I guess it was the Disney-like imagery of some of the photos accompanying the press release announcing the winning project for the redesign of McGill College Avenue what made me say it. Commenting on the project on the social networks, I called it “tacky” and associated it to our Mayor. Well, the reactions went from a variety of “likes” to aggressive accusations that my criticism of the Mayor was due to her gender, I was even accused of being “sexist.” As if a public official just for the fact of being a woman should be beyond any criticism.
Let’s instead get into our real topic. Those of a certain age or with some time living in the city must remember that McGill College Avenue had experienced different attempts at redesign in the last few decades. Then-Mayor Jean Drapeau, in one of his last grandiose projects in the early 1980s, proposed the building of a concert hall for the MSO right at the avenue site between Ste. Catherine and De Maisonneuve, which in fact would have blocked McGill College Ave. With no public or government support for the idea, the project was abandoned. Then the area saw the construction of a new tower, the Place Montreal Trust, where the old S.S. Kresge used to be. The avenue was then widened providing the impressive view of Mount Royal that is still its distinguishing feature.
In 2018 the city called an international contest to redesign the avenue, taking advantage of the fact that construction of the REM McGill Station would force some changes in the area. “The firms civiliti + Mandaworks (Sweden) and SNC-Lavalin have been named the winners of the multidisciplinary, international urban design competition for the development of the new Place de l’avenue McGill College,” reads the communique. According to the same document, the redesign of the avenue also aims at making the area around Ste. Catherine St., more pedestrian-friendly. For that purpose, more green space would be added to that avenue. The artery would also see its central strip enlarged to allow the planting of more trees, grass and the installation of benches and even a fountain. “The city’s downtown will soon be greener and more pleasant, resilient and human,” states the press release.
Of course, good intentions are welcome as long as they are well-founded on the reality of the area. The problem, as in other cases where innovating projects are announced for downtown, is that once again, the demographics of the area was not considered. Enlarging the green space in that avenue seems a good idea, mostly in terms of the aesthetics of the place. However, except for lunch hour, when office workers in the area may use the benches that would be located there, it is unlikely that the green space will have much pedestrian circulation. And that only in the summer. The reason for that low utilization outside that time is that the area around the avenue has very few residents. McGill students in search of an outdoor location to study or socialize already count on their campus, and tourists may be more inclined to visit a restaurant or a shopping centre.
In other words, while adding more green space may be justified from a beautification point of view, the addition of benches and meeting space to the new plaza would have a little practical impact.
The development project’s final concept will be unveiled in 2021, and work operations should start in 2023.