After nearly two years fenced off, Cabot Square, or as many know it, that park you run through to catch your connecting night bus at Atwater, is open to the public once again. It looks different, and by all indications, it will be different than what it was before.

As someone who, for years, saw this space as a stopover on my way home but now lives very close to it, I am definitely interested in what it has become and what it will be. More importantly, what will happen to the largely homeless native people who lived in the park for years?

On The Surface

The new Cabot Square, located between Atwater and Lambert-Closse, Ste-Catherine and Tupper, feels bigger. The sidewalks surrounding it, where people wait for busses, seem wider. There are also plenty of new bus shelters around the square.

A good portion of the park is now paved with stones gelled together and treated to form a somewhat smooth surface for walking or cycling. There are new benches, some standing alone and some integrated into decorative concrete dividers.

Cabot Square Montreal (18)

As for actual nature, it is somewhat sparse. Islands of grass and other sorts of vegetation surround the trees in the park. There is also a garden of flowers and other plants covering most of the south of the square, right up to the sidewalk.

The entrance to Atwater Metro (via tunnel to Alexis Nihon) is where it always was. The small kiosk that was once a restaurant on the northwest corner is now being called the Vespasienne and will be used again in the redesign.

There are also water fountains, a giant chess board, freestanding historical slide viewers and free WIFI. In the brief time I was able to check things out yesterday, it felt like there really was life in the park.

Cultural Activities

The revamped Cabot Square will play host to cultural activities, quite a few of them, in fact. There will be swing dancing, yoga classes, movie nights and even Shakespeare in the Park.

I’m trying to imagine catching a flick or enjoying the Bard as people wait for or run for their bus just meters away and coming up short. This is, after all, a major transportation hub, day or night. I also wonder how yoga can work in a space that isn’t exactly the mountain or even a regular park but rather a glorified large traffic island downtown with people criss-crossing through it all the time.

That’s the skeptic in me speaking. I honestly hope it works. The city is looking to host three such events a day, so maybe they know something I don’t.

First Nations Included

This project initially seemed like gentrification designed to evict native people who had been living in the park for years. They will not be excluded; at least that’s the plan.

Friday night is aboriginal night in the cultural programming of the square. There will also be soapstone carving workshops.

Cabot Square Montreal (15)

Meanwhile, half of the Vespasienne will be a coffee shop called the Roundhouse Café run by L’Itinéraire and employing homeless and at-risk people. The other half of the building will serve as an office for an outreach worker to help natives in the park going through difficult times.

Making this happen was a bit of an uphill battle at times. Nakuset Shapiro of the Native Women’s Shelter told CKUT’s Native Solidarity News (Cabot Square discussion starts at 46 minutes) how the city needed to be encouraged and assured that this support plan would work.

Regardless of what brought us here, Cabot Square is now re-open and it promises to be an interesting addition to Shaughnessy Village and the city in general as well as a development that respects the people who frequented the original park.

Will that turn out to be the case? Time will tell. For now, all I can tell for sure is that now we can once again cut through the park to catch a bus.

* photos by Jason C. McLean

Well here we go again. The Société de développement Angus (SDA) just announced a $160 million, 12 floor development project for the corner of St-Laurent and St-Catherine, the heart of Montreal’s historic Red Light District and current Quartier de Spéctacles.

They’re calling it Carré Saint-Laurent. There’s supposed to be a market similar to Marché Atwater at street level, cultural organizations on the first floor and the rest of the floors split between residential and commercial space, the latter leased by the Quebec government for 25 years as office space for employees currently working in the Centre de commerce mondial.

If this sound familiar, it’s because just a few years ago, Angus tried to expropriate and demolish almost the whole block and build the Quadrilatère St-Laurent, a giant office tower for Hydro Quebec with a few boutiques and restaurants at street level. They failed.

Café Cléopâtre, a business located in a historic building with a strip club downstairs and an independent burlesque, drag, theatre and fetish performance space upstairs, refused to leave. Artists, heritage experts and people defending the rights of sex workers fought the PR battle while Cleo’s owner Johnny Zoumboulakis challenged the expropriation in court and won.

