Revamping Montreal – How is the Mayor doing?
Revamping Montreal – After a period of consultation during last year and the release of a preliminary document highlighting the main points of what has been called A Strategic Plan for Downtown, the final report was published a few weeks ago. Regarding the actual area which the document is focused on, it corresponds to the borough of Ville Marie, which extends far beyond the usual notion of downtown, generally applied to the core, mostly commercial centre of the city. The plan then applies roughly to the sector of city bordered by the rail line just east of Iberville on the east, the St. Lawrence River including St. Helen and Notre Dame islands on the south, Victoria Bridge, the rail lines, and Atwater on the west, and Mount Royal and Sherbrooke St. East on the north.
The three salient points highlighted in the introduction are a complementary transport network, access to the river, and urban re-use. The first point refers to the integration of the already approved (and controversial) REM or Light Electric Train that will connect the South Shore, Downtown, Laval, and the Pierre E. Trudeau Airport, to the existing metro and bus system. While one new station (Bassin Peel) will be built for the REM, the other two stops in the downtown area will be located in existing stations Central Station (already capable of serving the new line with some relatively minor adaptations) and McGill (a metro station that will need new accesses and more substantial changes to become an intermodal station).
Access to the river has always been mentioned as a sort of natural aspirations for a population located on an island. The need for port and industrial installations, combined with the urban growth have in the past blocked the visibility of the river let alone its access. The fact that in recent decades almost all of the industries have abandoned their riverfront buildings could make this aspiration easier to achieve. This industrial migration would also cover the third point of the plan, since already many of those buildings may be transformed into condos or office complexes. Re-utilization may also be feasible in some other downtown neighbourhoods where former schools, churches, and other institutional buildings are now languishing.
The document also makes reference to the consultations held at the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) where citizens expressed their concerns last year. Five items were identified as priorities during those meetings: public transportation, lodging for homeless people and families, collective equipment, culture, and the vitality of commercial arteries in the area.
Public transportation in the area has usually been mentioned as a problem in the area. Although the downtown sector is well-served by two metro lines, bus service is deficient, especially in the east-west axis with only one route having a relatively good frequency, line 24. Lines 15 on Ste. Catherine, 144 on Pine/Dr. Penfield Avenues, and 150 on René Levesque, on the other hand, offer a horrible service.
Homelessness has already been underlined by various social organizations as a growing problem in the downtown area. The same goes for the need for affordable housing for families in the sector. However, little has been done in both respects.
The general amenities under the category of common equipment include items such as lighting (replacement of the old sodium lamps for more efficient LED ones is going very slowly). Also in this category tree planting on streets and parks (an issue many times raised with municipal authorities with no definite answer on their part), and equipment for kids in parks (one of the few things that have been done).
Cultural dynamism is something that has flourished in the downtown area thanks to the existing festivals that take place mainly in the Quartier des spectacles and on Crescent St. around the time of the Grand Prix. Regarding the vitality of the commercial arteries, in this case, in particular, I should say Sainte Catherine St., the city plan doesn’t provide any specifics. Last year the project to renovate that street was unveiled, but since then no more details have come from the borough or the city. We know that the works to replace the old water pipelines under the iconic street will disturb traffic and commercial activity there for months. It remains to be seen what the long-term effect of that construction will be since many fear that –although the works are necessary—they may result in a total disaster for some businesses.
The bottom line, however, is the question of who is going to benefit from the implementation of this action plan. A plan produced by the city which for now is short on specifics but seems to point mostly to stimulate real estate development and big business in the area, more than to the needs of residents. This is a question that should eventually resonate with greater force as we approach the municipal elections to be held in November.