A Resolution: to be Even Better than the Real Thing

Apologies for the lack of new content over the last couple of weeks, but what can I say I think we’ve all been busy right?

A good friend of mine is back from San Francisco and we’ve been talking cities, comparatively speaking. We touched on a wide spectrum of issues and key differences between the two cities that he related to me as something our citizens may wish to consider for our own community (or perhaps that I may wish to consider when putting together my eventual campaign platform). Issues of design and philosophy, but also of prerogative, presentation and appeal.

Among others, he asked me the following; why are the really top-flight, high-end and gourmet restaurants of our city located in areas generally inaccessible to tourists? By contrast, he inquired why it was that our apparent ‘show-street’ (Ste-Catherine’s) was crammed with chain retail stores, family restaurants and other locales better identified by a corporate logo rather than the quality of the services within? For the life of me, I can’t think of a single excellent restaurant on all of Ste-Catherine’s from Fort to Berri. There are times when Ste-Catherine’s is completely inactive, a slightly better lit variant of Boul de. Maisonneuve in the same sector. Less than thirty years ago this was not the case. Has our city been ‘bylawed’ into an unrealistic hodgepodge of distinct districts-cum-cubicles? What has made Ste-Catherine’s a less than ideal location for good restaurants, fashionable clubs and vaudeville theatres, as it once was teaming with life, quality performances, food and diverse entertainment? What sapped its nightlife? And why is it that quality, in this city, is never located in a position of distinction?

As an example, Dorchester Square’s dining options are severely constrained on the high-traffic Peel side while some new options on the low-traffic Metcalfe side remain largely hidden. Within the square only a tired casse-croute that never seems to be open, despite immense daily pedestrian traffic and a high concentration of office workers that could easily support a restaurant in this most public of public spaces. In Central Park, they have the world-famous Tavern on the Green. See what I mean? For a city that prides itself on exceptional nightlife and fine restaurants, we do a shit poor job making it obvious to find. And why should such things be hidden – does it make the find more valuable to the patrons? Are restaurants supposed to be exclusive or hiding in plain sight? Is any of this good for business?

Consider Place Jacques Cartier, arguably one of the most beautiful public squares in the Old Port. Have you ever eaten at any of the restaurants there? How many of them are quality local institutions compared to the number of tourist traps serving subpar food at inflated prices? Why do we, the citizens of Montréal, allow this? I can imagine in another city, perhaps a more thoughtful city, a public space of such quality and importance as this one would be filled with perhaps some of our very finest restaurants and shops. I ask again, when was the last time you went shopping in the Old Port? There’s nothing worth buying down there. There are few if any services, despite a stable local population and a stable daily traffic of locals going about their business. And yet, one of our most visited neighbourhoods and districts is far from emblematic of the city a seasoned local knows and loves. It is a very large tourist trap with all the good stuff barely identifiable, as if Montréalers are attempting a covert reclamation of the antique city. One of my favourite Old Port haunts is identifiable only by a set of antlers over the door. I love subtlety, but this is too much.

There’s something wrong if we can’t get tourists to the Mountain or to Parc Lafontaine or Ile-Ste-Helene. Why must these be our secrets? What are we trying to hide from the global stage? Why are these places inaccessible to tourists who may be unwilling to travel more than thirty minutes in a given direction from their hotel. Does our city really require so many secluded parks? And why does the city invest so much time in re-branding areas already well visited by tourists while doing nothing to lead tourists towards other equally well defined but locally-oriented neighbourhoods?

It seems as though there is a highly compartmentalized, perhaps sanitized, version of quaint Montréal we present to tourists and visitors on a scale that resembles cartoonish stereotypes of American excess. We don’t show the outside world what makes us powerfully unique and a thoroughly desirable place to live. No, instead, we put a dinky local spin on what remains a bad interpretation of American pop-culture. Its the Three Amigos, the Nickels and the thankfully forgotten foray into Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Café territory that I think make some of the distinguished addresses of our city thoroughly un-Montréalais. We need to stop designing our city along what’s popular elsewhere, because at best we can only reproduce a pale imitation.

