Tag Archives: Montréal Real Estate

A few things every Montrealer ought to know about Mirabel International Airport {Updated – May 2014}

Recent news is that the unelected government agency responsible for Montreal’s airports will seek to demolish the iconic main terminal of Mirabel International Airport, effectively shutting the door on ever using it again. The terminal has been abandoned, but maintained, since passenger flights ceased using the airport in 2004, and apparently this costs somewhere in the vicinity of $5 million annually.

I’m of the mind this is a colossal mistake and I’ve modified a previously published article to point out why. Enjoy.

1. We still need it.

Montréal is a major international tourism destination in addition to being a key port of entry for immigrants and refugees. Our city is growing as is interest in our city, this is undeniable. As we stimulate our development and continue on our path to becoming a truly global city, we will require an airport that can handle a steadily increasing number of passengers. Such an airport will grow, by necessity, to serve a steadily increasing population base and will stimulate industrial development around it.

I’m looking at this with a long-term perspective. Traffic congestion around Trudeau airport is bad as it is and without major changes to local transport infrastructure will only get worse. There’s no room to build additional runways or terminals and, because the airport is surrounded by residential housing, the airport has a curfew limiting its hours of operation. It’s more-or-less at capacity.

And at a certain point in our city’s future, the land the airport currently occupies will be more valuable as residential housing than as an airport. Demand for on-island residential property will increase with the cost of oil, and all the factors that once made Trudeau airport’s location ideal for air travel will, in the future, make it an ideal place to own a house.

Mirabel, by contrast, is located in a rural area with plenty of room to grow. Built away from the city, Mirabel can operate twenty-four hours a day and purpose-built infrastructure can be implemented so as to make access to the airport efficient and effective across the metropolitan region. Similar infrastructure redevelopment in Dorval is proving exceptionally difficult to implement.

When considering what to do with Mirabel, we should be thinking about our future needs.

2. It’s becoming more accessible.

The lack of access that lead to Mirabel’s demise is either currently being implemented, in use, or otherwise still on the drawing board.

Highway 50 from the National Capital Region (population 1.4 million) has been completed, and it intersects Highway 15 near Mirabel. There are many more international flights available from Montreal than from Ottawa and this is a market a resurrected Mirabel could have access to.

The AMT runs trains between Montréal and Mirabel, on a track which can access the Deux-Montagnes Line (and by extension Gare Centrale), in addition to the Parc Intermodal Station. The train station at the airport has already been completed. We’re closer to realizing high-speed rail access to the airport than we realize – the problem is that we’re focusing on the wrong airport. Completing Highway 50 so that it connects with Highway 40 near Repentigny will allow a northern bypass to mirror the now completed Highway 30 southern bypass of the Island of Montreal. And what better way to justify the construction of a new South Shore span than by simultaneously completing Highways 13 and 19? This way, the Montréal metropolitan region would be served by four East-West Highways intersected by a similar number of North-South Highways. A ring-road would be created, and Mirabel would finally be able to adequately serve the entire metropolitan region. And that’s just the highways. While the Fed claims high-speed rail is an expensive dream, the government of Ontario is pressing ahead with the development of a new high-speed rail system connecting Toronto with London.

I’m convinced this is precisely how high speed rail will be (re)introduced to Canada – the provinces will get the ball rolling on specific, tactical, routes which will ideally blossom into a federal system. So why not do the same here?

A bullet train running between Downtown Montreal and Mirabel could lead to the creation of a high speed rail link between Mirabel and Ottawa. A high speed train travelling at 320km/hour could run the distance between Ottawa and Mirabel in about thirty minutes. From Gare Centrale to Mirabel, the trip could be done in less than half that time.

Imagine a future Montreal in which international travel was as close to you as the nearest Métro station and didn’t require finding parking or calling a cab?

Imagine a future in which Mirabel didn’t just serve Metropolitan Montreal better, but the National Capital Region as well?

