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.
A loyal reader posted this photograph in response to a question about where one can find archival street scenes of Montreal. The McCord Museum has the famed Notman collection, which provides an incredibly fascinating glimpse into the lives of Montrealers, and what their city looked like, around the turn the 20th century.
Notman was king instagrammer of his time, in a certain way of thinking.
The photo above is of His Majesty’s Theatre, once the city’s premier theatre and host to some of the city’s first major opera companies and regular performances of chamber music. It had a capacity for 1750 people and two balconies, and over time would host a wide variety of performers, including Sergei Rachmaninoff and Paul Robeson.
Now can you guess where this important landmark once stood?
Just up from Saint Catherine’s on the east side of Guy. I don’t know whether this was done on purpose, though I have a feeling it was, but you’ll notice that the facade of Concordia’s EV building seems to mimic the facade of the former theatre. His Majesty’s Theatre was demolished in 1963, around the same time pretty much everything else up Guy was ripped up as Boul. de Maisonneuve was created on top of the new Métro line.
In any event I thought it was at the very least a neat coincidence.
But what really struck me about the photo on top was the trees.
Big badass oaks and elms and maples growing taller than most triplexes, and enough of them to make it seem as though some roads disappear off into the woods.
Many Notman photos have this arboreal quality about them. Streets as diverse as Saint Denis, Sherbrooke, Saint Catherine’s, the former Dorchester (now René-Lévesque) boulevards etc. were once all lined with mature, impressive trees. Parc Avenue was apparently so well forested the great limbs intertwined over the street to provide a kind of canopy that could protect you from even the most torrential of downpours.
I look out my back window onto the alley, a typical Saint Henri alleyway, with trees climbing ever skyward, dwarfing the brownstones below them. In winter I can see to the end of the block. In summer I can’t see further than the end of my building, for everything else is masked in green.
Today there are parts of the city where great trees will likely never grow again, for large buildings stacked too close together block out necessary sunlight. Even on a street as wide as McGill College, the trees planted twenty years ago are all sickly looking; many have been removed outright.
I think we’d be wise to take a long look at these old photos and ask ourselves whether we could afford to be a little greener. Not just for aesthetics, there are practical reasons to want to do this, chief among them to increase the quality of the air we breathe and to provide a bulwark against seasonal flooding. Each tree, each patch of green acting like a sponge and a vent at the same time.
You know the deal – series on Forget the Box. Stay tuned for Sud-Ouest borough mayor candidate Jason Prince and my one-on-one with Richard Bergeron. I’ll try and get a half decent summary going at some point soon. In the meantime, you can have a look at how the candidates responded to questions on their commitment to open data (from Montreal Ouvert). Interesting stuff; definitely worth considering where these people stand on the their commitment to putting knowledge in the hands of the electorate.
I had a delightful opportunity to meet Cindy Filiatrault recently, Équipe Mélanie Joly’s candidate for borough mayor in the Sud Ouest borough (which, for the uninitiated, includes Saint Henri, Point-St-Charles, Griffintown, Little Burgundy, Ville Émard and Cote-St-Paul). We met up at a crowded café St-Henri, realized there were no seats left as the joint was jam packed with insolent hipsters and then proceeded to walk down a bustling Notre Dame West to the Green Spot Diner.
On our way over, we passed a comic book shop celebrating its one year anniversary and something called the Quebec General Store which seemed to be having a going-out-of-business sale. There were boarded-up storefronts and dive bars next to businesses that are keen to welcome their first clients. Indeed, I couldn’t think of a better place for a stroll.
Notre Dame West is, like many of Montreal’s commercial arteries, a bit hit or miss, though if you continued walking east from where we were (and by that I mean if you cross Atwater) you discover the gentle lapping waves of a different kind of gentrification. For all that the Sud Ouest is, it is a study in contrasts.
Over too many cups of coffee I discovered a borough mayor candidate with some fascinating ideas, but perhaps more importantly, a real sense of attachment and conviction.
