the idea: pick out things from these photos that you find interesting and comment from a planning/design/architecture perspective. what makes a good urban main street? how can a city make streets bustling and vibrant through planning and design? what are the elements -- both tangible and ephemeral -- that make a street great?
this is a tour of sainte-catherine street in montreal. these photos were taken over the past 1.5 years (with a few older photos, too). i've arranged them to resemble an extremely long walk from ste-catherine's western beginnings to its eastern end. that said, it is by no means a comprehensive tour, as it leaves out some notable intersections and a couple of significant chunks.
i've combined photos of the built environment with people shots to give you a good feel of what kind of people go to ste-catherine and how the street is used.
we start in lower westmount, an affluent, predominantly english-speaking neighbourhood with lots of families. here ste-catherine is lined by apartment buildings and victorian triplexes and rowhouses. there is a smattering of commerce.
towards greene avenue, a posh commercial street, ste-catherine takes on a more commercial character.
looking up atwater street from ste-catherine, the border between westmount and downtown montreal. on the left is a mall/office/condo complex developed between the 1960s and 80s with a metro station underneath; on the right is the old forum, which was transformed into a gaudy entertainment complex with a big-box electronics store, a giant cinema and some other retail outlets.
the neighbourhood between atwater and guy streets is dominated by postwar slab apartment towers and more elegant prewar buildings. there are a lot of chinese and arab students who live around here, being adjacent to concordia university.
ste-catherine and guy, which is the quickly becoming the centre of a rapidly-developing concordia campus. (concordia has about 30,000 students.)
nearing crescent street, we pass through a large nightlife/hotel/bar distrinct and into the main downtown stretch of ste-catherine. in the late 19th century, this was part of the "golden square mile," an uptown district dominated by montreal's anglo-protestant elite. around the turn of the century, a full three-quarters of canada's wealth was located in this neighbourhood.
the intersection of peel and ste-catherine has the most pedestrian traffic in montreal. in the late 19th century, montreal's big department stores moved up the hill to ste-catherine street, prompting a shift in the city's retail heart from the victoria square area to this part of town. in the 1930s, many offices moved uptown to ste-catherine and peel. the construction of place ville-marie in the 1960s solidified this area's role as the central business district of montreal, although old montreal and victoria square still have a significant amount of offices.
ste-catherine and mcgill college. mcgill college was originally a narrow residential street. after postwar devastation -- the city's most elaborate synagogue and many of the street's best homes were bulldozed for parking lots -- the street was transformed into a pomo urban boulevard in the 1980s. it's pretty but a bit substanceless.
on the left you see the eaton centre, which opened in 1988 as a spate of downtown malls clustered around mcgill college. after the opening of the metro in 1966, many new downtown retail and office complexes were built with direct connections to the metro, resulting in the completely haphazard yet famous "underground city." the newest mall is the les ailes complex in the distance, built in the former eaton's department store.
strip clubs are in abundance on ste-catherine's main retail strip. they exist alongside (or rather, above) chain stores such as the gap and aldo.
phillip's square is where downtown's move up the hill began in the 1870s, with the construction of morgan's department store (now the bay) and birk's jewellers. a few years ago a local developer mused about turning this into the "times square of montreal" (or maybe that would be the dundas square of montreal)?
in warmer weather, vendors set up along ste-catherine. unfortunately, food vending is prohibited, thanks to a fussy and autocratic mayor in the 60s. recent attempts to overturn the by-law have been met with stiff resistance from restaurant owners.
newspaper stands are also absent from the streets of montreal, and it's not because it's too cold. a documentary made about downtown montreal in the 1960s showed many new york-style newspaper stands.
this section of the street is dominated by small shops, including concentrations of hip-hop accessory stores, high-end audio equipment stores (as well as a big-box future shop). the building at left was originally a sweatshop; now it's full of art studios and galleries.
at the corner of bleury is musiqueplus, the french version of muchmusic.
descending down the hill from bleury, hints of the seedier section of the street ahead.
place-des-arts was built in the 1960s and is the site of many festivals.
the desjardins office, hotel and mall complex is unfortunately hideous.
this is where this tour grows really weak: i can't find any decent photos of the red light district. it's a slightly rundown area with a lot of bars, strip clubs and porn theatres. it's also, however, home to UQAM, a major university with more than 30,000 students, and a number of new condos, theatres/live music/arts venues and a big housing project.
after having skipped UQAM completely (sorry!) we're at the corner of ste-cat and berri, with an entrance to the city' s busiest metro station at right and the archambault music shop at left. behind us is a large public square and yet another hotel/office/mall complex.
east of berri street is the gay village, one of the three largest concentrations of bars and nightclubs in the city. in one of my urban geography textbooks there was a study done of the gay village which revealed that, in the census tracts immediately adjacent to ste-catherine street, between half and three-quarters of all inhabitants were men.
it's a very bustling area but, like the red light district, i just don't have many photos i'm happy with. a new project for the summer, i guess.
okay, so we've passed under the jacques-cartier bridge into the sainte-marie neighbourhood. this is where ste-catherine goes downhill quickly. the entire neighbourhood was the victim of postwar urban renewal and traffic engineering projects. there remaining residential areas are gorgeous but very poor. there's a lot of gentrification going on, though, including a huge new condo project immediately behind where this photo was taken, but on the whole this stretch of ste-catherine is just dead.
the retail space here is mostly vacant or occupied by offices and, strangely enough, chic restaurants.
okay, big transition here. a few blocks east of the previous photo, ste-catherine turns into a viaduct and passes over a large railyard. it emerges in the neighbourhood of hochelaga-maisonneuve, a great, largely working-class-but-gentrifying area that is as french-speaking as westmount is english. in the late 90s, about 25% of the storefronts on this stretch of ste-catherine were vacant, but that is slowly improving as it turns into a hub for artists and hipsters. this area feels very isolated.
the end. discuss!