Ten Attractions and Services we Bafflingly do not have in Montréal { part 1 }

This was originally going to be a list of ten items but I realized it was going to be an immense article. So I cut it in half and will finish it in part 2, due out shortly. I think it’s in our interest to keep these items in mind for our 375th anniversary, because frankly I’m starting to wonder just how we’re getting by without them. I can only hope this list serves as an astounding reminder of that which our metropolis is sorely missing.

1. Street vendors – I’ve complained about this many times before, and indeed, I do think it’s ridiculous for a city such as ours to have the kinds of restrictions we have vis-a-vis ultra-small scale business ventures. Especially in tough economic times such as these, the citizenry should have numerous options to sustain themselves through small-scale enterprise. Thus, we should relax restrictions so as to permit food vendors, newspaper kiosks with limited dépanneur services, busking and artisanal vendors within certain recognized public areas. Ideally, a network of city-owned kiosks, such as our Camilliennes, would be managed and rented to prospective entrepreneurs. Furthermore, free public markets akin to St. Mark’s Square in New York City should be integrated into urban residential areas. We are not completely without vendors in this city, nor we completely lacking in the necessary infrastructure. It’s just that we’re still too restrictive in an area of macro-economics that requires an open and competitive market. Let’s crack this nut wide open. In addition to providing numerous city and entrepreneurial jobs, such an initiative has the added advantage of ensuring our street corners and public places are peopled in part by individuals who have an interest in maintaining the security and safety of said place. It adds a lot of alert eyes and ears to our urban environment and can be used to increase security in the urban environment in a non-invasive fashion.

2. Public washrooms – a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. Our city is unfortunately battered periodically by knock-out blasts of shit, piss and puke. While the smell of manure tends to be seasonal (i.e. – any time large-scale field fertilizing takes place anywhere in the St. Lawrence agricultural basin), the piss and vomit affront to your olfactory sensibilities is largely the result of the fact that we have too few public washrooms in this city. Frankly, if you don’t want homeless people shitting and pissing in the Métro tunnels and are tired of having to negotiate using washrooms at fast food restaurants and gas stations, then we need the city to propose a proper solution. Public washrooms, whether in the form of full service rest stations or stand-alone ‘pissoires’ are a vital necessity in any metropolis. For one its convenient, helpful and can even be turned into a small-scale business opportunity. Second, it allows the homeless to retain some dignity by offering them a valuable and necessary service they all too often have to fight for. And while in the past public washrooms were a public nuisance, replete with old drunks and various debaucheries, today we can use design and technology to mitigate this problem. In some cases it could be as simple as posting an attendant to ensure public rest facilities are kept clean and safe for all to use. And whatever the cost, it will pay for itself in that we’ll all benefit from a cleaner, more sanitary and human city.

3. Ferry service – in case you haven’t realized, Montréal is an island, the largest in fact in an archipelago at the confluence of the Outaouais and St. Lawrence rivers. It’s densely populated central business district and urban core is wedged in along the St. Lawrence and the eastern side of Mount Royal, adjacent to the sprawling Port of Montréal. And yet, for a city with a long and proud seafaring history, we are completely lacking in ferry service. If you consider all the communities along the St. Lawrence, Lac-St-Louis and Lac des Deux Montagnes, you quickly realize there is an exceptionally large population within the metropolitan region that can be accessed by using our local waterways. With almost a million people living on the South Shore and four overloaded bridges, I wonder why no one has yet considered developing ferry services for commuters? Service to communities to the West of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge would require terminals to be constructed either on the outside of the Seaway or with modifications to the Seaway, but either way, ferries offer considerable advantages to commuters. Among others, ferries can transport large quantities of people (not to mention vehicles) quickly across open waterways and deliver them right into the heart of the city. They’re arguably more efficient than trains and could open up the commuter zone to many distant communities, not to mention leave a smaller carbon footprint than a high-capacity bridge or tunnel.