What are your plans for the Sud-Ouest?
Oh man, where do I start? Broadly, and I mean this with regards to the whole city, we need to make all pertinent data open to public scrutiny. And I suppose we’d need to hire a few people to compile this data too.
What kind of data are you looking for?
Well, I’d like to know what effect green roof initiatives have on reducing the effects of air pollution, not to mention an air quality break-down by borough too. Add to that list all public contracts so that the public can see where their money is going and how it’s being spent.
So you don’t just want transparency, but a more engaged and active distribution of information?
Pretty much. Anyone can say they are being transparent, but I want to have free, unencumbered access to everything I need to make an informed decision on how our elected officials are doing. Currently, we’re all in the dark.
But you know, it goes a lot further than that. The city has to actively promote the services and programs it has that aren’t being used. There are myriad programs available to help small entrepreneurs, but it’s very difficult to find the pertinent information. Why?
A lot of these programs aren’t used simply because there’s no one at city hall making it a priority to get the word out. And perhaps the less I say about the city’s website the better.
Some politicians would argue making all information available for public consumption is going to bog down the political process because they’ll wind up having to explain a lot to people who really only want to kvetch about god knows what and will stick to their guns even if it’s apparent the information or data they have has been incorrectly interpreted or understood
So be it. Politicians are there to communicate openly and directly with their citizens. We can’t afford to keep the citizenry in the dark and the paternalist style of governing, the ‘dumbed-down’ approach has got to go.
I think all Montrealers are sick of being talked down to by a lot of rich, crooked, old white men. Besides which, I work in communications, you work in communications, and we both know that complex information can be made simple to understand.
Either way, look at where we’re at right now. Everything happens behind closed doors, the public is kept in the dark, the people have nearly zero faith in their politicians.
If there’s a reason why we’re pulling ahead in the polls, it’s because we’re the antithesis of the old order. We’re young, vibrant, energetic, connected and placing a strong emphasis on using technology – the technology that unites us in nearly all other aspects of our lives – and apply it to increase civic engagement, stimulate transparency and govern based on a real-time assessment of the people’s interests.
Tell me something more concrete, more Sud-Ouest focused. What does this borough need to flourish?
Decontamination and revitalization.
Expand on that, please.
Much of this borough was industrial for a hundred years prior to the major phase of deindustrialization that swept through with the closing of the Lachine Canal. As a result, factories closed, but what they left behind is still in the ground.
As a post-industrial city, we need to keep track of what pollutants are where and in what quantities. We also need a plan to decontaminate the ground to ensure the health of our community.
Much of the borough is built on former industrial land and wedged between what was once an industrial canal on the southern edge and one of the busiest highways in Canada on the northern edge. Is it any wonder life-long residents of the borough have higher respiratory ailments?
Tell me something I don’t know about your borough.
You know Dave McMillan?
Not personally, but he owns Liverpool House and Joe Beef, right?
Right. In the winter he clears the snow from the alleyway behind his restaurants. He clears it by hand because the city doesn’t. And you know what he finds with nearly every shovelful of snow? Needles. That alleyway is littered with them but it’s thanks to Dave McMillan they get cleaned up.
That’s really gross. There’s a park just on the other side of that alleyway and a library and a community centre too
Exactly my point. On Notre-Dame it’s all fixed up, gentrified, you’d never expect that just on the other side is the borough’s reality of poverty and social pathologies related to mental health problems, drug addiction etc. Drug addicts shouldn’t be anywhere near areas used by families and children, even if it is an alleyway.
So what do we do with potentially homeless intravenous drug addicts in the Sud-Ouest?
We need a safe injection site in the borough and I’d push for it. How are drug addicts ever going to overcome their addictions if they’re forced out of sight into the nooks and crannies of the city?
These are people too. They should have a place to go where they can shoot up with clean needles, with supervision and access to help if they want it.
It’ll make our streets safer and we won’t have to worry about kids accidentally sticking themselves with dirty needles on the way to a baseball diamond or the local library. It’s a matter of basic respect for your fellow human beings. Frankly, I’m surprised we don’t already have one here.
