Category Archives: Unrealized development projects

Why we need Major League Baseball

My favourite Expo: Bill 'the Spaceman' Lee - an example of hash & LSD's potential benefit to the game of baseball

I have often wondered why former Montréal Mayor Jean Drapeau put so much effort into supporting an MLB franchise here in our fair city. Drapeau wasn’t just a fan of the Expos, but a driving force in the team’s creation and popular support. The Expos were never a ‘dynasty’ club, though for a while they drew large crowds and some high-end talent. They also drew American attention to our city, something I’m convinced Drapeau must have understood all too well.

The 1981 and 1994 MLB seasons were cut short due to labour negotiations and lock-outs, and it just so happens that these two particular years were those in which the Expos had their best chances at making it to the World Series, a feat which would have doubtless secured the franchise’s existence for a considerable period of time. The 1994 season and the failure of the Labatt Ballpark project, in addition to the generally poor management of Jeffrey Loria caused countless headaches and resulted in significant cuts to the fan base. In the end, neither the City nor the Province would continue to support the Expos, and the rest is history.

We’ve been without an MLB franchise since 2004 and here’s the reality of sports in our city:

1. Both the Canadiens and the Alouettes have been doing very well for themselves over the course of the last decade. Their facilities are modern, their fan-bases are expanding and you’d be hard-pressed not to enjoy yourself watching either team play. Both benefit from well-oiled public relations and marketing machines, and both teams have a solid attachment to the citizens. Clearly the expertise exists locally to successfully develop and market pro sports teams to the local population.

2. The Expos are still very much a part of our collective experience. At least part of this is thanks to expert design, as the Expos logo endures on t-shirts and ball-caps; consider how often you see this potent symbol of a city.

3. New sports ventures may be profitable; consider the success of the Montreal Impact soccer team which will become a new Major League Soccer franchise in 2012 (they also have a brand new stadium, built adjacent to the Olympic Stadium, with a capacity of some 20,000 people!). Consider as well the several recent attempts to develop fan interest in other sports clubs, whether it be our numerous attempts to get a basketball team started, to more recent attempts at developing interest in indoor lacrosse and junior ice-hockey teams. Without a doubt there are more failures here than successes, but it also demonstrates that there’s a wealth of experience and expertise which could be used to develop more successful clubs.

4. Golf, boxing, tennis and Formula-1 racing are all major draws in the world of local professional sports, each with long local histories (implying a potential multi-generational fan-base, something which is crucial to establishing sports dynasties); all of these major sporting events, coupled with our major sports teams, give this city a reason to be known by outsiders too, and in this sense having a major league sports franchise is a useful tool in stimulating outside interest and potential investment. In an indirect fashion, sports teams keep cities on the map, and help stimulate our tourism industry.

5. We happen to have a wealth of major public sports facilities in addition to Olympic-quality installations, though some of these facilities are grossly underused and/or in dire need of renovation. These facilities are worth the investment, and it would be wise for the city to develop a master-plan to renovate and expand public sporting installations along with public minor-league sports organizations. Direct sponsorship arrangements with professional sports franchises may assist in deflecting renovation costs while boosting public interest in the franchise. Either way, the city must fully implicate itself in local pro-sports, heading multiple partner investment and diffusion strategies. In this way, a win-win situation may be possible, in which the city provides a large fan-base and the franchise provides investments to the city. Again, we should look to Drapeau as the inspiration for developing such relationships.

So, with all that in mind, ask yourself whether a resurrected Expos would appeal to you. Ask yourself whether such a team could be successful operating out of a (potentially) renovated Big-O, or whether a new downtown ballpark is a better investment.

What do you think? Do we need the Expos, or did we lose a headache and an embarrassment in 2004?

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…

Perspective on the City { No.8 }

McGill College Avenue during a snowstorm - work of the author

McGill College, once upon a time, was a narrow one-lane street, crumbling on both sides with the remnants of the residential buildings and small-scale businesses once typical of St. Andrew and St. George’s ward. By the 1970s, a good portion of this stretch featured surface parking lots.

The redevelopment of McGill College Avenue was a long and drawn-out process, thanks in part to Jean Drapeau’s insistence in developing a new concert hall for the OSM on the site.