3. Competing with Pearson

Competition is economically healthy, so why not develop an airport that can compete with Toronto’s Pearson? Low jet-fuel prices and longer-range aircraft made stopping at Mirabel unnecessary in the 1980s and 1990s and gave rise to Pearson Int’l Airport in Toronto as chief Canadian gateway. Today, fuel prices are high and unstable. Mirabel is 600km (give or take) closer to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and a number of important cities on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. I think we could use some competition in terms of which city is the true eastern gateway to the country, and I’d honestly like to see what would happen if we pushed ahead with Mirabel to take business away from Pearson. It’s what capitalism is all about right? Better public transit access to strategically situated airports able to adapt to new technologies will define the gateways of tomorrow, and for this reason Mirabel is superior to Pearson in many respects. Let’s see what the free market has to say about it. Again, Pearson, though large, is nearing capacity and constrained from large-scale growth by what has already grown up beside it. And we can’t grow unless we have the infrastructure to allow for growth. So whereas the citizens of Toronto may one day have to plan an entirely new airport even further away from the city centre, all we have to do re-connect our airport to our metropolitan ‘circulatory system’. The advantage will soon be ours.

4. Mirabel wasn’t designed to fail – we let it fail.

Fixing it is still a possibility, but we need to act quickly so we can save what’s already been built. We don’t want to have to start from scratch at some point in the future because we lacked foresight today – that’s criminally negligent economic policy. We spent a lot of money in the past and haven’t seen a decent return on our investment. So, invest anew – but invest in fixing the problems already identified first and foremost. Whatever the initial cost, it cannot compare to the potential return a fully operational Mirabel would provide in terms of direct revenue and indirect economic stimulus. There are no mistakes, just innovative solutions. If we were really smart, we’d recognize that planned regional transit and transport projects can be brought together under a larger program to provide the access necessary to make Mirabel a viable solution to our airport problem. Ultimately, it’s all inter-related and could stimulate a multitude of key sectors of our local economy.

We were once a daring and imaginative people, we had bold ideas and planned on a grand scale. Somewhere along the way we became convinced we were no longer capable of performing at the same level, and settled into a holding pattern of socio-political malaise. Today we are restless, and we are daring to ask how we came to be, and where our former power came from. Of late, it seems that we’ve regained our swagger, our attitude. So let us push those in power to dream big once more, and push for the long-term, multi-generational city-building we were once so good at. We have it in our blood, but our pride is still damaged. Let us regain our spirit by turning our past failures into tomorrow’s successes.

New Condos for Overdale, No News re: Future of Lafontaine House

YUL Condos from Mackay and René-Lévesque - not the work of the author
YUL Condos from Mackay and Ren̩-L̩vesque Рnot the work of the author

*Author’s note re: the above rendering. I’ve gone and checked – the trees along the left and right edges of the rendering above do not exist. In fact, the one at left could not exist as it would be located somewhere in the westbound turning lane of René Lévesque Boulevard. Also, the intersection at Mackay doesn’t look like that, and there’s no park on the right; it’s another shitty parking lot.

And now for something completely different.*

News on the real estate front, yet another developer is planning a massive condo project for downtown Montreal.

To be located on the Overdale Block (Crescent to Mackay, south of Boul. René-Lévesque) the YUL Condos project seeks to complete two 38-floor residential towers, as depicted above, in addition to about 20 townhouses along Overdale street, both components opening onto a central courtyard. The towers will be on the René-Lévesque side and the townhouses on the opposite side, where their stature will be more in keeping with the ‘human scale’ of old Victorian grey stones.

Admittedly, this project is a bit different from others, namely because it’s being shopped to a foreign clientele; sales offices have opened in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, and the main financing is coming from a consortium of Asian-Canadian investors. Considering this project’s proximity to Concordia University and the large Chinese population living in Shaughnessy Village, I feel it’s likely this project will be realized, perhaps before other similarly sized projects aimed at locals. This project aims to tap into a different kind of market. I have a feeling this condo complex is going to end up housing a lot of wealthy foreign students.

In any event, I’m merely speculating. How our housing market hasn’t yet tanked is beyond me.

