A short list of what the candidates aren’t talking about…

Lachine Canal Sunset - Taylor C. Noakes, 2013

Admittedly this article isn’t based on the results of scientific polling, or polling of any kind really. It’s just a compilation of various ideas that various friends and acquaintances have recommended when asked what they thought was particularly important vis-à-vis improving and developing our dearly beloved city. In essence, it’s what the candidates aren’t talking about, though I think some of these are neat if not really smart and useful, though unconventional and unlikely to be mentioned simply because they likely wouldn’t poll well at all.

I’ll keep the individual ideas short and sweet, let me know what you think. Let’s get a conversation going.

1. Smarter, less crime-infested snow removal. After Maisonneuve Magazine threw the spotlight on bid-rigging w/r/t snow-removal contracts in the city I expected action from city hall, though so far it looks like we’re sticking to the existing plan. Snow removal is of particular concern for Montrealers given our long and generally snowy winters, so I think this one has broad appeal, especially when considering the city subcontracts numerous local construction and landscaping firms to handle snow removal on our city’s streets. Generally speaking it seems to make sense that we subcontract out a lot of this work; private construction and landscaping firms have the equipment and the equipment generally isn’t being used in winter months, so it’s particularly valuable for those firms to get lucrative snow-clearance contracts as it allows them to keep operating in an otherwise ‘dead’ season. This system is also thought to be good for the citizens in that the city doesn’t need to pay for all that expensive equipment and long, often irregular hours of work.

But this system now appears to be broken; not only are we now aware of bid-rigging, there’s the other troubling issue of the state some of these snowplough drivers are in when they’re doing the job. I’ve heard about eighteen hour days without rest being the norm rather than the exception. Granted they’re not doing this all the time, but still. Private contractors take that risk, despite government labour laws. I know a guy who did this for his father’s company for many years; he told me the training, on average, lasts about fifteen minutes and is entirely focused on the operation of the vehicle. There’s no safety training. Each year we lose at least one person, more often than not a child, during the hectic snow clearance operations that take place after every major storm.

Snow removal is something we have to contend with – it’s a fact of life – so why not get smarter about it?

For one there are systems that have been developed – and if I recall correctly are being used in some Scandinavian cities – wherein rubber mats are placed over city streets in which a heating system melts snow atop the mat and then funnels the water into the sewer system. If implemented city-wide, well, I think we may have a possible solution to our snow clearance problem.

Now if only we could figure out a use for all the snow that will inevitably accumulate everywhere else…

2. Open street commerce. Yes, the food trucks experiment is definitely a step in the right direction, but what has so far confounded me and a lot of other people is why there’s such strict regulation. There’s no question there’s a need for health inspectors and service standards, but to limit potential entrepreneurs to only those who already have a restaurant, a truck and ‘who provide products of gastronomic excellence, highlighting Quebec culinary prowess etc. etc.’ The end-result has been that it’s not quite street food, it’s expensive and more a fad or gimmick than legitimate arena for small-scale business.

Ultimately, its this latter point that needs to be addressed – a citizen should still be able to hock a product even if they can’t afford to rent downtown real estate to do so. Walk down St-Catherine’s and see for yourself – the businesses are mostly large chains, often repeated – there’s no room for small-scale operations. The city needs to relax restrictions on commerce, especially at the small-end of the scale. Taking street food as an example, I don’t care if the food is prepared in a restaurant or on the curb, and I don’t mind if it’s from a wagon, a truck, a horse-drawn cart or a 64 El Camino – as long as it meets health code standards I’m down to try it. If the rules were relaxed we’d suddenly have much more choice and many more small business operators and I guarantee you St-Catherine’s Street merchants would see major returns if only there were vendors and kiosks on every corner. We need to bring business back, and the city needs to become more of a market in the broadest sense. We don’t have to go to the extreme one might find in New York City, but I don’t think it would be so bad if we pushed a little in that direction.

3. Our very own Rikers Island. Another good idea from NYC; why not use one of the many uninhabited islands in the Montreal Archipelago as a large jail? I was discussing this one with a cousin who’s completely enamoured with all things New York – Rikers Island is a massive correctional and detention facility that houses about 14,000 inmates and is the city’s main jail for all manner of offenders. It’s accessible only by a single unmarked bridge. Now while we clearly don’t have such a large prison population, we do have several correctional facilities on-island that could just as well be located elsewhere. Moreover, removing these institutions from the island and putting them together on an island of their own not only further facilitates their isolation, but removes some NIMBY-typed obstacles from our urban environment. I think we should ask ourselves whether we want to keep the Pinel Institute or Bordeaux Prison operating where they are – near residential zones – or whether these facilities might be better off relocated.