Almost thirty years later, McGill College Avenue is a wide-open success story, acting as a central north-south commercial and retail artery with plenty of tall buildings making the best of this prestige address. Along the avenue, you’ll notice that the two tallest buildings north of PVM are positioned diagonally across from one another, and a variety of building heights permits generous amounts of sunlight to flood the space (enjoy a nice outdoor lunch here in the Summer). Oddly, it’s not the most traveled street, and can be transformed into an open plaza on occasion. It’s long redevelopment saga involved many prominent figures in the local architecture and urbanism scene, including Phyllis Lambert, who opposed the development plan of a company she partly owned. Even more bizarre, the two architects Ms. Lambert engaged to build the CCA, Peter Rose and Errol Argun, both played significant roles in the redevelopment of McGill College. Rose worked on the renovation master plan while Ergun designed the Place Montréal Trust tower (currently, the Astral Media Building, which used to be co-located at the LaSalle College building in the Shaughnessy Village on Ste-Catherine’s, which was also designed by Ergun).

As you can see, the back-and-forth between the city, the developers and the public continued for some time, featuring a wide variety of different proposals, which included some plans to block off the view of Mount Royal entirely, while others proposed odd looking bridges to connect retail shopping centers and department stores overhead, and then underground.

In essence, what we have today is the result of many, many compromises. And despite some bruised egos and a lot of frustration twenty some odd years ago, today we’ve got something that works, and is unmistakably Montréal.

Five Competing Métro Expansion Proposals

Updated: October 30, 2012

None of these are of my own design; judge for yourselves:

I found this one a while back, seems like an interesting idea. It incorporates three rapid-bus systems plus a Parc Avenue light rail system, with a considerably larger Métro system in general, though with considerable focus on the higher-density regions closer to the downtown core.

The following proposal for system improvement doesn’t involve any non-Métro systems, but has considerably more lines and stations. Also notice how all three airports are connected, and how the downtown would be connected by four parallel East-West lines and seems to indicate a type of network-sharing system where multiple lines would use the same track. Further, consider the number of junction stations:

I also like this proposal because it very clearly allows access to all four corners of the Metropolitan region. Keep it in mind Рthis system is nothing more than a dream, though its always encouraging to see random people envisioning their ideal M̩tro system. If only our elected officials would get the picture and pursue a more ambitious expansion program. Imagine what could be if we were building at a rate of 26 stations every 4 years. We did it without blinking between 1962 and 1966.

October 27th update:

Another find!

Looking at this plan I can’t help but remark on the similarities in the three designs, as it seems to have borrowed from each in addition to the current MTQ plan and elements of very early designs. Among other things, closing the Orange Line loop, extending further into Laval and Longueuil, following bridges and highways, extending the Blue Line East to Anjou, connecting Ile des Soeurs and additional East-West lines to cover the downtown and a Pie-IX line are all featured in these three designs. The first plan is highly reserved and realistic whereas the second is bold (though less accurate than the others), and the third seems constrained by the dimensions of a Métro map poster. That said – check out that Brown Line – it goes everywhere! What a great idea, a ‘sight-seer’ Métro line running from Brossard through the CBD and onto the airport.

I also like the idea, oft repeated, of having additional multi-line hubs East of Berri-UQAM, such as at the Olympic Stadium, and of course the second plan’s design to link all the airports with the urban core. What’s striking is that it doesn’t seem to me like any official plan would even consider the possibility of building entirely new lines and hubs; these plans are realistic given that by 2012-2013, the metropolitan population is going to reach 4 million, and the citizens will no longer be able to rely on their cars to get around the metropolitan region. Public transit will require a massive investment in order for large cities to remain operationally competitive, we just cannot afford the same carbon footprint in the future. Thus, it makes sense to begin a massive development project and wildly expand the Métro, as soon as possible. Any of these designs are feasible as long as we demand it, but we must demonstrate clearly and effectively that we will not stand for anything less than the world’s finest Métro system. It is our responsibility, it is our heritage and a credit to our high-tech industries, but it must be kept at a perpetual ‘state-of-the-art’ status if we’re to make any money off it. The citizens need better than what is currently provided and Métro development needs to become a principle priority for the Mayor. If we were as motivated to build a Métro system today as we were fifty years ago, we could attain total metropolitan coverage within forty years, maybe sooner. That kind of long term steady investment is exactly what we need to keep our economy stable and create real, insurable employment. Public works and infrastructure projects worked in the States with the New Deal, so there’s no reason why we can’t do the same basic thing today on a localized scale. Building a massive new Métro could be money in the bank.

