Category Archives: Public art proposal

Big Empty Walls

Side of the Hotel de la Montagne - work of the author, June 17th 2011

I remember seeing pictures from Tehran when I was a kid – it may have been on CNN and may have been related to the Iran-Contra scandal, or the USS Vincennes accidental shoot-down of an air-liner, or the Tanker War or god knows what, but an image got stuck in my head. For the life of me I haven’t been able to find an image of what I’m talking about. I remember a mural painted on the side of a building, and from the looks of it, it was impressively large. It was an American flag, though turned on it’s side, with skulls for stars and bombs dropping from the stripes. I was impressed as a toddler and I can still picture it clearly in my head. In fact, every time I see a big empty concrete wall, I feel as though we the citizenry have a moral responsibility to fill it up with something beautiful, poignant or both. I don’t recommend anything overly anti-American mind you.

So here are some of my least favourite big empty walls.

I think this apt. tower is on Crescent - work of the author, June 17th 2011

I mean let’s face it – it’s nothing but a large slab of brown-grey concrete or beige/white brick. No decoration, not much of a discernible pattern. Just a vast open void, and there’s a plethora of such buildings littering the downtown core. You know what else is littering the downtown core? Advertisements and graffiti, and I’d prefer to see really well-done versions of both than the typically mundane versions which typically rob our visual attention.

I mean, when you take the whole of graffiti within the city, what’s the art-to-vandalism ratio? 1:100? 1:1000? Don’t tell me the guy that uses an ice-scraper to spell his initials on bus-shelter plexiglass is making an artistic statement, he’s costing the tax-payer (ie – all of us) money to get that fixed later. Now, that being said, when you go behind FouFounes Electriques and see the mind-blowing graffiti there, it makes me wonder why we can’t distribute it a bit better, offer grants and get legitimate artists working together to add vibrant splashes of colour to these drab facades.

I'd love to see the wall of this no-tell hotel celebrate the carnality common within. Work of the author, June 17th 2011

The point’s been brought up before as to whether the city can just up and do this – why not? Adding the art to the side of a building could get the owner some tax-break for stimulating the arts. I know there’s an apartment building on Towers Street in the Concordia Ghetto that features a pretty wild sculpture hanging off the side of the building, though who’d never know it was there unless you happened to spot the plaque at street level. I guess it just so happened that I was looking for plaques that day.

Anyways – as always, what do you think?

And by the by – congratulations to Leroy Audubon of South Marshfield New Hampshire for being our 2,000th guest.

The first five things I’d do as mayor…

So I’ve been trying to narrow it down and it’s not working too well. In any event, here’s something to chew on…

1. Transit: Build a new Métro system to cover the entire Island of Montreal, with 24hr regular service and express trains during peak usage hours. In addition, the Bixi service should be expanded to cover the entire island, and a new tram system should be developed in tandem to Metro expansion so as to provide a necessary additional layer of public transit – this way one could cover the other during service disruptions caused by new construction and station renovations, in addition to the tracking and switching problems that will have to be dealt with as the system evolves. No matter what, any major expansion to one public transit system will require additional expansion to the other services, and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ public transit solution. The sooner we accept that and plunge head-first into developing a full-coverage public transit infrastructure, the sooner we can eliminate a considerable amount of local carbon emissions and traffic gridlock. Moreover, such an expansion would likely result in a major increase in urban residential density on the island, as Métro access becomes a principle consideration for real-estate speculators. The intended goal is to develop an on-island real-estate market driven by and dependent on excellent public transit service; consider the trade-off for potential residents – moderately higher municipal taxes, but effectively no need for your own car. I think there’s enough interest amongst Montrealers – islanders and metropolitans alike – in addition to all those creative types from all over who flock here, to live an urban lifestyle. Ergo, we need to expand urban density, increase the tax-base for the city, and do so in a manner benefiting our local environment.

2. Micro-Commerce: Introduce a citywide micro-financing initiative to stimulate the creation of ‘street-side’ commerce, such as newspaper kiosks, hot dog stands, buskers, artisanal craft vendors, shoe shine stands etc. A key component of this plan would be the provision of publicly funded kiosks, similar to our ‘camiliennes’, for full-service public washrooms, cafés, bistros and dépanneurs. A city agency would provide small-business loans and licenses via lottery to local entrepreneurs and would further regulate placement, so as to assure proper distribution of services.