4. A pedestrian deck on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge – this is a no-brainer. Simply put there’s no nice way to walk across the St. Lawrence, and while the Jacques-Cartier Bridge has both a pedestrian walkway and a bicycle lane, it’s hardly a nice walk. Traffic is deafening, the pathway is narrow and caged in (giving the impression of a very narrow prison yard) and the fact is the walkway seems bolted on and not terribly sturdy. It’s a doable walk for the adventurous, but not exactly ideal for tourists, families, the elderly or handicapped. Building an overhead deck would provide an excellent solution to this problem, and make the Jacques-Cartier Bridge a tourist attraction in its own right, akin to the Brooklyn Bridge. A renovation of the Art Deco support structure on Ile-Ste-Helene could allow for the provision of services and shops, while the upper deck could serve artisans and buskers, saving the existing pedestrian walkways for the exclusive use of bicycles. Moreover, a pedestrian deck would allow the crossing to remain open to motor vehicles when it would otherwise be closed for spectators watching fireworks displays.

5. A design museum & research institute – back in 2006 Montréal was proclaimed an international city of design by UNESCO, and for good reason too. We are in effect a global powerhouse when it comes to design, featuring not only ICOGRADA but some of the very finest design programs offered at any university, let alone the massive advertising, media and fashion sectors of the local economy which employs a great number of designers. It’s clear we take our aesthetics seriously, and we pride ourselves on our excellent architecture and urban planning. Yet at the end of the day, we have no facility to educate the public as to the importance of design, nor do we have an associated research facility to propel innovation in design. As long as this lasts our hold on the UNESCO title remains tenuous and subject to market forces. A design museum and research institute would help secure our status as leaders in design, not to mention provide an attraction geared to a mobile, well-educated and prosperous international audience. If there are tourists we desperately want to attract to our city, it is certainly those with the potential to invest in our city and the connections to propel interest.

Here’s what’s next:

6. A bilingual university
7. An aviation museum
8. A monument to world peace
9. Linear parks
10. A hockey museum & research centre

Montréal’s Lost Attractions – Keep this in mind for the 375th!

Our city has been built on birthday presents.

For Canada’s Centennial Anniversary we got a Métro system and 50 million tourists in six months, not to mention world attention and twenty+ years of urban renewal and densification projects. For the 350th anniversary of the founding of Ville-Marie, we got skyscrapers, new parks and a thoroughly rejuvenated harbour front. In less than six years we will celebrate not only the 375th anniversary of our city’s founding, but the nation’s sesquicentennial and the fiftieth anniversary of Expo as well. What a party! As you may well imagine, the City is looking for suggestions with regards to themes and ideas for the celebration. I can’t think of anything specific and all-encompassing yet (no kidding!), so I thought it might be an idea to explore some of our lost attractions to see if we can’t think of something worth saving now to be operational by 2017.

I’ve listed some examples in no particular order, ask yourself whether we’re better off without them.

1. The Montréal Aquarium – so we once had an aquarium located on Ile-Ste-Helene, a gift from Alcan to the City of Montréal for Expo 67. Today, part of the pavilion remains as part of La Ronde, though every time I pass by it seems painfully under-used. Opened in 1966, the aquarium featured local species of marine life in addition to penguins and a group of dolphins. The dolphins were trained and were featured in many live presentations, and could even access Lac des Dauphins (now best known as the launch site for the fireworks each Summer) through a specially built tunnel. The aquarium shut down for good in 1991 after a decade’s worth of bad publicity as a result of a labour strike which resulted in the deaths of some of the dolphins. When it was opened to the public in the mid-1960s it was a state of the art facility comparable to the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

2. The Montreal Funicular – if you ever take the 80 going up Parc Avenue in the Winter take a look at the mountain between Pine and Rachel, you may notice an odd dark line working it’s way up the side. At first glance it may appear to be little more than a rockslide, but make no mistake, this is actually all that remains of the Mount Royal funicular railway, which over a hundred years ago provided the path of least resistance to the top of Mount Royal. A the top was a rickety wooden platform offering a tree-top perspective on the bustling metropolis below. It didn’t last too long, going up against Frederick Law Olmstead’s protestations in 1884 and deemed structurally unsound by 1920 when it was dismantled. While I’m not in favour of cutting up the side of the Mountain to build a new funicular, I wouldn’t mind seeing a return of the No. 11 tram line to speed people to the top of Mount Royal.

