I don’t really know what to call that metal bar running along the edge of the property pictured above, but I’m pretty sure I know what it represents.
I snapped this pic in Saint Henri but if you live in this city you’ve doubtless seen these pseudo fences elsewhere. They typically run just along the edge of a given property, though providing none of the privacy of a normal fence. The buildings inside the rail are always sullen looking, worn out and cheap. Unless I’m gravely mistaken, from what I’ve seen and heard, these rails not-so-subtly announce the presence of subsidized housing.
If this really is the case, I’d like to know what the justification is. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a decorative element from a bygone era that serves no real purpose. If so, all the more reason to remove them. It’s not a fence, it offers no privacy nor added security. In every instance I’ve ever seen one of these they always look ugly – a half-hearted and half-assed rusting attempt at decoration that makes cutting the grass around it unnecessarily difficult.
And if in most cases these bars do indeed surround city or provincially-owned low-rent housing, all the more reason to remove them completely and replace them with a proper fence.
How is it beneficial to point out subsidized real-estate in a given neighbourhood? How does it benefit the residents, either of the building in question or those who live around it?
It seems to me it would be more advantageous for everyone concerned not to draw attention to subsidized housing, so as to allow it to blend in seamlessly with the surrounding environs.
So please Monsieur le Maire – tear down these eyesores.
I’m sure there’s some money to be made scrapping the metal.
Same story schools and hospitals; the city can’t do anything to help the fact that the CSDM has to immediately close 82 schools due to contamination. The school board deals with the province on such matters. And the city can’t be expected to do anything about our hospitals – which remain open, which will be closed, who the buildings are sold to and how they’re repurposed. Nada. The city of Montreal has no say in any of it.
Our municipal politicians, of all stripes, suffer the consequences. All too often they are blamed directly for all the problems we have on these and other fronts. Because local politicians – those closest to the people – are impotent to effect any lasting change to the operational status quo, they become disinterested at best and corrupt at worst.
And the people, realizing that which is supposed to be the most accessible level of government is in fact nothing more than a hindrance to the political process, disengage from said process.
Disenfranchisement via political impotence.
At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter who you happen to be aligned with because this city is political poison to both the current provincial and federal governments. They know they can’t win here so they sew the seeds of discord in an attempt to divide and conquer the people of this city. We have no ‘pull’ for the moment, and given the Duplessis-like tactics of both levels of government we’re going to continue being pushed around, with development dictated to us.
Unless of course we do something about it.
Let’s get back to the details that spurred this article, for a moment.
Cover a highway, build a park. What could possibly go wrong? Two political rivals cooperating to build something bigger and better than themselves.
So when the transport minister told his press handler to fire off an email to shoot down a fundamentally good idea (and I mean good for our local democracy, environment, urban quality-of-life good) I can’t help but imagine it was done to remind the mayor of his place, of the limits of his political authority. Maybe there was more to it than that.
We’re Canadian after all… clearly the politics of fear work here just as well as anywhere else.
Unfortunately for the people who live here and drive on our roads, anything and everything to do with the biggest and most important ones are all conveniently outside our jurisdiction.
Keep this in mind as traffic grinds to a halt with the redesign of the Turcot Interchange. It’s a provincial area of jurisdiction. Even if we had a better idea, we can doing about it. Those aren’t city streets.
Our highways and our bridges aren’t actually ‘our own’. You’d think a city of nearly two million people could take care of such things by itself – and indeed we once did.
But over time we have had responsibilities taken away from us, and when you lose those your rights aren’t far behind.
It’s not just that the city of Montreal lacks responsibility in key areas, it’s that we don’t have the right to be involved, by provincial decree.
It wasn’t always the case, we were once a little more autonomous, though only because certain political and social circles happened to once interact here.
Our fall from our former glory as a metropolis is not a language issue or a culture issue, it’s mostly a taxation and efficiency issue.
We were once in charge of our fate and now legislation exists that cripples our city’s ability to perform and succeed. Our failures are quite simply not our own – they are imposed. The people of the city of Montreal – the citizens of Montreal – must have control over all key areas of municipal governance and expected public services. We can manage our own house. We must become masters of our own domain.
The future political divide in this province is not between languages or culture or where you were born. It is between Montreal, as it is and for its own sake, in opposition to a Quebec that feels it must define its culture through legislation. Montreal would simply prefer to be left alone, we are not interested in having our culture, our identity, screwed around with.
This is as a consequence of needing to dig up the street and replace a sewer built in 1889, which as you might imagine is failing and causing a kind of chain reaction all along Ste-Catherine Street that has resulted in potholes, cracks and even a massive sinkhole that swallowed up backhoe last April. It needs to be replaced, post-haste, no question about it.