3. Cover the Décarie and Ville-Marie Expressways: pretty-much self-explanatory, as they are, in my humble opinion, eyesores which happen to do a lot of damage to the urban fabric. The Décarie trench would be turned into a tunnel from the Turcot Exchange to the intersection with Highway 40. On top, a massive linear park, a Montreal Champs Elysees with a tram running along the center. Inside the tunnel, an air-circulation system designed to suck polluted air into an ‘air-cleaning’ device, before being cycled outside. City-run agencies would assist in transforming the sector into a major retail, entertainment and residential hub, with the intended goal of gentrifying parts of Cote-des-Neiges and NDG. As for the Ville-Marie, a new park to run from St-Urbain to Sanguinet, designed to accommodate massive outdoor events and serve as a ‘central park’ uniting various diverse sectors of the downtown. From St-Denis to the foot of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, a park more akin to the one planned for Décarie, though in this case involving a renovation and redesign of Viger Square in addition to a several new public monuments, along with a triumphal arch located in the current Maison Radio Canada parking lot, between Wolfe and Montcalm. In the West End, a massive new housing project, based on Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, the first phase would cover the Ville-Marie Expressway and CPR line from Guy Street to Rue des Seigneurs. A second phase would span from Atwater to Lewis Avenue in Westmount. Part of this project would involve placing the CPR line under Ville-Marie and encasing both in a massive two-tier concrete tunnel, and then building a new ‘Safdie City’ on top, bridging St-Henri, Westmount, the Shaughnessy Village and Little Burgundy.

4. Develop three new mixed-urban commercial, institutional and residential sectors: the first would extend the ‘downtown’ south along the Bonaventure Expressway corridor. In effect, this would be a continuation of existing revitalization projects, but I’d expand this new sector to include everything from Peel to McGill south of St-Antoine. Emphasis here would be to mix new medium-height office towers with middle-income condos and subsidized lofts/studios for local artists. Ideally, an influx of residents would provide the tax-base for an elementary school, CLSC, public library, community center and other vital community services. The second sector would occupy the area bounded by Cherier, René-Lévesque, Amherst and St-Denis and would seek to expand on the Réso sector concentrated on Berri-UQAM. As in the last case, mixed housing would be introduced with an emphasis on middle-income families and medium height office towers. Also, the Berri Street trench needs to be covered over; a large urban green with a farmer’s market would be a great addition to this otherwise bland part of the city. A third area prime for a major re-development would be the large industrial sector between Viau and Dickson, south of Sherbrooke to Notre-Dame in the East End. A large concentration of tall condo towers here would offer spectacular views of the city and river, not to mention the Olympic Park and the Botanical Gardens. But the area would also have to serve as a focal point for most of the eastern parts of the city, an area which has been cut-off from the rest of the urban fabric for some time. This means a significant investment would have to be made in terms of developing new entertainment venues, social and community services, retail space and, perhaps most importantly, hotels. The area already boasts several key tourist attractions, but there’s very little available locally for short-term stays. This particular location benefits from being well-served by public transit and would serve to link Hochelaga, Maisonneuve, Prefontaine, Rosemont and St-Leonard districts, creating a viable high-density urban area in the middle of the East End.

5. Eliminate all empty lots (including parking lots) between Guy and St-Laurent, from Sherbrooke to St-Antoine. This plan would see the construction of below-ground parking lots where possible, with new high-density buildings of any type above ground. The city would mandate that all new construction take place on these ’empty lots’ in this sector and would introduce a ‘development-project’ lottery for local construction companies and architectural firms. The idea here would be to try and maximize the number of residents living within the downtown, hopefully increasing the amount of social traffic and maximizing the tax base. In spaces where new construction is far from ideal, or where parking lots would be impractical, new parks and plazas would be built. No matter what, we need to focus on maximizing urban density and ensuring available land is used as best as possible. I can think of nothing more pathetic than parking lots where prime real-estate ought to be, and a fantastic example of this would be the massive lot across from the Bell Centre. These otherwise empty lots are signs of bad design and poor planning, and there not even that efficient either. Consider how many more cars could be parked in a multi-level underground lot. Consider how much better driving into the city would be if there were an abundance of underground spots available, and the city’s massive parking complex was hooked up directly to the Réso.

Anyways, food for thought…

Mordecai Richler’s Ghost

Mordecai Richler - 1983 - photo credit to Ryan Remiorz

In case you’ve had your head stuck under a rock for the last few weeks, a petition has been put forth by City Councilor Marvin Rotrand to have something named after Richler before the 10th anniversary of death this July. If you’d like to sign the petition, go here. Among other things considered, Fairmount Street, St-Urbain Street and the Mile End Library.

If you’d like to find out what the President of the St-Jean Baptiste Society thinks, go here. As you can imagine, the mere mentioning of this great writer’s name in certain circles got the Independence-minded swimming in circles, defiant to the last that nothing should ever honour this writer. You see, Mordecai Richler secretly hated all French-Canadians. I say secretly because he was so good at keeping his hatred hidden deep down inside that there are virtually no examples, no even shitty, half-assed examples, of his hatred for all things Québecois.

And, ten years after the man’s death, no one has found anything to nail his ass to the wall, so to speak.