But people love us for who we are, and love coming her specifically for what sets us thoroughly apart from the pack. A good deal of the tourism experience in this city, based on what I’ve read in guide books, is the insistence on exploration. In general I agree with this kind of mentality, but why not open the market the better competition for key commercial real estate a little closer to beaten path.

Consider our local film industry, constantly advertising our city as a universal stand-in for any other city on either side of the pond, but never advertising Montréal for Montréal’s sake (and as we should know by now, capturing the aesthetics of Montréal on a whole is a difficult proposition, despite the beauty so apparent to any visitor). I’m tired of being told I’m looking at New York or Paris when I know I’m looking at Montréal. What sets those cities apart is that their citizens are perennially dissatisfied with the status quo, and we’re desperately trying to slow ourselves down and take the path of least resistance. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

All great cities need to prepare for and execute a constant self-criticism that leads to impassioned and driven local entrepreneurs to lead individually for the common good. Ultimately, the common good is typically well aligned with the business interest’s bottom line.

And so I’m left to wonder – are we regulating ourselves into oblivion? Have we become so dependent on municipal intervention in all areas of city planning that it has stifled individual investment and creativity?

Government involvement has lead to the re-alignment of whole sectors with the hopes of streamlining operations and making it easier for tourists to identify, and yet they all seem a degree artificial in the end. New developments favour chains and franchises to independent businesses, yet only independent businesses are left with the will to set themselves apart by offering superior service and products. In other words, we don’t need any more starbucks or second cups – but I do need a new mom and pop coffee shop. New businesses on St-Catherine’s or at the Place des Festivals rarely seem to be anything other that a new franchise for an existing foreign label. Where is the investment in ourselves? Why don’t we take pride in the homegrown innovation as much as we’d like to think. And why doesn’t the city provide local institutions a chance to bid on properties along prestige addresses or major public spaces?

So if I was to ask for just one common resolution, adopted by all citizens equally for this coming new year, it would be that we all do all we can to instigate the changes we want to see for our city, individually or as a societal conspiracy. It would be to resolve to promote Montréal for Montréal’s sake, and to retake our city for our own business interests. Otherwise, we tend to look like a tacky and cheap imitation of everything we despise in the typical American city, and lay down no roots nor foundation for our business interests to grow and prosper.

So this year, let’s be more than what we are, let’s realize what we want and cease our finger-pointing and incessant whining. We can do whatever we set our minds to, and there seems to be a sufficient interest in instigating widespread change to the kind of city we live in. Let’s do what’s ultimately best for us – which is to say let us more thoroughly invest in that which makes us innovative, independent and unique.

I’ve seen far too many new Tim Horton’s open up in a city supposedly renown for excellent cafés this year, let’s try something new.

Montréal on The Layover

Haven’t watched the whole episode but what the fuck, it features my favourite city and I’m generally a fan of the program, though I’ve admittedly only seen a few episodes.

Also, what the fuck kind of Expos t-shirt is Andy Nulman wearing at the beginning?

Anyways, enjoy – more content on the way ya heard?

Ignorant Antagonisms and Petty Aggression: Stephen Harper’s Naive Condemnation of Kim Jong-il

The Dear Leader had died; rejoice. The man who best typifies the modern-day super-villain is no more. Another in a long line of recently departed ruthless dictators. What a year it’s been!

I am happy this man is no longer breathing, he was a cancerous growth preventing the integration of a small, impoverished nation. He was a kleptocrat. We must shed ourselves of such people if our species is to have any hope for continued evolution.

But to his people, to the North Koreans, he was a living God-King. A contemporary Pharaoh. He, like is father before him, exercised absolute control over a small and nearly completely closed society. Existing in total isolation, the North Koreans are prisoners of their own peversely manipulated minds. They should not be condemned to suffer for the crimes of those who ruled them mercilessly.