3. Le Pélican – this is a full-size replica of Le Pélican, a ship commanded by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, born in Ville-Marie in 1661. The Pélican was abandoned after being holed below the waterline during the Battle of the Hudson’s Bay during the War of the Grand Alliance in 1697 after successfully repelling an attack by a superior English naval force. In 1987 construction commenced in La Malbaie on a full-size replica of this famous ship, which was brought to Montréal and moored here as part of our 350th anniversary. I remember visiting the ship with my brother and parents back in `92 or `93, though it wouldn’t be long before the project failed and the replica was sold to some American theme park. It has since been severely damaged and isn’t being used. One of the big problems for the project was their inability to secure authentic artifacts (or even replicas) for the interior of the ship, and thus had little to offer guests in the ways of demonstrating what life would have been like on a 17th century French warship. I wonder if such a project could succeed today. Isn’t it odd that a seafaring city such as ours doesn’t have a maritime museum?

4. Eaton’s Ninth Floor – when I was a young lad my mother worked in the city, and I thought this to be terribly grand, worth every minute of the commute. Up high amongst the skyscrapers, in with the hustle and bustle, in beautifully designed testaments to human ingenuity and innovation. She told me of eating here, that is was very popular amongst the white-collar crowd. A restaurant designed to look like an ocean liner (which of course translated in my young mind as being fisherman-themed and offering a uniquely all-seafood menu), it would be much later before I saw this gem of Art Deco interior design. The space still exists, though it has been mothballed pending renovation work that never seems to get off the ground. It’s apparently beginning to show signs of decomposition, and has been on Héritage Montréal’s watchlist for some time. It makes me wonder why the city doesn’t step-in and try to successfully operate a full-service, for-profit restaurant. People ate there as long as it was open (more than sixty years) simply because the food was delicious and reasonably-priced, and the setting was jaw-droppingly beautiful. Today office workers munch on Tim Horton’s while looking at their computer screens. C’mon…

5. Corrid’art – a simple project that transformed Sherbrooke Street from Pie-IX to Atwater into a nine-kilometer long outdoor art gallery, featuring the works of some sixty major local artists. It was supposed to be the principle cultural component of the XXI Olympiad, but the entire project was scrapped (literally) at the last minute by Mayor Drapeau, who considered it obscene and ugly. It was up for about two days, and was designed to feature some 700 performances spread out along the route. Moreover, this project had an urban-planning component, wherein it’s design allowed a aesthetic link to be made between the Olympic Park and the Downtown for tourists unfamiliar with the city. Why isn’t this done every year during the temperate months for precisely the same reasons (to showcase local artists and ‘connect’ the Olympic Park with the city?)

6. The Last Vaudeville/Atmospheric Theatres (including The Rialto, The Empress, the Loew’s Palace and Imperial Theatres). Of these four once great theatres only the Rialto and Imperial remain somewhat operational, though neither offer the regularly scheduled programming of multi-purpose theatre spaces you may find elsewhere. The Empress is a perpetual ‘what-if’ and the Palace is now a high-end gym. For a city constantly kvetching about lack of venue space, I wonder again why our city refrains from purchasing these local landmarks to be used as for-profit venues with regularly scheduled programming largely featuring local talent? Imagine if the City took it a step further, using revenue collected from ticket and concession sales, rentals and affiliated businesses to finance the renovations of other theatres? The point is that declaring some building a heritage site is a largely worthless gesture unless you plan on using it for its intended purpose. Either way, if other city’s can save their antique theatres, so can we.

We might not be able to fully articulate why we need these kinds of attractions except to say that it’s ultimately good for business and good for tourism. For me it’s an issue of following through on investments and never abandoning a project that involved or involves tax-payer money.

We’re a unique city in that we can depend on a steady stream of tourists each year, but from time to time we need to ‘spend money to make money later’ – key sectors of the economy need to be stimulated occasionally by city-led redevelopment projects, and these projects have in the past led to some of our greatest achievements. Now might not be the best time to plan an Expo or another Olympics, but you should know we’re better equipped to handle events of that size today than we were when we had them initially. We have better infrastructure, two international airports, an excellent mass-transit system and more convention and hotel space than we know what to do with – this is ours to use to turn a profit for our city, for ourselves. And while we still need to plan large international events to stimulate development on a large scale, there are still plenty of things we can do on a much smaller scale to increase tourism and tourist revenue. And what better place to look for inspiration than our own history books?