Unfortunately, when it comes to fixing sewers and eliminating sinkholes, this is about as politically unsexy as it gets. No one appreciates it, regardless of how vital it actually is.
Ergo, the mayor floats the idea of redeveloping the street as a pedestrian mall as the ultimate end goal. People, idiotically, don’t like infrastructure repairs. They like birthday presents.
Smart politics. Getting cars of Ste-Catherine Street would certainly reduce wear and tear on the street, but the mayor knows there needs to be an added incentive to get the people on board.
I suppose the rationale goes ‘if it’s going to be shut down, dug up and re-built anyways, why not turn it into something truly unique for the city’s 375th anniversary?’ Besides which, we already know the idea is economically sound based off the seasonal pedestrian mall in the Gay Village. Concerns that removing cars from Ste-Catherine Street would damage local business is unfounded; if anything a pedestrian mall would likely encourage greater foot traffic and, in turn, more shoppers.
That said, as recently experienced on both Parc Avenue and The Main, prolonged unorganized roadwork that doesn’t seem to have any kind of lasting positive aesthetic or social effect has resulted in an unfortunate number of empty shops and boarded up windows.
With that in mind, if I could make three recommendations to the mayor to help guarantee the success of this project:
1. Make absolutely certain the street doesn’t need to be dug up again for at least fifty years.
If we’re talking about 375th anniversary projects, here’s the legacy you want to leave behind. Be the person who fixed our most important street, permanently. Don’t just build a new sewer, install a proper utility tunnel right next to it. As it is it seems utility pipes and cables are simply buried under a thin layer of asphalt, and those in turn lie on top of segments of steam tunnels and ancient sewers. From what I’ve seen and heard, it’s remarkably disorganized.
Rejecting this idea off the bat is unwise. You can’t remove an entire street from the urban traffic and transit plan without providing some kind of a replacement. If a tram were installed on Ste-Catherine Street I have no doubts it would pay for itself in but a few years.
3. Foster the development of sustainable independent businesses.
Sometimes walking down Ste-Catherine Street feels like you’re in an old road-runner cartoon seeing the same background repeated on a loop. There are too few independent businesses and too many chains, and when it comes to the chains, there’s a lot of repetition. Ste-Catherine Street is supposed to be our city’s major retail and entertainment street, but there are far fewer restaurants, lounges, venues, bars etc. than there were back in the street’s glory days. In essence, the street isn’t terribly unique or interesting anymore. It’s all the same garbage you’d find on any other commercial artery in this or any other Canadian city. There’s no allure.
It’s up to city hall to do something about this. Legislation needs to be passed that limits the proliferation of chain stores on the strip, and rent controls need to be put in place to help small businesses thrive. A pedestrianized Ste-Catherine Street would be an ideal location for a concentration of vendors and could help add to the market atmosphere of the street. Perhaps most importantly, the city should try to facilitate a revival of the ‘entertainment’ component of the strip outside the Quartier des Spectacles, such as by redeveloping the old Loews and Palace theatres (or the Forum for that matter) as for-profit performance venues.
I think we’d be wise to look at what made the street a success in the past to see if we can find solutions to help guarantee it’s future.
I’m patient, and I wouldn’t expect such gifts any time too soon either. But if somehow these wishes come true in 2014, perhaps my faith in humanity will be restored. But like I said, I’m not holding my breath…
I’d like the mayor of Montreal, Mr. Denis Coderre, to fight corruption and waste and leave Montreal far better than how he found it. Talking tough about fighting corruption is one thing, but I’m fairly certain me and my co-citizens want to see real action this year. We want to see heads roll, we want to go to sleep knowing we have a mayor who is working tirelessly to break the bonds of collusion and organized crime. Am I asking too much? No, I don’t think so. I think all we really want is for our mayor to do the one job we need him to succeed at.
By contrast I’d like the disgraced mayor of Toronto to disappear into the Canadian wilderness, never to be seen or heard from again. He’s done enough damage to this country’s brand, let alone the City of Toronto, for several lifetimes. This trash doesn’t belong in the halls of power, any hall of power for that matter, but I can’t help but think Rob Ford’s remaining support comes from those still irked by the ‘Toronto-the-Good’ image. Get over it, Mr. Ford has given the entire world a poor impression of a once great city.
All elected politicians in Canada, regardless of whether they serve municipally, provincially or federally, need to understand this key point:
Getting elected does not grant you the honorific of ‘leader’.