So build, baby, build, right?

While I’m glad the useless empty lot will be filled with decently attractive residential towers and townhouses, I’m delighted the developer is also planning a renovation of the Lafontaine House. Perhaps more surprising, it’s not entirely clear what will go immediately behind the Lafontaine House, and so in the conceptual renderings it’s been left as a green space.

The developers are insistent that they’d like to see the Lafontaine House used for educational purposes, be it as a museum or interpretive centre, but they were also quick to point out that they’re not in that line of business. So I suppose this means we need our elected officials to get off their asses and make a move.

Not bloody likely, this is Lafontaine’s House after all.

For those of you not in the know, Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine was the first Canadian to become Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada, the political entity which immediately precedes modern Canada (itself beginning with Confederation in 1867). Lafontaine, along with co-Prime Minister Robert Baldwin, instituted a wide variety of reforms which continued the gentle push towards independence. He was the very first PM to preside over a responsible government and worked tirelessly (and ultimately succeeded) in having French return to official status, something which proudly remains to this day.

You may wonder why the house of such a man as this should be in an advanced state of disrepair, and why no government agency has stepped in to preserve it.

It’s a good question, one I unfortunately do not have an answer to.

But in the current political climate, it’s unlikely the Lafontaine House will be saved either by Québec City or Ottawa. For separatists, Lafontaine (a committed Patriote during the Rebellions of 1837-38) is the source of original sin – he’s viewed as a traitor because he worked with other rebels from Upper Canada (modern day Ontario) in creating Canada. The separatists have often portrayed the Rebellion of 1837 as a simple French vs. English conflict which resulted in Québec’s first martyrs. The reality, as is always the case, was far more complex. In fact, the dual rebellions (which occurred in both Québec and Ontario) pitted Canadians of multi-ethnic origins against the British Empire. Ergo, Canada vs. the United Kingdom, not French vs. English. Lafontaine’s experiences during the Rebellion of 1837 convinced him to pursue the peaceful path towards national sovereignty. His ideal vision of Canada was one in which Aboriginals, French, Métis, Scots, Irish, Loyalist Blacks, Americans and yes even the English would live together in harmony, their commitment more towards a common set of social and political values rather than blood lines and language. Back in the day, this was cosmopolitanism in Canada. It was profoundly progressive thinking and it worked. The Canada we have today, and the Canadian ideal we aspire to, are largely thanks to Lafontaine.

And on that note, another example of why the Parti Québécois won’t be handing over any money to the man who did far more to preserve the French language in Canada than Bill 101 or the Official Languages Act combined. The Parti Québécois simply does not believe multiculturalism is a Québec value.

That it is a Canadian value, largely put into practice by the original Canadiens and our unofficially first Prime Minister over a century before the Quiet Revolution, is of little interest to the populist, reactionary and wholly myopic PQ.

And for that matter, Lafontaine’s house likely won’t be saved by our current federal government either. The Tories prefer a ‘blood & guts’ history that posits Canadians as frontiersmen, warriors etc. It’s a gigantic clusterfuck of idiocy, in my personal opinion, and is severely degrading to our nation’s actual comprehension of our history, but the Tories simply don’t want to know of anything else. Lafontaine’s commitment to peace, order and restraint in the face of adversity is hardly exciting enough to keep Tories’ attention.

So I’m a bit pessimistic government will save the day (do they ever?), but perhaps our new mayor might be a bit more forward thinking.

Lafontaine’s House must be preserved and used to educate the public. It should be both a national historic monument and a public museum and/or interpretive centre; remember it’s free to mail your MP should you happen to agree with me.

Suffice it to say I’d really hate to see this become a private residence, though that’s what will likely happen. If that’s the course of action, hopefully the grounds behind are used for a nice garden; I think it’d be too much to ask private real estate developers to set aside land for a park. Lord knows the current civic administration couldn’t be bothered to do so.