While the similarities are obvious, there are a few key differences. First, look at the promoters.

Current state of the lower Main (photo by Donovan King/
Current state of the lower Main (photo by Donovan King/

Angus and its head Christian Yaccarini were front and centre last time around, joined by then-mayor Gerald Tremblay and his Union Montreal administration, who had given Angus a no-bid contract to complete the project. While Hydro Quebec had agreed to rent out the space, the Charest government largely stayed out of the debate.

This time out, Angus and Yaccarini are again prominent but Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is by his side and was part of the announcement. The city hasn’t said much, aside from new mayor Denis Coderre appearing in the photo op.

As for the opponents, last time everyone, be they history buffs, anti-gentrification activists or ordinary people who felt that the corner of St-Laurent and St-Catherine needed buildings that were at a more human scale, gravitated to the cause to save Cleo, making Zoumboulakis and the artists he housed their champions. This time, it’s not so simple.

Café Cléopâtre is not in the wrecking ball’s crosshairs, at least not yet. While I wouldn’t be surprised if Yaccarini’s plan is to drastically change the neighbourhood around Cleo so it will stand out like a sore thumb and want to move, that hasn’t happened yet and is not part of the official plan.

That means arguments that Quebec and the SDA want to evict a bunch of artists from an entertainment district can’t be made. Also, Zoumboulakis can’t wage any legal battles over who his neighbours will be.

If the fight to save Cleo the first time out was turned into a movie, it would be emotional and riveting. This would be the sequel where Brad Pitt (I guess Zoumboulakis) has to take a supporting role.

While many of the same artists seem to be on board for the fight (if the Save the Main Facebook page is any indication), it’s not going to be about them or the Cleo. The fight against this development has to focus on heritage and what role that will play in the future of the lower Main. Instead of focusing on what Yaccarini and Marois are proposing, it should focus on what they’re not proposing.

A market with small, independent vendors is a good idea and one that should occupy some of the space. But what about other nightlife to compliment Cleo? Maybe a live music venue or two? Another bar?

This area needs small businesses that are independently owned. Kind of like those that were there before the SDA decided to expropriate everyone.

I’m all for residential space, but not condos as they are proposing for the St-Catherine side. This isn’t an area for condos, it’s an area for nightlife and could be a great place for those who thrive in that nightlife (such as independent artists who may not be able to afford condos) to live.

Above all, this is not an area for government offices or tall buildings. There are other parts of town where such things fit, the lower Main isn’t one of them.

The lower Main was, is and should always be about Montreal. It’s not about the Quebec state or upscale establishments, just look at how the 2-22, Yaccarini’s other project across the street, is failing.

The lower Main needs to be redeveloped based on what the area is and has always been. That was happening on its own organically a few years ago, but then the SDA and the city put a stop to it.

I think the best way to proceed is for someone to expropriate all the properties that the SDA seized a few years ago from the SDA and sell them at affordable rates to a bunch of independent business people who get the street-level, independent nightlife vibe and who can actually get things moving the right way. Clearly Christian Yaccarini and Pauline Marois don’t know what this area needs.

You always need to be wary of press releases and newsers on Fridays. A couple Fridays back Premier Marois announced ‘a significant expansion’ of the Métro. Typically Fridays are when governments or corporations release bad news (because we’ll forget about it over the weekend), although in this case I think it was calculated to drive up positive sentiment towards the government by giving us a weekend to consider the possibilities of a major investment in public infrastructure.

Madame Marois has been, as you doubtlessly already know, taking quite a bit of flack for her proposed Québec Values Charter, to which all four Montreal mayoral candidates quickly denounced both the charter and the ministers responsible for it. And so, with an election looming on the horizon, Ms. Marois has decided to try and win hearts and minds with a Blue Line extension, east, to the Galleries d’Anjou or thereabouts.

Estimated cost: $2 billion.