This is why I am shocked with Canada Chairman & CEO Stephen Harper and his ‘tough-guy’ comments regarding Kim Jong-il’s death. They are the comments of a foolish individual pretending to understand the significance of this seminal event.

Generalissimo Kim’s death may lead to a new period of détente between the Korean halves, especially considering Kim Jong-un’s youth and European education (he may be legitimately interested in pursuing a reformist agenda, but not if we continue to demonize his father and grandfather). Yet Harper, demonstrating his near total lack of comprehension of the plight of the North Korean people, decided the best approach would be to remind the North Koreans it is their responsibility to choose a new and better alternative to the despotic regime they toil under.

It is not a choice, Mr. Harper.

And, what’s more, the North Koreans cannot hear you. Their media is thoroughly controlled by their government, and we are very, very low on the list of concerns and priorities of the DPRK. So if they aren’t paying any attention to us, why rattle some sabres?

It is the perennial Canadian inferiority complex, manifested by individuals hell-bent on restoring the apparently missing machismo of Canada. Perhaps its because we’ve never started a war for fun and profit, perhaps because our nation was not born of blood and savagery between men on battlefields at home and abroad. Either way, we, unlike many other prominent world leaders, decided not even to suggest that this was a situation worth monitoring, or, that it provides an opportunity for renewed diplomatic efforts. No, quite the contrary, Harper used typical corporate newspeak to describe the ‘moving forward process’ that’s ‘in the hands of the North Korean people’, as a PR hack might in the same fashion after a senior executive is charged for insider trading.

What Harper fails to realize is that the People of North Korea have no choices. Yes, they are slaves. So why condemn them to some awful fate as a result of the decisions made by the kleptocratic oligarchy created by the cartoon character above and his equally unstable father?

And why didn’t a well-respected nation such as our own extend our condolences to the clearly bereaved North Korean People? Whether we agree with their bereavement or not is immaterial, a good chunk of their population can be assumed to be legitimately upset by his passing. And if we want change in the Korean Peninsula, why not open a new door to dialogue with the inexperienced Kim Jong-un?

We know who Kim Jong-il was, the people of the DPRK do not.

For me, this is not that different from Rick Perry’s now infamous Kim John II gaffe.

We should demand a higher awareness from our elected officials, and at least a modicum of decency, diplomacy and above all else sympathy for a mislead people.

Tramway Considerations for Montréal’s Birthday

So it looks like Richard Bergeron has his own ideas concerning our city’s 375th Anniversary, and has proposed 37.5 km of new tram routes ready-to-go by 2017. Apparently, a finance working group has been established, though precisely what this means is anyone’s guess. I would normally be more optimistic, but there’s a new cynic growing somewheres deep down inside me.

Bergeron has earned himself (somehow) a reputation as being something of a ‘tram nut’ (this is how he’s been reduced before – modern media can suck in its efforts to be overly personable). Back in the day, a more optimistic Bergeron was keen on a 250km, $20 billion tram system to cover most of the densely packed urban core of Montréal. If this seems like a lot of tramways, consider that as recently as 1959 we had about 378km worth of tram line throughout the city and some first and second ring suburbs. This was unceremoniously dismantled in `59 largely out of pressure from the American automobile industry (see Great American Streetcar Scandal).

Another recent proposal came about as part of a larger metropolitan transit plan, this time in 2008-2009, when Mayor Tremblay announced a far less ambitious plan of three lines of 20km. That plan was supposed to be complete by 2013.

Something tells me we’re not going to meet that deadline.

That said, Bergeron is persistent and (hopefully) involved in the new plan, though I wonder why not shoot for something far more complete, such as 375 kilometer’s worth. I suppose 37.5km will cause enough traffic headaches for the next six years, especially given how slowly and inefficiently we build these days. But no matter which way you cut it, this is something we desperately, definitely need.

Projet Montréal tram design proposal
Tram design proposal, Projet Montréal

That said, there are some key considerations we need to discuss.