As to the proposed building complex, while I find it aesthetically pleasing and am happy to see the inclusion of the townhouses, I’m less than thrilled there’s no social housing provision (yet again). At a time when our homeless population is steadily increasing and low-cost housing is disappearing from the urban centre (where it’s most needed), we, the actual citizens of Montreal, have no need for more condo towers. But these really aren’t being marketed locally, and it’s not the developer’s responsibility to build such units, it’s up to the city to mandate it.

I only bring this up because, prior to the shady dealings which lead to the razing of Overdale, it was nothing but low-cost housing, and right in the middle of the city too.

That’s a big issue to get in to, one I’ve discussed before but won’t again here. Read this instead, pretty comprehensive.

Projet Montréal’s 2013 Platform & A Soft Landing for the Montreal Real Estate Market

Sunset on Beaver Lake
Sunset on Beaver Lake

Projet Montréal, the only clean political party left in Montreal, is first out of the gate with a campaign platform.

With a dozen weeks or so left before the November 3rd municipal election they are so far the only party to have developed a program, including 71 specific campaign promises. No other candidate has come up with anything even remotely similar, as the PM program covers everything it feels a city administration ought to be involved in (from transportation to quality of life, health, culture and economic development, among others), a smart move in that it will play a role in deciding the terms of future debate. With this document PM is pushing an issues and ideas-based election, as opposed to the facebook-styled popularity contest it’s been up to now.

I’ll save my judgement of the other mayoral candidates for when they actually come up with their own plan. As far as I’m concerned elections are supposed to be issues-driven, not personality-based. Thus, this is so far a one-party race; until the other candidates produce some kind of document outlining just exactly what they propose to do for this city, I can’t in good conscience even consider them legitimate candidates. I refuse to vote for a self-described political vedette.

What strikes me about PM’s platform is that it seems to be anticipating a long expected crash in the Canadian housing market and, further, seems designed to carry our local real estate market into the much desired soft-landing. In essence, investment needs to be coaxed away from suburban developments and big-box shopping centres and back towards the urban environment. In this respect, PM’s 71 promises are methods by which that investment will be secured. Our mayors have been of the laissez-faire variety for too many years. Now is not the time for the laissez-faire approach. Investment needs to be re-directed into improving city living as much as possible. The city and its urban neighbourhoods will continue to be a desirable place to live long after interest in suburban bungalows has waned, but we need an active administration to ensure investment follows interest.

It’s clearly one of Projet Montréal’s main goals to correct the population loss our city suffers to suburban development, now in some cases more than an hour away from the city centre. If the housing market bubble bursts, in my opinion it will be these suburban developments that will be suspended first. As it stands these new developments are a burden on available health and education services in the outlying suburban regions. It stands to reason a more forward-thinking civic administration would capitalize on this as part of its broad effort to get people to stay in the city. Simply put the city can offer a far higher quality of life in terms of available services, culture, variety of employment opportunities etc. It’s stylish too, and it just so happens our city benefits immensely from several large urban residential areas, most of which are extremely desirable to live in (case in point the Plateau, faithfully administered by Luc Ferrandez and Projet Montréal and perhaps our city’s most iconic neighbourhood and the envy of urbanites the world over. Consider what makes the Plateau such a success and ask yourself how many other urban neighbourhoods offer something similar).

The plan is hyper conscious of what Montrealers love about living in our city and as such much of the program aims to build on what we already appreciate. More bike paths, urban agriculture, Métro extensions, a tram system, fewer cars and less traffic in the city – the list goes on and on, but it’s all built around improving the lives of urban residents. I can’t help but think the entirety of the plan will result in higher property values city-wide, and I’m also encouraged that the party has outlined new poles for residential development within the existing city; new construction in the city isn’t going to end, it just has to be managed better. I think we’re getting pretty close to maxing out on the need for single or dual occupancy condominiums as an example, so hopefully private developers (who will have many more reasons to build under a PM government, at least based on this platform) will react and adjust appropriately.

Other interesting components of the PM program include a six-point plan to increase and empower independently owned and operated businesses and to revitalize ‘neighbourhood economies’ and the city’s many commercial arteries. PM also wants to improve public education by working more directly with the provincial government and local school boards.