Where would you bring tourists to give them a taste of this large, diverse borough?
I’d bring them for a walk along Notre-Dame, so they could see our past, present and future.
This Sunday, starting at ten in the morning city-wide. Get up, get into it, get involved.
And I should point out they were actually exceptionally fast in their response time. I by contrast have been slow to update el blogo. Whatever.
My original post published December 16, 2012 was entitled “The Exciting World of Montréal Urban Planning and Municipal Politics” and concerned the now-stalled re-development of the old Archivex warehouse in Saint Henri (effectively on the westernmost edge of the grounds around Lionel-Groulx Métro station) into a planned seven-storey office building which, as advertised, would bring some 2,000 employees to the area every day. A Projet Montréal Councillor by the name of Sophie Thiébault led a public campaign against the plan, arguing a lack of transparency and public consultation, among other things.
Here’s a link to the document presented to City Hall by Lemay & Associates Architects for Groupe Mach, the developer. It includes renderings of the new building, perspective photographs of the site from various angles as well as renderings of shadows cast by the new building on the surrounding area at various times of the day and year.
In the first post I asked if Projet had something to say about it, as I was somewhat incredulous PM would object to a new building that could (potentially) bring a major cash infusion into a neighbourhood coming into its own and becoming a new pole of activity.
Below is what Projet Montréal sent me:
Les citoyens réclament une planification pour les environs de la station Lionel-Groulx
Montréal, le 14 décembre 2012 – Projet Montréal souhaite que l’arrondissement du Sud-Ouest fasse un exercice de planification, en impliquant la population, avant de donner le feu vert aux projets à la pièce dans le secteur de la station Lionel-Groulx. Cette demande fait suite à la demande des citoyens de tenir un référendum pour le projet Archivex situé juste à côté de la station de métro Lionel-Groulx. « Il y a beaucoup de projets qui semblent se dessiner autour de la station Lionel-Groulx, dont cet édifice pour 2000 travailleurs. J’ai alerté les élus du conseil d’arrondissement sur la nécessité de procéder, le plus rapidement possible, à un véritable exercice de planification, comme le PPU Griffintown qui est en ce moment devant l’OCPM. Il est important que les citoyens puissent avoir leur mot à dire sur le développement de leur lieu de résidence. C’est la raison que j’ai invoquée en conseil d’arrondissement pour voter contre ce projet. Cela m’a également incité, par la suite, à écrire aux citoyens afin de les informer de l’outil démocratique à leur disposition, le référendum, et sa première phase qui est la tenue d’un registre », a affirmé Sophie Thiébaut, conseillère de Saint-Henri-Petite-Bourgogne-Pointe-Saint-Charles, district qui englobe le secteur des abords de la station Lionel-Groulx.
Au cœur des préoccupations de Projet Montréal, il y l’avenir du terrain gazonné de la station Lionel-Groulx, le long de la rue Saint-Jacques, qui n’est pas zoné parc. Cette bande de terrain, malgré le fait qu’elle appartienne à la Société de Transport de Montréal, pourrait éventuellement être développée. « Nos craintes sont à l’effet que le projet Archivex crée le précédent que tous les propriétaires riverains pourront invoquer pour développer les abords de la station sans se soucier d’un aménagement de qualité et, sans égard aux préoccupation citoyennes. Seul un exercice de planification intégré et transparent pourra nous assurer que le développement à venir se fera de façon ordonnée, et nous évitera d’être à la remorque d’un développement anarchique, comme c’est malheureusement le cas dans Griffintown », a ajouté Richard Bergeron, chef de Projet Montréal.
La venue hypothétique de 2000 travailleurs dans un secteur comme les abords de la station Lionel-Groulx est en soi souhaitable. Cependant, cela doit se faire en prenant en considération les heurts éventuels et les attentes de la population déjà installée dans le secteur. C’est pourquoi il est primordial de faire preuve de transparence dans ce genre de dossier et de consulter en amont les résidents par le moyen d’un plan particulier d’urbanisme. De plus, aucune garantie n’a été fournie par le promoteur sur d’éventuelles entreprises intéressées à s’installer à cet endroit.