And then there’s this…

Got a laugh out of this post on Iconic Photos, a blog I just spent the better part of an hour going through. Pretty solid stuff and some really excellent choices, in my opinion. I can imagine this guy gets some flack for the title he went with, but then again, Shorpy was already taken.

A thought I saw posted to Reddit a couple of days ago (tangentially related); “How would you properly end the Simpsons?”

An Ironic Coup: Rejecting the Omnibus Crime Bill is your Civic Responsibility

This article was originally published by the Forget the Box news collective a few days ago.

If there’s one thing I love, its getting caught off-guard and surprised, especially when it comes to Canadian politics, which I generally find infuriating, pedantic and riddled with pseudo-scandals. The events of the past couple weeks, instigated by the Québec justice minister and subsequently supported by the Premiers of Ontario and British Columbia with regards to the Tory ‘omnibus crime bill’ have restored my faith and hope in Canada, if for no other reason than it presents real leverage against Stephen Harper and once again places Québec in the driver’s seat with regards to social policy.

Suffice to say, I’m not a fan of provincialism in general, and I feel that part of the source cause of societal imbalances within Canada has to do with the fact that key elements of our social-state are devolved to provincial administration. Thus, there are inequities within Canadian provinces concerning the quality of healthcare and education. That said the provinces are not independent in any real sense, unless they choose to act in solidarity with one another; at that point, the provinces can wield a veto power even an autocrat like Stephen Harper cannot deny. This particular federalism, which allowed for our Charter and Constitution inasmuch as it prevented its final ratification, is as Canadian as beavers (or polar bears if Senator Nicole “has-too-much-time-on-her-hands” Eaton has her way). And whether you like it or not, Québec’s liberal government has just handed the ‘minority-majority’ Harper Government its first major setback. The provinces will not foot the bill of new prison construction nor prosecutions under an amended criminal code. Without the support of the provincial governments, the Tory Crime Bill may amount to little more than a lot of noise. We should be so fortunate.

What I find particularly interesting with this development is just how quickly an ‘unholy alliance’ was formed between Québec, B.C. and Ontario. Three provinces that hold the bulk of the population, the major cities, the key industries not to mention the overwhelming bulk of ‘multicultural Canada’, modern and internationalist in outlook and disposition. Inasmuch as Québec proclaimed its conciliatory federalism via the Orange Crush, so too have these key provinces demonstrated that they would rather not sell their souls and turn their backs on progressivism, nor on Canada.

Is it me or does it seem some important decisions in this nation have been made ‘for the common good’ from some of our great pillars of individualism? By hook or by crook we will find the bonds that unite us, and if it requires an autocrat to unite Canadians in opposition, so be it. Eventually my hope is that Canadians recognize culture should not be confused with nationalism, that society requires socialism, and that a pan-nationalist social-democratic state is stronger because precise legal concepts are used to define the values, rights and responsibilities of the citizen. Our system is deficient, and I’ve often ridiculed it because it seems designed to be inefficient. The funny thing is that people like Stephen Harper, inasmuch as the Bloc Québecois and Reform Party, came to prominence because of the perception of too much federal power. And today, it comes full-circle, and Canadians can stand proud knowing that when it comes to efforts to undermine our progressivism and the rule of demonstrable, factual evidence, no autocrat can resist the combined power of the provincial governments. What is brilliant is that it unites three embattled and only moderately popular premiers on a key social policy issue – there isn’t much Harper nor the CPC can do at this point aside from engaging in election styled propaganda and smear campaigns. It would be futile.

Today I feel slightly re-energized. The doomsday scenario of an unbridled and potentially mentally unstable Prime Minister running amok tearing out the guts of our society in an attempt to redress a mass inferiority complex seems mitigated by the collaborative strength that I feel best describes Canada. It’s an affirmation of some core beliefs in a time of malaise, uncertainty and instability. And so now the people must rally behind the progressive provincial governments and secure the change we desire. There are five provinces with Liberal or NDP governments and two with ‘Red Tory’ Progressive Conservative leaders – something tells me they may be able to define a better social agenda through consensus than a ‘majority’ government elected by a scant 24% of the eligible voters.