Further, a significant plan to broadly develop the Métro, including prolonging operating hours til 3:30, replacing all Métro cars with the new model over the next seven years, and extend three Métro lines (Orange west to Gouin Blvd., Blue east to Anjou and west to Lachine/Ville-St-Pierre, and Yellow up to Sherbrooke and McGill College, effectively ‘twinning’ the McGill Métro station. A bold plan to say the least, but one that will certainly make it much more desirable to live in the city.

Anyways, here’s the link again – check it out, well worth the time.

Cité des Familles

Aerial Photograph of Old Montreal - credit to Mario Faubert, 2012
Aerial Photograph of Old Montreal – credit to Mario Faubert, 2012

Fran̤ois Cardinal asks an important question Рis the city wasting its time trying to prevent the exodus of families to the suburbs?

In the last ten years, during which time the city has ‘officially’ been trying to reverse this trend, annual losses have remained somewhat constant at about 20,000 people leaving the city for elsewhere in Québec, largely outside city limits but within the metropolitan region known as Greater Montreal.

Attracting and retaining families inside the city limits was intended to reverse this trend, but so far the city has come up short. When $300,000 can get you either a detached multi-room suburban home near a train station or, at best, a single room condominium closer to the city, young families in essence have no real choice but to move to the suburbs. Services for families, aside from the daycares increasingly integrated into office towers, are virtually non-existent in the city’s most heavily developed central core.

In response to Mr. Cardinal’s question, I propose a follow-up – has the city really done anything material to secure an influx of new families?

Because if the mandate was nothing more than to advertise the advantages of theoretically living in the city as compared with the suburbs, then I can only wonder what anyone actually expected the city to be able to accomplish. Bringing families back into the city requires a major investment in civic infrastructure and a lot of hyper-precise zoning regulations to make a new urban neighbourhood from scratch, as might be the case in Griffintown or the former parking lot adjacent to the Bell Centre. Branding and marketing is enough of an investment to attract young professionals, but families need a far greater commitment.

There’s been a lot of concern recently that the city’s near-total lack of involvement in Griffintown’s resurrection may have the unintended result of creating a ghetto of single and double occupancy condos and not much else. Similar criticism has been made of the new condo towers destined to occupy nearly every available open plot in the central business district. Montreal’s downtown is not a neighbourhood in and of itself, but seems to have identifiable communities all around it (be it the Plateau, NDG, Mile End etc). Everything inside the core is reduced to a single condo project’s ‘branded lifestyle’ identity of urban chalets and minimalist sophistication; community remains completely elusive.

I would argue the Tremblay and Applebaum administrations have both done the exact same thing – nothing – to actually facilitate family living in the city, or even the actual establishment of the bare services to make the city a place where one lives a more interactive existence. Current city living is capsule living, sanitized and overtly corporate. I would hate to think there are people who may live many years in our great city and believe, based on limited experience, that our downtown is emblematic of the city. It’s anything but.

The question is whether the city can mandate the construction of family-oriented real-estate, and develop schools, clinics and myriad other services without waiting for provincial ministries to green-light the various projects. It’s curious too – provincial authorities have failed to provide adequate public schooling options in both the new suburbs as well as the city centre. Real-estate development can and will occur much faster than the province can react, and the city is all too often excoriated (and rightfully so) for not taking a leadership role in trying to maintain what institutional space we actually have downtown.

So as the city scratches its head on how to encourage people to move into the city, local school boards announce the closure of public schools in urban communities. Library branches shutter. Hospitals are put on the auction block to be re-processed, likely into condominiums, retirement homes or student dormitories. None of this helps re-establish long-term residency in the urban core.

It boggles my mind how no one is seeing the obvious connections, or why the city administration wouldn’t make the argument it’s their responsibility first and foremost to intercede given their stated intentions of downtown densification.