That being said, Rotrand’s proposal has come under fire from the lunatic fringe of the Québec Independence movement, as there is a general perception of Richler, among certain circles, as an anti-Québecois racist.

Unfortunately, when it comes time to deal with that pesky thing called proof, the irrational and misguided Patriotes tend to point fingers in all directions except Richler’s work. there’s a feeling he may be a racist which isn’t backed up by legitimate information. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Could it be as a result of the separatist fringe’s unwillingness or disinterest to sit down and actually read his books, whether fiction or non-fiction?

I haven’t read much of his work, and don’t worry, I’m already on my own case for being so negligent. It’s a New Years resolution of mine. However, I have read his extremely controversial 1992 non-fiction essay, Oh Canada! Oh Québec!, which itself was largely based on a series of essays he penned for some major international publications, such as the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly. When I say controversial, I mean to say it was perceived as such. I personally couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about.

For many years Richler was as much the quintessential Canadian essayist as he was an author of fiction, and herein lies the source of the controversy. He lambasted politicians from both sides of the constitutional debates of the late-1980s and early-1990s, and was vilified by French-Canadians as much as the Jewish community of Montr̩al, which at one point called him an anti-Semite. He exposed the dark and, at times, plain old retarded aspects of the Canadian mentality (regardless of faith or religion Рthe ties that bind in our case can be embarrassing).

Here is a video of an interview Mr. Richler gave to the SRC back in 1991, a year before his essay hit the bookshelves. It seems as if most of the controversy arose from Richler’s claims that many key intellectual supporters of Québec independence demonstrated clear anti-Semitic tendencies. It doesn’t help our cause when we’ve gone ahead and named so many things after these people, such as Lionel Groulx and Henri Bourassa. Moreover, Richler indicates that the rest of the world – his international audience – finds our constitutional problems to be laughable. I suppose they were, especially when you consider we could just have easily have gone down the road traveled by the Balkan States at the same time. Moreover, Groulx and Bourassa were definitely anti-Semites, and they in turn were the product of the Catholic mini-theocracy which existed here prior to the Quiet Revolution (which Richler cleverly points out owed its 1960 victory to Anglophone votes from Montréal, as Francophones were still major supporters of the Duplessis Regime and the Union Nationale). More than anything else, Richler pointed out one effective truth about separatist hard-liners. They won’t allow you to criticize them, and are generally poor at being self-critical. If they were, I doubt they’d be in favour of separation.

And Lionel Groulx was a virulent anti-Semite and fascist. He may have been the first writer of nationalist Québecois history, but he also wrote that Dollard-des-Ormeaux died a martyr to our cause. In reality, he attacked an Iroquois hunting-party and paid for his violent tendencies with his life. But this has been swept aside by so many revisionist textbooks…

In any event, I implore all Montréalers to go out and read any one of his books and write me back if they can find any proof of anti-French or anti-Québecois sentiment. And remember, he was a satirist, so tread carefully.

As far as renaming something in his honour – I have a far better idea. Use whatever money which would otherwise go to renaming something instead to finance a film production of any of his novels. That way, everyone can see his work for themselves, and it would clearly honour his memory while simultaneously making it available for all to see. that, or buy everyone a copy of Solomon Gursky Was Here

Public art proposal No. 1

The former Rosemont Incinerator

So I suppose this is a call for assistance. I’ve never been involved in organizing a piece of public art, but I believe an excellent example is staring all of us in the face.

As an environmentalist, I consider massive incinerators to be not only an eyesore, but a lasting testament to just how incompetent we can be. By contrast, the above incinerator is no longer active, just a massive hulk of a building no one knows what to do with.

So here’s a proposal, one which is steeped in local pop history. Attach a gigantic inflatable pink pig to the roof of the building and moor the swine somewhere between the smokestacks, an enduring tribute to (in my opinion) the most original music-group of the last century, Pink Floyd.

The story goes like this: sometime in the late 1970s, my guess would be in support of Animals (no less!), Pink Floyd were performing at the Big O, back when international supergroups still sold-out massive arenas, as much a spectacle in and of itself as the show up front. Regardless, somewhere during the set, a demented fan began trying to scale a chainlink fence near the stage, idiotically shouting ‘play money’ or something like that. Pink Floyd was well-known for politely asking their adoring fans to, in essence, be cool, while they were performing their increasingly complex sonic masterpieces. An enraged Roger Waters tried in vain to quiet the disruptive crowd before finally spitting on the fence-sitter. I’ve had this story corroborated by my friend’s dad who was at the show.

From this unfortunate event sprang the basic idea behind The Wall, as Waters was feeling increasingly disconnected from his fans. A more enduring tribute I could not imagine, as we have a ‘half-Battersea‘ just waiting to be put to good use. Despite the incident in Montréal in 1977, witnessed by an estimated 80,000 people, Pink Floyd remains consistently ranked as one of the most popular music-groups in Québec.