4. Public rest facilities. Why? Because that’s not what Tim Hortons are for. They could even be their own small businesses, with attendants both keeping things clean and hocking various toiletries, smokes, gum etc. Point is, if we want this city (and the Métro in particular) to stop reeking of piss, we should probably do the bare minimum to address the problem.

5. The Forum. I don’t care who and at this point I don’t really care what, but this eyesore needs to go and get replaced with something better. The Forum, as it stands today, is a hopeless mess that somehow manges to work despite itself and looks like shit every waking hour of the day. I would personally consider it a wise use of tax revenue if the city were to simply pay for a neutral, modernist facelift. The unfortunate people who call Cabot Square their home deserve something better to spend their days looking at.

Back River Bridges

Where Pierrefonds, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Roxboro, Ile-Bizard, Laval and the Laval Islands meet.
Where Pierrefonds, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Roxboro, Ile-Bizard, Laval and the Laval Islands meet.

So if you’ll indulge me, a proposal to dramatically alter (and hopefully improve) West Island public transit in general and substantially increase the passenger volume of the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes Line in particular.

I once heard the West Island described as being ‘disconnected’ from the rest of Montréal. What an odd statement, I thought. The West Island is characterized by the two highways that lead into the city, and is served by two commuter rail lines that go right downtown. Admittedly there’s a rather large industrial zone that surrounds the airport, and this in a sense separates the West Island from the City of Montréal on-island, but considering the people of the West Island are inextricably tied to Montréal, I think disconnected is a bit much.

Now that said, I feel trends in urban renewal and development will gradually increase high-density residential space in the West Island, as land values across the suburban conurbation steadily rise. This will likely go hand in hand with extensions of mass transit systems. The AMT’s Deux-Montagnes line, a piece of our city’s complex public transit scheme I rode nearly every day for the last decade, is indicative of this phenomenon. Since the creation of the AMT and the line’s refurbishment in the mid-1990s the line has served as a major pole of attraction for residential development and quickly became the line with the highest daily and annual ridership. The former city of Saint Laurent has experienced massive growth as a consequence of the three stations located in it, as have all the communities located on its route. As gas prices continue to increase, proximity to mass transit becomes a major factor determining the nature and location of residential development, particularly if oriented towards a commuting middle class.

But it occurred to me, in thinking about this notion of ‘disconnectivity’, that perhaps the problem isn’t so much that the West Island is too removed from the City of Montréal as it is from the other large suburban conurbation it sits next to – Laval and the Northern Ring.

Simply put, there may be a half dozen locations west of Highway 13 between the Island of Montreal and Ile-Jesus in which short, simple causeways could be constructed, linking residential streets on either side of the Back River at distances of less than a few hundred meters. Doing so would not only connect the West Island with Laval, it would further allow a greater distribution of West Island and Northern Ring suburbanites across the Deux-Montagnes Line’s many stations west of Saint Laurent. When you factor in the large amount of open land prime for residential construction in this sector, I think you get a pretty strong case in favour of trying to ‘stich up’ the Back River with simple little bridges.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. For my readers unfamiliar with this part of the metropolitan region, you should know first that the West Island is principally connected to Laval by means of two highways, both of which are located east of the West Island. Despite the many narrow points between the two islands along the northern ridge of the West Island, there aren’t any bridges to connect suburbs with one another. The AMT’s Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line is the only other connection between the West Island and Laval and the Northern Ring suburbs of Saint Eustache and Deux Montagnes, but the line is primarily designed to serve the needs of the commuting class, and thus is ineffective at linking these many similar communities. Hundreds of thousands of people living in similar looking sub-divisions, living similar lives, needing similar services and yet, despite the relative ease of hooking everyone up together, they remain separated. The lack of connection precludes more construction as well as densification, and it certainly doesn’t drive up property values. But if things were different, if this area was better connected, I feel strongly it would stimulate smart suburban development in this area.

Turning our attention to the image above, an index.

The map you are looking at is of the northernmost part of the West Island, including some of its denser residential concentrations. North is up, the river is colloquially referred to the Back River, which separates Laval from Montreal. The northwest quadrant of the isometric view features the Laval-Ouest district, part of Ile Bizard, the western part of Sainte Dorothée part of Laval and the Laval Islands. The northeast quadrant is mostly Laval and the top sliver of Pierrefonds. The southeast quadrant features Pierrefonds, Roxboro and parts of Dollard-des-Ormeaux. Towards the southwest Pierrefonds, Ile Bizard and a sliver of DDO. There are some problems with the labels on the image, such as the Roxboro close to the middle of the screen.