It’s not just the buildings of one variety or another designed with multiple closed rooms, within proximity of the diverse services required by urban families that need to be mandated into being. Schools, community and cultural space, parks, playgrounds, sporting facilities and public pools would all have to be built by the city, putting capital up front to be paid back with the new sources of taxation the city is in the process of creating. If enough new residents can be attracted to a given area based on the services available, the city succeeds in building a new and better kind of revenue generator.

In sum, why can’t the city legislate neighbourhood creation. leaving that up to the private sector and provincial government has so far proven to be ineffective. Quite frankly, it’s well beyond either’s purview.

My argument wouldn’t just be why not, but more – isn’t that what a city administration is supposed to be doing in the first place? Creating and refining the built environment?

And for all the money spent just to study the effects of new private sector densification in the downtown real estate market, and all the rest spent studying how best to expand the public transit system, spent on branding initiatives and marketing campaigns, our elected officials have come no closer to actually implementing anything. What’s spent studying potential future cityscapes could be be answered by any of the urban planners teaching at any of our universities. What’s spent on studies could build the schools or help finance the small businesses real communities desperately need.

As an example, the PQ has announced it will spend $28 million to study the feasibility of including a light-rail system to run on the new Champlain Bridge, which is supposed to cost anywhere between three and five billion dollars and may be completed by 2021, eight years from now if the project ever actually gets off the ground. That money could fund the creation of a public school as well as pay for its staff, something that would most certainly attract the attention of urban dwellers thinking of splitting for the burbs.

And furthermore, what needs to be studied? It’s common sense that a light-rail system, which may be able to haul 100,000 commuters at rush hour in twenty-minute runs from the South Shore to Downtown is a good idea worth implementing. As to how it’s to be built into the bridge, leave that up to the engineers who design it. As to cost, let it be folded into the total. If the Fed is hell-bent on financing such a ludicrously expensive bridge we may as well design it to incorporate a public transit system that can haul so many people so quickly and efficiently. It will doubtless spur a major population increase in the South Shore suburbs, and better still, will likely also serve to improve public transit access in the first-ring suburbs immediately south of the CBD, namely Griffintown, the Pointe, Technoparc, Cité-du-Havre and Nun’s Island areas. It is precisely here where the city should focus services for families, as there is room for growth favourable to urban families. There’s enough open land and low-use industrial areas we could be better off without, and the proximity to the city is really justification enough alone for the civic administration to push for redevelopment to be concentrated in this sector.

There’s no question it would sell, the question is what the city decides to sell.

Do we want condos or communities?

***

Another thought.

If you were to walk around any of the current, established, urban neighbourhoods and first ring suburbs you’d find some common housing types – notably the limestone triplex and its many derivatives, intermixed with modern apartment towers and turn-of-the-century apartment blocks, with duplexes and triplexes being by far the most common type.

In nearly all cases these buildings are comparatively old – the younger ones are approaching their centennials. Many have been renovated extensively throughout the years, some less so but well maintained nonetheless. Either way, through direct civc action to preserve our architectural heritage, coupled with an enduring public attachment (between the progeny of so many generations of working class urbanite locals) we’ve managed to protect, preserve and promote much of existing, heritage, built-environment.

Condo towers are very new in Montreal, especially in the most urban core. Up until about a two decade ago city condos were limited to buildings such as the Port Royal or Westmount Square, and with time development in that sector generally focused on converting old industrial properties into condominiums. About a decade ago buildings such as the Lepine Towers, Roc-Fleury and Crystal de la Montagne went up, leading to today’s boom.

Point is, all this is recent, and despite all the new construction, we can for the moment relax – we’re not going to look much like Vancouver or Toronto anytime too soon.

But to really guarantee against this we can’t redevelop every unused or underused property in the city into a shiny glass tower or a big brown box. We should save some space for new versions of the city’s iconic limestone triplexes.

I don’t think it’s so nutty an idea. It’s a building design that works – it has for a hundred years. Perfect as a flop house for students inasmuch as a three bedroom home for an urban family. I’ve lived in several such buildings over the years, and have spent time in countless more.

Why not build newer versions of a proven design?