But here’s the catch: it won’t be open until ‘sometime in the 2020s’ and all that’s been set aside for the moment is $40 million for a planning office with a two year mandate. So all the hullaballoo for nothing; we’re not going to see any action for quite some time, and I have my suspicions Ms. Marois’ government won’t see 2014.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely cynical. It’s just that we’ve gone through these motions before, as recently as 2009 in fact. On September 16th of that year ex-Premier Charest and ex-Mayor Tremblay announced a (comparatively) massive Métro expansion involving extensions of the Blue Line east to Anjou, in addition to extensions of the Yellow Line through Longueuil and closing the Orange Line loop across Laval and down through Cartierville.

And nothing came of that project either. Worse, costs were estimated about half what we’re being told it will cost per kilometre, about $300 million.

The last Métro extension, three stations into Laval completed in 2007, cost three-quarters of a billion dollars and was both severely delayed and grossly over budget.

The last Métro line to be completed (incidentally, the Blue Line) was so over-budget it actually resulted in a provincial moratorium on Métro expansion, one that lasted from 1988 until 2004. The Blue Line was originally designed to connect with the Mount Royal Tunnel, which passes directly underneath Edouard-Montpetit station, so it could provide access to downtown Montreal, but this was cancelled due to high cost. As you might imagine, the original design of the Blue Line extended all the way to – you guessed it – Anjou.

Edouard Monpetit Metro - original design
Edouard Monpetit Metro – original design

I’m not anti-expansion per se, but I think we need to be a lot smarter about it. I want the next mayor of Montreal to put a wholly new Métro financing and development system into place, one that is self-sustaining and has a single mission: to continuously expand the Métro into the higher density boroughs until much of the island, Laval and South Shore are fully inter-connected.

We need something like a crown corporation at the city level that would be responsible for building new tunnels and stations on an accelerated schedule and would employ engineers, architects, technicians and construction workers directly, so as to eliminate subcontracting out to private firms. Doing so has so far only resulted in graft, nepotism and fraud.

It would cost less if the city simply did the work itself. Unlike the private sphere, the public’s interest is to reduce, not inflate, costs.

We need to ask ourselves what we want our Métro to look like in twenty, thirty and forty years and determine where is best to expand. Much of the work has already been done for us so we don’t need to be too creative, the question is figuring out how to get it all done as quickly as possible, how to streamline the operation etc. At $300 million per kilometre we’re already within the ‘cost prohibitive’ range; if costs continue to spiral out of control (or if we continue to use an antiquated and inefficient development funding method) we simply won’t be able to expand the Métro at all.

And not being able to expand to meet current needs will preclude future urban densification, a stated goal of just about all the current mayoral candidates.

The Métro map I want to look at in twenty years time features a Blue Line connected to the city through the Mount Royal Tunnel, extending east to Anjou and west from Snowdon to an inter-modal station in Montreal-West, an addition of about five stations on each end. The future map has a much longer Yellow Line, extended by four or five stations to CEGEP Edouard-Montpetit, with another extension of this line up through the Latin Quarter towards Parc and Pine, before going back down to McGill Station.

This north-western extension of the Yellow Line from Berri-UQAM would alleviate congestion on the Green and Orange Line segments that pass through the downtown core. The Orange Line loop would be closed with inter-modal stations at Bois-Franc to alleviate congestion on the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes commuter-rail line.

I can also imagine the need for between two and three wholly new Métro lines. Based on population density alone, I’d argue we need a Métro line to run from Cote-Vertu east through Bordeaux and Ahuntsic, intersecting with Sauvé station on the Orange Line and continuing through Montréal-Nord with a terminus at CEGEP Marie-Victorin.

The AMT’s new ‘Train de l’Est’ will pass through here, but the cost of a monthly AMT pass may be too expensive for some of the poorer residents of the area. Moreover, it will likely be crowded with passengers coming in from farther east, so I think a ‘northern ridge’ Métro line would be a logical next step. It would provide Métro access to about 400 000 people. Another new line would likely need to be built in the East End, running from the Back River to the Green Line, along either Pie-IX or Lacordaire/Dickson.