For one, trams or trolleys? Are steel wheels on rails necessarily the better way to go? Or can rubber tyres provide a sensible alternative, better able to climb steep gradients? Rails will undeniably work better insofar as the tram lane is segregated from regular traffic, especially on long straight streets, such as Boul. René-Lévesque. However, climbing up Cote-des-Neiges road or Atwater might be better handled by a rubber tyre alternative. And consider as well that there are models that feature both steel wheels and rubber tyres, and can switch between.

Second, who will run this new transit system? Ideally, the STM runs the tram network as well as the buses and Métro, and as Bergeron has planned, the proposal is designed to intersect with existing Métro stations. A common fare and transfer system seems like a no-brainer, but this needs to be planned from the outset. The last thing we want is an expensive tram that requires a separate fare. This could be enough to kill the system entirely.

Third, will installing the system be enough to get people to give up on using their cars? Probably not without an expensive and effective mass media campaign and municipal bylaws regulating when cars can enter the city (however the city decides to define this is really up to them). In effect, this system may prove itself far more useful, if not overtly desired by the citizens, if we go so far so as to actually employ measures to keep people from driving their cars. Offering excellent service and clean trams is one way, convincing the citizenry they have a fundamental responsibility to each other to use public transit is an entirely different measure.

Fourth, and related to the aforementioned points, it may be wise to install trams on streets we intend to be new pedestrian axes – such as Ste-Catherine’s. Though business associations perpetually live in fear of street closures, road work and any other threat to the overwhelming predominance of motor vehicles on our city streets, the fact is that cities larger than our own have been able to mitigate environmental damage from mass automobile use by offering excellent public transit, with trams playing a vital role ferrying people quickly between the urban core and the first ring suburbs. I would not use Toronto as a model, incidentally, when there are so many European and other American examples to go by.

Point is if City Hall wants to really make this work, they have to provide an alternative they can enforce to the point where few will question the logic. That anyone today can feel justified in arguing against capital investment in new public transit initiatives is, in my honest opinion, a measure of our stubborn regressiveness. We need to exercise this demon from our collective conscience.

We simply can no longer afford not spending money on massive public transit projects. Furthermore, we need to grow some local government sack and start finding ways of compelling people to give up on the selfish act of using a car when cheaper, cleaner alternatives exist.

Mountains out of Molehills (and Mountains beyond Mountains)

This man is not yelling in French.

And it’s pissing people off.

This is Randy Cunneyworth, the new Interim Head Coach of the Montréal Canadiens, hired after Jacques Martin was dumped by General Manager Pierre Gauthier on Saturday. He’s been an assistant coach with the Habs for a little while, and distinguished himself with a long career in the NHL.

The problem is that Cunneyworth is unilingually Anglophone and that has upset the hard core lingua-fascists over at Impératif Francais (a Gatineau-based organization) and Movement Québec Francais. These groups have, astoundingly, called for a total boycott of all Molson products, though it is unclear if this includes attending Habs games, buying Canadiens ball caps and hoodies etc. And to be fair I’ve never met an ultra-nationalist who drank Molson; Labatt Bleue all the way.

Today Geoff Molson fired back, stating simply that Cunneyworth is a good choice given the disappointing start to the season, and that ultimately, Molson and the Canadiens’ management pays its dues to the fans, the merciless Montréal fans. Thus, they made the call and will consider Cunneyworth’s linguistic abilities (or lack thereof) as part of their on-going search for a permanent coach. If Cunneyworth can manage to teach himself some half-decent French between now and the end of the season, he’ll be in a better position to graduate from interim to head coach. If he manages to bring home the cup, you and I both know no one will give a flying Philadelphia fuck.

That’s the reality. Money talks, and the Habs need to keep attendance and sales up. A new coach may be able to turn the team around, which in my opinion is considerably better for morale in Montréal and Québec than the apparent ‘attack against Franco-Québecois society and culture’ that is a unilingually Anglophone coach.

