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Series of articles in today's Gazette

 

 

Urban shift is reshaping Montreal

 

“This city will be a hopping place” in 2033, says Avi Friedman, a McGill University architecture professor and housing expert, at the site of a Griffintown condo project.

Photograph by: Pierre Obendrauf , The Gazette

Montreal will be a much greyer city 20 years from now, and the aging of our populace will influence everything from home design to urban architecture to public transportation.

 

It will also be a more multi-coloured city, measured in terms of skin tone, and multi-linguistic, too, as new legions of immigrants flow in, altering its face, flavour and sound.

 

It will be more condensed, with condominiums overtaking expensive single-family homes as the lodging of choice for first-time homebuyers. And it will be a poorer city mired in a heavily indebted province, forcing it to focus on necessities like rebuilding roads and paring down bureaucracies and services rather than investing in grand designs like megaprojects or metro extensions.

 

Economic imperatives will force Montreal to focus on what it’s good at to survive — namely, being itself. The city will endure by hosting festivals and conferences, promoting its flourishing arts scene, throwing successful, peaceful street parties for hundreds of thousands at a time and inviting the world to come. It will market itself as a vibrant, fun, creative place to live, and a coveted vacation destination for legions of retired baby boomers with time on their hands and savings to burn. This in turn will lead the city to become more accommodating to pedestrians and cyclists, with stretches of thoroughfares like Crescent and Ste. Catherine Sts. becoming pedestrian-only enclaves.

 

This is the Montreal 2033 vision of McGill University architecture professor and housing expert Avi Friedman. Author of 12 books on housing and sustainable development, he is called on by cities throughout the world to consult on urban development and wealth generation. He sees in Montreal’s future a metropolis that will be poorer, still paying for past transgressions of inept infrastructure design and inadequate maintenance. But at the same time, it will be buoyed by its four major universities and its cachet as one of the cool hangouts in the vast North American neighbourhood, a magnet for tourist dollars, immigrants and creative minds.

 

“Montreal is a brand. We’re not talking about Hamilton or Markham or Windsor. Montreal is a brand. But we need to learn how to use our brand better,” he said.

 

Statistics Canada released figures in the fall that indicated Montreal was becoming a city of singles. Nearly 41 per cent of its residents who reside in a private dwelling live on their own, as compared to 30 per cent in most large Canadian cities. Our aging population, large number of university students, exodus of families to the suburbs, low immigration numbers and high percentage of apartments are largely the cause.

 

The numbers spurred Friedman to ponder where the city he’s lived in for more than three decades will be in 2033. Major urban shifts, he notes, generally take about 20 years to evolve.

 

“I wasn’t looking for pie-in-the-sky ideas, not Jetsons-type futuristic predictions, just reasonable assumptions based on trends we are already seeing today.”

 

The greatest influence will come from the aging of the huge demographic wave that is the baby boomer generation, which will be between 70 and 87 years old in 20 years. Most will no longer be working, or paying as much in taxes.

 

“Montreal, like other eastern cities, is going to be a poorer city than it is today, which is likely to force greater efficiency of all operations and institutions,” Friedman said. “We will have to learn to do more with less.”

 

As families shrink (the average family size has gone from 3.5 individuals in 1970 to 2.5 in 2006), and house prices rise, demand for smaller living units will increase. The era of the single-family house as a starter home within the city limits will be a thing of the past for most, as it has been in many European cities for a long time, Friedman said. First-time buyers, many of them young families, will move into the many condominium projects sprouting downtown. Older boomers will shift from their suburban homes to condominiums. The ratio of family homes to condominiums, now at a roughly 60-40 split, will probably reverse during the next two decades, he predicted.

 

Already densely populated neighbourhoods like Notre Dame de Grâce will see residents and developers building upward, putting additional floors on houses or commercial buildings to add residential space. (In congested Vancouver, developers have already started stacking condominium complexes on top of big-box stores like Walmart and Home Depot.) Homeowners will transform their basements into separate apartments, and the division of single-family homes into separate units to take in two or more families will proliferate. Houses will be transformed as more people opt to work out of home offices, or as retirees alter their living spaces to pursue their hobbies or their work.

 

And seniors will make room for live-in nannies and nurses to help care for them. There will also be more grab-bars, ramps and in-house escalators. Technological advances will allow many routine hospital procedures to be done at home via computer. Patients will be able to check their blood pressure and other health indicators at home and send the information to their caregivers over the Internet, all the while chatting with nurses or doctors face-to-face via Skype.

