The Montreal Children’s Hospital – how do we manage institutional space?

Montreal Children's Hospital - not the work of the author

With construction of the new MUHC Superhospital already well underway, and the subsequent realization that the project will likely be over budget and incapable of fully replacing each of the hospitals it was ostensibly designed to replace, we as citizens need to determine (before our politicians do) how we want health-care services to be distributed on island, and what we’re going to do with the hospitals which are to be relocated to the Glen Yard site.

Just to recap, the following hospitals will be relocated:
1. The Montreal Children’s Hospital
2. The Royal Victoria Hospital
3. The Montreal Chest Institute
4. The Shriner’s Hospital
5. The MUHC’s Cancer Centre and their research institute

Thus, those buildings are soon to become vacant, and the citizens of Montreal will have to figure out what to do with so much new empty space. The key here is that this space is institutional in nature; in the case of the Royal Victoria Hospital there’s a stipulation in the deed that the site and buildings must be used either to teach or to heal (or both I guess), but is not to become residential, neither as student housing and certainly not as condos. There’s even a living descendant of Lord Mount Stephen (I think) who has vowed to make sure the stipulation is respected.

The idea of turning these hospitals into residential structures would be in keeping with a developing trend with regards to recycling institutional buildings; churches, convents and schools in Montreal have been so similarly converted. It’s an interesting choice, as most of these old institutional buildings were already designed to house people, or can be easily converted to do so. In other words, it’s a logical and profitable way to respect Montréal’s heritage laws.

But hospitals are very different from schools and churches. The interaction of space and community is far more wide-reaching than a school or a church, and despite being considered public space, convents and monasteries have historically been anything but public. Moreover, unlike schools and churches, hospitals alter traffic systems and city infrastructure systems around them; hospitals are generally built in highly accessible areas and, given that they are 24hr facilities, tend to keep the neighbourhood around them open and accessible throughout the day. In other words, in a moderately depressed urban area, such as the Cabot Square/ Atwater sector, the loss of a hospital may have dire consequences for local small businesses, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a vacant hospital quickly became a gigantic squat. This wouldn’t help the city’s neighbourhood renovation scheme.

Sites for future urban renewal, Cabot Square sector - City of Montréal

So then what of the Children’s?

Children's Hospital, formerly Western General Hospital - not the work of the author

I feel as though the loss of the Children’s Hospital from the Atwater/Cabot area may burden the neighbourhood considerably, but after spending some time in Cabot Square reflecting, I think I’ve got a partial solution.

Given the size of the existing structure, the space on the site where new construction could occur (so as to further increase the density of the site) and it’s relation to Cabot Square, I think the Children’s could be converted to educational purposes. Dawson College is far over capacity and is renting out space in the Forum. I can’t imagine any reason for it not to continue growing; ergo, is it time for a new Dawson campus fronting on Cabot Square? Maybe it doesn’t even need to be Dawson, but an entirely new CEGEP, perhaps a fully bilingual one. I think a Dawson satellite campus makes a lot more sense, and it could be further connected directly to the Atwater Metro station tunnel system.

But then there’s the issue of the area’s many homeless, and for that, I feel the solution may exist a little further down René-Lévesque. The former Maison St-Gregoire, located diagonally across from the CCA East of St-Marc, has been abandoned for a considerably long time. Though currently in private hands, the plans to create viable commercial real estate have so far fallen through. It would be an ideal location, as the building is already designed to be used as a residence, and there’s sufficient space for expansion. Plus, it would pull homeless away from Cabot Square and instead provide a steady source of individuals who will doubtless finally put the CCA sculpture garden to good use.

What do y’all think?

City set to bail-out Bixi (to the tune of $108 million)

Mayor and Supreme Satchmo Tremblay demonstrating helmets are for wimps

So Bixi is in the red, and it looks like the City is prepping to bail out the arms-length public agency, which I believe is actually affiliated with Parking de Montréal.

Yeah I know, weird eh? The rent-a-bike-to-get-cars-off-the-street public transit agency is being run by the people who profit immensely off of people who drive into the city and pay for the privilege to do so. Me no like!

Here’s the link to the Gazette article.