It’s time the power was shifted back to the people – the current situation is no longer tenable. If this means the people rally behind their provincial governments to cooperate with one another to create a more perfect state, then let it be. It is entirely appropriate for Québec to lead this effort against the Harper dictatorship, and this is only further demonstrated by the immediate support of Ontario and BC. In a land ripe in paradox, contrasts and societal and political absurdities, it was very refreshing indeed to see the eccentricities of our system providing the people with direct and effective means to redirect our nation back onto the road towards peace, prosperity and progressivism.

A few things every Montrealer ought to know about Mirabel International Airport

So I’ve been having a lot of discussions about Mirabel over the last few weeks, thought I’d share some ideas.

1. We still need it. Montréal is a major international tourism destination in addition to being a key port of entry for immigrants and refugees. Our city is growing as is interest in our city, this is undeniable. As we stimulate our development and continue on our path to becoming a truly global city, we will require an airport that can handle a steadily increasing number of passengers. Such an airport will grow, by necessity, to serve a steadily increasing population base and will stimulate industrial development around it. It is for these reasons primarily that Montréal must shift its focus away from Trudeau and back towards Mirabel. Trudeau is at capacity, Mirabel is only one-sixth of its planned size. What else is there to do? Moreover, it would be advantageous to re-purpose Trudeau to handle cargo flights and aircraft manufacturing and maintenance, given the existing concentration of industry and infrastructure adjacent to the airport. Mirabel, by contrast, is located in a rural area with plenty of room to grow. Built away from the city, Mirabel can operate twenty-four hours a day and a purpose-built infrastructure can be implemented so as to make access to the airport efficient and effective across the metropolitan region. Similar infrastructure redevelopment in Dorval is proving exceptionally difficult to implement.

2. The lack of access that led to Mirabel’s demise is either currently being implemented, in use, or otherwise still on the drawing board. Highway 50 from the National Capital Region (population 1.4 million) is about to be completed, I believe, as far as the intersection with Highway 15. The AMT runs trains between Montréal and Mirabel, on a track which can access the Deux-Montagnes Line (and by extension Gare Centrale), in addition to the Parc Intermodal Station. The train station at the airport has already been completed. We’re closer to realizing high-speed rail access to the airport than we realize – the problem is that we’re focusing on the wrong airport. Completing Highway 50 so that it connects with Highway 40 near Repentigny will allow a Northern bypass to mirror the now completed Highway 30 Southern bypass. And what better way to justify the construction of a new South Shore span than by simultaneously completing Highways 13 and 19? This way, the Montréal metropolitan region would be served by four East-West Highways intersected by a similar number of North-South Highways. A ring-road would be created, and Mirabel would finally be able to adequately serve the metro region, providing the catalyst and focal point for new highway development. And that’s just the highways. While the Fed claims high-speed rail is an expensive dream, there’s no denying the very real demand within our own metropolitan region – so let us lead the development by starting on a smaller scale. A bullet train running between the Downtown of Montréal and Mirabel will lead to the creation of a high-speed rail link between Mirabel and Ottawa. Then it will be expanded from Mirabel to Québec City. A train travelling at 120km/hour could run the distance between Ottawa and Mirabel in about an hour. At a slightly higher speed the trip from Mirabel to Downtown Montréal could be made in as little as fifteen minutes. All of this would improve transit and transport throughout the region, and expand our airport market to a considerably larger population, perhaps more than five million people across three borders. Let’s pay for it now so that we may profit from it tomorrow.

3. Low jet-fuel prices and longer-range aircraft made stopping at Mirabel unnecessary in the 1980s and 1990s and gave rise to Pearson Int’l Airport in Toronto as chief Canadian gateway due to the rise of Toronto’s economic prominence and rapid population growth. Today, fuel prices are high and unstable; though aircraft have grown in size considerably, so Mirabel may once again be in position to wrestle away the title of Eastern Gateway from Toronto. This is the kind of economic competition our State requires, and perhaps Toronto may be better off re-focusing it’s efforts on trans-hemispheric travel. Who knows? I’d just like to see what would happen if we pushed ahead with Mirabel to take business away from Pearson. It’s what capitalism is all about right? Better public transit access to strategically situated airports able to adapt to new technologies will define the gateways of tomorrow, and for this reason Mirabel is superior to Pearson in many respects. Let’s see what the free market has to say about it. Again, Pearson, though large, is nearing capacity and constrained from large-scale growth by what has already grown up beside it. And we can’t grow unless we have the infrastructure to allow for growth. So whereas the citizens of Toronto may one day have to plan an entirely new airport even further away from the city centre, all we have to do re-connect our airport to our metropolitan ‘circulatory system’. The advantage will soon be ours.