 

“Aging in place will be on the upswing,” Friedman said. “There will be less and less reason for hospital visits.”

 

The new superhospitals going up downtown and in N.D.G. will also spur residential development as thousands of hospital workers seek housing nearby. Condominiums have started sprouting already near the hospitals, and close to the métro stations and train stations that serve them. Private medical clinics, for locals and foreigners alike, will be built around and even in hospitals, as the cash-strapped government off-loads more services to the private sector for wealthier clients not willing, for example, to wait three years for a hip replacement.

 

The condominium boom, well underway in Montreal and reaching the saturation point, will continue, although at a slower pace. Montreal is on the verge of a condo crash, Friedman predicted, part of the normal ebb and flow of residential construction that regenerates every five years.

 

“You will hear about bankruptcies, about people going under, all sorts of bad stories. This is common. Then there will be a burst of energy and another wave.”

 

Condominium developers will start incorporating more family-friendly features like larger units, terrace gardens and parks on their properties. Condo towers with shops and restaurants on the ground floor will become more common, as will the SOHO concept (Self-Office, Home Office) common in China, where residences are located on upper floors and small offices on lower floors, and people commute by elevator. Many boomers, liberated from their children and their jobs, will give up their suburban homes to live closer to services and entertainment and downtown. Their influx will spur elderly-friendly changes seen in other cities, such as automatic doors at unwieldy metro entrances. Métro stations will become poles of residential development, followed closely by commercial properties to serve the influx of people.

 

Suburbs like the West Island will see more low-level condominiums of four to six storeys, and available land between municipalities will be slowly colonized, making for one continuous metropolis.

 

The densification, with housing projects like those in Griffintown bringing tens of thousands of residents into the downtown core, will result in an even more active and vibrant city, with offshoots of more shops, restaurants, services and life downtown. Neighbourhoods like St-Henri, Rosemont and Park Extension, relatively close to downtown and well-served by public transit, will be the next regions to see a slow gentrification, Friedman predicted.

 

In a sense, we will mirror Toronto’s growth, but on a smaller scale and with a Montreal twist.

 

“In 20 years, downtown Montreal will be populated by many more people who will bring their flavour, their lifestyle and their unique Montreal brand, with things like after-hours clubs, which is not Toronto,” Friedman said. “This is a fun city, with restaurants and pubs and clubs. I believe it will be a fun place.”

 

Friedman sees Montreal’s four major universities and an increase in immigration quotas to make up for low birthrates as other major drivers of change, with immigrants coming from burgeoning regions like Asia and Latin America and settling in the north and east of the city. Already, roughly 10 per cent of the students in Friedman’s bachelor’s-level architecture classes are from mainland China. Montreal needs to do more to attract the droves of computer engineers from places like China, India and Pakistan who currently see California as their first choice. And tourism, with the many jobs it brings, will be Montreal’s bread and butter.

 

At this phase in its history, Friedman sees Montreal as a city bogged down by the sins of its past, fixated on corruption and mismanagement and with no sense of a grand vision coming from city hall. Things will get more difficult from an economic standpoint, and “poorer cities do nothing. If you have wealth, you can change things,” he said, pointing to bike and public-transit friendly European cities like Copenhagen, Helsinki, Amsterdam and Berlin as examples.

 

There is hope for Montreal’s future, Friedman said. It is articulated in the plethora of condominium towers and cranes on its skyline, in Montreal’s reputation for its joie-de-vivre attitude, open-mindedness and its artistic energy, a magnet for the young, adventurous and creative.

 

But the hope is tempered with this caveat: the successful cities that Friedman has observed, are those whose citizens are willing to enforce change, as opposed to hoping city councillors will do it for them.

 

“Do-it-yourself cities are the successful cities. We have to ask ourselves ‘Are we a forwards city, or a backwards one?’ ”

 

Developments already underway provide an indication of the answer.

 

“The densification of the core we’re seeing here will bring life,” he said, gazing up at the condominium towers growing like mighty redwoods of metal and glass in Griffintown. “This city will be a hopping place.”

 

[email protected]

 

© Copyright © The Montreal Gazette

 

 

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/Urban+shift+reshaping+Montreal/8071854/story.html#ixzz2N4KKhs5C

 

 

Neighbourhoods in transition

 

The southern reaches of St. Laurent Blvd. are slated for a renaissance as part of the Quartier des spectacles development.

