Paris Rising, Montreal Falling, Neither Bodes Well

The two great French cities of the world, well, Montreal used to be worthy, are having some development conundrums.  Paris has decided to add a dozen highrise buildings but away from the city centre – the Eiffel Tower must always be the dominant structure there. So Paris does have limits, like Montreal, on how high buildings can go,whether they are downtown or not and this is a pretty good thing. But the world’s most popular, most desired, city to visit seems to be feeling it needs to keep pace with London which has added some interesting if not awkward tall architecture in the last decade or more. And that in itself may be the problem.  Is  ridiculously beautiful low rise and dense Paris becoming insecure? The short answer is, of course not, The City of Lights is just too exciting at street level for Parisians and the gabillions of annual tourists to feel anything but totally enthralled, if not hopelessly in love. And if you were to take a global poll of places you just HAVE to see in Paris, probably most of the buildings, structures, parks, museums, and neighborhoods that would make up the top 20 would turn out to all have been built before 1900, so there hardly seems to be any real justification for trying to bring Paris into the 21st century via some high rise kitsch scheme that is quickly becoming obsolete in the rapidly oncoming (incoming) climate change era (Post Arctic) that needs to be dominated by sustainability and survival strategies.  Unlike the excessive (and unimaginably expensive) attempts to create a more dignified Las Vegas in places like Dubai as the Oil Empire, as all empires must do, will be forced to reinvent itself, or crumble, Paris is, after all, forever.

Does Paris Need New Skyscrapers? Story at BBC

But the link here between Paris and Montreal is that these new high rises ideas are being pushed in Paris by none other than City Hall.

Yesterday the Mayor of Montreal was arrested on fraud charges. It was inevitable given that the Charbonneau Commission’s look into the awarding of construction contracts has actually been effectual into finding out who has been naughty and not so nice and corrupt. Michael Applebaum, certainly a nice person, but a politician of the sort who starts believing he can do no wrong,  eagerly replaced the resigned Gerald Tremblay (who got out when the going got too hot) thus bringing infamous disgrace upon himself when surely he could have opted to take the hit and slide quietly out of  city history. And the investigations continue…

Construction cranes loom over the Griffintown district of Montreal like  living monuments to the greed and ignorance and corruption of the Tremblay era in Montreal.  Make no mistake about this – Griffintown had the potential to be developed into a low rise dense urban paradise that would have astonished the world with it’s combination of old world charm and new world innovation. It would have been a magnificent neighborhood where people from far and wide would love to live. Of course this version of Griffintown would have required a city administration that was well schooled in urban planning,  possessed an energetic vision of how the city needs to be run in the future, and a genuine  agenda for creating  beautiful communities and neighborhoods. Instead we get a splattering of high rise condos, each offering fine views of each other, where street level becomes a parade of simulated “ideas” of neighborhood dominated by expensive stores and chain coffee shops that very few people outside the area will ever use, in effect, places devoid of personality and character, let alone a seamless fusion of history and the ongoing pride that is only ever truly experienced by people who were raised in, descended from, or have long assimilated into the area.

Neighborhoods without a local culture are not neighborhoods. And culture is a beautifully abstract invention of humans that evolves over many generations – you can’t just build it. Irish culture has been all but  buried in Griffintown, but it could have been saved had there been a desire on the part of the city to do so. The new generations would have been enthusiastic about returning to their roots in a regeneration of Griffintown that could carry on the spirit of the local culture that once lived, loved, and died there.

The best thing to do with Griffintown now is to simply kill it off altogether and rename it Tremblayville,  an appropriate legacy to the city administration that allowed greed and even it’s own self proclaimed ignorance to hurt so badly a city that was once called The Paris of North America.


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