I don’t know how many people, precisely, live here. What I can tell you is that in this image there are at least four high schools and about a dozen elementary schools I can think of, in addition to maybe 20-30 daycares and somewhere in the vicinity of a 20 places of worship, including a mosque and several synagogues. Mind you, these are conservative estimates. This is the centre of a suburban conurbation – it’s where the West Island, Laval and Montreal interact, a crossroads if you like. The AMT’s Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line is illustrated in mauve – out of frame to the northwest are the communities of Saint Eustache and Deux Montagnes. Continuing the mauve line towards the east (and the terminus, twenty-five minutes away at Gare Centrale), is Sunnybrooke Station, serving most of the DDO as well as a sliver of Roxboro and Pierrefond’s A-Ma-Baie district and further serving as the Roxboro-Pierrefonds AMT station’s ‘junior’ equivalent. This mauve line is the highest traffic commuter rail line in AMT service. It is efficient, popular and in high demand. With time, the AMT will both expand operational tempo as well as the capacity of the trains. When the West Island begins to increase in density, I firmly believe it will happen along this corridor. Simply put Saint Laurent borough is running out of room for new condo projects, and this area has a lot of room to grow; a wave of densification expanding west along a high-traffic public-transit axis is very logical.

Yellow boxes denote the three AMT stations in the area, from left to right, Ste-Dorothée, Ile-Bigras and Roxboro-Pierrefonds. Of the three, only the latter is connected to the STM, forming a vital yet over-used inter-modal station and primary transit hub for West Island residents. Residents of Ile Bizard don’t have access to the Ste-Dorothée station, despite being so close to it. Similarly, residents of the central part of Pierrefonds and DDO can’t access the Ile-Bigras station. In the case of the former there is a seasonal barge that runs during the comparatively short ferry season. It can haul two or three mid-size sedans and a handful of people and crosses a distance of only about 250 meters. This is hopelessly outdated. Ile Bizard’s 14,000 (and growing) residents have only limited access to one regular bus and one express bus, the latter of which happens to ferry people to Roxboro-Pierrefonds train station, much farther away that what’s on the other side of the small, shallow river. In the case of the latter, while a CN Rail bridge links Montreal with the Laval Islands, there’s no way to cross it other than by train. If there were a vehicular bridge it would become accessible to the thousands of people who live in the middle of the image. As it stands Ste-Dorothée and Ile-Bigras are underused, while Roxboro-Pierrefonds is beginning to cause very heavy traffic during the morning and evening rush hours.

Building the five small bridges I’ve drawn in blue may, I believe, serve to better distribute passenger access to these three AMT stations, in addition to making it possible to develop new bus lines to better connect this comparatively high concentration of people with each other.

To illustrate my point consider this. Say you were coming home from the city on the train and for whatever reason you missed your stop at Pierrefonds and wound up in Ile Bigras. Though you’d likely be within walking distance (i.e. under 30 minutes) from home, you have no way of getting back to the West Island other than waiting for a returning train (which may not happen for a while, or at all if you’re on the last train out) or getting a ride or cab. The ride back home may take a long time as well; from the West Island you need to take highways 40, 13 and then part of the 440 before it becomes Avenue des Bois to get to these two AMT stations, both located less than half a kilometer from the West Island and its well-connected bus service and familiar road network.

The black lines denote the major traffic arteries of the area. Most of the existing STM bus lines run on the West Island side of the above image, but if these bridges were completed the STM and STL could consider re-designing public transit access in the area to facilitate better interconnectivity between the two cities inasmuch as better distribution among the three AMT stations. Five little bridges to open new markets to existing services, greater convenience, greater interaction. All of these are major pluses for the people living here, a guaranteed way to increase property values and access to important services, like schools, daycares and clinics.

Red lines indicate where new roads would need to be built, while the two small orange lines denote land expropriations that will be necessary so new roads can be built. The one on the right would connect Pavilion with Gouin Boulevard, which would alleviate congestion elsewhere on Gouin and Boulevard des Sources, by cutting across the parking lot of a nursery. The one towards the centre may require expropriating land yet to be developed. A sound barrier will need to be constructed along both sides of the rail line to improve the quality of life of the residents living next to it, especially if increased operational tempo is desired.