Getting elected doesn’t even mean you have leadership skills.
There is a profound dearth of quality leaders in this country, especially among the ranks of various ‘province-first’ parties and the whole mess of Conservatives, be they former reformers or previously progressive.
It would be nice to see some politicians this year actually using their apparent leadership skills to get work done, rather than simply throw mud back and forth.
And I’d especially like to see the Tories realize the immense difference between leadership and bullying. They have no idea concerning the former and only seem to know the latter, and much like Toronto trying to escape their former identity, the Tories want to sell you on a tough guy image, like they’re not taking anybody’s crap and we should all be grateful.
Government by bullying is what we have, and the Tories have been slowly eroding away at the foundation of our nation’s democratic tradition for seven long years, making their style of governance (or lack thereof) somehow de rigeur. I’d like to see the Tories pull back from the brink and at least try to build consensus with opposition parties.
I’d like us to reject American-style politics.
More on the Tories; I want them to stop insinuating the Federal Liberals are trying to turn my kids into drug-addicts when they’re proposing sensible, cost-effective and above all else ethical solutions to the drug problem. Similarly, I’d like them to stop telling me how great the economy is doing when it’s very, very clear the economy is so far from being in good shape. I suppose I’d like them to stop treating me like an idiot. Me and every single other Canadian. And I’d really appreciate it if the Prime Minister came clean about the Wright-Duffy Affair. And for the whole party to stop insinuating the NDP is a closet separatist organization. Or that Jean Chretien actively tried to destroy the Canadian Forces.
In sum, I wish our politicians would stop lying to the people so blatantly, so constantly. I can’t ask for politicians to be honest – that would be asking too much. So perhaps I’m just begging for a bit of subtlety and decorum.
On the provincial side of things, I’d like Ms. Marois to shit or get off the pot.
This is the government of Canada’s second largest province; this is how they treat their own people, this is the government looking to institutionalize racism with Bill 60. remember what I said about wanting us to turn our backs from American-style politics? I mean this more with regards to the PQ than I do to the Tories.
Perhaps I’m wishing for an end to blind political idolatry.
Perhaps I’m wishing for far too much.
But most of all I wish that the people begin to demand real, tangible solutions to a bevy of problems we all have to deal with. Poverty, homelessness, hunger… during this bonanza of conspicuous consumerism (which, year after year, fosters the development of new generations of obsessive consumers) these social problems seem that much more apparent, more glaring, striking to me. The downtown is littered with human beings sleeping on vents, piled together for warmth, while the middle class empties its pockets buying garbage it doesn’t need in a vain effort to make itself feel wealthy, to maintain the illusion of status and luxury. A holiday ostensibly about family and charity, forgotten about the very next day as crowds will invariably trample each other for bargains on more junk.
What a holiday.
What, a holy day?
It’s not just poverty, homelessness and hunger I wish we were better at fighting. I wish we were aware that year after year our economic situation, nationally and personally, doesn’t get better, it gets worse. More of us will be poor tomorrow than yesterday, and yet we continue to destroy the social safety net that once supported all of us and held us high. We turn our backs on mutual, government-mandated charity so that we can have a few extra hundred dollars to spend on little comforts, little luxuries, that only ever leave us feeling hollow, empty, and desperately needing more.
Last night I walked past two payday loan operations on Atwater. I was coming home from the market, loaded up with good food and wine, and here I was passing all these people submitting to the personal-finance equivalent of rape. Each payday loan place was open late and both were crowded with people milling about outside, waiting to get it.
It was tragic. Even when you’re down the system always finds a way to make you just a little bit poorer, especially if you’re close to edge as is.
And all this occurring on the supposed anniversary of a philosopher’s birth, a philosopher who advocated against mindless consumption, against wealth, and proposed instead that the well-lived life was one of charity, humility and selflessness.
What Christian charges his fellow man 30% interest on a loan, especially when the lender knows he doesn’t really have the means to pay for it in the first place?
A friend asked me what salutation was appropriate for an atheist on Christmas.
I thought it over. I was once a Catholic, and this day had a special meaning for me. Today I’m a man, and it seems to me that Christmas may be the least Christian holiday on the calendar.
I responded it’s best to wish me a happy new year.
Superpoutre… guess we can all add that one to the lexicon. I have a feeling it may become quite common.
For the uninitiated, the ‘Superpoutre‘ or superbeam (a 75-tonne steel reinforcement beam), was successfully installed on the Champlain Bridge over the weekend, meaning motorists are safe to continue risking their lives to get to Brossard.