You could live your entire life in Montreal duplexes – from your student days in a rented basement room, to starting out in your first full apartment occupying the upper floor, to swallowing up an entire duplex with your family until you eventually live upstairs in your retirement, renting the bottom floor to supplement your income.

There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Montrealers who have done just this over the past few generations.

It occurred to me, walking down Bleury from Boul. de Maisonneuve the other day, that we should maybe try to focus urban residential development to favour a re-introduction of this building type, though perhaps a four or five-floor model complete with a storefront base (designed for independent businesses owned and operated by residents). Bleury is but one example of an unfortunate phenomenon we have here in the city of urban streets that have lost buildings to parking lots, often leaving the tallest building on a given block still standing (in Bleury’s case a monolithic building stands completely abandoned on a prominent public space, but I digress). Rue Guy is still disfigured by the sea of parking spaces lapping at the base of the Tour Guy. Mansfield has the double problem of being largely defined by an open parking lot and the ass ends and loading docs of so many monolithic buildings. And in all these cases more traditional buildings stood not a half century ago.

Convincing real-estate developers to construct such buildings may not be an easy proposition at first, but legislation could make it a requirement. Buildings like these could not only help re-populate the urban core, but further still, offer truly unique examples of multi-functional building design, one that could accommodate much needed families.

New Real Estate – L’Avenue Condominiums


L’Avenue Condos perspective rendering, from the southwest at the bottom of Drummond.

I’m keen on the design of this building even though I’m not 100% sold on how this area is being developed. There’s no doubt in my mind L’Avenue is going to be an important landmark on our future city-scape, but I’d nonetheless prefer to see the city take a leading role in conceptualizing an overall design plan for the area. Perhaps I’m jumping the gun though, the four principle projects in the immediate vicinity of the Bell Centre are all still in their sales phase, it will be a while still before we get to see this.

But once it’s up, I think it will be a stunning addition to our skyline.

It will be the tallest residential building in the city, stacking up at fifty storeys with 325 suites offering one, two and three-room models, each fitted with high ceilings, and a private balcony, not to mention what would doubtless be some rather spectacular views up amongst the giants of the city centre.

The tower is composed of three distinct volumes blended into one another in a staggered fashion, growing out and up from the southwest towards the northeast much like a fountain. It’s stationed on an eight-storey base the developer hopes will be primarily utilized as commercial retail and office space, following a trend I noticed recently in Vancouver combining commercial and residential properties into an iconic building where the attractive tower is principally mixed-use residential. The L-shape will have the tower focused on Rue Drummond, with a spacious courtyard providing an exclusive address on an otherwise uninhabited part of the street. The alternating use of dark tinted glass and dark exterior finishings with the slight blue tint of the less opaque glass does a good job hiding the balconies, which the developer pointed out as one of the fundamental elements of urban living – access to a full size exterior space on an individual level is key, though like many other recent condo towers and urban living concepts, residents will also have access to large shared facilities as well.

Suffice it to say if I had the money I’d consider living here, as at the very least I’m already convinced the building will age well and likely be a coveted address for some time to come. If the market stabilizes and we somehow evade a major housing market correction, this could become a valuable piece of downtown property.

What concerns me is that the city is completely uninvolved in any form of urban planning in this new high-density, urban residential neighbourhood. It’s both fascinating and somewhat confounding. The projects listed (such as L’Avenue and it’s soon to be neighbours, Roccabella, Icone and Tour de Canadiens de Montréal) are listed as part of the Montréal 2025 ‘master-plan’ but the city is so far leaving this plan’s ‘design’ up to market demand. So far the market has proven at least interested, but without the city’s involvement some no-brainer elements of neighbourhood design are being forgotten entirely.

My primary concern is that the city has so far made no plans to utilize the massive amount of development in this sector to expand the Underground City.