The angular lime green line near Roxboro-Pierrefonds station denotes the easternmost part of Pierrefonds Boulevard, where it intersects Boulevard des Sources and Gouin Boulevard. During the morning and evening rush hours this street bogs down considerably, so much so that traffic can become easily backed up on all these aforementioned streets. The problem as I see it is that during the rush hours everyone on this stretch of the street is either going to or coming from the station, and as such only half the lanes are being used. With new traffic signalization, we could ‘open’ more lanes to mitigate the existing congestion. At times of the day only one or two returning lanes would be needed, while, allowing as many as five lanes to be open to heavy traffic going in a single direction.

But why make all these changes?

Aside from the main goal of easing traffic congestion and redistributing West Island commuters across three train stations in lieu of one, there’s the added advantage of making more parts of the West Island public-transit accessible, all of which, I believe, will support residential development and densification on this part of the island. Then there’s the convenience of no longer having the shell out a hundred dollars if you’re so unfortunate you miss your stop. This would be particularly useful for the tends of thousands of students who commute every day to university along this line (and who generally don’t have the liquid capital to pay for such a SNAFU). But perhaps most importantly of all it would effectively eliminate an unnecessary border between Montreal, Laval and many other outer-ring suburbs, and in doing so permit a larger overall population to have access to the services and facilities which exist in the West Island but are in short supply just outside of it. As I mentioned before, there are a surprising number of good public schools in the area above, though the population living on the West Island side is ageing and housing prices are sufficiently high couples with young children are moving further and further away so that they can afford the suburban aesthetic of their own childhood. The problem is that services have not been built to keep pace. As you can see this creates a bit of a predicament – the old schools in the West Island are no longer adjacent to the large quantities of children the area once boasted and rarely at full capacity. Home ownership is in the hands of an increasingly elderly population (whose children have left) while land values increase. This is not to say there are no children in this part of the West Island – certainly there are – but not nearly as many considering all the services available to them. Those kids now live farther away, where services are limited.

Just a thought…

The World Cannot Afford to Subsidize Hate – The Case Against Sochi 2014

Russia athletes protesting 'anti-gay propaganda' laws - photo credit to Reuters
Russia athletes protesting ‘anti-gay propaganda’ laws – photo credit to Reuters

I guess I’m a bit late to the party, so to speak, but I’ve had a hell of a time wrapping my head around this one.

I guess I’ll start from square one.

I studied history voraciously in university. I was of the mind that the better you knew the past, the better you can anticipate the future. Humanity is an evolving species and change is certain, but we’re also highly predictable creatures of habit with a penchant to try and convince ourselves we aren’t evolving, that the past is irrelevant because it exists in a different time and context. I see things differently – ours is a history of error and success, and in my humble opinion, the scales are tipped heavily towards error. of course it would; biologically our species hasn’t advanced much past the ‘terrible twos’. Those who think we’re going through our adolescence are optimistic, and ultimately aren’t taking the long view. If we survive ourselves, we may be around for a very long time indeed.

But it’s extremely frustrating, having all this historical knowledge, as you begin to see just how frequently we repeat the errors of the past, and just how incapable so-called ‘leading nations’ are at actually preventing the massive man-made cataclysms that have so characterized the last few centuries of our collective experience. What we were supposed to have learned once and for all during the 20th century is that the policies of hate, the dehumanization of minority groups wherever they may be found, and the disenfranchisement of people based on their race, creed, gender, sexual-orientation, religion, class etc. is simply wrong, inexcusable.

The society I grew up in was one filled with survivors and the progeny of survivors. Survivors of the most terrifying conflagration humanity ever created and triumphed over, ours is a nation unfortunately forged in war. Whether a survivor of Dieppe or the concentration camps it didn’t matter much, the lessons learned were supposed to be universal.

Today it seems as though we’ve learned nothing at all.

Across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia nations which, twenty years ago, were under the iron grip of a massive empire begging for freedom and democracy are today ‘choosing’ to head off down the road of dictatorship, petty nationalism and human rights abuses that would make any self-respecting Canadian’s – regardless of local political orientation – skin crawl. In Hungary the government and other far-right parties are openly discriminating against Jews and Gypsies, if not persecuting them outright. Nazi-inspired political groups terrorize immigrants in Greece while far right nationalists do the same in the United Kingdom. Ugly conservatism has reared its head in France, mobilizing hundreds of thousands to riot in the streets of Paris against marriage equality for homosexuals, while in Turkey it aims to set back the clock on what was once the leading light of secularism in the Muslim world. The most powerful militaries in the world sit out the carnage in Syria and Egypt as political instability in those countries lead to the creation and empowerment of various Islamofascist organizations vying for control in increasingly complicated asymmetrical civil wars.