Ultimately, we can’t continue building our Métro in a piecemeal fashion and the city has expanded beyond the range of the existing system. By developing the Métro within the existing high-density urban and semi-urban environments, we can further seek to increase on-island property values inasmuch as increase residential density.

* Top image from DashSpeed’s Fantasy Metro Expansion

This post originally appeared on, republished with permission from the author

So Loto-Québec is planning on introducing drinking on the floors of the province’s four casinos as part of a broader effort to update and modernize the casinos to
increase revenue and draw higher attendance. Currently both are down, prompting the péquiste health minister (?) to state “it’s time we got our heads out of the sand and ensures our casinos can be competitive.” As it stands, Québec’s casinos are the only casinos in North America where the consumption of alcohol is not permitted on the gaming floor.

When the Casino de Montréal opened in 1993 it was a bit of a big deal. It was supposed to be classy. The restaurants were top-notch, the chefs and wine selection unbeatable. There was even a dress code – jackets and ties for men, no hats, no jeans etc.

I think this is something we should maintain. Everything about our casino, as initially intended, was almost designed to de-emphasize the gambling:

It’s not a big gray box. It doesn’t disorient the patrons by omitting windows. It invites patrons to step away from the gaming, to go outside and get some fresh air. These are design elements we should continue to value.

There’s no doubt our casino and state-regulated gambling is useful – it funnels money from the people’s pocket back into the government purse. Loto-Québec is a
provincial crown corporation whose mandate is ‘to operate games of chance in the province in an orderly and measured way’ and I would argue strongly they do a
generally good job, even though I’m morally opposed to the practice in the first place.

I suppose it’s not so bad if it’s rich tourists who are losing their money – they can afford it.

But all too often casinos wind up preying, even if indirectly, on the poorest elements of society. The people most desperate for a financial break are all too often those with bad finances and who exercise poor jugement with their money. And whereas there once were controls, like the dress code and limitations on drinking on the playing floor, these have been shelved to accomodate the poor yet regular patrons who provide the bulk of the casino’s revenue during a prolonged period of economic instability, such as we’re experiencing right now.

Why look to locals as our main source of casino revenue? And why isn’t Montreal’s casino generating money specifically for our own needs?

The city could use revenue generated by the Casino de Montréal more immediately and doubtless more efficiently. As it stands today this money is sent to Québec City, where I suppose it’s moved back into general revenue. This doesn’t help us much at all, yet Montréal is on the hook for nearly every negative repercussion from casino operations in the city – everything from the social problems associated with gambling addiction in our poorest neighbourhoods to the inevitable suicides and road accidents that happen on the otherwise deserted junction of Ave. Pierre-Dupuy and the Pont de la Concorde.

So let’s do something different.

The city ought to take in a greater share of our casino’s revenue, but we can’t argue this position unless we’re willing to provide our own plan to increase attendance and revenue. Thus, I would argue strongly that the city should look to acquire the single greatest missing piece from our casino’s master plan – a hotel – and assist in redeveloping the Casino de Montréal with a new hotel and resort component. This in turn could be part of a larger plan to increase the use and revenue generated by all the diverse functions of Parc Jean-Drapeau.

ile jean drapeau
Inter-island Channel, Parc Jean-Drapeau

But where would we build a hotel? Ile-Notre-Dame doesn’t have much space to support a large hotel and construction may render the island temporarily unusable.

Permanently mooring a cruise ship or ocean liner within proximity of the casino presents us with an interesting possibility to get everything we need for a major
casino expansion without having to build much. It would allow us to rather suddenly put a lot of hotel space more or less in the centre of the city’s park islands.

Rather than building new we simply tow a full expansion into position. It would look good, it would be exceptionally unique and would further serve to provide a lot of direct financial stimulus for our otherwise underused (and at times worn-down) Parc Jean-Drapeau.

I’ve often felt that this grand playground lacks any unifying cohesiveness – it’s simply the space we put all the stuff we can’t place elsewhere. We’ve purposely
concentrated a lot of diverse entertainment in one space and have done well in maintaining that space’s utility within the public conception of the urban environment. Yet it’s still very detached, isolated even, from the rest of the city.

