Tag Archives: Montréal public-space

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.

Perspective on the City { No.7 }

Rachel Street, from Mount Royal looking East - work of the author, Spring 2010

Last Spring I discovered this fantastic trail along the edge of the mountain, overlooking the vast expanse of thick mixed forest behind the Cartier Memorial. I found it after forcing myself to climb the steep rocky incline leading up the side, under the Eastern Lookout. From it’s shape, I thought it may have been carved out by one of the early-thaw streams that pour down the rock-face, but as I pulled myself up by means of exposed roots, I realized it was more likely to be the remains of a small landslide. The pile of boulders and freshly churned earth at the bottom should have been indication enough. The climb up was more challenging than I had anticipated, but upon catching my breath and turning around, I was delighted to see the Plateau and the East End stretching out to the horizon, the flames of the oil refineries and the orange floodlights of the port outlining the river. There are several small, informal trails which run between the Cross and the Eastern Lookout, with several small clearings along the very edge of the mountain, each affording spectacular views of the city below. What’s perhaps best of all, is the relative silence. Here, there is no noise pollution, as all I could hear was the delightful symphony of forest life. The view provided a fascinating juxtaposition; despite being acutely aware of my relative isolation and bucolic surroundings, the city – teaming with life and vibrancy – was never out of sight.

The STM is planning on selling you out…

Hector Guimard's Métro entrance at Square Victoria - credit to Wally Gobetz for the great shot

The STM recently announced its intention to solicit corporate sponsorship for the Métro, something which has never been done before. This is not the same as posting advertisements; the new plan seeks sponsorship of the individual lines, with branding occurring pretty much everywhere, from the ubiquitous, landmark Métro signs to the ticket kiosks to the maps, branding, branding, branding everywhere.

Andy Riga has excellent coverage of this issue, which can be found here: Metropolitan News

I think Michael Fish really nailed it when he asks if the corporatist elements of our society have any shame left. No, clearly they don’t – the STM won’t make more than $155 million over ten years. When you compare that to the billions of dollars per year in the operations budget, you begin to get that queasy feeling the corporate branding will be going to line the pockets of city administrators and STM corporate governance. It certainly won’t speed up the deployment of our new trains, that much is certain.

As you can imagine, both Projet Montréal and Transport2000 have come out against this plan. I for one am also against it – our Métro was conceived as being sponsorship-free, or if you’d prefer, people-power is the sponsorship. Frankly it’s bad enough we have to contend with television, advertisements, scrolling-advertisements and the variety of people actually handing things over to you, do we really need to ‘ride the Bell line to switch at Monsanto Station?’ Moreover, do we really want the pride of Montréal’s public-transit network sponsored by, say, General Motors Corporation?

Enough is enough Рif the STM really wants to increase overall revenue, they should stick with the original plan, that is Рto gradually extend the M̩tro to cover the entire metropolitan region. Doing so would allow the STM to collect revenue from more than 3 million people, as opposed to half that number currently.

The system was designed to put art and architecture to the forefront, but gradually, we’ve let the STM remove artwork and alter the design of the stations without adequately consulting the artistic community which designed the stations in the first place. Initially the system was designed to act as a new kind of public art gallery, in which each station could be experienced for its own artistic merit. What happened to that?

Think about the lost artwork the next time you’re in McGill Métro station, where the stained glass mural has big gaping holes which never get fixed, yet the rest of the station can be covered in advertisements overnight.

I strongly encourage my fellow Montréalers to resist this invasion and manipulation of public space. I for one will deface any corporate sponsorship I see. Let’s see how much of that $15.5 million per annum they can save when they have to contend with rider dis-satisfaction and a population hell-bent on vandalizing corporate sponsorship.

My favourite alleyway

Slate Reflection - work of the author, January 2011

Alleyway south of Boul. de Maisonneuve, leading to the back of Carlos & Pepe’s on Peel Street. Though frequently malodorous due to the subtle mix of urine and rotting vegetables, I’m nonetheless drawn to this space, as its design cleverly seems forbidding at first, yet with the CIBC Building towering overhead, pulls you down into its bowels. And just when the alleyway seems to have sucked you in, it opens up into kind of accidental courtyard with the CIBC Building having tapered away completely.

Behind the Hermes Building

I’ve wanted to film some sort of daring escape in this alleyway since the first time I explored it. Seems very Se7en-esque.

A timely reminder of what Summer is like…

The Eastern Core - work of the author, Summer 2008

Every morning while waiting for the train I try to zen-out while remembering just how unbelievably hot last summer was. Indeed, each year I feel as though Montréalers undergo a fantastic process wherein we collectively experience each season to its fullest. Sometimes I wonder how people can complain about the heat here. I try to get up the Mountain as often as possible to enjoy the seasons in their natural state. In the early Spring, the dampness of the wood sends chills down your spine, while the mist and fog typical of that time of the year hovers gently over the forest floor as moonlight and floodlights cast eerie beams through the forest. In the Summer, it provides a cool refuge from the piercing sun. At night walking along the Olmsted Trail in the middle of January, you hear the soft crunch of the snow underfoot while dormant oak and maple branches knock together above, thuds and clunks composing a hollow rhythm. And during an Indian Summer, the explosion of colour and that last blast of heat stimulate the senses, inviting dreamers to imbibe in sweet dreams.

The idea to protect our mountain as a kind of eco-historical time-capsule has allowed generations of Montr̩alers to experience the local natural environment as it was when Montr̩al was first settled. The fact that you can walk into Mount-Royal Park and quickly find yourself alone, with nothing to hear but the sound of rustling leaves and chirping birds, bathed in sunlight Рit invites you to contemplation. What a gift to give to the residents of the city!

This here is the view of the Eastern-core of the city, taken from the Kondiaronk Belvedere atop Mount-Royal. This spot was so-named to honour the Huron Chief who led 1300 delegates from 39 sovereign nations to Montréal to participate in a massive peace conference. I like how the belvedere is open to all people, all the time, and is without a doubt the most spectacular view of the city and region. From this vantage point all citizens can appreciate the grandeur that springs forth around them. All citizens can stand here and feel triumphant. And thus, the Belvedere is the piece-de-resistance in this ecological time-capsule, as here each citizen can see the landscape Cartier saw back in 1535.

If you approach the Belvedere from the West, that is, if you were coming from Lac-des-Castors, you will see the skyscrapers in the downtown, though they will appear to be much closer than they really are. It’s a bizarre optical illusion. The Mountain offers its citizens many gifts, but must be protected.