And on top of all this mess a small group of Nordic countries, arguably among the wealthiest and most developed in the world, are supposed to go to a Black Sea resort early next year to participate in what is supposed to be a great human endeavour – the Winter Olympics. It is marketed and popularly understood to be an opportunity for people of diverse backgrounds to come together, look beyond their individual differences at the underlying bonds of the human condition and enjoy the peaceful competition of sport. And I suppose to enjoy each other as well – the Olympic Village in London ran out of condoms in two days last year…

Unfortunately, and following a discriminatory trend popping up all over the globe these days, the Russians have recently passed laws that criminalize ‘homosexual propaganda’, and these laws will (at least according to some senior Russian officials) be applied to the fullest extent. In effect that means athletes from the LGBTQ rainbow of sexual diversity will have to keep their orientation to themselves (hiding who they are) for fear of arrest, to say nothing of potentially getting beat up by the anti-gay gangs that have quite suddenly popped up. Russia is, at least at a government level, increasingly homophobic and Christian supremacist, and this is on top of their already notoriously poor human rights record, corruption, lack of transparency and democracy.

Now some might say ‘too bad, it’s their laws, their culture, and they’re inviting us, so follow their rules’. This is a position that has been made many times over by elements of the conservative fringe in this country, in addition to a number of people who really haven’t spent much time actually thinking about what’s going on.

And I said before, this is another instance of history repeating. In 1936 it was patently obvious Nazi Germany was becoming exceptionally problematic from a human-rights perspective. Their anti-Jewish laws had been on the books for some time by the time the games began, the Nazis themselves had tried to prevent Blacks and Jews from participating, and had cleared all of the Roma to a concentration camp prior to the opening ceremonies. Though they would ultimately make small concessions to the international community to avoid a total boycott, this amounted to little more than taking down anti-Semitic signs in Berlin and letting foreign Blacks and Jews participate. The policies that would lead directly to the Holocaust were still very much in effect, and the leading nations of that time opted to do nothing at all. And keep this in mind too – just a few months before the games began, Germany had violated the Versailles Treaty by occupying the Rhineland. A few months after the games ended, they’d violate it once more by sending the Luftwaffe to assist General Franco’s fascist coup against the elected Socialist government of Spain. Germany’s assistance allowed Franco to triumph over the Socialists by the time Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939.

Then, as now, many argued that there was no place for politics at the Olympics.

Suffice it to say I disagree, the Olympics are by their very nature intensely political, not to mention an ideal arena to push political agendas, particularly when their aimed at calling out renegade nations for their abusive practices.

Consider it this way – there’s a reason there have so far never been any Olympic Games in South America or the Middle East – there’s plenty of money to make them happen (and indeed Brazil will get its opportunity in three years), but politically these nations are either currently too abusive towards their own people or have been up until quite recently. This is supposed to be one of the key lessons from Berlin 1936 – don’t give the games to nations with piss poor human rights records run by authoritarian dictatorships. It seems like a pretty straightforward rule to follow too, no?

Is Russia a dictatorship with a piss poor human rights record?


On the dictatorship front I would argue it’s increasingly looking that way, though in a fashion that’s not too different from what we see in the United States. The Russians know this very well. Whereas the United States is managed by a somewhat populist plutocracy processing legislation through a thoroughly morally corrupt and totally ineffective legislative body to give the appearance of multi-party representative government, Putin systematically eliminates any and all opposition for ‘moral corruption’ to ensure he and his group of populist plutocrats are the only viable option left. Sometimes I’m not sure which system is worse.

As far as human rights are concerned, they’ve put themselves in an enviable position by supporting Edward Snowden’s asylum, part of what is doubtless an effort to portray itself as the global defender of individual privacy, though I think we’re all sophisticated enough to see this for what it is – more leftovers from the Cold War and a chance for Putin to relativize the discussion of individual rights vis-a-vis government interest. We’re dealing with an extremely intelligent, calculating and ruthless man. Quite frankly I think Putin is a problem the United States is intellectually incapable of handling, but that’s another issue.

My main concern is what Canada should do.

While I would argue strongly in favour of boycotting the Sochi Games, I recognize this certainly won’t do much to improve relations between us and the Russians, and that there is a strong case to be made for competing and protesting in various ways on their turf, though of course this too is problematic.