I feel a floating hotel solves more than one problem, using the location’s relative isolation to its advantage. For locals and people from the region, it could provide a much-needed ‘urban resort’, a place to get away from it all that’s oddly located in the middle of everything.

For foreign tourists or families on vacation, it provides a hotel in a controlled environment almost exclusively dedicated to family friendly activities. Re-
instituting the dress code and prohibiting drinking from the gaming floor in this newly expanded casino could serve to help sell the image of a classy and unique
vacation experience catering to a wide variety of tastes.

Think about it: Parc Jean-Drapeau is a large multi-use park with a considerable natural component, occupying roughly the same amount of space as Mount Royal Park (2.1 square kilometers). It features, among others, a beach, an aquatics centre & rowing basin, manicured parks and trails, an amusement park, a historic fort and a premier outdoor concert venue. Placing a hotel in the middle of it, associated with the aforementioned casino, would surely drive up revenue not only for the casino but everything else going on at the park as well.

It could conceivably make the park more useful during the winter months and provide sufficient new revenue so as to redevelop the Biosphere, Helene-de-Champlain
restaurant and give the whole place a facelift too. And I don’t think it would take much of anything away from the city’s existing hotels as, from my experience, Parc Jean-Drapeau is nearly exclusively used by locals, being perhaps a little too detached for tourists.

For your consideration, this rather handsome looking (and famous) ocean liner, the SS United States, can accomodate 5000 people and is in desperate need of a buyer to keep her from the breakers:

SS United States by Wikipedia contributor Lowlova

Definitely worth reconsidering, in my humble option. If you happen to be looking to buy a cruise ship, look no further.

The MUHC (McGill University Health Centre) intends to sell several major properties, including the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the Montreal Thoracic Institute and Royal Victoria Hospital, as a means to offset the cost of constructing the new super-hospital. This strikes me as an unfortunately negligent action on the part of a once well- respected public healthcare organization.

It’s a terrible irony that a hospital gifted specifically to improve public healthcare and foster institutional collaboration would be sold off to the highest bidder to pay for an obsolete super-hospital, itself a testament to illogical centralization and public-sector graft.

The super-hospital is a step in the wrong direction. Experts knew this to be the case twenty years ago when the concept was first discussed – better overall healthcare requires multiple facilities, spread throughout the city.

Specialist hospitals more often than not require specialized design and geographic considerations in order to maximize efficiency. Facilities under construction at the Glen Yards, though large and impressive to look at, will be unable to fully replace the current number of beds. Moreover, the Vic’s widely praised and well-respected maternity ward will likely only be half its current size in the new hospital.

How many more hints do we need? Shuttering the Children’s and Royal Victoria Hospital completely is a bad idea.

While many of us are resigned to thinking that what happens with the Vic is well outside our control, I believe quite the opposite is true. The Vic belongs to the people of Montreal; the land was donated in perpetuity to be used as a hospital and the documents attesting to this still exist.

The Government of Québec has made it clear they have every intention on pressing ahead with this ill-conceived super-hospital project. In my eyes, since the provincial government has been so insistent that we consolidate medical operations in a single site, they can pay for it from general revenue. Selling the Vic to offset the immense cost of the Glen Yards facility is quite simply unethical.

The right of first refusal should therefore be granted to the citizens of Montreal, and I would hope the Anglophone community would lead the charge to prevent the large-scale regression in public healthcare that will come with these closures. After all – Anglo hospitals serve all Montrealers and these closures will affect everyone negatively.

The Vic should therefore be repurposed. Another piece of crucial institutional space, the Children’s, is also in need of major renovations for any future re-purposing, but it’s location, size, space and facilities all make it, much like the Vic, ideally suited to continue on in an institutional role.

Dawson College is nearby and currently renting space in the Forum to deal with over-crowding. The Children’s could provide an ideal location for a Dawson satellite campus and its easternmost pavilion could be re-purposed as a downtown 24-hour clinic and overflow emergency room.