Métro Extension proposal by Matthew MacLauchlin

A very interesting proposal. What I like most: far better commuter rail development is integrated into the project, with multiple AMT-SMT inter-modal stations, vital for traffic dispersion. Given Matthew’s vast and extensive knowledge of the Métro, his bears many of the planned extensions, something else I like – many of the abandoned extension plans were rather well conceived. The Métro and commuter rail network would permit connections to Trudeau and Mirabel, and Matt’s plan further incorporates many closed loops (though, surprisingly, not through Laval, a likely extension to close the Orange Line). I also like how the different lines would have branches in this plan – very unique, it’s as if the colour of the lines define certain geographic areas, corridors of sorts. The magenta line running under Boul. René-Lévesque is an interesting touch, as is the aquamarine line along the northern ridge of the city, something that would be beneficial given the high population density in that sector. It seems as though his plan would opt to either follow existing rail lines, incorporate the Mount Royal Tunnel into the Métro scheme, and further would seek to re-establish rail use at Viger or Dalhousie Station.

Métro expansion proposed by Fouineux

Another fascinating proposal – I’m so impressed with what people can come up with, seriously. This plan does not involve former expansion plans – as you can see, no extension into Longueuil or Laval or Anjou. Instead, multiple ‘scooping’ lines that funnel people onto the Orange and Green lines at multiple stations. I like how this plan features many more multi-line stations, including the proposed super station at McGill with four connections. The extension into the Cité du Multimedia and Griffintown is solid because the area is still oddly detached from the rest of the city. Further, I like how this magenta section would bring a second Métro station to Parc Jean-Drapeau (though I’d much prefer the station to be called Place des Nations rather than Casino) which may finally make the at times desolate park more integrated into the urban fabric.

A question came to mind while thinking about these expansion plans. How quickly could be build any of these expansions? If we wanted it done quickly, would we mandate that the entire expansion operation be conducted at three-shifts per day? How many thousands, if not tens of thousands of people are we willing to hire and for how long? Between 1962 and 1966 we built 26 stations. How much of any of these plans could be accomplished at a similar rate?

How high will gas prices have to rise before these plans are seriously considered? With systems like these (or any amalgam of these systems, in conjunction with commuter trains and buses etc.) we really wouldn’t have much use for cars in the city anymore. It just wont be practical. Further, with Métro expansion comes Réso expansion, and in turn the area defined as being ‘city’ or ‘urban’ increases. With more area coming under the envelope of the city’s high-intensity public transit network, land prices within that area increase as an extension of the added convenience of this heightened level of accessibility. I’m convinced that a better Métro system could be a valuable marketing tool when encouraging people to move back to the city.

A modest proposal { No.2 }

Biosphere in Winter

This is the former American Pavilion, designed by Buckminster Fuller for Expo 67. See this site Рperhaps the best Expo 67 website ever created, an excellent resource. Currently, it is the location of the Biosphere of Montr̩al, an Environment Canada museum dedicated to the ecology of the St-Lawrence River Valley.

Originally, the geodesic dome was covered by an acrylic skin, which burned off in an amazing fire (no one was hurt). Fuller had the idea that perhaps large tracts of city could be placed under massive geodesic domes so as to trap pollution within, filtering it out through special ventilation systems which would clean the polluted air before releasing it into the atmosphere. As you can well imagine, such domes would trap greenhouse gases within, so if they implemented this on a larger scale in Montréal, well, winter wouldn’t be such a pain in the ass now would it?

The American Pavilion aflame, 1976

The question that needs to be asked is: should the Biosphere get its skin back? And/or – should we build a dome to cover a part of the city, perhaps a large residential area close to the downtown, and create an artificial environment within? Fuller had some far out ideas for how we should re-organize our lifestyles to anticipate future environmental concerns, and I’d have to recommend Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth as an excellent example of very avant-garde thinking. The effects of our poor long-term environmental planning are starting to manifest themselves, and any move to counter-act the carbon footprint of a major city would be a step in the right direction. And hell, if we built a large dome, people would notice, people would come and visit and ask us for help in building their own. I mean, who’s building gigantic geodesic domes these days? It’d be something…

Expo 67 was a very modernist exhibition of solutions to environmental and design problems discovered over the course of the twentieth century, and the American Pavilion was preserved because of the statement it made – solutions for future problems exist now, and people can orient themselves towards the future in order to anticipate and better react to what’s coming.