It would be best of all for Canada to lead a global boycott (i.e. try to convince other nations to follow our example) and also provide an alternative to the Sochi Games. As it stands our country is well suited to host a Winter Olympiad, as at least three of our largest cities have the infrastructure and facilities necessary to do so. Moreover, boycotts and alternative games are nothing new – Barcelona proposed a ‘Peoples Olympiad’ in protest of Berlin 1936 up until the Spanish Civil War broke out. Twenty-eight largely African nations boycotted the 1976 Montreal Games when the IOC failed to suspend New Zealand for participating in a South African rugby tournament. Later, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 the Western powers (under Jimmy Carter’s leadership) quickly boycotted the 1980 Moscow Summer Games. The Soviets in turn boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games and as a result various other competitions occurred, such as the Liberty Bell Classic, the Goodwill Games, the Friendship Games etc. We’re not exactly through the looking glass here.

I believe we should register our disapproval as officially as possible – we should make it clear to the Russians we don’t approve.

But regardless of the Tory’s official position (they’re so far saying they won’t boycott), we the people can do our part to register our complaints – people can boycott Olympic sponsors and simply choose not to watch the games. There’s nothing unpatriotic about it, the athletes don’t really need your support – they, much like the soldiers, are well taken care of by government up to the point they’re deemed no longer useful. Feel free to support them then.

Making it clear to corporate sponsors the people won’t buy their products may be the quicker way to accomplish something – I doubt McDonald’s or Coke (and just how the fuck did they become Olympic sponsors anyways?) would want to face that kind of bad publicity. Perhaps it is wiser to target the sponsors…

I’ll close on this as I feel this post is going off in too many directions.

There are rumours John Baird, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, is gay. If this is true I would hope he comes out as quickly as possible – there’s no reason to stay closeted and I honestly don’t think he’d lose any support from his base – at least I’d hope not. Baird has been vocal about his disenchantment regarding Russia’s ‘anti-gay propaganda’ laws and has been vocally critical of other hate measures adopted by other nations. He has been especially critical of ‘kill-the-gays’ bills introduced (often with a lot of assistance from American conservative evangelical missions) in various African nations. A few weeks back, an organization that apparently represents the socially conservative base of women voters in Canada (aptly named, à la Fox News – REAL Women of Canada) came out and blasted Baird for using government resources, tax-payers money and his office to push ‘his personal values and views’ on a sovereign nation. Read this interview by rising-star journalist Justin Ling to get an idea of where this fringe hate group is coming from.

This sentiment was somewhat echoed by Montreal’s own Ted Bird a few weeks earlier when he wrote that Russia’s so-called anti-gay laws was in fact a moral and not political issue. Bird argues that a boycott would ultimately prove futile and that the measures enjoy broad support in Russia. Further, Bird said that Russia will evolve at its own speed, and that it always has, but that we shouldn’t push a boycott simply because the Russians won’t approve of personal displays of affection between athletes in the Olympic Village.

What an interesting idea – that Russia is evolving. From a socio-political and socio-cultural perspective they seem to be regressing. Their life expectancy has dropped, unemployment or chronic under-employment has increased, class distinctions are more apparent, far-right organizations have popped up like mushrooms on mouldy carpets and whatever progress they made becoming a democratic participant in the affairs of the First World seems to have been cast aside for a return to a new aristocracy and benevolent dictatorship. Putin is the new Czar. Russia legalized homosexuality in 1993; twenty years later they’re making moves to re-criminalize it. What the fuck happened?

I personally feel it is entirely within Canada’s right to tell other nations what to do – especially when it comes to human rights. Call it one of the advantages of having a nearly clean human rights record, a working democracy and an ultimately humanist society – we get to call the shots when it comes to human rights and it’s entirely within our right to tell others when they’re no longer meeting our minimum standards. It’s wholly within our responsibility as a nation to speak up and to push what we believe is right – it is in the interest of all the nations of the world to have Canada as their friend and support our efforts regarding improving the human rights situation worldwide.

And while I can’t imagine we’ll also start boycotting Saudi Arabia, Israel or China for similar human rights abuses, this doesn’t mean going after Russia now is hypocritical. What matters is what we do next, what happens now and after Sochi, and how we conduct ourselves moving forward.

Projet Montréal’s 2013 Platform & A Soft Landing for the Montreal Real Estate Market

Sunset on Beaver Lake
Sunset on Beaver Lake

Projet Montréal, the only clean political party left in Montreal, is first out of the gate with a campaign platform.