Mark my words, the Fed’s going to slowly reinforce the entire bridge with a steel exoskeleton until there’s basically a new bridge and the Champlain Bridge replacement project falls through completely (doubtless with many billions of dollars spent anyway).
Suffice it to say I’m suspicious, nay, deeply cynical, of anything promised by the Tories, especially if, as they said yesterday, they’re planning on completing a new bridge three years earlier than initially anticipated. This, from the same party that hasn’t delivered a single warship, icebreaker, fighter or maritime helicopter, despite their many, nay constant, assertions that they’re being as expeditious and fiscally responsible as possible concerning those particular major acquisitions. The truth, the reality, is the exact opposite. They’ve squandered time and money without producing a single thing throughout most if not all their years in office.
And now they want us to believe we’re getting a ten-lane bridge with an integrated light-rail system (and a toll) in four years?
Buddy have I got something to sell you…
Perhaps the Tories are looking to pick up South Shore ridings in 2015…
Or perhaps it’s more subtle than that… just a simple reminder of who’s boss, who gets things done. I can’t help but see this as anything but more political theatre. Maybe they’re not interested in winning in the suburbs (Ã la Toronto and Vancouver, and here too, albeit twenty-five years ago) as much as they might want to undermine local confidence in the main opposition parties and their leaders, both of whom represent urban Montreal ridings. Heck, if there’s nothing going a year from now, maybe we won’t have any faith left in government at all. That kind of disengagement can make any election a cinch for the incumbent.
During Question Period today, when asked why there was no money set aside in the budget to actually pay the cost of construction, Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel said that money was available, that he was aware, as he put it, that motorists were praying to god every time they crossed over and that the Federal government cared deeply about the safety of motorists etc. His announcement Sunday, equally calculated, included a provision for light rail that he had previously denied. The request for such a provision was a sticking point in negotiations between the Fed and the Marois government, which as recently as last Thursday was demanding that the entire bridge replacement project by transferred to the provincial government.
Lebel returned that the Fed would be amenable to transferring control of Montreal’s bridges to the province after the new Champlain is completed. Mayor Denis Coderre was unenthusiastic, and I can only imagine Marois et al is upset they’ve been beaten to the punch and that a toll is part of the package regardless of their thoughts on the issue (someone’s gonna pay fer dat bridge).
As to the choice of architect, well once again the federal government looks everywhere but our own backyard. Call me a patriot, I’d prefer our new bridge be designed by someone who actually lives here.
As you’re no doubt aware, our city has bad luck when importing foreign design and construction methods.
And why did this French company get the job? Because it had the lowest bid.
Instead of using steel girders (like the recently-installed Superpoutre) they proposed an innovative (perhaps experimental) steel-cable reinforced concrete solution for the construction of the Champlain Bridge’s support structures. The concrete is so enmeshed with the high-tension cables it’s nearly impossible to fully replace existing beams, and so it looks like the only long-term solution to keep the bridge running until its replacement is complete is to do exactly what’s been done for many years already – 24/7 inspection and monitoring, patch-up jobs here and there, regular lane closures and occasional major repairs such as the one we just experienced.
A bridge that’s impossible to adequately repair built with a material nearly guaranteed to fail. You’d almost think it was a con…
I’m anxious to find out some technical information about this new bridge, like what shape it will take, how it will span the Seaway and what materials will be used, but given the architect’s other designs you can expect something neutral, inoffensive though perhaps ill-suited for the aesthetic of the city. Consider that all our steel bridges seem to be holding up just fine (and have done so for many more years than the Champlain), and that the world’s best steelworkers live just across the Mercier Bridge in Kanawake.
Isn’t it a bit odd we use so much drab, cheap, ineffective concrete in local construction when we have access to a superior material and internationally recognized workmanship?
Incidentally, the Danish architect is well known for using reinforced concrete, not steel.
Plus que Ã§a change.
In any event, to wrap this all up, I’m not convinced we’re going to get what we need in the end, and I’m unimpressed with the project so far.
It seems like the Fed is making the same old mistakes – everything from not using a Canadian to design the bridge to not having an architectural contest of any duration to not having an open bid and apparently sticking with the absolute cheapest option. Oh yeah, and then there’s the expected re-use of a potentially flawed construction material.
This isn’t a good way to start a rush job.
And it seems to have only become a rush job for largely political purposes, which is worse still.
And we haven’t even yet discussed the sum – expected clock in anywhere from $3 to $5 billion – nor whether that money might be better spent elsewhere in the grand scheme of things (and where does the Champlain Bridge’s maintenance budget come from, and how long will that bridge definitively last?)
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.
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.
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 Ã‰milie-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.
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.
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?