Wait, what? Explain this to me like I’m five {Planetarium Edition}

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium – conceptual drawing

So this is the new Planetarium. It is (apparently) being built right now adjacent to the Big O and is already considerably over-budget, and won’t be open until some time in 2013.

Have you ever noticed that, in this city, nothing ever opens on time?

I passed by a new Moore’s location on Ste-Cat’s a day ago and noticed the sign saying the store would be open at the beginning of the new year. That was a month ago and it seems like it won’t be ready for a while yet). A poor example perhaps – who cares about a Moores? Better examples would be the Olympic Tower (about 10 years to complete) or the MUHC Superhospital (which is sticking to its guns design-wise, and thus will serve as a local triumph of hospital planning from the early-1980s). Behind-schedule and over-budget may as well be compounded into a new word for use in this city (behindschedoerbudge? Sounds like German!)

It’s amazing to me that the Métro was completed ahead of schedule and on-target budget wise. Keep this in mind folks – 26 stations, all independently designed, plus signalling and ventilation equipment, tunnels, access points & rolling stock all delivered in four years, my how motivated we were back then!

So why is the new planetarium over-budget? And why did they close the existing Dow Planetarium last October if the new one won’t be open until sometime in 2013? Would it not have made more sense to keep the existing planetarium open until the new one is completed? What happened to all the employees in the meantime? And was it necessary to build a new one in the first place?

Furthermore, where is Rio Tinto Alcan in all of this? You’d figure if they got the exclusive naming rights they’d be ponying up the majority of the dough, right? According to this recent Gazette article, the project is now going to cost $48 million, a 45% increase to the cost estimate from just one year ago. Moreover, the city has taken out three loans so far to finance the project totalling $48 million, above the $41.4 million price-tag touted just over a year ago.

Apparently, the new price tag reflects, among other things, adjustments for inflation, contingencies and the City’s goal to seek LEED Platinum certification. Alan DeSousa further indicated that the new facility should be able to attract 200,000 more visitors per annum than the old planetarium, and this project is part of a larger $189 million re-vamp of the ‘Montreal Space for Life’ entertainment, leisure and education complex located around the Olympic Stadium. Other parts of this major face-lift program include the Insectarium, Biodome and Botanical Gardens.

Now I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t be investing in our leisure sites and museums – of course we should, these institutions are our pride and joy, and I would hope generations of local school children will benefit as I did from the new planetarium. But the provincial and federal governments are apparently supporting the project too – so why is the city taking on so much financial burden? And once again – what is Rio Tinto Alcan investing in the project to get the exclusive naming rights? If the City of Montréal has to pony up all the start-up funds, then we should choose a more appropriate name (at least). Is there not one single famous Montreal astronomer or astro-physicist we could name it after? Or why not name it the Galileo Planetarium, or the Kepler Planetarium of Montréal. Hell, I’d be ecstatic if they called it the Carl Sagan or Neil DeGrasse-Tyson Planetarium.

And what’s the logic behind closing the existing planetarium more than a year before the new one opens? What happened to all the people who worked there – were they fired? Is the old equipment no longer operational? Unless the building is at risk of a major structural failure, I really can’t understand why they would proceed in this manner – it should be kept open and fully operational until the opening day of the new one.

And finally, the issue of LEED platinum status. I remember discussing LEED accreditation with Jonathan Wener when I was an executive VP of the Concordia Student Union (Mr. Wener is a local real-estate magnate, the head of Canderel Real Estate and a member of the Concordia Board of Governors. From what I understand, he had something to do with the re-design of the Forum and doesn’t talk much about it these days). He was insistant that all new Concordia buildings (including the proposed conversion of the Faubourg) should be so accredited. At the time I was in full agreement – obviously all buildings should be designed to be as energy and resource efficient as possible. However, about a year ago I was attending an exhibition opening at the Canadian Centre for Architecture where I had an opportunity to discuss the matter of LEED certification with a handful of bona-fide urban planners and architects, who were all of the opinion that the LEED process is little more than a way for real-estate developers and construction firms to pat themselves on the back. In other words, environmentalism-light. I’ve heard the whole system derided as little more than green-washing for the masses.

So are we paying for four letters or are we going to have an exceptionally efficient landmark we can show off to an international audience?

Somebody please, explain this to me like I’m five.

A new use for the Old Westmount Train Station?

Westmount Train Station by Jean Gagnon, 2011

As you are doubtless aware, the new Glen Campus ‘Superhospital’ of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is both over-budget and behind schedule, but that was nothing new. Moreover, what I can only describe as an exceptionally poor omission in the planning of the new hospital, access to the Vendome inter-modal station has not been finalized.

I say again, the superhospital under construction adjacent to a crucial multi-modal public transit station was not designed with direct access to the station. And apparently there is a suggestion that one key access point won’t even connect directly with the hospital, but will rather deposit the sick and infirm somewhere outside, so that they can choose which hospital to go to. And I’m wondering whether or not they could make this choice inside a temperature controlled underground passageway connecting directly with the building?

