Tag Archives: Montréal Urban Living

A Sensible Approach to Redeveloping Griffintown

Let me make myself perfectly clear; being in favour of enhanced local government involvement in residential and commercial planning is not, in any way shape or form, anti-business. Nor is it necessarily going to lead to nepotism or otherwise create a conflict of interest. I need to stress this as a necessity, because we may otherwise spoil a golden opportunity to breathe new life into a dormant sector of the city by being fearful of the appearance of collusion. The city, by necessity, must be intimately involved in all manner of urban zoning planning – leaving it up to developers uniquely is simply irresponsible. The role of the city is to plan the necessary constraints placed on development and provide the requisite infrastructure to secure long-term growth and socio-economic stability within its boundaries. It is the private sector’s responsibility to adhere to these constraints and deliver a bankable product, on time and under budget, to their investors. A key issue to consider is this however; who are the investors? With regards to residential development projects, especially those of the size and calibre to potentially stimulate the rebirth of an entire residential zone, it is not merely the banks and the development company; all citizens who pay taxes to the municipal government are also paying for the city’s involvement in urban redevelopment, such as by rehabilitating old sewer systems, re-paving roads, building parks etc. Thus, in an indirect though significant fashion, the citizens are also investors, and their interests ought to considered as though the citizens are the financial backers of the city, in the same fashion that the banks and investment firms back the contractors, speculators and developers.

The plans to redevelop Griffintown caused a considerable uproar a few years back amongst citizens inclined towards a certain preferred urbanism. Indeed, the Devimco plan was seen as an uninspired condo-tropolis reminiscent of recent construction in Toronto or Vancouver and, though the project was officially put on hiatus as a result of the global economic meltdown, one can’t deny it was also very poorly received. Smaller projects have been implemented instead, and large-scale planning for the area doesn’t seem to have much if any involvement from the City. Perhaps it’s just hard to gauge, but the Montréal2025 plan, the Devimco plan, the scaled-back Devimco plan and the Canada Lands Corporation plan (along with a proposed Cité-du-Havre redevelopment scheme) all seem to be little more than ideas, proposals. Perhaps they are in accordance with a master plan somewhere in the city’s planning department, but publicly, it doesn’t seem that the Tremblay administration is making much headway. I can only wonder why Griffintown’s redevelopment isn’t the focal point of a major campaign on the part of the City to win the confidence of the tax-payers and potential investors, though I think it may have something to do with the number of strategic partners involved and the fluidity of Griffintown’s potential borders.

The region bounded by Highways 720, 20 and 10 looks like a backwards comma and is referred to as the Sud-Ouest. It includes the communities of Griffintown, Little Burgundy, St-Henri, Lower Westmount, Village des Tanneries, Pointe-St-Charles and the former Goose Village. Given the City’s plan to demolish the Bonaventure viaduct, this region will soon include the Cité-du-Havre, the Faubourg-des-Récollets and the proposed Quartier Bonaventure as well. The Sud-Ouest borough also counts the neighbourhoods of Cote-St-Paul and Ville-Emard further West and has a total population of about 70,000 people. This region is served by about a dozen Métro stations either within the boundary or on its periphery and has been going through a partial gentrification for about fifteen years. It is extremely convenient to live in this sector, apartments are generally quite affordable and you are in the immediately vicinity of the Central Business District. New construction is taking place and the borough has already established itself as an up-and-coming alternative to the Plateau. It’s hip and chic to live here. So why aren’t we planning for the area as a whole?

I can imagine it’s in all of our best interests to attempt increasing the residential population in this area – perhaps by significant margin given the availability of open, largely under-used land. But if this is to be the case, we must further ensure an appropriate mix of incomes and living arrangements. For one, there are a great deal of heritage properties which must be protected. An excellent way to go about this is to have the City acquire said properties and keep them rent-controlled. Other initiatives should include mandatory construction of rent-subsidized apartments and middle-income condo/apartments in all new large-scale residential development projects. Further, the city will have to construct new schools and rehabilitate old civic properties to support the new population increase (as an example, the area in question has old community centres, churches, fire stations, schools etc, many of which could be renovated and re-used), while further investing in a massive, sector-wide city beautification project. For too long it seems as though the City has focused uniquely on beautifying areas within the sector that have received significant private investment – this has given the area a very uneven look. Finally, new small-business initiatives would have to created (and backed by the City) to foster a stable local economic foundation. We can accomplish all of this, but it will require greater City involvement and a bird’s eye perspective. If the population could be doubled in this sector and a new Plateau result, it’s worth the investment. The City should use the opportunity to create a massive new residential zone built according to the interests of the citizens and our urban planning experts.