Here we have L’Avenue, in addition to the other buildings to go up in the parking lot adjacent to the Bell Centre, but they won’t be connected to the Réso system quite literally across the street. If the city were to mandate the construction of a Réso tunnel running north from the Bell Centre towards Boul. de Maisonneuve, several buildings (such as those to be built, in addition to the Cité du Commerce Electronique, the Sheraton Centre, Tour CIBC, La Crystal de la Montagne and the future Maison Ogilvie redevelopment) would be directly connected to the underground infrastructure, two Métro lines and four Métro stations. In addition, we would finally have a legitimate residential component to the Underground City and we’d further have the means to link up numerous additional medium sized residential buildings located between Peel Métro and the Réso component at Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus. It would help ease traffic circulation, increase the value of attached properties, and allow greater access to the public mass-transit system. Of all the natural extensions of the Réso, the concentration of large-scale redevelopment projects in the sector roughly bounded by de Maisonneuve, St-Antoine, de la Montagne and Peel makes this area the best choice for expansion.

Then of course there’s the lack of social services. The city hasn’t mandated any new schools, daycares, medical clinics, community or cultural spaces of any kind in this area (or any other part of the downtown for that matter). Granted the developments are principally being oriented towards singles and young couples without families, but in order to better establish a sense of community in this sector, such facilities are necessary so as to attract and retain families. Families are typically far better wealth generators and wealth maintainers than individuals and couples who are invariably more mobile; in other words families might be less inclined to simply flip their property relatively shortly after initial purpose. Why will people continue living in a place so many quickly move out of? What’s the attraction for someone to stay here?

Providing an access tunnel would give the new developments a degree of marketable cachet, but going a step further, so as to include the building blocks of an identifiable neighbourhood, would help these buildings acquire something more valuable – a sense of permanency.

Without such a sense, buildings like these will be more greatly affected by changes in the market and personal tastes. In my eyes, the development’s investment potential and financial security is more secure if the city matches private investment with public, sustainable social development.

With this in mind I would hope the city takes the very broad 2025 plan and divide it up into smaller constituent parts, conceptualizing our shared space in terms of small-scale viable neighbourhoods in a large, multi-faceted urban centre.

Vintage Pics – Industrial Little Burgundy

View looking Southwest over Windsor Station with view of old Mountain Street Viaduct - not the work of the author, early 1960s(?)

I can’t get an exact date on this pic, but as you can see the Champlain Bridge is up but Nun’s Island isn’t much developed. Griffintown and Little Burgundy are clearly visible in this pic, though you can see there’s a considerable focus on new light-industrial activity centered on the old stockyard. As it happened, Mayor Drapeau re-zoned much of this area for exactly that purpose, driving residents out and leaving the area in its current state. Of course, what he wasn’t entirely counting on was CN and CP going through major downsizing and rationalization during the 1980s and 1990s. The end result was that all the track in this picture would be deemed excessive and ultimately destroyed. The nail in the coffin of sorts was when PM Brian Mulroney, as his last act in office, cut the ribbon at a dedication ceremony during the construction of the Bell Centre.

Here’s a link to a Wikipedia page with info pertaining to new skyscraper construction in Montréal. One of the only commercial property development projects not currently waiting for an anchor tenant or otherwise on indefinite hiatus, is Cadillac Fairview’s new Windsor Station Project, which aims to build several towers near the intersection of Mountain and St-Antoine. Cadillac Fairview had previously proposed a new train station to be built South of Windsor Station (but still integrated into the station as part of the Réso) with a viaduct crossing St-Antoine. Of course, we all know how good the Bonaventure Viaduct worked out for this area.

If it could be done in such a fashion that there was a major increase of diverse residential housing in the area, then I’d be more inclined to think that both of these new projects would be winners – that even a new viaduct could be done in such a fashion so as not to further dissect the urban core. However, that being said, I’m disinclined to think Cadillac Fairview will be interested in constructing anything but condos – someone will have to ensure that medium and low income housing is also provided, in addition to family-run small businesses and necessary community and cultural services. If the newly redeveloped parts of Griffintown and the Faubourg des Recollets seem to be lacking something – they are. They’re not communities yet, and they don’t feel like the rest of Montréal. Ultimately, you can’t leave city planning up to corporations from Toronto.