According to this recent Open File Montreal article by Kate McDonnell, planning for public access seems significantly retarded. Despite the fact that public transit use is on the rise and the location of the Superhospital at the former Glen Yard is at a major traffic junction, those responsible for the project are tight-lipped about why this particular aspect was so blatantly over-looked. That there will assuredly be a marked increase in traffic hasn’t even lead planners to finalize plans to handle the greater load.

If you’re going to do something, do it right, and plan for the future. All of the plans mentioned at the public consultation meeting for handling additional traffic and connecting the station with the hospital seem overtly reactionary; small steps and band-aid solutions. We have a golden opportunity to significantly increase the overall economic value of the site simply by better planning for the expected massive increase in traffic. Vendome could become a station as important as Berri-UQAM, with connections to numerous local buildings and several modes of public transit. The land south of Boul. de Maisonneuve between Claremont and Decarie Boulevard is already principally office space, and there’s no reason to think something might not one day be built on top of the station. Point is, developing new station access points at the extremities of the station would assist in traffic diffusion and help prevent bottle-necking, not to mention increase the value of the buildings now offering direct access to the Métro station. Certainly prospectors will be interested in developing the empty lot where Ste-Catherine’s becomes Claremont, and a multi-level underground parking garage would be beneficial as well (may as well dig up the whole thing and do all the work simultaneously, IMHO).

And then at the far Eastern end of the campus site, the derelict and abandoned Westmount Train Station. Would it not make sense to re-open the train station and have the AMT unload there instead of right next to a busy Métro station and bus terminus? It’s less than a five minute walk and would further allow for better traffic diffusion and less bottle-neck.

I’m going to finish this later; check back for updates.

Ventilation in the M̩tro Рpart of a series?

Saw this and felt I should post. Interesting stuff – I sincerely hope the STM continues to do these kinds of PSAs, as they shed a lot of light on the inner workings of our favourite mode of mass transportation. Plus, unlike fiscal transparency, I think people in general really just want to see how shit works. The STM would be wise to offer ‘behind-the-scenes’ tours to the public on a more frequent basis. I think they’d be surprised by just how many average citizens really do want to know oddball details. Plus, it’s a good thing the STM is reminding people of the more natural approach taken to tunnel and station ventilation.

Not sure if you’ve ever enjoyed an early Sunday morning Métro ride on the Green or Yellow lines in the Summer, but the fresh air inside the tunnels is intoxicating. Maybe that’s because the St. Lawrence is legitimately toxic, but it seems to smell quite nice once you get inside.

Also, this is interesting too:Keron Thomas was so fascinated with the NYC Subway system he successfully managed to operate the A Train for several hours without being detected back in 1993. Then you have the strange case of Darius McCollum, a man who has spent nearly a third of his life behind bars for, get this, trying to work and then doing the work of NYCTA employees. He’s widely recognized as the most knowledgeable NYCTA employee there ever was. That he’s been outright rejected by NYCTA for employment on several occasions and has a lengthy arrest record for, among others, taking out trains to perform track maintenance, doesn’t seem to bother him too much.

I wonder how much a second hand STM uniform goes for these days…

Anyways, I’ll keep my eyes open for more STM and related videos for y’all to peruse.

The Race to Defeat Stephen Harper

Brian Topp, leading NDP leadership candidate.

There’s a race on to defeat an unpopular elected official, though some (I) would call the man a place-holder. Stephen Harper has three years left in office, and if he’s anything like his Liberal and Conservative predecessors, he’ll likely jump ship before his term is up, leaving an appointed replacement to take it in the shins in 2015. If Harper is the Mulroney clone I suspect him to be, I can only hope Peter MacKay manages to at least keep his riding in the 2015 federal election, unlike so many other former party leaders fed to the dogs before him. Unless there is a major international cataclysm on par with the Second World War between now and 2015, Canada will shed the veil of apparently populist neo-Conservatism and return to our progressive, social-democratic roots. And thus the fight in 2015 will be between the NDP and the Liberals, two seasoned pugilists.

The Grits and Dippers toe to toe in 2015 – I hope I have ringside seats. Doubtless the Tories will try to re-brand themselves as the Grits are, but they will be unable to counter the momentum of nine year’s worth of widespread ideological opposition and pent-up scandal. By then the race may be to see who can read off the laundry list of Tory sins the fastest!

And so, it looks like the race in 2015 will be defined by policy, platform and the strength of individual conviction. While some believe this should be the time the NDP moves off towards the centre, Brian Topp does not. In fact, and quite unlike some other ‘leading’ candidates, he believes firmly that the NDP and its members don’t have to change who they are in order to win a federal election. Canada was built on progressive values, and Brian Topp is convinced adhering to these values is all we need to succeed.