Ten Attractions and Services we Bafflingly do not have in Montréal { part deux }

Parts of the logo: podium, running track, the letter M, the three 'peaks' of Mount Royal and the Olympic Rings

So this article has been getting a neat little bit of buzz. If you’d like to see part 1, just click here.

Please leave me any suggestions, comments, questions or critiques. Let me know if you think these are ridiculous or just what we need. If I have any luck I might just one day get myself on city council, and I would like to speak on behalf of the people somewhat authoritatively. Let me know what you think.

So now, the second part of our two-part series on what we’re lacking. Remember, these aren’t in any order of priority.

6. A bilingual university – according to a new study authored by Jack Jedwab of the Montréal-based Association for Canadian Studies, after years of work and billions of tax-dollars spent, only about 7% of Canadians outside of Québec can carry a conversation in French, leading some to question as to whether we are truly a bilingual nation, and why official bilingualism hasn’t caught on across Canada. Oddly enough, the French requirement outside of Québec has led countless Québecois to leave their home province to make use of French elsewhere, and that has doubtless stimulated a greater sense of the uniqueness of the Canadian identity for those individuals. It is also one of the reasons why an estimated 30,000 young Canadians have flocked to Montréal over the last five years to study here – they know learning French is highly advantageous in an increasingly globalized world.

But we need to go further. Montréal has a growing student population and our universities and CEGEPs are over-crowded. New buildings are going up piecemeal, but an entirely new university may soon be required to relieve pressure on other schools. Given the linguistic balance of universities in Montréal (not to mention the fact that there are plenty of English students at French schools and vice-versa, and the fact that, I believe, all Montréal universities accept student’s work in either official language), it only makes sense that we now create a fully, operationally bilingual university. Ideally, this school will require or otherwise encourage students to learn and submit assignments and research in both languages, to work in both languages and to graduate with the ability to effortlessly switch between languages and write in either at a superior level. Moreover, I would want this university to be actively engaged in supporting and promoting official bilingualism throughout Canada, study the process, and conduct research pertaining to the linguistics of multilingualism, its role and function in society. The information and data such an institution could provide would be invaluable, not to mention the practicality of a city such as ours having a recognized bilingual university will only work to further our global orientation and secure international recognition. Can we really afford not having one? Future attempts to secure additional UN branches and other international governing bodies may depend on it.

7. An aviation museum – so Montréal is effectively the world capital of aviation, and I bet you didn’t even know that eh? In fact, the two largest international bodies governing civil aviation are based right here, a stone’s throw from one another. ICAO (on University) is the official UN body governing civil aviation, while IATA (located at the Tour de la Bourse), represents the interests of of the civil aviation industry. In addition, we have two international airports as part of a three-airport system for the city (which is a lot given our population, though appropriate for the region as a whole), have an established local aviation industry (including Bombardier, the world’s third-largest aircraft manufacturer, Bell Helicopter and Pratt & Whitney), the headquarters for the Canadian Space Agency and the satellite-manufacturing component of MacDonald-Dettwiller.

Despite all this, we don’t have an aviation museum to display the many types of aircraft designed, built and tested here. Why not? We have room at three airports for just such a facility, and all the tourists we need to make such an endeavour financially viable. I mean, if smaller markets can support these kinds of facilities, certainly we can. Finally, I’m keen to join museums and interpretive centres with established academic institutions. There’s a plan that’s been on the books stretching back nearly thirty years to build a joint aerospace institute and specialty college, which was originally supposed to be administered jointly by McGill and Université de Montréal. The project was intended to be located at Trudeau Airport as part of the transfer of operations to Mirabel. An aviation museum as part of a larger aerospace college, two potentially lucrative operations capable of reaching a global academic audience inasmuch as a the local tourism market. A place for us to showcase our achievements in a vitally important national industry while simultaneously providing a facility to study our innovations in aviation. It’s ok for us to take pride in what we do best, so why don’t we do better for our key high-technology industries?

