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Will all this development cannibalize Montreal's soul?


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Josh Freed: Will all this development cannibalize Montreal's soul?

Our new success is wonderful but worrisome, exciting but unpredictable. Are city hall or Quebec City ready for it?


Updated: August 31, 2019



Is Montreal getting too successful for its own good?


For many years we were the City Development Forgot, a referendum-traumatized town with a battered economy, that compensated by … partying!

Office towers were half-empty, but cafés were full. Downtown was littered with vacant lots, so festivals took over. Construction cranes were as rare as whooping cranes, so housing was cheap.

Too many people didn’t have work, but every day felt like TGIF. We were known as a “beautiful loser”: Slackertown, North America.

Yet today everywhere you look the cranes are flying — building new office towers, condos, shopping centres, bridges, train lines and more, in an orgy of construction.

There are routine 2019 headlines like “Montreal poised to overtake Vancouver as Canada’s second-largest housing market.”

Our downtown skyline is filling in quickly after decades of being a freeze-frame. Slackertown is becoming boomtown. It’s terrific to see, but it poses real challenges, too.

For starters, Montreal’s festival fervour was born in a town with loads of space and time for festivities. While other cities talked real estate, we talked festival dates.

But as cranes invade Montreal, can our party town thrive? Downtown’s empty spaces have largely vanished, but success is crowding out our festivals.

The jazz fest used to occupy a million square feet. Festival bosses said this year it’s now it’s half that.

The new NFB building with its slash of red is gorgeous, but it’s helped displace the wonderful old Latin music stage on Bleury St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd.

The huge stage on Ste-Catherine and Jeanne-Mance Sts. is gone, too. Meanwhile, at this year’s comedy fest, the fabulous international food court was squeezed out of its Clark St. and Ste-Catherine St. home by a new city hall development.

Festival bosses warn so much success is harming, not helping them. The booming condos and restaurants around the Quartier des Spectacles have reduced their food sales and operating funds.

Thank God we froze the Quartier itself or the whole area would be a Disney-themed megamall.

The good news is the Jazz Festival spread its wings to Verdun this summer, closing part of Wellington St. for a big stage and funky food court. It was a hoot, a cross between jazz fest and a neighbourhood jamboree.

Is this the festival’s future, with concerts spread out from a downtown blues stage — Paris crooners in the Plateau and world beat in Park-Ex — while comedy fest shows happen at busy traffic intersections?

You see the same double-edged success in housing, where condo fever is sizzling. Rising values are great for home-owners, but tough on first-time buyers — also renters seeking cheap flats.

Foreign buyers priced out of Toronto and Vancouver are flooding here, as real estate signs containing Chinese pop up in Westmount.

Meanwhile, Décarie Blvd near Jean-Talon St. looks like the Wild West, with new condos sprouting everywhere — and various shopping plazas being discussed. Who will fill all these new developments?

It won’t be all the desperately-needed new immigrants and employees Premier François Legault isn’t letting in. There’s a “help wanted” sign on every second Montreal restaurant.

Don’t forget the looming Royalmount mega-project that could become the Mall That Ate Montreal.

Where will all the added traffic go? It’s already exploding as more employed people can afford more cars — and armies of Foodora and Amazon delivery cars roam our coned streets.

The provincial government seems keen on building more highways, which will lead to more condos, which lead to more highways and sprawl.

Help! Stop the car! I want to get off.

What we really need is more mass transit to serve this boom: more métros, light rail, monorails — maybe even people-carrying drones — or in 10 years we’ll be nostalgic for today’s construction traffic.

We need more affordable housing to keep our wonderfully mixed downtown.

But when will we build it all? The REM’s electric trains will help, whenever they’re actually completed and Quebec is “studying” two possible tramways, but we needed that forgotten Pink Line yesterday.

Tourism is also having a near-record year, Tourism Montreal says. Downtown is so packed with visitors, they’re crowding out locals. Will we become the next Venice, as our widened sidewalks crumble under mass numbers of feet?

Our new success is wonderful but worrisome, exciting but unpredictable. Are city hall or Quebec City ready for it?

It’s great to see more Montrealers working and wages rising, but everyone has three jobs in the gig economy and less free time. We’re spending more hours online and fewer filling our streets.

What do we want, Montrealers: Success or fun? Affluence or affordability? Humongous or human?

Other cities were mauled by development while we were frozen in time. Now that we’re unfrozen, will we become a city like the others? Or can we overcome our success and somehow transform our beautiful loser into a beautiful winner?

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31 minutes ago, AZ199 said:

Ahahah they're just trying to survive by publishing BS articles

In case you weren't aware Josh Freed has a certain style. He is more of a city lifestyle writer with humorous slant, borrowing on a little exaggeration of the 'facts' . So not to be taken too seriously. Most papers/media have such writers on staff. Freed also does video bits for CBC. You have to take his musings  with a bit of salt. That being said, what specifically don't you agree with?

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7 minutes ago, MtlMan said:

Quand on est rendu à se demander si notre succès est trop fort, c'est pcq on a un très heureux problème (de riche). 😎

Right! I think that is what the underlying message is. Quite positive  for those who know how to read him. ''On pete les bretelles''

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il y a 6 minutes, IluvMTL a dit :

Right! I think that is what the underlying message is. Quite positive  for those who know how to read him. ''On pete les bretelles''

Cela dit, il pose qq bonnes questions : on veux-tu ressembler copie-collée aux autres villes? Ne devrait-on pas penser à éviter certains désavantages vécus par les autres? Tsé, en réalité, il faut que l'on considère notre arrivée tardive dans le club sélect comme une opportunité (une avance) pour avoir un développement encore meilleur que les autres! On ne veut pas perdre cette extraordinaire spécificité des festivals accessibles à tous en plein c-v! On ne veut pas que nos artistes les plus créatifs soient expatriés de plus en plus loin à la périphérie, qui sait jusqu'à Laval un jour! Montréal y perdrait.

C'est le temps de réunir tout le monde, élus milieu des affaires, social, artistiques, pour convenir ensemble d'une marche à suivre. Et ce sans ostraciser les promoteurs, ni négliger l'importance d'un équilibre sain.

Bref, faut qu'on se parle pendant que c'est le temps.

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