A Five Point Plan for Montréal

Downtown Montr̩al at Dusk, 1964 РArchives de Montr̩al

A colleague and I were having a conversation about efficacy and efficiency in communications and recommended I try a thought exercise wherein the purpose is to reduce complex ideas into bullet points, or even solitary though immediately accessible words. I decided to apply the idea to answer a question friends and family ask me from time to time; if I were so fortunate to be mayor of our fine city, what would be my plan?

So here it is in eight words. Here are five goals I’d like to attain for the purposes of making this city greater and better than it currently is.

They are in no order of priority, I’d seek to accomplish all concurrently and there’s a strong focus on using some Keynesian economic ideas so as to make our local economy stronger than it is. I’m trying to point out the ways progressive policy may in fact be good for business in some cases, and there’s definitely a strong social empowerment focus. That said, here they are:

1. Free University
2. Street Vendors
3. Green Belt
4. Métro
5. Expos

Soviet Passenger Liner docked in the Old Port, 1964 РArchives de Montr̩al

The Free University wouldn’t be free in terms of cost, but it would strive to be far more accessible than our current four major universities. Call it a ‘no-frills’ university for the citizens of Montréal, using rented commercial space and/or otherwise unused heritage institutional buildings the city doesn’t know what to do with. The full-time cost of tuition per semester, not including books and stationary, would not exceed 750$. Funding would be derived through the rebated tuition, corporate sponsorship & advertising rights but the city would strive to operate this school for the citizens, as municipal tax-revenue would also be required. Students would have access to rent-controlled housing in the urban core guaranteed and inspected by the city, in addition to part-time employment opportunities through the city. In lieu of on-campus retailing, students of the Free University would instead receive a local equivalent to the Student Price Card to help sustain local independent businesses, in addition to a rebated transit card. Additional sources of income for the school could be derived through a university trust fund administered by the city, an annual lottery and/or the widespread implementation of city-owned vending machines wherein a portion of the profits/sponsorship could finance the school’s operation. The point is to build a new university that has as its primary goal the mission to allow the very poorest amongst us a way out of the perpetual bondage of low pay and no options via higher-education. I can imagine such a university offering classes at all hours to accommodate those who must work while they study, and frankly, so be it, it’s good for business inasmuch as its good for our general well-being. It would create a modest number of well-paying jobs for local academics, not to mention provide a working solution to our on-going problems with accessibility to higher education. A free university for a free society.

Tour de la Bourse under construction, 1964 РArchives de Montr̩al

I’ve made my point about street vendors before – it’s not about whether or not I can buy street meat at quarter to four in the morning after a night of raucous partying. It’s about re-investing in the small-enterprise foundation of any city’s economy, and we’re certainly not helping ourselves by making it prohibitively expensive to get the smallest of businesses going. As far as I’m concerned, most public space should be open to small-scale, regulated commerce, and opening up our city to small business will invariably act as a major source of stimulus to our economy in general. It will drive competition, stimulate the ‘creative class’ and provide numerous opportunities for people who can’t otherwise access large sums of capital. The city would take it upon itself to build stylish kiosks and rent them out to entrepreneurs, and expand on a program already instituted in our Métro system for vendors of knock-off handbags and cell-phone cases. Ideally, we would endeavour to develop more public markets and allotted space to the myriad small-scale entrepreneurial activities our city should be able to provide. It’s time to do away with old prohibitions and bylaws that have outlived their utility. Other perks to this plan would include the obvious, such as convenience and variety of services available, to the more subtle, such as the crime-deterring presence of well-lit kiosks, karts and the like staffed by motivated entrepreneurs scattered throughout the city on a nearly twenty-four hour cycle. This is ‘the ballet of the streets’ Jane Jacobs was on about – human scale enterprise and human-scale business relationships, the presence of which allows for cleaner and safer streets and an undeniably stronger general cognizance of being part of a society. Can we really be capitalists if we live in a city which has ‘outlawed’ the smallest and simplest forms of commerce? Let this city become a bazaar, let markets flourish, and let’s empower the working classes to own and operate independent enterprises. Business for all.