8. A monument to humanity – I was initially thinking of a monument to world peace, but I can imagine we’d do better to try and bring many concepts together at once. I’ve always thought a monumental, towering version of the Expo Logo, with the two intertwined runic symbols for man, would be a nice touch. Consider that we once had (and in name only still do have) a Place des Nations, at the Western edge of Ile-Ste-Helene (as you can see in the photo), yet it has largely been abandoned, suffering from lack of easy access (though back then it was a key transit point, connected to the Expo Express LRT). I would love to see Place des Nations brought back to its former glory, but I still feel we need a grand monument to the human endeavour, ideally located in an area close to major tourist sites, with the aim of stimulating urban-renewal through a large city beautification project.

I think the area bounded by St-Urbain, Sanguinet, Viger and St-Antoine (one of the last exposed sections of the Ville-Marie Expressway, adjacent to the Champs de Mars) must be covered over, and a large plaza and park installed here would serve to connect Old Montréal, the International Quarter, Chinatown and the Latin Quarter. Moreover, such a development would make the surface parking lots along the Northern edge of Viger prime locations for high-density residential and commercial real-estate towers. The location is symbolic, central and currently an eyesore, not to mention, much like the fortifications that once stood at the Champs de Mars, an unnatural and unnecessary barrier. And we of all cities must have a monument to humanity, cosmopolitanism, world peace, to human rights and civil liberties – these are our values, let us celebrate them and stimulate new growth simultaneously.

9. Linear parks (or more precisely, a revision of the 1909 PQAA linear parkways plan) – I found this gem of an idea in a CCA publication called Montreal Metropolis, and I’ll see what I can do about getting a detailed scan put up soon. The Province of Québec Architect’s Association (PQAA) drafted a plan in 1909 to link several major urban parks through a network of parkways – roads lined with trees with segregated lanes for pedestrian and vehicle traffic, along with a centre-line tramway with the idea being that if there was no traffic, the space would be in essence a long linear park.

The PQAA plan envisioned an outer ring running down from Mount Royal along Atwater to a riverside park planned to line the St. Lawrence near the Victoria Bridge. Another branch would extend East to Parc Lafontaine from Fletcher’s Field, then back along Sherbrooke or Ontario until descending towards the Champ de Mars, Place d’Armes and Square-Victoria. Consider this: what if the outer edge of the urban core (effectively, the line that separates the CBD from the first-ring suburbs) was a parkway which would eventually lead you right back to the same spot, and from every point along the edge of this ring road, you were essentially always the same distance from the centre of the city? Moreover, this same parkway could bring you to just about every major park and urban square or plaza in the city. Quite an accomplishment if you ask me, and its a pity this plan was at best only partially implemented (indeed, it really never got much farther than the city planting a lot of Elm trees closely spaced on some of our major thoroughfares, like Parc Avenue and Sherbrooke Street).

The poet Irving Layton once described Parc Avenue in the summer as though he were walking through an arboreal cathedral, the enmeshed branches above forming a kind of floral vaulted ceiling. All this came to an unfortunate end throughout the 50s and 60s, when many old trees were cut down as part of various urban renewal schemes. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, the Dutch Elm disease passed through our region between 1978 and 1987, killing many of the city’s oldest trees and much of what remained from the abridged 1909 plan. We could easily put a modernized version of this plan back into action, and the sooner the better. Oh, and on a final thought – why not cover the Decarie Trench from the Turcot Interchange to the Decarie Circle with a massive linear park? It’s an eyesore and it unnaturally divides the city. It could be a point of unity, integrating diverse parts of NDG, Cote-des-Neiges, TMR, Cote-St-Luc and further minimize the carbon footprint of the heavy traffic in the trench (consider that industrial pollutant ‘scrubbers’ could be attached to the ventilation systems needed for an enclosed Decarie Tunnel, potentially minimizing the negative effects of car pollution on a heavily used expressway). And if that’s not reason enough, imagine the entire stretch of exposed trench covered over by an immense park, something akin to the Champs Elysées? The land value of every lot lining the surface road would immediately skyrocket, massive new development projects would transform the area completely. Just imagine the possibilities – long-term redevelopment investment could keep our construction industry completely employed for more than a decade working on the project.

10. A hockey museum & research centre – also a no-brainer. The fact that the Hockey Hall of Fame is located in an old Bank of Montreal building in Toronto is absurd if not a cruel joke. We are the city that built hockey into a modern, internationally recognized and commercially profitable sporting and entertainment industry.

