Friday, September 03, 2010

Enhancing the Ambiance of Montreal: Street- and Metro-scapes

The Gaudi-designed benches and lamp posts decorating the Passeij Gracia in Barcelona not only contributed to the character and beauty of a major and elegant street, but made we wish we had similar streetscapes in Montreal.  For all of my complaining, Montreal is actually one of the most unique and vibrant cities in North America, has a remarkably vibrant street life, and deserves to honor and enhance it with art-quality streetscapes like in Barcelona.

In this case, Montreal has a good record already.  The entryway to the city and the Quartier Interionationale make strong visual statements at street level.  The recently remodeled Squares Dorchester and Victoria offer similar statements.  Even streets that are further off from the heart of the city have been revitalized, like rue Fleury in Ahunsic and rue Chabenel (currently under re-construction).

But can be done, partly because a city needs to constantly rework itself to maintain the interest of its citizens and visitors and partly because some areas need strong attention .

The area needing the strongest attention is the McGill Metro Station: the most widely used station in the city and a congregating spot for tourists.  The most polite description of the station is that if it were me, my mother would be commenting on my poor appearance.

Let’s not even mention the water stains and panhandlers.  The station looks like it was half re-modeled and someone never finished the job.  That’s partly the result of the fact that most of the retail in the station was remodeled to reflect the current “look” of the Metro, with lots of light and chrome, but the rest of the station was not.

It’s  bad enough that the color schemes clash (and that they recently repainted some of the columns in the station to heighten the clash), but with some of the older walls in the station hallways are torn up.

Montreal fancies itself a design city (we were even designated as such) but this station looks like a candidate for the public works version of “What Not to Wear.”  At the least, it looks shabby and bad but, at the most, it makes a lousy impression on visitors and citizens alike.

Beyond fixing the problems at the McGill station, the Metro has broader issues to address:

  • The Metro has several visual identities, especially for the STM itself.  It needs to pick one and upgrade all of the signage to match.
  • If the Metro wants to raise funds, it might start by installing vending machines for food, drinks, newspapers, and even everyday supplies.  On the one hand, they might compete with the convenience stores, but most of them keep such limited hours that vending machines offer added convenience.  The Istanbul and Tokyo systems, among others, offer these vending machines.  
  • Although we have no idea when the new Metro cars will come into service, perhaps they will be able to report time and temperature, as well as information about the next stop.  The Istanbul and Hong Kong systems, among others, provide this enhanced level of information on  the trains.  

Beyond fixing this problem station, the city might consider taking a Quartier International  approach to the streetscapes of the three four most prominent streets:  rue St.-Denis between de Maisonneuve and St. Joseph, de Maisonneuve between Berri and Atwater, Ste-Catherine between de Lormier and Atwater, and Rene Levesque, between de Lormier and Atwater.

Each of these streets carries much pedestrian and, in the cases of St.-Denis and Rene Levesque, auto traffic.  Enhancing the streetscapes could add to the characters of these streets and, in the cases of the first three, contribute to improved retail business, especially along de Maisonneuve, whose role as a major retail street does not immediately come to mind.

Under ideal circumstances, the streets might be widened but that’s not realistic.  At the least, the sidewalks might be widened.

On those widened streets, the city might install unique benches and street lights, as well as clearly visible—though distinctively designed—street signs.  Hold competitions for emerging artists and designers; use the designs of the winners and display the designs of all the finalists.
Next set of suggestions: Improving Retail in Montreal (Especially Retail Owned by HBC)

1 comment:

dwprice said...

How do you think a design upgrade on the Metro, for instance, might address some of the mugging issues reported earlier in the year?

While police presence certainly helps, what design changes do you think might improve security in the system without requiring constant patrols?

I think of Jane Jacobs and her concept of communities (ie. multipurpose communities are safer, encouraging lots of people to be around all the time)