Category Archives: Social commentary

City Building Without Community Planning – Part 1

Looking East Along René-Lévesque - not the work of the author

So I was strolling through Reddit’s r/Canada sub-reddit when I found this gem.

So a couple of people living in Toronto’s Liberty Village want to pass a city ordinance forbidding families from moving in, and I would imagine prevent family services from being established in the area. For those of you unfamiliar with Liberty Village, it’s largely condos and former industrial space renovated into offices and lofts. A Montreal equivalent would be the Quartier des Multimédias, or Notre Dame West past the ETS (and we still did it better). In any event, its not being taken seriously, and I seriously doubt anyone on Toronto City Council will take this seriously.

Vestiges of a Former Neighbourhood - from the author's window

Despite this I still find it interesting that some people might actually try and justify this kind of behaviour. Their arguments are fascinating as well, as they’re largely ignorant of the role families play in all residential areas. There’s probably no greater social stabilizer and organizing force than families, and our urban communities here in Montreal are in some cases ‘family-free by default’. Suffice it to say I think we need to change this.

By stability I mean that families exert certain societal pressures and require the presence of certain resources, such as access to schools, parks, daycares, clinics etc, not to mention services they can access before and after the typical workday. Children living in a community draw services, both public and private, designed for them. Primarily, children’s education requirements, in whatever form they take, act as a catalyst for employment opportunities of all varieties for thousands, if not tens of thousands of people. These are but a handful of examples of the manner by which the presence of families living with young children in an urban setting help stabilize the local economic and cultural environment. Then there’s the issue of land value – the needs of the family for the presence of schools, parks and a wide range of 24-hour services in turn drive up the value of the land around said services. Much of the city can’t be demolished, and so the urban residential areas are left to wait for waves of gentrification to sweep through. It seems that each time there’s a boom in the urban housing market, real-estate developers begin amping up the PR noise about how they’ve cornered the market in ‘the next Plateau’. And so the list goes; all of the following have earned this ‘distinction over the past few years:

1. St-Henri
2. Pointe-St-Charles
3. Verdun
4. Shaughnessy Village
5. Little Burgundy
6. Griffintown
7. Quartier Latin
8. The Village
9. The Centre-Sud
10. Hochelaga-Maisonneuve
11. Rosemont
12. Parc-Ex/Villeray/Petit Patrie

St. Patrick's Basilica - from the author's window

And while of these neighbourhoods have potential, they also have something else in common – they’re established, principally residential urban suburbs. Some are hot, some are being gentrified, some seem perpetually on the verge, but generally speaking, all of these neighbourhoods have all they need to survive, and for the most part these places work, though often these places are also associated with poverty, crime etc.

A recent Gazette article mentioned a Gay Village business owner who, with the support of two thousand signatures, petitioned the mayor to do something about the rampant crime and drug abuse in the Gay Village.

It occurred to me that of all the places on the list above, the Village is perhaps best suited to become a successful urban neighbourhood, but this almost assuredly require the Gay Village to perhaps become more family friendly, though this would primarily require the strategic placement of schools, daycares, libraries and paediatric clinics within the Gay Village. The last time I checked, Montreal Police are completely intolerant of drug dealing and prostitution within school zones, and it wouldn’t be long before the pimps and pushers got the message either. Moreover, the presence of family services would likely encourage gay and straight families to consider the Village as they would consider NDG, the Plateau, Mile End or Outremont.

This in and of itself isn’t going to get rid of the homeless problem, and its not a problem which can be swept up under the rug either. Treatment facilities, needle exchanges, shelters and intervention services must be provided by the City to help clean up the Village. All citizens will ultimately lose unless the City steps in with a more enlightened approach and actively seeks to establish the stabilizing elements required for better urban living. It’s a large investment that will likely have to be paid for by the taxpayers in general, but if that’s what it takes then it will be money well spent.

The case of the Village is an interesting one, because it forces Montrealers to recognize that the Village is an invaluable economic asset, and that for the most part, its success is the result of the hard work and dedication of the community. Now its time to show our appreciation by financing the social services which will help the Village transition into a clean, safe and prosperous neighbourhood, the pride of all citizens.

But what about the un-named residential areas dispersed through the city centre? They have no identity and scarcely any services, and yet new construction is starting all the time. We’ll investigate this issue in part two of the article. Until then!

Two new Sovereign Socialist blog-posts

Found this waltzing around Concordia University - what a gem!

1. Unpaid Internships and the Death of Dreaming

Have you tried looking for a job lately?

Apparently there’s a major economic recession going on, despite the oft-too-rosy predictions and prognostications of the federal Tories. And who’s bearing the brunt of this recession, seeing precious few options for employment and far too many chances to be taken advantage of? The answer, students and immigrants, should hardly seem surprising.