Either way the point remains the same – the community has to at least be given the opportunity to try and auto-finance what the government no longer wants to pay for.

In terms of what ought to become of the Vic I suggest we look at what led to its creation for inspiration.


As originally conceived, the Royal Victoria Hospital was designed to offer better healthcare for the wealthy elites of the Square Mile. Providing better healthcare to the city’s rich elites facilitated philanthropic and political efforts to improve public health citywide well before the advent of free public healthcare.

It further served to solidify the relationship between the Vic and McGill University, a partnership that has driven medical innovation in our city for most of our modern history. It’s location, set as it is jutting from the side of Mount Royal, was deemed ideal for the rehabilitative process, as proximity to nature was considered during the late Victorian Era to have a universal curative effect. Though I’m glad they no longer perform surgery by open windows (as was the practice about a century ago), one can’t deny the sanctuary aesthetic of the Vic.

I strongly believe it is for this reason that so many local women choose to have their children there – it looks like a castle, set high upon the mountain, with inspiring views of the city and all its potential unfolding before you. It’s safe, secure. Since so many of us were born there over the years a natural trust developed and strong bonds were forged between the hospital, university and the community.

The Royal Victoria Hospital, as its namesake and the affiliated nursing order might imply, has had a particularly strong bond with middle and upper class women of the city. During the hospital’s early days there were concurrent civic improvement, public hygiene and public health initiatives principally driven by local women’s clubs.

Efforts to provide green space, hospital services, school lunches, parks and playgrounds, public vaccination campaigns and the like were nearly universally championed by socially-minded philanthropic clubs organized by the ladies of local high society. It opened a unique nurses’ residence in 1905 and a women’s pavilion in 1920, from where the Vic’s role as birthplace to so many Montreal Anglos originates.

So why not go back to the roots?

Montreal does not have a specialist women’s hospital and I truly believe we’re lacking as a result. In a day and age in which there are renewed efforts at limiting women’s access to birth control both at home and abroad, not to mention the horrors of sexual abuse, rape and mutilations we see from all corners of the globe, I believe we should go against this backwards tide by providing a sanctuary for the women of our city in one of its safest places – atop the mountain in a Scottish Baronial castle.


This new community-run women’s hospital could focus on providing obstetrics and birth control, gynecological, neonatal and early pediatric care, though if space permitted it would be worth investigating whether a shelter could be fitted into the design as we’re lacking in that department as well. As a public service for the citizens of Montreal the hospital would be naturally bilingual in operation, whether it remains part of the MUHC network is another issue. These facilities should be developed as a means to ease over-crowding at the new super-hospital by providing a more specialized alternative.

This is just one possible solution to help keep the Vic alive. It’s possible the MUHC and provincial government may instead decide to repurpose the Vic as a medical tourism hospital – a potentially lucrative venture that could serve the broader interest by heavily offsetting the cost of public healthcare. Or they’ll be sold off for residential re-development, the exact opposite of what we both want and need in this city.

These are possible outcomes only as long as we don’t make our case to have our say. If we believe that a community ought to have the right to determine how we collectively utilize institutional space, then we need to make our voices heard. We need to stake our claim to that which belongs to us.

* Top image by Jason C. McLean, other images courtesy and WikiMedia Commons

This post originally appeared on, republished with permission from the author

François Cardinal asks an important question – is the city wasting its time trying to prevent families’ exodus 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 gleaned by spending money studying potential future cityscapes could 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.

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?

* Top image Mario Faubert for, other images via Wikimedia Commons

What can I say, I’m addicted to Instagram.

I’ll admit, when I discovered there was an Instagram-branded digital camera I bemoaned the death of Polaroid, but hey, who am I to tell the free-market what to do?

Personally, I like the filters and the way by which the filters are able to ameliorate otherwise low-quality digital photos, but I’m sure that will change too as the technology improves. Regardless, here are some of my favourite snap-shots of people and places in our fair city.