With a dozen weeks or so left before the November 3rd municipal election they are so far the only party to have developed a program, including 71 specific campaign promises. No other candidate has come up with anything even remotely similar, as the PM program covers everything it feels a city administration ought to be involved in (from transportation to quality of life, health, culture and economic development, among others), a smart move in that it will play a role in deciding the terms of future debate. With this document PM is pushing an issues and ideas-based election, as opposed to the facebook-styled popularity contest it’s been up to now.

I’ll save my judgement of the other mayoral candidates for when they actually come up with their own plan. As far as I’m concerned elections are supposed to be issues-driven, not personality-based. Thus, this is so far a one-party race; until the other candidates produce some kind of document outlining just exactly what they propose to do for this city, I can’t in good conscience even consider them legitimate candidates. I refuse to vote for a self-described political vedette.

What strikes me about PM’s platform is that it seems to be anticipating a long expected crash in the Canadian housing market and, further, seems designed to carry our local real estate market into the much desired soft-landing. In essence, investment needs to be coaxed away from suburban developments and big-box shopping centres and back towards the urban environment. In this respect, PM’s 71 promises are methods by which that investment will be secured. Our mayors have been of the laissez-faire variety for too many years. Now is not the time for the laissez-faire approach. Investment needs to be re-directed into improving city living as much as possible. The city and its urban neighbourhoods will continue to be a desirable place to live long after interest in suburban bungalows has waned, but we need an active administration to ensure investment follows interest.

It’s clearly one of Projet Montréal’s main goals to correct the population loss our city suffers to suburban development, now in some cases more than an hour away from the city centre. If the housing market bubble bursts, in my opinion it will be these suburban developments that will be suspended first. As it stands these new developments are a burden on available health and education services in the outlying suburban regions. It stands to reason a more forward-thinking civic administration would capitalize on this as part of its broad effort to get people to stay in the city. Simply put the city can offer a far higher quality of life in terms of available services, culture, variety of employment opportunities etc. It’s stylish too, and it just so happens our city benefits immensely from several large urban residential areas, most of which are extremely desirable to live in (case in point the Plateau, faithfully administered by Luc Ferrandez and Projet Montréal and perhaps our city’s most iconic neighbourhood and the envy of urbanites the world over. Consider what makes the Plateau such a success and ask yourself how many other urban neighbourhoods offer something similar).

The plan is hyper conscious of what Montrealers love about living in our city and as such much of the program aims to build on what we already appreciate. More bike paths, urban agriculture, Métro extensions, a tram system, fewer cars and less traffic in the city – the list goes on and on, but it’s all built around improving the lives of urban residents. I can’t help but think the entirety of the plan will result in higher property values city-wide, and I’m also encouraged that the party has outlined new poles for residential development within the existing city; new construction in the city isn’t going to end, it just has to be managed better. I think we’re getting pretty close to maxing out on the need for single or dual occupancy condominiums as an example, so hopefully private developers (who will have many more reasons to build under a PM government, at least based on this platform) will react and adjust appropriately.

Other interesting components of the PM program include a six-point plan to increase and empower independently owned and operated businesses and to revitalize ‘neighbourhood economies’ and the city’s many commercial arteries. PM also wants to improve public education by working more directly with the provincial government and local school boards.

Further, a significant plan to broadly develop the Métro, including prolonging operating hours til 3:30, replacing all Métro cars with the new model over the next seven years, and extend three Métro lines (Orange west to Gouin Blvd., Blue east to Anjou and west to Lachine/Ville-St-Pierre, and Yellow up to Sherbrooke and McGill College, effectively ‘twinning’ the McGill Métro station. A bold plan to say the least, but one that will certainly make it much more desirable to live in the city.

Anyways, here’s the link again – check it out, well worth the time.

Repurposing Institutional Space in Montreal

Montreal Children's Hospital
Montreal Children’s Hospital

What should we do with this building?

I ask what we should do because I believe this building, like all public and institutional space, belongs to the citizenry, and not the government or any of its ministries. The government exists for and by the people, and thus, because it is the people’s taxes which pay for the construction and operation of hospitals and schools (to say nothing of the operation of the government in and of itself) it should be the people who get to decide what we do with institutional space once it’s determined the facilities are no longer ideally suited to their original purpose(s). In the case of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, it is slated to leave this building for the greener pastures of the MUHC Superhospital in 2015, a project I’ve derided at some length.

So what will become of the building that once housed the Children’s?

Most likely it will be sold off to private real estate developers and either be demolished or converted into condominiums. It’s also possible (though not probable) that the building be demolished for the purposes of a new office tower or (god forbid) a shopping mall.