What’s flat-out retarded is Christine St-Pierre’s decision to weigh in on the issue. The worst thing the PLQ could do was implicate itself in an issue brought up by radical pseudo-linguists. The smart thing to do would be to focus on your job and not the twitter-verse. We’re paying her to improve the condition of women, culture and communications. Well guess what? Women are still not making as much as men (on average, in Canada), our highest high-speed internet is ludicrously expensive and a hundredth of the speed of Korean or Japanese hi-speed and myopic mono-culturalists are raising this Cunneyworth stink in the first place.

C’mon! Get it together!

It’s not the government’s business. Leave the world’s most successful hockey club alone and let them do what they’ve done so well for years. I love government intervention, but not in this case. There’s simply no good reason.

If Cunneyworth and Molson are smart apart and smart together they may conspire to set Cunneyworth down the fast track towards official bilingualism – intensive courses, Bescherelles, subliminal training, whatever it takes.

Point is it’s clear to the capitalists bilingualism in Montreal is vital, but they’re caught between a rock and a hard place managing a losing team that desperately needs to be shaken up. Another fabricated language politics scandal isn’t going to help anyone, especially not the Canadiens.

So, though Cunneyworth may have a hard time expressing himself to the French media, if he wants to keep his job and bring the Habs to the cup, he’ll learn, and quick too. Be patient. Calm down.

And keep this in mind too – there are only three Québecois on the team. Three. They’re all bilingual and have been trained under Cunneyworth for several years now. They all understand him just fine.

We may have birthed the modern game of hockey here in Montréal, we may have the winningest team in NHL history. Hell, we may have even founded the NHL and saw the first Stanley Cup match. But it’s not our game anymore. It’s a multi-national entertainment corporation with assets, capital and international interests. We’re lucky we still retain such a privileged position within the hockey hierarchy, but who are we kidding? Our success spread the game across oceans and united enemies, all this is true. But to play at the international level, you may need to shed provincial attitudes. We are intimately tied to hockey here in Montréal, of this there can be no doubt, and no reasonable person would actually believe an Anglophone acting-coach poses any sort of threat to that cultural institution and element of local national character. Only weak-willed shrill people with a lot of time on their hands would proselytize such nonsense. And it being a slow-news day (Havel who?), our idiotic mainstream media decided to make yet another mountain out of mole-hill.

The self-depricating, self-perpetuating national inferiority complex rearing its ugly head once more.

How do these things happen?

*** Coda ***

Just realized the song Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) would be a great campaign song for when I run for mayor, though I’d somehow need to explain to those congregated that the band (like myself) is critical of the rampant excess of suburbia, and that I’m not generally in favour of dead shopping malls rising with no end in sight.

How’s subtlety doing these days?

Enigmatic Zeitgeist: A Reflection on the Occupy Movement

This is not law enforcement. This is swine hiding behind a badge, and an abuse of basic human dignity.

Originally published by the Forget the Box

I feel we’re not that different you and I, at least I hope not.

We’re both here, so there must be something that unites us.

And even if it is difficult to pinpoint what precisely brought us here, perhaps that’s only an indication of just how grave the situation truly is. A uniting force we can’t yet properly define is braiding together diverse yet inter-related interests into a solid bond. And yet, all I can see for the moment are individual fibres, weak, limp, useless by themselves.

I’ve been reflecting. Haven’t come up with much – nothing but an endless series of questions whose answers elude me.

I’m writing this having spent several days in mock isolation watching countless videos of police brutality. We’ve all seen the videos I’m referring to. The incident at UC Davis, crackdowns in Syria, Tahrir Square – it’s all starting to look alike.

I’ve spent parts of the last few days engaged in an endless argument with an individual purporting to be a representative of the interests of the Occupy Movement. I’m perturbed not only by the images of police brutality, but also the lackadaisical and highly individualistic responses of people caught in the melee.

The individual with whom I’ve been arguing was advocating that the Occupy Movement must remain a peaceful one (which of course cannot be debated) and was cautioning readers against pursuing anything but complete non-violent protest. But does this mean we can’t take measures to defend ourselves against brutality? And what do the many egregious cases of police brutality say about the Occupy Movement in the first place?