4. Mirabel wasn’t designed to fail – we let it fail. Fixing it is still a possibility, but we need to act quickly so we can save what’s already been built. We don’t want to have to start from scratch at some point in the future because we lacked foresight today – that’s criminally negligent economic policy. We spent a lot of money in the past and haven’t seen a decent return on our investment. So, invest anew – but invest in fixing the problem, once and for all. Whatever the initial cost, it cannot compare to the potential return a fully operational Mirabel would provide in terms of direct revenue and indirect economic stimulus. There are no mistakes, just innovative solutions. If we were really smart, we’d recognize that planned regional transit and transport projects can be brought together under a larger plan to provide the access necessary to make Mirabel a viable solution to our airport problem. Ultimately, it’s all inter-related and could stimulate key sectors of our local economy.

We were once a daring and imaginative people, we had bold ideas and planned on a grand scale. Somewhere along the way we became convinced we were no longer capable of performing at the same level, and settled into a holding pattern of society-wide malaise. Today we are restless, and we are daring to ask how we came to be, and where our former power came from. Of late, it seems that we’ve regained our swagger, our attitude. So let us push those in power to dream big once more, and push for the long-term, multi-generational city-building we were once so good at. We have it in our blood, but our pride is still damaged. Let us regain our spirit by turning our past failures into tomorrow’s successes.

Why do we tolerate this?

More video from the Occupy Wall Street mass-demonstration of civil disobedience on November 17th 2011.

In five days I will walk across a stage, my loving parents looking on, at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier, and collect a receipt for one education. What it cost me is time and money I never had. Where it will lead me I have no idea. The only thing I now know with absolute certainty is that authority is an imposed self-delusion that works both ways, our elites have been viciously sodomizing the Planet and the People almost non-stop since the end of the Second World War, and much like my favourite David Bowie record, our society is stuck in a rut we can’t get out of, skipping in place.

We keep making the same mistakes, the same lethal, inhuman and fundamentally flawed, idiotic mistakes. Mistakes regarding the environment, social and foreign policy, our economy, our infrastructure – the list is nearly endless, and what’s pathetic is that the most attention is paid to those who preach in double-speak and have convinced us of the quality of pseudo-intellectual criticality. They made it seem fun to doubt and question experts, and so, within a decade, we turned our backs on intellectual authority while signing away our freedom to those intent on using corporeal authority against those they were sworn to protect. And so here we are, weak, disorganized, incapable of seeing beyond our individual needs. A ‘society’ of John Galts is no society at all. Our innate focus on self-interest and self-preservation is so severe a mass of angry people can’t overpower police in riot gear. And it has been reinforced by subtle propaganda and infotainment for generations – we are nearly powerless to escape it. By the grace of the gods, however, everyone has a breaking point. If the slave-warriors of the corporate kleptocracy are given carte-blanche to continue using excessive force against peaceful citizens exercising their constitutional rights – whether in New York, Montréal, Shanghai or Durban – all it takes is a single galvanizing act, image, injustice. A burning man, a woman struck down, humiliated, veterans shot in the back – whatever it is, it will happen and it will shock us out of submission. All I can do is hope that such a shock is still possible.

With every passing day I see more criminals masquerading as protectors of our society. Our society, or whatever’s left of it, doesn’t seem worth a damn anymore. Maybe we still have a culture or set of values worth fighting for, something we can all relate to and is found buried deep inside all of us, buried in a mass subconscious we don’t understand. But for the moment we exist in a state of mass paralysis.

If the people of Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria can stand up to their oppressors, fight them, and win, why can’t we?

Yesterday thousands of Kuwaitis stormed their parliament.

And we offer ourselves like sheep to a slaughter, waiting for the baton to drop.

I can’t tell if it’s immensely brave or profoundly foolish.

My education can’t tell me that, for what it’s worth.

As of the time this article was published at 17h46 EST, an estimated five-thousand people had occupied Foley Square by the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.

Stay strong.