Photograph by: Pierre Obendrauf , The Gazette

McGill architecture professor Avi Friedman offers his glimpse of the future of Montreal and predictions of how demographic shifts will reshape five city neighbourhoods by 2033:

 

St-Henri

Give it about 20 years, Friedman said, and St-Henri will become the new Plateau Mont-Royal, home to artists, bohemians and fine restaurants, as well as higher rents and housing prices.

 

The trend is already well-established just east of the Lionel-Groulx métro station on Notre Dame St., where popular and pricey restos like Joe Beef and Liverpool House rub shoulders with new pubs and artists’ studios. The creep westward is visible along St. Jacques St. in the guise of more new restaurants, higher-end food stores, artists’ ateliers and loft-type condos springing up everywhere for prices starting at $197,000 (although Friedman warned the lowest-priced condo advertised normally means one on the ground floor with no view).

 

“It has the makeup that artists like, and it’s cheap: beautiful buildings, city life, full of restaurants. … It will take time, but look at the Plateau — it was not in demand for a long time. It took 20 years to make it into one of the nicest neighbourhoods in North America. … Artists are extremely important — they are the ones who generate new industries, open businesses. They bring authenticity and charm to neighbourhoods.”

 

Griffintown

 

To see the future of Griffintown, presently a slightly dilapidated mix of parking lots, row houses and old factories located around where Peel St. ends in the south near the Lachine Canal, requires looking a few blocks east to where Wellington St. meets the Bonaventure Expressway.

 

Once an abandoned wasteland of empty factories and concrete overpasses, where one would hesitate to walk at night, it’s home to modernist condo towers offering minimalist living quarters for the up and coming, with open-air terraces on the roof. Starting price: $199,000 for a 500-square-foot abode.

 

Shops and nice restaurants are moving in on the ground floor, and computer agencies and other high-tech startups are populating the former factories. Development puts pressure on the owners of parking lots and abandoned buildings, forcing them to sell, Friedman noted.

 

“This is how it begins, and we become a condo city, which is very positive. If you were to go to Cleveland or Baltimore, in a place like this you would be scared to drive at night. … When you see what is under construction here now and extrapolate what the impact will be in 20 years, it’s amazing. We are bringing 50,000 more people into the heart of downtown. Fifty-thousand. That’s Cornwall,” he said of the Ontario town 114 kilometres west of Montreal.

 

What worries Friedman is the lack of a master plan for the area, which he fears could result in Toronto-like neighbourhoods of unfeeling metal with few services or thoughts to green production.

 

St. Laurent Blvd. south of Ste. Catherine St.

Once the home of strip bars and drug addicts, the derelict southern reaches of St. Laurent, just above Chinatown, are slated for a renaissance as part of the one-square-kilometre Quartier des spectacles rebirth.

 

Targeting the tourist market through cultural charms is at the heart of what Friedman said will be one of the city’s main industries in the decades to come: tourism. Already adept at hosting some of the biggest festivals in the world every year, such as the jazz festival and Just for Laughs, as well as events like the annual Formula One race, Montreal needs to expand beyond the summer.

 

“We need to bring in more conferences, more action, more tourists — call it entertainment tourism that will double its capacity in 20 years. … This will be our next bread and butter.”

 

Tourism is a value-added industry that brings in money to several players — hotels, restaurants, museums, actors, artists and merchants. “It’s one of the industries everyone is dying to have, and that major cities like Amsterdam are promoting vigorously. We need to extend it to wintertime to make it a year-round proposition, just like every town in Switzerland has their winter carnival.

 

“The baby boom generation is about to retire and they are going to travel, and it’s going to be expensive travel.”

 

Mile End factory buildings

In the Mile End sector, near where St. Laurent Blvd. runs into Rosemont and dips under the train tracks, are a collection of monster buildings, ugly, squat and imposing. Some are 10 storeys high and stretch a block long by a block wide, and are holdovers from the days when textile was king and production factories hummed. The work has moved on, but the buildings remain, urban blights begging to be redeveloped into residences and artists’ studios.

 

Making them presentable on the outside is easier than it would seem, Freidman said. Adding balconies and other simple design features could erase their eyesore status.

 

“This will be a cool neighbourhood, when all these horrible buildings are converted,” Friedman said.

 

That change is coming, spurred by the location of the Laurier and Rosemont métro stations nearby as well as lively St. Laurent Blvd., the appearance of artists’ studios on the ground floors of some buildings, and the plethora of condominium complexes orbiting the monster buildings. Most are of the smaller variety, but Lofts de Gaspé is indicative of what might come. A four-storey converted factory, it features 31 units ranging in size from 1,500 to 2,400 square feet, with ceilings 12 to 14 feet high. Starting price is $419,000 and only a few remain.