Tour KPMG (Place de la Cathedrale)
Tour KPMG (Place de la Cathedrale) – Montreal
St-Henri depanneur
St-Henri depanneur

The quintessential Montréal Dépanneur, commerce integrated directly into a residential plan, optimizing convenience while maintaining the link between vital small business and the neighbourhood that supports it. I read somewhere the estimate was that a single Montréal dépanneur typically serves a base of 1,000 regular customers, and as such, these small mom and pop operations tend to cater to specific local needs, not to mention offer some unique treats. One of the finest lunches to be had (on the cheap) in this city involves homemade soups and sandwiches sold by a lovely Polish lady in a dépanneur located at St-Marc and René-Lévesque.

Montreal World Trade Centre instagram
Montreal World Trade Centre

A hidden gem, the Centre du Commerce Mondiale de Montréal (located next to Square-Victoria and a component of the Réso underground city), this massive atrium was built over the former Ruelle des Fortifications and as such unites several heritage properties into a single complex. It was conceived of as a horizontal skyscraper, with the Intercontinental Hotel anchoring the base. The fountain at one end of the reflecting pool was built in France in the early 18th century and, along with a piece of the Berlin Wall also located here, were together with the complex, part of the city’s numerous 350th anniversary presents.

Windsor Station Place du Canada Montreal instagram
Windsor Station & 1250 Boul. René-Lévesque taken from the Place du Canada viaduct

An afterthought – both of these buildings have lost their anchor tenants. The tower was originally jointly owned by IBM and Marathon Realty, another 350th anniversary gift to the city from the private sector. It was built in competition with 1000 de la Gauchetiere West and though both are icons of the city’s post-modern architecture, both lack anchor tenants. Odd considering how beautiful both are, how centrally located they are. Windsor Station was the corporate head office of Canadian Pacific Railways until 1997 when they consolidated their operations in Calgary. Today I believe CSIS maintains an office there. I wonder if new residential developments in the area will have any effect on their future significance in the urban tapestry.

McGill College Montreal instagram
McGill College Avenue at Dusk from the PVM Belvedere

One of the better achievements of 1980s city-planning, Vincent Ponté’s re-design of McGill College Avenue. Plans to create a showcase street date back to before the Second World War, but didn’t come to fruition until the 1980s. Prior, it was a far narrower street, with much of the space above Boul. de Maisonneuve nothing but parking lots. Redevelopment began when the Capitol Theatre was torn down in the 1970s and replaced with the squat, ugly brown building off to the left (out of frame).

A more comprehensive plan came to fruition in the early 1980s that would ultimately lead to the development of several gleaming post-modern office towers and one of the city’s premier show streets. If I have one complaint, it’s that despite the large number of people who pass through here, work here etc, no one lives in this part of town. I can imagine it would be a rather fetching address. Sometimes I wonder why there isn’t a trend in this city to redevelop old office buildings (such as the aforementioned brown monstrosity) into condos. Seems like a natural evolution.

avenue du musee montreal instagram
Avenue du Musée

I like the gradual development of the Quartier des Musées and the new pavilion of the MMFA – this is progressing in the right direction. The city has a plan for economic stimulus in this area, as they want to increase the number of stable local high-end boutiques and galleries. It could use a café and a bistro and it would be wise for the city to help in the quartier’s branding if they were able to offer various incentives to help concentrate galleries in the area.

Also, while I’m a big fan of the outdoor sculptures, they’re overwhelming given how close they’re grouped together. Would it be so bad if they were spaced out a bit? Maybe the presence of art installations could be used to delineate the boundaries of the Quartier?

Montreal balcony instagram
We have beautiful balconies in this city…

A place where everyone can pass a long summer day thinking about tomorrow, pondering what could be. I think we’re lucky it’s considered an element of good design to include some type of balcony, front porch or rooftop terrace on urban residential construction here. In some places, it’s quite the rarity, considered old-fashioned. Odd no?

Place Ville Marie Montreal instagram
The Sun Life Building (1931), PVM 5 (1968) and PVM 1 (1962)

Olympic Stadium Montreal birds instagram

We’ve really got to figure out what to do with this place. How much longer do we let it slowly decompose?

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