Full disclosure: I’m volunteering for the Topp campaign. I honestly think he is the best possible candidate for the job – not so merely the job of leading the party, but of leading the nation as well. Topp is the best candidate in the field for numerous reasons, least of all his fluent bilingualism and the support of party luminaries from Ed Broadbent to Libby Davies and Roy Romanow. It’s that he’s worked tirelessly across Canada, helping NDP MPs get elected in three provinces and further being elected President of the party. He was also Jack’s choice and right hand, helping to draft the party platforms in 2006, 2008 and 2011.

I could go on, but why me when someone else has done a more exemplary job (plus I’m tired). A friend of mine going all the way back to elementary school, Mr. Shawn Katz, has written this excellent op-ed in support of Brian which neatly summarizes why you choose him to be the leader of the NDP and this country. Take a look at his website, Take Canada Back incase I haven’t convinced you yet.

Now is the time for decisive action – no more sitting on the fence. If you are a progressive or have progressive tendencies, now is the time to make your voice heard. Register to become a member today at NDP.ca and when your paper, preferential ballot arrives in the mail sometime in February, be sure to put your support behind Brian Topp. And if you’re feeling generous, be sure to make a donation at Brian Topp’s official website.

Canada’s counting on you.

Moving Forward

From the top floor of the Aldred Building, Place d’Armes

Ola amigos –

So you’ve doubtless noticed a bit of a slow down in terms of my output. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I’m working two jobs and am still somehow under-employed. On behalf of the thousands, if not tens of thousands of talented, frustrated young Montrealers such as myself, I can only say thank you to the cabal of international financiers and American con-men who helped destroy the global economy, leaving us fighting each other for shitty scraps of former jobs. In case you’ve been asleep it has been more than three years since the first signs of trouble and very few people have gone to jail for creating the greatest international economic shit-storm since the Great Depression. It’s clearly far from over and we’ve only just begun to appreciate the implications.

I say all this only because I won’t be able to write nearly as often as I once did, and until I find regular, decent-paying work, posts will be coming in irregularly at best. I also say this because I want you to ask yourself if you are currently doing what you love in life, and if not, what it will take to get you there. I don’t mean to sound like a nagging parent, I think it is a legitimate question everyone should ask themselves. I ask myself this question all the time and rarely offer myself a satisfying answer. I know that writing offers me a lot of joy but until I find a way to make coin off of this, I have to get my funding from other sources. I’m not complaining; I still have my health and I’m relatively certain we’ll make contact at some point during my life-time (so here’s hoping!)

Anyways, moving forward I can only say this. One day I will run for mayor of this city, and if I am elected I plan on guaranteeing this city’s financial strength and prosperity in such a fashion that we could weather any storm. Among other things I’m keen to introduce municipal bonds and shares to allow citizens to invest in the city, in addition to a city-administered micro-finance banking system available uniquely to citizens. We must break the mould of reliance on transfer payments from various levels of government and the charity of a few large corporations – where is our entrepreneurial spirit? My city of the future will have an unending supply of funds for the development of new businesses and initiatives, and this will be done by securing citizen investment.

But more on that plan later. For the time being, enjoy the picture above. In case you’d like to see a neato perspective on our city, I’d recommend heading down to the Aldred Building (the unmistakable Art Deco masterpiece and ‘Ghostbusters’ building located at 507 Place d’Armes); go on a weekday and take the elevator to the top floor – view is open to the public. I work in the building and will pass by with some windex in the next few days so as to allow for better photographs.

Two Great Videos & A Thought Concerning the Village

Morgan Freeman on Black History Month.

Something I found on Reddit. I’m a big fan of peer-to-peer financing of creative projects, and I found this video to be particularly inspiring and powerful. It looks like the working title is ‘Second Class Citizens’, and it’s a story that must be told. It’s okay to be gay in Montréal, but we need to stop lauding ourselves for our local ‘culture of openness’ when vicious homophobic discrimination elsewhere (particularly South of 49 and in far too many nations around the World) is so lethal. Sometimes I feel we’re congratulating ourselves for doing little to nothing of any real consequence. The City benefits on the whole what with our status as an internationally recognized ‘gay-tourism’ destination, yet the City seems to take a somewhat hands-off approach when it comes to tackling straightforward, general community issues in the Village, such as intravenous drug use, prostitution, homelessness, addiction etc. That gentrification is largely responsible for squeezing certain illicit activities into a small urban area between Berri-UQAM and the Jacques-Cartier Bridge is only part of the problem; it is general knowledge these activities have been ‘pushed’ into this region by law-enforcement. Whoever thinks we’ve lost our Red Light District need only walk a few blocks further East.

Montréal is a gay city, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But we can’t simply use ‘gay’ as a marketing tool, and the residents of the Village, Latin Quarter and Centre-Sud districts are lacking in social services, shelters, and solutions to unrelated social pathologies which have been focused there after years of various ‘urban renewal’ projects. Residents of the Village, and in particular the head of the local business association, have been pleading for additional assistance for years, though their calls have largely been ignored. Our society deserves better and thus we must demand more of our elected officials. If we can make things right here, perhaps others will follow our method.

We must do more than hope.