A couple of nights back I was having a smoke in Cabot Square, arguably our city’s most dysfunctional public place, before a flick at the Forum. I think Cabot Square could be a great place, but a number of changes would have to be made, both inside and out.
As I was strolling around in the rain I noticed there was scarcely any grass, just lots of mud, gravel and poorly defined walkways. Immense and surprisingly deep puddles gave way to muddy tracks – who the hell had been driving through the park? It’s no wonder the park’s in such poor shape – someone’s been driving through it.
A couple of hours later I emerged from the Forum and got my answer – squad cars. I took the photo above, apologies for the poor quality.
I’ve seen the SPVM pull this manoever before. In lieu of parking the car and patrolling on foot, they drive through. More efficient I suppose, but it tears the shit out of the lawn/grass/paths/everything. When I was taking the pic two squad cars had lined up their driver’s side windows in the way cops do to maximize their field of view. I’ve seen the same at Place du Canada and in the middle of Place Emilie-Gamelin.
Cabot Square is one of those places that just doesn’t seem to work. Most people avoid it if they can, as it’s often overrun with drunks, addicts, pushers and a hodgepodge of local loonies. It’s poorly maintained and in the centre of an urban neighbourhood in a prolonged transformational phase. It hasn’t been renovated in a while and there’s no plan in place to fix it up (to the best of my knowledge), yet the city continues to dump seemingly unwanted sculptures there.
On the rare occasion the space is empty you can appreciate it for what it might be. It’s not hard to imagine what it would look like if the pathways were well defined, the square well-lit, with fresh, thick grassy areas, benches and picnic tables. It’s still located in the middle of a very active urban pole – there’s no reason it should look this bad and function so poorly.
But then again, we don’t treat it very well.
The cops shouldn’t drive their cars through it – it’s disrespectful, it’s actively ruining an already marred public space.
What I find ironic is that the cops who are doing this are ostensibly doing so to get the bums, drunks and roving bands of teenagers out, as it’s perceived that those groups are responsible for the damage to the square. And in the process render the space somewhat inaccesible. Who’s going to go relax on a bench next to some squad cars?
What I find odd is that Montreal police don’t apply the methods they use to patrol Carré St-Louis as they do Cabot Square. The two public spaces are somewhat similar in terms of size and design and have reputations for being a touch seamy.
But for the most part the worst you’ll have to deal with in Carré St-Louis is some young punk wannabe pushers and a couple of loud, moany drunks. Cops come by on those ridiculous tricycle Segways and bikes. There’s something disarming about police wearing bicycle helmets… I can imagine it sets a better tone of mutual respect. Such is not the same in Cabot Square, where police have been known to apply a lot more muscle, if not batons and aggressive overtones.
Sometimes I wonder whether if the difference lies in the predominance of homeless Aboriginals in Cabot Square – police in this city have always dealt with homeless Aboriginals poorly. You don’t see too many hipsters getting kicked to the ground in Carré St-Louis for drinking in public.
Cabot Square has a few other problems which, if corrected, could allow Montreal police to survey the area just as well, but without having to drive through park to keep an eye on things. If the space is ever renovated I’d hope they consider giving it the Dorchester Square treatment, which is to say better lighting and well-defined pathways to say the least. The city also elected to reduce the total number of trees in that square during it’s 2009-2010 renovation, an unpopular move that ultimately allowed for better lines-of-sight across the square.
Cabot Square could benefit from a similar makeover, as it has a rather thick hedge and decorative metal fence obscuring the view across it from nearly all points. Same story with the clutter of ill-lit and poorly placed sculptures and the bus shelters scattered around the square’s periphery. Further isolating the square from its environment are the two pavilions on its western edge; I’ve never seen the vespasienne open and the Métro access kiosk acts more often than not as a daytime make-shift homeless shelter. Together they form a kind of a wall.
Removing the hedge and decorative fence would certainly help things out a bit, as would removing some of the trees – there are so many in the square the grass doesn’t stand much of a chance to grow. The STM kiosk is massive and doesn’t nearly hold the same amount of daily traffic as it did thirty some odd years ago. It could be replaced with a Hector Guimard styled Métro entrance, as we have in Square Victoria, allowing a significant obstruction to be removed and effectively replaced. Running some kind of service from the vespasienne would also help things along, namely by bringing space-conscious small-business owners into the public sphere, not to mention the potential customers. The vespasienne in Dorchester Square is home to a bistro that seems to be doing alright – hard to imagine the same couldn’t be the case in Cabot Square.
Another issue – the bus shelters. This one’s a bit of a head scratcher as I can’t quite figure the rationale behind building many small shelters when the STM used to have one large shelter that served all the many buses stopping at the terminus. Whereas many smaller shelters invariably become public toilets, one large shelter could feature a public restroom, security and a control booth. Moreover it could be heated. Why the larger terminus building was demolished is a total mystery to me.
Final thought, and I know I’ve said it before, but I really hope Dawson ends up occupying the Children’s Hospital when it eventually moves to its new home at the Glen Yards campus. If this were to happen, Cabot Square would transform rather quickly as it became a satellite of the college’s campus, a backyard of sorts. Even though this in and of itself might not get the city to renovate the space, at the very least the presence of a lot of students will make it a little more inviting and result in the space being used a little more than it currently is.