Le Quartier des Spectacles

By P.A. Sévigny on May 15, 2008

So what about the toilets?

That was just one of the questions asked of the Ville-Marie urban planning commission during last week’s public consultation meeting. While others asked the usual questions about parking and subsidized housing for artists, more than a few conversations held after the meeting wandered back to the borough’s obvious toilet problem.


After almost 30 years of assorted street festivals on the streets of the downtown core, both city and borough planners have finally realized tourism has become big business for the city. After several years of benign neglect, the city’s downtown core is about to get a desperately needed facelift as plans are being drawn up for the much discussed Quartier des Spectacles.


While city officials continue to discuss how previous experience has taught them and the police how to deal with the massive crowds pouring into the area during the city’s summer festival season, more than a few questions were posed about the plans required to create and maintain a coherent and distinctive urban landscape for the downtown core. Even as Anne-Marie Jean, the director of Culture Montreal, approves and agrees the city is doing the right thing with its Quartier des Spectacles, she also believes the project lacks a “a common vision” required to ensure its aesthetic viability. More to the point, city planners are being asked to provide quick and easy answers to problems for which there are no easy answers. As they already know about the multiple thousands of people who pour into the district every night, questions about the city’s working infrastructure rapidly come to mind. As usual, parking issues dominate such discussions and city officials can only hope people will have the good sense to use public transport. However, borough councillor Karim Boulos did mention how local developers were thinking of converting the massive parking lot facing Phillips Square into a multi-storey parking complex.


“As long as they put up a decent façade, that might work,” he said.


On the west side of Jeanne Mance Street, plywood barriers have already gone up around the site of the OSM’s (Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal) new concert hall. To the south, workers are set to begin the renovation in the old Balmoral building. To the west, city housing activist Louise Lanctôt believes the empty Wilder building could easily be turned into an artist’s co-op which would ensure their continued presence and on-going production in the district.


“The Wilder building provides both the city and the province with the perfect opportunity for this kind of project,” she said


Other questions were raised about the emerging importance of St. Lawrence Boulevard as a north-south axis as well as what measures would be taken to avoid the social and criminal decrepitude as seen in the Emilie Gamelin park only a few blocks away. Borough councillor Karim Boulos was firm, yet polite as he ran the evening’s meeting. Even as he made sure everybody had their chance to be heard, the borough’s public consultation took only three hours. The file will now be sent to city hall for its final approval by the city’s municipal council.


As borough residents began to leave, many stepped outside to have a smoke before going home. While many were pleased with what they heard, others were still concerned about one of the big questions raised at the meeting.


“So what about the toilets?


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