We don’t just have the team with the most Stanley Cups, it’s that the first Stanley Cup was awarded here. It’s that the first modern game with modern rules, officials etc was played here. It’s that the NHL was founded here, that the dimensions of a standard hockey rink are defined by a parking garage on Stanley. We deserve a museum to showcase our hockey history, and given the allure of the sport and it’s international implications, we should probably start studying it too. Thus, we need more than just a museum, we need a place where hockey can be dissected by academics and studied by experts, to develop a fuller understanding of the game and promote its position in our society, as a defining and unifying element of our diverse culture. And if we can put such a facility in a heritage building, close to the downtown action, and potentially secure new investment in an uneven part oft he city, then certainly we’d be fools not to go through with it, right? Well it just so happens the Old Victoria Rink is still standing and conveniently located next to both an empty lot and a massive hotel, but a stone’s throw from the Bell Centre. If there is any concern as to whether the funding can be secured for such a project, I can only counter with a question – has hockey grown in popularity amongst Montrealers over the course of the last thirty years? I’ll save you the time of googling the answer – it’s yes, assuredly. Despite the fact that we haven’t won a cup in eighteen years and only two in the last thirty, hockey is as popular as ever, in Montreal, Quebec and in Canada. So let’s get serious about the game we turned into a phenomenon, let’s celebrate our history, and for god’s sake, let’s find a better use for an old landmark than merely parking cars.

We can do better.

Ten Attractions and Services we Bafflingly do not have in Montréal { part 1 }

This was originally going to be a list of ten items but I realized it was going to be an immense article. So I cut it in half and will finish it in part 2, due out shortly. I think it’s in our interest to keep these items in mind for our 375th anniversary, because frankly I’m starting to wonder just how we’re getting by without them. I can only hope this list serves as an astounding reminder of that which our metropolis is sorely missing.

1. Street vendors – I’ve complained about this many times before, and indeed, I do think it’s ridiculous for a city such as ours to have the kinds of restrictions we have vis-a-vis ultra-small scale business ventures. Especially in tough economic times such as these, the citizenry should have numerous options to sustain themselves through small-scale enterprise. Thus, we should relax restrictions so as to permit food vendors, newspaper kiosks with limited dépanneur services, busking and artisanal vendors within certain recognized public areas. Ideally, a network of city-owned kiosks, such as our Camilliennes, would be managed and rented to prospective entrepreneurs. Furthermore, free public markets akin to St. Mark’s Square in New York City should be integrated into urban residential areas. We are not completely without vendors in this city, nor we completely lacking in the necessary infrastructure. It’s just that we’re still too restrictive in an area of macro-economics that requires an open and competitive market. Let’s crack this nut wide open. In addition to providing numerous city and entrepreneurial jobs, such an initiative has the added advantage of ensuring our street corners and public places are peopled in part by individuals who have an interest in maintaining the security and safety of said place. It adds a lot of alert eyes and ears to our urban environment and can be used to increase security in the urban environment in a non-invasive fashion.

2. Public washrooms – a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. Our city is unfortunately battered periodically by knock-out blasts of shit, piss and puke. While the smell of manure tends to be seasonal (i.e. – any time large-scale field fertilizing takes place anywhere in the St. Lawrence agricultural basin), the piss and vomit affront to your olfactory sensibilities is largely the result of the fact that we have too few public washrooms in this city. Frankly, if you don’t want homeless people shitting and pissing in the Métro tunnels and are tired of having to negotiate using washrooms at fast food restaurants and gas stations, then we need the city to propose a proper solution. Public washrooms, whether in the form of full service rest stations or stand-alone ‘pissoires’ are a vital necessity in any metropolis. For one its convenient, helpful and can even be turned into a small-scale business opportunity. Second, it allows the homeless to retain some dignity by offering them a valuable and necessary service they all too often have to fight for. And while in the past public washrooms were a public nuisance, replete with old drunks and various debaucheries, today we can use design and technology to mitigate this problem. In some cases it could be as simple as posting an attendant to ensure public rest facilities are kept clean and safe for all to use. And whatever the cost, it will pay for itself in that we’ll all benefit from a cleaner, more sanitary and human city.