And what’s perhaps most sickening about the realities of our economic decline is how similar these two groups are when it comes to their financial situation and their respective job prospects. What’s worse is that while both of these groups struggle to keep their heads above water, they are often stuck in an unenviable position, weighed down by competing against each other for precious service-sector jobs, spiraling personal debt and a host of social stigmas. Worse still, both groups are often ridiculed by the ‘job-providing-elites’ in government and industry for their apparent inability to remove themselves from dire financial situations, and the seemingly vicious circle of bad employment, bad credit and perpetual economic hardship and financial insecurity.

Perhaps you’re a recent graduate, not so different from myself, carrying a load of student debt that is driving your credit score down while eating up precious quantities of the limited funds you take home. If you’re lucky enough to be employed in a stable job you enjoy, you may be able to keep up with your payments, but it is unlikely you will experience real financial freedom and stability until these debts are paid in full. Given the scarcity of career paths these days as Baby Boomers hang on to their jobs for as long as their experience is an asset to the company, recent graduates are generally forced into unfortunate positions where they continue to compete with enrolled students for part-time, service-sector jobs. The big difference though is that they now have considerably larger bills to pay off and as such are undesirable. Believe me I know. I once tried making a part-time job a full-time one, and paid for it by losing the job outright. I was ‘too expensive’.

Wanna see more? Click here.

Montr̩al M̩tro Extensions РHow to get around an impasse.

2009 AMT proposal for Métro extensions - not the work of the author

There’s been a fair bit of talk about extending the Montréal Métro of late in the English Press. Typical; now removed from the halls of power the English media spends its time twiddling their thumbs and dreaming about what could be, while Angryphones come out of the woodwork to demand Métro access to the West Island. I’ve said it before and I’ll say a million more times – no West Island residents should expect Métro extensions until there’s a West Island city, one with a tax-base as large as the cities of Laval or Longueuil. That or the West Island communities seek voluntary annexation from the City of Montréal. Then, and only then would the citizens out there be in a position to demand Métro access. I personally think a Highway 40 corridor Métro line from De la Savanne station to Fairview (and possibly as far as Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue) would be an excellent way to cut back significantly on vehicular traffic on our major highways. However, such a new line should be mirrored on the eastern side of the island, such as with the recommended Blue Line extension to Anjou. That said, residential development on the eastern side is oriented on a more North-South axis than on the West Island, and thus the proposed Pie-IX line (running from Laval or Montréal-North south to the Centre-Sud/HoMa district) would likely handle more passengers than any West Island extension (but only if it in turn were connected to East-West lines at multiple points).

While an unfortunate number of people have complained the 2009 MTQ proposal (above) is ‘too focused on the East End’, I look at it as focused primarily on where the population density seems to be high and increasing. There are more than 400,000 people living in Laval and another 700,000 people living on the South Shore (spread out over several municipalities, with an estimated 230,000 people living in Longueuil alone). Moreover, there are 85,000 people living in Saint-Laurent borough and another 125,000 people living in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough. In total, the proposed extensions as demonstrated above could potentially serve almost 1 million people directly and indirectly.

So while it is nice to dream about ideal systems that serve the entire metropolitan region, or at least serve the City better, we need to consider what the government is proposing seriously.

What’s unfortunate is that this plan now seems to be in jeopardy, given that the respective mayors of Longueuil, Laval and Montréal had to take out full page advertisements in the local press some months ago announcing why their city should benefit from expansion. I’ve said it before – sicking the mayors against each other isn’t going to achieve much. The entire system needs to be expanded until the whole region is eventually covered. In essence, we need to follow the same planning philosophy used to design the Paris, New York, London or Moscow subway systems, wherein the project is considered incomplete until near-total coverage is achieved. We won’t grow nearly as quickly unless the Métro develops in such a fashion so as to increase transit efficiency within the region. Montréal’s successful urban communities wouldn’t be nearly as successful as they are if it weren’t for the fact that they have Métro access. It is crucial for expansion and development.

In sum, we need to start planning as a unified metropolitan region wherein the interests of all citizens are considered simultaneously. Métro line development cannot be a reward for political loyalty. We’ve come a long way from the nepotism of the dark ages under Maurice Duplessis, so when the provincial government finks out and pits the suburbs of Montréal against the City for an individual line extension, the citizens of all communities must demand an end to such ridiculous partisanship. We can’t continue on like this. This is why our city is broken.

And just a reminder – completing the project illustrated above is pegged at 4 billion dollars. Cost of the new Champlain Bridge has been estimated at 5 billion dollars. Is it me or would it not be smarter to use that money to complete the proposed Métro expansion, and then spend a billion dollars renovating and improving the existing Champlain Bridge? A new Champlain Bridge will accommodate about 156,000 vehicle crossings per day. With this expansion, the Métro would be able to accommodate over 1.5 million passengers per day, which in turn will free up space on the highways, bridges, tunnels, buses and commuter trains, possibly even allowing some buses to be re-purposed to new routes, further improving the public transit system here in Montréal. To me it’s a no-brainer. What do you think?