You can probably guess which is my comment…

TL;DR – we need island-wide Bixi service, and it should be transferred over to the STM for future expansion. It should be part of the larger public-transit transfer system and cost per use, cost for a monthly pass and accessibility should be improved so as to allow for the highest possible number of potential clients.

I mean, c’mon!

Dear readers – what should we do with Bixi? Will it become yet another Montreal White Elephant?

My hometown/ Ecological preservation in Montréal

Photo credit: Morgan Arboretum

So I just moved back into the city and am looking forward to a summer living in the downtown. Yes, Pierrefonds is technically speaking part of the City of Montréal, but in too many respects it is a world away from the urban environment I really identify with. I was raised in Pierrefonds, and can honestly say it’s an excellent place to raise a family, but for a young boulevardier it has recently begun to make its comparative isolation apparent. Regardless, the plan was to move out once the degree was complete, after several earlier attempts to make it on my own and three summers in a row living out of a suitcase in Toronto, I’m now finally in a position to get back home, to the city.

That being said, I do have an affinity for my hometown, as most people do. Pierrefonds in the summer is a really lovely place. I could spend hours lying in the sun in my backyard, listening to the symphony of local birds and small rodents going through their version of the daily grind. The soil’s decent enough for the most part, and people diligently tend to their lawns and gardens. It’s a very green part of the city, lush even by typically verdant Montreal standards. There are parks and other green spaces strategically located throughout, and the community has access to the back river, though there unfortunately no beaches, and few riverside parks. The houses are very similar throughout the central portion of Pierrefonds, where I grew up, having been built in the early 1960s. They’re all middle-class, medium-sized bungalows based on about a dozen variations of a similar design, and have been placed on roughly equal half-acre plots. From the size of some of the trees in the neighbourhood, it would seem as if the contractors and developers tried to keep as many of the older ones as possible, ergo – Pierrefonds and part of DDO was not initially the victim of slash-and-burn residential development. By contrast, it’s difficult to tell where the farm boundaries used to be – they’re not completely obvious, though ancient farmhouses and beach-houses can still be seen along Gouin Boulevard.

The Western tip of the Island, including parts of Pierrefonds, Senneville and St-Anne-de-Bellevue is still comparatively undeveloped. I remember a few years back working for a landscaping and construction company, driving along Chemin Ste-Marie we spotted a group of deer drinking from a swamp. A few months back, a grey fox stopped just long enough in front of my house to give me a rather inquisitive look, as though he was startled to see me! Rabbits run amok at night in Pierrefonds, darting out of nowhere to startle the stoned pedestrian. There are cranes, falcons, skunks, porcupines, beaver, raccoons, groundhogs, chipmunks and the occasional wolverine in these parts, and though this may seem to be obvious given the type of climate and ecosystem we find ourselves in, I still find it somewhat incredible that we haven’t already eradicated these species through residential encroachment. If we believe that it’s somewhat important to maintain a wild side to Montreal Island, then I think its about time we get serious about protecting the last remaining wild spaces on the island.

If you compare the western tip with the eastern tip of the island, you’ll notice that there’s considerably more space worth protecting out West (there seem to be a lot of golf courses out East). There’s an organization called Coop du Grand Orme which has been involved in trying to protect West Island green spaces, including the beautiful Angel Woods in Beaconsfield. This here is the latest news I could find on efforts to protect the Anse-a-l’Orme area in Pierrefonds/Kirkland.

Long story short; the West Island used to be pretty rustic, rural and green. I think much more ought to be done to protect these extremely valuable spaces. That being said, as long as the West Island communities remain separate from the City, it may make things more difficult to devise master plans to protect and promote our last remaining large nature areas. The Island of Montreal is ten times larger than the Island of Manhattan, and yet we haven’t even remotely come close to achieving their level of urban density. Food for thought. If these spaces were more thoroughly protected, and the City sought to develop some of these areas for recreational purposes, we may be able to stimulate on-island camping, riverside resorts etc. There’s a lot of money to be made by carefully protecting green spaces. As my brother remarked about a week ago on the 205 heading home to visit my mom, once the land is developed, the process can’t be reversed. He said this as we passed land being clear-cut for new McMansions. Just down the road from my childhood home, a lot which had been open and undeveloped for as long as I can remember now features a featureless building with no tenant. Build it and they will come? Doesn’t look like it.