3. Ferry service – in case you haven’t realized, Montréal is an island, the largest in fact in an archipelago at the confluence of the Outaouais and St. Lawrence rivers. It’s densely populated central business district and urban core is wedged in along the St. Lawrence and the eastern side of Mount Royal, adjacent to the sprawling Port of Montréal. And yet, for a city with a long and proud seafaring history, we are completely lacking in ferry service. If you consider all the communities along the St. Lawrence, Lac-St-Louis and Lac des Deux Montagnes, you quickly realize there is an exceptionally large population within the metropolitan region that can be accessed by using our local waterways. With almost a million people living on the South Shore and four overloaded bridges, I wonder why no one has yet considered developing ferry services for commuters? Service to communities to the West of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge would require terminals to be constructed either on the outside of the Seaway or with modifications to the Seaway, but either way, ferries offer considerable advantages to commuters. Among others, ferries can transport large quantities of people (not to mention vehicles) quickly across open waterways and deliver them right into the heart of the city. They’re arguably more efficient than trains and could open up the commuter zone to many distant communities, not to mention leave a smaller carbon footprint than a high-capacity bridge or tunnel.

4. A pedestrian deck on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge – this is a no-brainer. Simply put there’s no nice way to walk across the St. Lawrence, and while the Jacques-Cartier Bridge has both a pedestrian walkway and a bicycle lane, it’s hardly a nice walk. Traffic is deafening, the pathway is narrow and caged in (giving the impression of a very narrow prison yard) and the fact is the walkway seems bolted on and not terribly sturdy. It’s a doable walk for the adventurous, but not exactly ideal for tourists, families, the elderly or handicapped. Building an overhead deck would provide an excellent solution to this problem, and make the Jacques-Cartier Bridge a tourist attraction in its own right, akin to the Brooklyn Bridge. A renovation of the Art Deco support structure on Ile-Ste-Helene could allow for the provision of services and shops, while the upper deck could serve artisans and buskers, saving the existing pedestrian walkways for the exclusive use of bicycles. Moreover, a pedestrian deck would allow the crossing to remain open to motor vehicles when it would otherwise be closed for spectators watching fireworks displays.

5. A design museum & research institute – back in 2006 Montréal was proclaimed an international city of design by UNESCO, and for good reason too. We are in effect a global powerhouse when it comes to design, featuring not only ICOGRADA but some of the very finest design programs offered at any university, let alone the massive advertising, media and fashion sectors of the local economy which employs a great number of designers. It’s clear we take our aesthetics seriously, and we pride ourselves on our excellent architecture and urban planning. Yet at the end of the day, we have no facility to educate the public as to the importance of design, nor do we have an associated research facility to propel innovation in design. As long as this lasts our hold on the UNESCO title remains tenuous and subject to market forces. A design museum and research institute would help secure our status as leaders in design, not to mention provide an attraction geared to a mobile, well-educated and prosperous international audience. If there are tourists we desperately want to attract to our city, it is certainly those with the potential to invest in our city and the connections to propel interest.

Here’s what’s next:

6. A bilingual university
7. An aviation museum
8. A monument to world peace
9. Linear parks
10. A hockey museum & research centre

In Search of Urban Community in a Societal Wasteland

Boul. René-Lévesque West

A friend of mine recently asked me what I’d like to see happen to Griffintown.

I said: the Plateau.

How’s that saying go, brevity is the soul of wit?


But seriously now. We were talking about looking for apartments and she was wondering what I thought about the area currently being marketed as ‘Griffintown’ along Notre Dame West. Admittedly, this would have been the northernmost extensions of Griffintown, and would likely have been considered a part of Little Burgundy that last time there was a stable local population. Keep in mind, a good stretch of this area around the new ETS building was once a CN stockyard; this is why the buildings on the northern side of Notre Dame are all new construction, whereas those on the southern side tend to be renovated industrial buildings. I’ve had the chance to pass through the area a few times recently, and will be going back soon to document the street-side ballet of this new urban neighbourhood. It strikes me that this area may one day soon become a vibrant community, but as it stands right now, there is something palpably missing. There are people here, it is defining itself, but it has yet to acquire all that is needed to be considered an actual community, a neighbourhood.

