Public spaces II - Bulldozing the Bonaventure

By Alan Hustak on July 22, 2010

The plans to bulldoze the Bonaventure expressway and replace it  with a ground level  boulevard, for example, have gone back to the drawing board.  The Office de consultation publique de montréal  was right  to doubt the wisdom of the entire $260-million redevelopment scheme initially  proposed by the  Societe du Havre de Montreal,  and to recommend a second  look at the whole idea. 

The people at City Hall responsible for the ambitious project might learn a thing or two from Boston’s experience. 

Boston, like Montreal, decided to remove 2.4 km of an old elevated  freeway  and turn it into public parkland.  The Rose Fitzgerald  Kennedy Greenway was dedicated in 2004 but because of delays and cost over-runs it wasn’t completed until 2008. Since it opened its landscaped parks,  plaza’s and promenades have remained underutilized by the public, and once promising projects designed to bring it to life,  have been abandoned.   

Autoroute_Bonaventure.jpgGet it wrong, like they did in Boston, and  Montreal  will  end up with a no-man’s land that wrenches neighbourhoods  apart  instead of an attractive pedestrian-friendly streetscape designed to stitch them together.  Unlike,  Boston  however, planners in Montreal still have to work around the elevated train tracks  and, as well, will have to contend with the Dalhousie rapid transportation corridor.  “Given the presence of the train tracks, and given the little quality of land on either side of the highway or on the boulevard that would replace it, it is not easy to create an interesting, well used environment,”  notes  Raphael Fischler,  Director of the McGill Engineering School of Urban Planning.  ”There is no way we can restore  G riffintown to its earlier 20th century morphology. We have to see how we can improve the situation while keeping the elevated highway in place, or create a real urban boulevard flanked by a more modest amount of development that initially proposed.”

According to Mayor Gerald Tremblay, the city needs to tear down the expressway because (a) it’s an eyesore, and (b) it would cost taxpayers $60-million to repair, and (c) demolishing it opens up $600-million worth of real estate  that would enhance the value of the property in the Quartier International. 

The section of the Bonaventure that  will come down  divides two  neighbourhoods -  the old Faubourg Recollects,  which was once a rundown industrial area to the east, and  Griffintown,  a dilapidated area  to the west.   Stilil, one has to question the wisdom of tearing up what was once a expressway and turning its eight lanes into a  highway and a strip of high rise condos  No one appears to be taking  into account  the rapid transit or railway infrastructure in the immediate area.  Has anyone bothered to ask whether  private developers have  any interest in the land that borders the expressway property.   If the Bonaventure  must be developed, and that’s an important if, creativity is required.  It would be short sighted to force-feed super-sized apartment blocks and run transit buses along a series of  oversized ,  shapless spaces that no one would want to visit.  As Jane Jacobs so often told us, people are what make a public space great.  A sense of scale is essential.  The area  could be, with some difficulty,  converted into a series of small, tight-knit communities of elegant mews or écuries like the Washington Mews in New York`s Greenwich Village.  Add to the mix infill low rental housing, low rise apartment blocks four to eight stories   and mixed use development  intertwined with a new public market and cultural facilities all of which could provide rental  income for the city and at the same time  add density and a new vibrancy  to the city below the city.  

The last thing Montreal  needs is an unattractive serpentine corridor  at ground level  that merely duplicates the footprint of the elevated concrete  artery  that it plans to demolish.


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