I couldn’t possibly have prepared myself to meet Jason Prince.
The unyielding torrent of information that came out of him was bewildering at first – who the hell is this guy?
Turns out I was interviewing a university professor, a specialist in social economics, collective entrepreneurship and community banking and above all an individual with his ear to the ground in a manner I haven’t seen before. Jason Prince is hoping to be borough mayor of the Sud Ouest borough, one of Montreal’s most unique and complex mega-neighbourhoods and he seems to know it better than just about anyone else. But it’s his perspective that gets me.
We talked for over three hours and worked through more coffee than I was intending to consume past 9pm. At one point he began illustrating some of his ideas by drawing on the flip side of his placemat. It was magic.
By the end of it all I think we were both completely exhausted, but at the very least I left the conversation with a far, far better idea of what’s going on in my borough and what some of the big-picture grassroots issues are. If that seems inherently contradictory, I’ll tell you now you’re wrong. And suggest strongly you speak with Mr. Prince.
We should be so lucky to bend his ear for an hour or two… Utterly fascinating in every way.
What do you want for this city?
Well, there was something I was just thinking about, like an AirBnB but for apartments in our city. Like if you have an apartment in St. Henri but you’ve always wanted to live in the Mile End you could organize a swap online. Something of that sort would be kinda neat no?
That’s a million dollar idea right there…
I’ll tell you what I want. I want a bus, an articulated bus, running on highway 20 from the far end of the West Island going all the way downtown. I want it to run in a reserved lane, on an express schedule, stopping at a select number of stops. During rush hour, I want one of these buses running every five to ten minutes.
Sounds like a BRT.
Yeah, except mine will be painted bright pink.
To attract attention. You won’t miss that, no one will. And on the side of this bus, or perhaps integrated into its outlandish overall aesthetic, would be the following three phrases, in both official languages of course: free wifi, free newspapers, free coffee.
Free with your STM-branded plastic travel mug of course.
You want a barista on the bus?
Ha. Well that might be a bit much, perhaps we’ll have to start off with those super-sized carafes for the first little bit, but I can imagine such a system as I’d like to see would have new, purpose-built buses. So perhaps we could make some room for an actual person who could serve the highest-octane coffee money can buy.
This is one hell of a bus!
Yeah. I think it’s the kind that will actually get people to give up their cars. Imagine all those people sitting in traffic each and every day on the 20. Imagine sitting there going nowhere fast, and every five minutes this big pink bus just blasts past you. And each one is filled with happy people comfortably zooming off to work. No traffic, no parking, no bad road conditions and no hassle.
This. This is how you get 40-50 000 people to give up commuting with their own car. If we can offer this kind of service to car-crazy suburbia, the STM will succeed not only in securing their own prosperous future, but will further have served the public good by taking a big chunk out of our yearly carbon emissions.
And it’s such a win-win situation. Less traffic means our roads and transport infrastructure lasts longer, means your car lasts longer and costs less to maintain. It means our streets get cleared faster after a snowstorm. It means fewer accidents. And best of all it will improve air quality and the overall quality of life.
Driving is fun, no one’s going to deny that. But commuting by car in Montreal is just idiotic, especially if there are other viable options. Who has two hours a day to give up, just to crawl along in traffic? We want people to take public transit, but in order to secure new ridership, we have to offer new options.
So you want BRTs over tram systems?
No, not necessarily. I think there’s room for both. But for starters, lets get some nifty new super buses on reserved lanes on our highways. Let’s do what we can to really cut down on commuter traffic.
This borough presents a lot of contrasts and people keep jawin’ on about how it’s going to be the ‘Next Plateau’ or something of the sort. There’s been a lot of gentrification already, but the shadow of de-industrialization looms long and large. What will propel this borough into the next plateau of liveability and economic sustainability. In sum, what will bring the jobs back to the Sud-Ouest?
We need to maximize all the potential economic benefits of the new superhospital. I’ve been working on getting the MUHC to incorporate a strategy for economic development and consider the hospital’s effect on employment, traffic, housing etc.
What caught my attention is the potential for former industrial space in Saint Henri to get recycled for the purposes of medical technology companies. Unlike Westmount and Notre-Dame-de-Grace, the Sud-Ouest borough has a lot of room to handle medical technology firms, research and development labs and a host of related economic activities. In sum, there may be a silver lining to this project many thought would be another white elephant.
But aside from that, did you know there are 240 manufacturers located in the Sud-Ouest?
That’s many more than I would have assumed…
Right, because they’re all much smaller than the giants that once powered the local economy. But what’s left isn’t nothing, it’s much more than that. It’s a foundation that can be built upon.
I believe Saint Henri’s future may not be strictly residential. We must avoid a condo ghetto here and that means taking a serious look at the economic agents which power balanced neighbourhoods.
We need to establish target goals and a preferred mix of activities and then plug in what’s needed to accomplish what’s best for this borough. While the MUHC hasn’t formally agreed to any specific economic spin-off model for the new superhospital, if elected, I’d certainly make it a priority to get them to adhere to a mutually beneficial model, one that allows Québec Inc. to plug into the MUHC and use the Sud-Ouest for new economic activity.
What does the Sud-Ouest need, more than anything else, from their next mayor and from the next municipal administration?
Access to good quality, affordable housing. Whatever the borough’s future, affordable housing must be maintained.
It’s unfortunate that the Régie de logement isn’t working as well as it used to, that the former administrations provided so many loopholes for developers to completely ignore the real housing needs of the city and that the CMHC doesn’t actually build affordable housing any more.
Nope, haven’t for some time either. And Harper’s mentioned he wants to scrap it outright, which could lead us to a mortgage crisis like they had in the States. But that’s another issue.