« Assisterons-nous à la construction d’une coquille vide? En tant que conseillère d’arrondissement du district dans lequel on projette de faire ce genre de développement, je me questionne et m’inquiète du manque de planification de ce secteur. Mon rôle premier, en tant qu’élue, est de m’assurer que les résidents de mon district soient entendus et consultés », a conclu Sophie Thiébaut.
Okay, Thiébault has a point.
Union Montréal and the local political establishment haven’t done much in terms of broad city planning, preferring to leave it up to the private sector.
The public wasn’t really that well consulted, but this raises a point I think remains quite unclear – how much is the private sector supposed to consult the public? Should we mandate a far greater degree of conversation?
I find the borough mayor’s assertion that Ms. Thiébault is creating a climate of fear to be a tad ridiculous – to my knowledge that’s not the case, and in any event, what kind of fears could be stoked, I wonder?
While Groupe Mach’s presentation document seems complete and looks good, there’s at least one element I can think of that’s missing: tenants.
Who are these 2,000 people and for whom will they be working?
Is it too much to ask for the name of the people who will occupy this space, or is it a given that they come once it’s built?
I’m a little confused by the relation drawn between this building’s redevelopment and the large green space around the station, which Ms. Thiébault points out is not actually a park (no kidding) but just a green space owned by the STM. If I’m not mistaken, the STM plans on turning part of it into a new bus terminus. While that’s a plus for the STM and public transit users, it doesn’t do much for a neighbourhood low on public green space.
That said, the green isn’t being used as a park (because it isn’t one) and it doesn’t look like the STM has any plans to make it more park-like (what with the new bus terminus), so I suppose the concern that it will just be sold off and developed is within the realm of possibility. But I digress – Projet Montréal’s objection seems more to do with a general lack of planning on the part of the city and in this respect I agree, the city doesn’t plan that well.
But all that said, this is one hell of a gamble for the private development firm. If the building doesn’t work out they way they plan, they stand to lose a lot of money. From this perspective, a lousy proposal could sink Group Mach (a bigger problem for them than an unfinished building is for the residents, though both are quite problematic). Thus, the question is how much do you think they’re likely to be gambling on an uncertain plan. Even if they don’t make prospective tenants public information, I can’t imagine they have no one lined up.
I for one don’t mind the design. It’s not a a major landmark and it’s quirky and oddly shaped as most post-modern architecture is, but it borrows design elements from the area and wouldn’t be too imposing either. If it’s a straight-up office building it may work out quite well, though an obvious question is what will become of the stretch of Saint-Jacques it sits on. The area could use some sprucing up, and I’d personally be opposed to store fronts if they were uniquely intended for chain fast-food joints. We need those like a hole in the head.
From Projet Montréal’s perspective, I can imagine the shadows of the Ilot Voyageur and the stalled condo building at 1750 Cedar Avenue loom large – incomplete buildings aren’t just an eyesore, they’re bad for business, indicative of something rotten in the halls of power and the local real estate market. Richard Bergeron’s point – that we have two too many stalled large residential projects – is doubtless part of the driving force behind his objection to the plan; the head of Group Mach, Vincent Chiara, is also behind the development right next to the General, which has been suspended for four years now. It further doesn’t lend him much credibility that Chiara had dealings with Arthur Porter, currently undergoing treatment for self-diagnosed cancer (no, I’m not making that up).
It’s unfortunate, because I feel if we put real-estate promotion and development any further under the microscope in this city we may not want any redevelopment whatsoever, and this simply is very bad for business indeed.
Perhaps Ms. Thiébault has some plans of her own she’d like to share?
What would constitute a better plan for the area, what elements are missing, and what should Groupe Mach provide to make a better case to the citizens of Saint-Henri?