 

“If people are willing to pay half a million, it is a testimony to the potential of the place. These are the signs you look for.”

 

Park Extension — Jean Talon St. near Park Ave.

It’s the daycares that tell the future of Park Extension for Friedman, along with dollar stores and restaurants with names like Angel, translated into Sanskrit. Once home to Jewish, Italian and especially Greek immigrant groups, it is populated mainly by Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis now, along with a smattering of Latin Americans and Haitians.

 

There are small jewelry boutiques, restaurants and dépanneurs catering to the southern Asian community. These places don’t cater to tourists, Friedman notes — it’s all about the local population living in the small duplexes and triplexes. These places are an indication of what will be the main source of population growth in Quebec — India, eastern Asia and Latin America.

 

Just over 250,000 people became permanent residents of Canada in 2010, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, with the Philippines, India and China the largest sources of immigrants. Quebec admitted just under 54,000 new permanent residents. Friedman predicted that number will rise to make up for a lower birthrate.

 

“The face of the city will be changing considerably over the next 20 years,” he said.

 

© Copyright © The Montreal Gazette

 

 

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/Neighbourhoods+transition/8071867/story.html#ixzz2N4KeNd1t

Edited by IluvMTL
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Quite interesting reads about how Montreal will be developing according to McGill architecture professor Avi Friedman. Never knew that St-Jacques west of Lionel-Groulx is starting to hop. On the other hand I also thought those Park EX buldings had lots of potential. I can also see a cool neighbourhood developing there.

Edited by IluvMTL
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Very interesting article to read where the writer goes deep into specific neighborhoods, blocks and local communities. He also seems very optimistic for Montreal except that he says the city will be poorer than today, which is not a good thing. He also says ''greyer'' which i'm not sure what he means but if it's about the general feel of the city, in terms of colour, I kinda of agree that there is too much grey as we need some colour, some extravaganza and some fantasy. Especially from november to april.

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Un bon article et une bonne analyse mais rien de nouveau. Qui connait bien Montréal aurait pu en dire autant. Ce sont davantage des tendances qui se dessinent selon la particularité des quartiers mentionnés. Quant à l'appauvrissement de la ville, c'est une opinion discutable qui se base sur les actions présentes, mais qui peut dire ce qui arrivera si une équipe dynamique prend le pouvoir? De toute façon, personne n'a vu venir le boom actuel, ni ne l'a prédit, et on parle ici de très court terme. Alors pour 20 ans, qui saura dire? Facile aussi de dire qu'il y aura des hauts et des bas, les voyantes ont le même langage.

 

Je ne veux pas discréditer personne, mais on comprendra que le développement d'une ville est une activité complexe, remplie d'impondérables, qui peuvent à terme grandement influencer sa destinée, dans un sens ou dans l'autre. L'important alors est de poursuivre les actions avec le plus de vision possible. Et de prendre des décisions qui favoriseront son enrichissement, tout en s'assurant d'avoir tous les outils nécessaires, y compris des transports aériens adéquats, qui combleront le besoin de croissance touristique et d'affaires.

 

Le tourisme sera sans aucun doute une des industries d'avenir parmi les plus génératrices de richesse, qui explosera avec le développement phénoménal des pays émergents. Il faudra alors s'assurer de bien drainer ce flot de visiteurs potentiels en leur facilitant l'accès direct à notre région. Je reviens sur le sujet parce que c'est un dossier majeur qu'on ne peut pas négliger, et que cela prend déjà un temps précieux pour implanter des routes viables et satisfaisantes sur le plan économique. Et qu'on ne vienne pas me dire que c'est secondaire. Toutes les villes qui souhaitent demeurer dans le peloton de tête, en tant que destination touristique de choix, ont le devoir de se positionner solidement dans les réseaux de transport aérien, si elles veulent sérieusement profiter de la manne touristique, véritable cadeau du ciel.

 

A mon tour je peux risquer une prédiction. Le statu-quo actuel est un frein qui nuit considérablement à notre élan et nous nous appauvrirons sûrement si on néglige effectivement la moindre solution à notre prospérité. Nous perdons déjà des sommes colossales en emplois et revenus de toutes sortes, parce que le développement aérien a un effet multiplicateur, et joue mal son rôle à Montréal. La Ville doit prendre un virage important et la prochaine équipe municipale doit être agressive, dynamique, visionnaire et déterminée a nous donner les moyens de nos ambitions. Le défi est grand mais la récompense encore plus grande, si on investit temps, énergie et argent là où ça compte vraiment.

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