So, the second modest proposal Рbuild a geodesic dome over a part of Montr̩al, and create an artificial biosphere within. Demonstrate in no uncertain terms how such a construction can reduce the local carbon footprint, and give our citizens a tropical place we can escape to when its -30 C!

Place Emilie-Gamelin: broken space

Monuments by Melvin Charney in Place Emilie-Gamelin

This is the view from the centre of Place Emilie-Gamelin, a major urban square in downtown Montréal directly above the most important Métro station in the whole city, Berri-UQAM. Informally, the area is referred to as Berri Square, though many more simply, dismissively refer to it as Berri, an unavoidable place, very useful, very well connected, but ultimately, undesirable.

Berri’s a bit of an anomaly. I like to call it Montréal’s Ellis Island, as it serves as a major transport hub. In the picture you can see the entrance to the city’s main bus terminal, chariot of the poor to all destinations near and far not important enough to have an airport. The bus terminal is small and in dire need of improvement, so a few years back before the economy tanked, the provincial government got involved with a project spearheaded by UQAM and the city to build a massive new bus terminal on the block behind the existing one. It was designed to include student housing for UQAM as well. Once the new station was to be completed, the old one would have been knocked down and replaced with an office tower. I’ve heard this argument, from several people, that there exists a conspiracy to ‘pull’ the downtown away from its ‘traditionally English’ sector to a ‘primarily French’ one. These terms are all very noted, as actual Montréalers know the subtleties of local living – that is, we know the lay of the land. I don’t believe there’s anything sinister about, Berri Square is a natural pole of attraction, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be as proud, declarative, and well-respect as Dorchester Square downtown.

Place Dupuis from across Place Emilie-Gamelin

However, just because it shouldn’t be this way doesn’t explain why it is. Here’s a link to a Le Devoir article concerning the stalled Ilot Voyageur project which is currently a large empty shell of what would have been an impressive building. You can see a construction crane behind the bus station in the top photo. Apparently, talk of not building a connecting Métro tunnel was batted about as a means to cut costs. This is beyond stupid – the current station connects directly!

Before the renovation of Berri Square and its transformation into Place Emilie-Gamelin in 1992, several proposals had been floated around about installing a new concert hall for the OSM on the site, but if the Olympics taught us anything, its that you don’t build on public space, you build beside it.

1984 Berri-UQAM site proposal for new concert hall

Fortunately it never came to fruition on this site, as I believe well-designed parks, plazas, squares etc provide much needed relief, and space to congregate. People do use Berri Square, but it has a bad reputation, Indeed, the day I shot these pics I spent three hours observing the space, watching how people interacted with it; here’s an abridged version of what I saw:

– 16 y o up-and-comer in the drug trade chasing off old woman who was photographing buildings around the square

– police cruiser, parked, empty, sitting in the middle of the square, by the giant chessboards (no pieces out that day)

– somewhere in the area of thirty to fifty bums, vagrants, drunks, hobos etc, probably getting the best use out of this space presently – everyone else walks around it, few cross. Those who do are either a- very aware of their surroundings, b- completely unaware of their surroundings and for that reason quickly leave or c- in the process of doing, aquiring or selling narcotics.Watch out for a rookie mistake – never buy anything in Berri, never tell anyone to go buy in Berri. You’ll get robbed, or worse.

– an urban square so completely disconnected from its surroundings it actually denigrates the value of what’s around it. A total waste of potential – considerations such as: make sure sight-lines can be maintained and ensure the plaza is open and accessible were cast aside for the purposes of an artistic statement. It’s a shame, I don’t know if Charney’s installation will work elsewhere, but its got to go for the sake of this space.

When you consider just a vital a space like this, you really wonder why they wanted to stick a concert hall right on top of it. That being said, because of its condition, I’m sure their are many people who would like to see something work here.