Time and time again (and this has subsequently been reinforced through leaked NYPD internal memos and the fact that the Department of Homeland Security orchestrated a nation-wide simultaneous crackdown in the US) I see so-called law enforcement working together, presenting a solid and united front, acting as a team. They are trained to do so. Perhaps you may feel they do so blindly, and certainly, for all those speaking out against those lambasting all police for the actions of a few, I can understand the desire not to paint the aggressor with a wide brush. But on the flip-side, it is also clear the police are not using the same restraint exhibited by the demonstrators. They are the source of aggression, they are clearly to blame for all instances of violence.

Despite this, the police are getting away with it. Why? Because, as far as their portrayal in the Mainstream Media is concerned, the police look like they’re working together. The same cannot be said about demonstrators, who more often than not appear either to be willing to submit to brutality or, when confronted with brutality, work independently and achieve nothing. How do you think this translates through the media’s biased lens?

I’m not advocating to use of violence to achieve political goals. However, we can defend each other non-violently. Every time I see an abusive cop grab a helpless protestor, I wonder why all the other protestors don’t pull that person back, don’t put themselves between the victim and the cop. We have the mass, we have the advantage in numbers, we have all the reason in the world to demonstrate and protest – we are in the right, our world has been fucked by the elites who rule over us.

The very tenets of our democracy are threatened, perhaps more now than ever in the history of Canada or the United States, and similarly, like no time in our past, the foundation of our progressive society is being hacked-away at by the apparently representative governments of our nations. Yet despite the motivation behind the movement, in no way is the movement coming across as a united front that will not rest until change has been affected.

As long as we operate like individuals our cause is hopeless. True solidarity can only be created when individual men and women decide to shed their individualism for the sake of society. Solidarity occurs when you are willing to put yourself in between naked aggression and your fellow man, to defend a stranger as though they were your brother or sister.

When this happens, the media will show something very different to the viewing public – they will show the progressive microcosm, standing together to prevent the destruction of our society. Then, and only then, when we conduct ourselves as brothers and sisters united in a struggle, will we be able to effectively communicate our wants and desires. Until then, the protestors will be subject to abuse and near-total misrepresentation by media.

Perhaps it is time to back off and re-group. The problems we’re dealing with are not going to disappear between now and the spring, but we need to face an unfortunate climatic and geographic reality. For whatever reason, political and economic power in the US and Canada is concentrated in areas subject to the adverse temperatures of winter, and we can’t sustain large-scale occupations without building proper shelters, not to mention using stoves, which are in turn considered a fire hazard.

Moreover, there is additional problem that the Occupy sites have attracted drug addicts and homeless in nearly every major city. The Occupy Movement is in no position to deal with this reality, and the homeless and drug-addled have more a right to protest their condition and the failures of society than someone sporting the latest in high-tech camping gear.

Communications has been spotty and, again, lacks unity (both internally and between cities). The media can prey on stoned protestors for sound bytes inasmuch as the police can prey on unsuspecting victims to serve as a release valve for pent-up First World frustrations. Our lack of organization is no benefit to our cause, though I can understand the appeal of wanting to completely stand against the grain. The point is, if we wish to demonstrate effectively, we need organization, because societies are voluntarily organized out of solidarity.

Final point. Consider this; in the States, next year is a federal election year. If the Occupy Movement were to stand-down (disappear from the media’s radar completely) and spend the next few months organizing, we could return in the spring with larger numbers, more effective protest, and perhaps even play a role in determining not only the outcome in said election, but perhaps even steer the conversation and shape the dialogue from the outset.

The GOP has spent thirty years pushing the centreline of American politics off into the netherworld of populist, theocratic and fundamentally dishonest conservatism – it’s time for the pendulum to swing back to reality. Now, in my humble and honest opinion, is the ideal time to plan, to organize and to ensure, moving forward, we will be listened to and abuse against the people will stop.

The Spring of 2011 belonged to our Arab brothers and sisters, the Spring of 2012 could belong to us.