Downtown viewed from over Lafontaine Park, 1964 РArchives de Montr̩al

The Green Belt plan is an idea already floating around that has the potential to stimulate our local economy in unexpected ways, but is all too often merely presented from a preservationist, rather than conservationist, perspective on the environment. We don’t just need to see more ‘green’, our nature parks have a job to do, we must have functional green space. By increasing the total amount of protected wilderness and green space in the metropolitan region (and for simplicity’s sake let’s just focus on the archipelago for now), we can provide endless amounts of work for our city’s large snow-clearance, landscaping and paving companies. Here’s how. More green space means more retained groundwater which means more precipitation year-round which means snowier winters. Think back over the last few years, we’ve had some monster snow-storms, but our winters seem to be increasingly dry while also getting colder, chillier. Lack of precipitation in winter means a lower water table come spring, which means less water for local agriculture, summer watering bans, and subsequently heat waves. We can seek to protect and develop wetlands in and around Montréal as a new Green Belt (limiting low-density development as a consequence) specifically to address this problem and to provide numerous jobs, year-round, as a result. More green space means our city would breathe easier, be healthier, have access to camping facilities and it would look better too. Within the urban core, it could take the form of a green streets and park-like alleyways, rooftop gardens and urban agriculture, perhaps even the construction of new urban parks. Outside the urban core, the Turcot Yards/Falaise Saint-Jacques, the quarries and the refinery lands could all be systematically converted back into wilderness – a new set of lungs for the city.

Cit̩ du Havre, 1965 РArchives de Montr̩al

Métro expansion should be an absolute no-brainer, and it’s idiotic we actually suspended Métro expansion because the province didn’t want to pay for it anymore. Can our city not secure investment by itself? I propose 100 stations in 20 years, with a rate of five new stations per year, across extended existing lines and wholly new lines. 100 stations in 20 years would be akin to rate of station development we had in the 1960s through to the 1980s. This means that in twenty years time the entire Montréal Archipelago could be covered by the Métro, not to mention parts of the North Shore and most of the South Shore as well. By that time I can imagine all the airports would be connected and the system would run all day and all night – why not? No part of the metropolitan region would be more than a single short bus ride to a station. The whole metropolitan region would be covered, and this would be immensely beneficial to all citizens. Expansion means more riders and increased revenues. The Métro begets status, permanence and numerous business opportunities with each new station. Consider the costs associated with owning and operating one or more automobiles today in Montréal – the costs are very high and cars don’t last very long in our climate. Imagine the money we’d all save with just such an expanded Métro system? This benefits the citizens inasmuch as the corporations and companies who will be asked to invest in development.

And we need professional baseball not to the detriment in popularity of any other sport, but rather because it maintains our status as a significant American city. We forget that baseball isn’t just popular in the United States, but in the developing economies and markets of the Caribbean and Central America, not to mention Mexico, our often ignored NAFTA partner. Broad-based American attention means tourism stimulus, cultural exchange and the possibility for new business and commercial activity. Yes, it’s a prestige investment, but it’s also valuable entertainment and diversion in addition to being a popular sport and pastime. Another major entertainment venue in the downtown core benefits everyone and acts as a point of geographic economic stimulus, and it seems as though the major nail in the coffin of the Expos was not the skill of our team but simply that market forces demanded a downtown ballpark and we failed, as a city, to recognize that requirement. A recent study suggests that if Canada’s economy continues to grow, we may be able to consider other professional sports franchises as well. Is it me or do you find it odd that the city that educated the man who invented basketball doesn’t have its own professional team? Investing in pro sports would go hand-in-hand with a civic investment in healthy living and active lifestyles. And then there’s the pride issue – bringing a beloved team back from the dead would be an epic win.

I’ll admit the explanatory paragraphs were far from succinct, but nonetheless, it’s what I came up with.

What’s your vision for the future of Montréal?