Antoine, Parc, Cote-des-Neiges, Décarie, Van Horne, Cote-Vertu, Gouin.

As to bike lanes, the more the merrier. We’ve got a good foundation but could go much, much further, and I’d argue more bike lanes should be separated from vehicular traffic by means of a simple concrete curb. Regardless of how well Bixi’s doing, Montrealers are increasingly turning to their bikes during the more temperate months to quickly traverse the urban core. And why not – it’s cheap, efficient and great exercise. Any measure to make it safer will assuredly encourage greater use.

3. A pedestrian mall. There’s an interesting correlation between the potential success of commercial retail enterprises and the degree of foot traffic passing through a given area. For anyone looking to start a new business, knowing where the people are walking is a crucial consideration when choosing a location. But notice I didn’t say anything about vehicular traffic or parking spaces. Our most successful commercial arteries are often clogged with cars looking for parking where they’re almost assured not to find any. Banning cars outright from some key streets would consequently result in making them more walkable, increasing foot traffic and the potential land value of rental retail properties at the same time. Saint Catherine’s Street seems to me to be a logical choice for our city’s first true year-round pedestrian mall. The street’s Gay Village section is routinely closed to cars each summer, parking spaces have been removed elsewhere so restaurants could install new seasonal terraces and the section passing through the Quartier des Spectacles is also routinely shut to cars – all without having any real negative effect on the street’s commercial viability.

So why not go all the way? From Atwater to Papineau, shut the street to vehicular traffic but keep it open for buses, delivery trucks and other municipal, emergency service and/or utility vehicles, widen the sidewalks and introduce street-side commerce in the forms of vendor stalls, kiosks and seasonal terraces. Allowing the No. 15 bus to barrel down the street unencumbered by vehicular traffic may make it a suddenly very popular route and would only add to potential foot traffic on the street.

4. Expand the Réso. Not the Métro, since this is quite out of our hands, but the intricate network of tunnels that link downtown office buildings, convention centres, universities, hotels, Métro stations and even apartment/condo towers all together, forming an insulated city-within-a-city. For as much as I enjoy walking around my city, there are times when the local climate is less than conducive to this. It’s not just the cold, but snowstorms, seasonal torrential rain, heat spells, early darkness – the Réso provides an alternative and comfortable method of getting around the city.

There are many potential new areas for expansion, namely every single condo tower going up around the Bell Centre, the new Overdale development adjacent to Lucien-L’Allier. The MMFA could be linked with Concordia, which in turn could expand its tunnel network south towards the Faubourg and Grey Nun’s Mother House. Other smaller connections, like the Forum and the Seville condos to the Atwater Métro branch of the Réso, or a connection between McGill University and the northernmost portion of the Peel and McGill station sections also make a lot of sense to me. Aside from providing an expanded convenience, it further provides a safe and secure environment to walk around in, not to mention possibly provide new opportunities for small-scale commerce.

5. Turn the Faubourg into a public market. I may be wrong, but I think this is an excellent location for a public market, much in the same vein as the Atwater or Maisonneuve markets. At the very least the city would maintain the building to a higher sanitary standard than the current owners, and there’s a substantial urban population living within walking distance of the Faubourg work. I think much of its current woes stem from moving away from being a market to trying too hard to become just another shopping mall with a slightly more interesting food court.

In any event, just some oddball ideas – what do you think?

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