Montreal Dying On The Main

Josh Freed, in his Saturday Gazoo column last week talked about the street work being done around Sainte Catherine and The Main. He says,

“Maybe I’m over-sensitive because I watched the Upper Main go through similar pain: massive destruction, endless delays, slowly strangling businesses, and countless city promises that the street would be reborn after renovations. But three years later the Upper Main is still in ruins, with dozens of stores closed -because the customers who fled during construction never came back.”

You might be tempted to think this is some kind of a Ville de Montreal endorsed developer strategy, you know, “look, the longer we take to do this the more likely the hookers and other riff raff will have permanently relocated, and we just set up shop and let the money walk in!”
But it’s not.
Hard to say where the method in this madness lies exactly – we spend millions to “fix” a street for over a year (or two or three), close numerous businesses, change the shopping/eating habits of thousands of people, all the while claiming that the place will boom when the work is done – but someone benefits by it, you can count on that. And it is not the taxpayers or business owners, for sure, so something must be terribly wrong with how the city is being managed. And how is it possible that Montreal has become one of the most incompetent cities on the planet?

At the end of the month it will be one year since the last civic election in Montreal, a travesty which saw the population that actually votes put Gerald Tremblay and his Union party back in to power for another term. Tremblay’s administration had more corruption allegations going than a Lower Main hooker’s Iphone had numbers, yet still he got reelected with massive help from a media – largely owned by his supporters and Conservative forces outside of Quebec – that could not bring itself to support change at a time when change was the only rational option. As Mel Brooks once put it, “it’s good to be king!”

The Jazz Festival is a Montreal institution. Through thick and thin, everyone loves the Jazz Festival, and for many good reasons. But as a fan I have been put off by all this Quartier de Spectacle development, especially as it seems our beloved Festival is now heavily influenced by it’s prime mover and shaker, Rio Tinto Alcan. It gives me a sickly feeling in my gut to see the word Alcan associated with the Festival which has given me so much pleasure over the years. And it was the complete disregard for the heritage and traditions of the Lower Main that really sank the ship for me – it is nothing less than the Disneyization of a Montreal iconic strip. To quote from a Tom Waits song, “If I exorcise my devils, well my angels may leave too.” We are losing our contradictions, our essence, and our soul, by allowing such large scale defamations of the city to happen primarily because someone who could care less wants to make some big bucks.

Modernism was an powerful movement in the early 20th Century roaring ahead, surviving 2 World Wars, and instituting the urban mechanics and aesthetics that ultimately gave us suburban sprawl and car culture. Today we know that is not sustainable, not intelligent planning, yet we continue to believe in a version of progress that favours the few over the benefits of all. “Let’s clean up The Main”, proclaimed those contemporary moralists of political convenience with an enthusiasm not equaled since Jean Drapeau shut down de Bullion street, thus freeing up streets such as The Main for prostitution and other “illegal” activities. And we continue to just not look at either the details or the big picture in our city when we head to the polls.We stick to what’s left of our little rose coloured view. We should be doing something positive but, we are full of fear.

We are going to see much more devastation in the next three years as there is no political apparatus in place to pull Tremblay out of City Hall short of a revolution. An oasis of potential like Griffintown is going to get ravaged by a big box developer and a temporary transportation “solution”, so we can kiss intelligent urban planning goodbye here for awhile and hope there may be something left to fight for in 2013.

2 responses to “Montreal Dying On The Main

  1. 20th Century planning just won’t go away. We’ve been living with these kinds of projects for a long time and have seen how they destroy the fabric of neighborhoods. This is what Jane Jacobs would call “catastrophic money.” How about instead of destroying the small businesses that were there already we keep them and make it attractive for other small businesses to do move in? It takes time and politicians need big statements, I suppose. They want monuments. Well, the Cross-Bronx Expressway is a monument for the people of the Bronx. A monument to a way of changing cities that destroys them. We have our own monuments and we don’t need anymore. What we need are healthy communities that are not cut off from the city around them. The Quartier des Spectacles will not be a healthy, functioning community. It will be a dysfunctional, festering sore on downtown for years to come, only used part of the year and otherwise abandoned. I would not want to walk through that place come February unless I was trying to score some smack. And don’t even get me started on the Jazz Festival.

    Oh, and what is up with those lights? Those are the ugliest pieces of garbage I’ve ever seen and seeing them on a daily basis… I’m just embarrassed. I’m embarrassed to be a Montrealer.


  2. I don’t know of anyone who likes those lights. These seem like spies or some kind of foreign entities who are not part of the fun. Not so great lamposts we could live with, but those things invade your sightlines and just don’t say “festival” very nicely.

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