Of course, in all of these cases, the people lose vital institutional space, and lose their investment and ownership of the land and its buildings. We paid for it, but government gets to decide what happens to it, and apparently privatisation is on the table.

In my opinion there’s a far greater need for institutional space than new sites for condo development, and it just so happens that this particular part of the city – Shaughnessy Village – already has several other sites slightly more ideally suited for medium-height condominium projects (again, assuming our local real estate market could even handle more).

Aerial Perspective of Montreal Children's Hospital and Surrounding Shaughnessy Village
Aerial Perspective of Montreal Children’s Hospital and Surrounding Shaughnessy Village

Above you can see the area in question. The Children’s and Cabot Square are outlined in blue. Places where we’re likely to see demolitions for new construction (or where it’s already occurred) are outlined in red. The yellow arrow points to an existing RÉSO tunnel linking Place Alexis-Nihon, Dawson College, Westmount Square and Atwater Métro station with Cabot Square, the green arrow points to a potential RÉSO tunnel linking the aforementioned with the Forum and pointing to what is now the Seville Condominium project, and the purple arrow demonstrates how another tunnel could link the Children’s to the rest of the Underground City. This would allow someone to ‘warmcut’ from tony Greene Avenue in Westmount to within two blocks of the Canadian Centre for Architecture and its sculpture garden. Not too shabby.

But what could we use the Children’s for?

In all likelihood the Montreal General Hospital, located just up the street, will remain open and fully operational once the MUHC Superhospital comes online in 2015. I think parts of the Vic or some other slated-to-close-hospital might have to stay open as well simply because the Superhospital likely won’t have sufficient beds to replace all the hospitals it’s intended to. But I have a feeling the Children’s won’t be one kept open. From what I’ve heard, it would require a significant renovation in order to continue being useful, regardless of future functions.

If we were to look beyond continuing to use the Children’s as a hospital, what other functions could it serve?

A long-term care facility?
Subsidized housing?
Old age home?
The greatest daycare of all time?

Or perhaps as a school?

I think the Children’s might be a very interesting location for a rather large public school. Ideally, it would be an experimental joint venture between the CSDM and EMSB, a bilingual immersion school serving grades K-11. The Children’s is big enough it could easily facilitate such a school, and considering the downtown’s near total lack of public schools (FACE and Westmount High are the only public schools I can think of that are actually in the ‘downtown’) and the city’s stated goal of encouraging more families to move into the city, it makes sense to me that Children’s might be repurposed into such a role. Far better to recycle something already standing than start from scratch.

The most useless street in the city.
The most useless part of a street in the city.

The principle drawback however, is the lack of green space. The hospital occupies a large block bounded by (clockwise) Lambert-Closse to the east, René-Lévesque, Atwater and Tupper. I think it would be worthwhile to examine the feasibility of removing Tupper Street and reclaiming that space as part of Cabot Square (which would allow the square to grow by about a third) and relocate bus stops located around the square to a single location, outlined in black in the aerial view above. If I’m not mistaken there was once an STM bus terminus located here. A single terminus, ideally heated and hooked up to the Underground City by means of a tunnel, would be ideal compared to the current wide distribution of unheated, piss-drenched glass boxes underserving STM user’s needs. As part of the former Children’s renovation, an entrance on this side would aesthetically link the building to the square and should be considered. Cabot Square would be renovated to be part public square and part school yard. Suffice it to say the presence of a public school in this part of town would likely serve to improve the overall mood, if not the security, cleanliness and upkeep. Necessity would quickly make this one of the safest parts of the city to live and work in.

Though there’s no way a school here would have the green space of a suburban school, this shouldn’t bar us from considering the possibility. After all, other urban schools manage with limited access to green space by securing access to public recreation space and sporting facilities. Playgrounds could also just as easily be installed on the hospital’s ample rooftops.

This would not be a simple project; the Children’s and the public spaces around it would require a significant renovation and transformation, and an entirely new kind of school would need to be created, one that may test the abilities of our two largest school boards and the political will of the provincial government. And this is saying nothing of the lobbying that would be required to accomplish such a large undertaking.

But would it be worth it?

I honestly think so. It would provide a major incentive for families to to move back into the city, keep institutional space in the hands of the people, serve the public good and help kickstart a broad renaissance in a somewhat overlooked and run-down part of the city. Embarking on such a project would legitimately stimulate new residential construction, perhaps finally providing sufficient justification for new family-oriented condo towers. The areas outlined in red would likely be redeveloped very quickly, and the centrality of the location would make this an ideal public school for urban, working families.

In any event, just something to think about. What do you think should happen? What would you like to see here?