Part of the problem lies in what kind of living arrangements are currently available here. Its almost exclusively condos, and these tend to be rented almost exclusively by students, young couples etc. There seem to be very few families around here, and scarcely any family-oriented services, such as schools, libraries, cultural centres, clinics etc. While a stretch of Notre Dame West in Little Burgundy has enjoyed recent success developing into a chic strip for night owls and the socially-inclined, other parts of the new Griffintown are eerily quiet and devoid of life between certain hours on most nights. Public transit doesn’t seem to have kept pace with developments here, and at times it seems to suffer from the same fundamental deficiencies as the Quartier des Multimedias further East.

Clark Street looking South, 1976 - not the work of the author.

The plan for Griffintown seems to be more of the same – large condo buildings and renovated former industrial sites. It’s market-driven development with only the bare minimum of municipal involvement. So the question I asked my friend, as I would ask anyone thinking of moving into Griffintown and potentially considering purchasing a condo, is whether or not they think someone else is going to want to live there at some point in the future, in short, what is the re-sale potential of the unit?

And without the necessary societal anchors that are guaranteed to stimulate the growth of a viable community, the Griffintown redevelopment runs the risk of loosing its lustre. If the development is uniquely driven by market forces, so is its lifespan, and this is dangerous if the area suddenly falls out of fashion. That or we discover that the condo market is over-saturated. I don’t think we’ve yet to reach this point in Montréal, but I would caution against pushing it too far. If the market tanks and the area falls out of favour, the area may become scarred by unfinished construction projects – consider the stalled Ilot Voyageur behind the bus terminus and the surrounding Northeast corner of the Quartier Latin – new residential developments seem stalled as well, and the vast empty hulk is degenerating whilst simultaneously negatively impacting the residential market around the site.

Stalled Redevelopment at the Dow Brewery - not the work of the author.

Now, the Berri Square area suffers from other problems as well, but the Ilot Voyageur isn’t helping. Griffintown has a stalled project along Peel with the plan to redevelop the old Dow Brewery – the area can’t afford to let this continue, as it places an unfortunate obstacle for further development – consider the negative effects the abandoned art store across from the former abandoned hulk of the Seville Theatre on Ste-Catherine’s near the old Forum. One abandoned building can have a detrimental effect on the land-value of adjacent buildings. A good portion of Griffintown remains abandoned or underused, and unless the city plans on moving in and directing urban residential redevelopment, the market may not be stable enough to guarantee long-term investment. Ergo, the city needs to stimulate investment by demonstrating to developers their intention to craft a viable urban community.

The Halcyon Days of Victoria Street; the Eaton's Centre now sits in its place.

In order to accomplish this, the City’s going to have to take a good look at what makes our best urban communities work so well. What makes the Plateau what it is, what makes it so desirable, and can knowledge of these key characteristics be successfully applied to a new cooperative development scheme, where the City leads developers into a sustainable development model? The City should use its resources and contacts to develop the services that will stimulate the creation and growth of society, and not just a collection of places where people eat, sleep (and maybe build little forts!) The question I’ve been asked is why use the Plateau design model? In sum, residential housing design in Montreal from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, though by no means perfect, has some particularly interesting advantages, namely: the orientation of homes onto shared spaces (streets, alleys and parks), medium-sized housing density which allows for enough sunlight to penetrate shared spaces and stimulate local flora, and the availability of rental units for small-scale businesses, which are in turn oriented towards the needs of local residents. Moreover, areas of neighbourhood designed based on these concepts have proven themselves to be popular and developmentally malleable throughout the generations. It’s tried, tested and true and leaves enough breathing room to be highly adaptable. I can imagine an ideally designed Griffintown which blends this model with the industrial lofts and new condominiums.

Old Port Living - not the work of the author.

I’ve identified an area roughly bounded by Sherbrooke, St-Antoine, Mountain and Bleury wherein we find almost all new high-capacity residential development. Its this same area that happens to have a large quantity of open spaces for development, most of which are surface parking lots. This same area has no public schools, no libraries, no grocery stores as far as I’ve seen, and pathetically few options when it comes to affordable fine dining, especially after regular business hours. What’s especially maddening is that this same area is the very core of our city. It is a societal wasteland, and I would know – I’ve been told for some time I come from one.

While there is a vast difference between the West Island Suburbs and Montréal’s CBD, I would say the chief point of commonality is the similar lack of cultural venues and creative spaces in both areas. That said, at the very least, the West Island supports a large middle class community where neighbourhoods are well defined and in many ways unique from each other. They further benefit from ample social and community services. Now why can’t we offer the same in the heart of the City?

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!

Montréal Métro Extensions – How 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?