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Thread: Ste-Catherine St., Montreal: an urban Main Street case study (broadband required!!)

  1. #1

    Ste-Catherine St., Montreal: an urban Main Street case study (broadband required!!)

    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.

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    --

    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!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    If you ignore the French signs, Montreal looks like an undamaged American city. Because itís mostly intact it ranks very high among North American cities. It has plenty of street life --a function of streetwall continuity, plenty of universities, and train transport.

    But by European standards it sure is ugly. Itís even pretty scrappy compared to New York, Boston, San Francisco and Washington. Still, it seems like a lively and livable place with plenty to do. Just goes to show that looks arenít everything.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    I'm glad to see the photos are here now... I checked yesterday and was unable to view them.

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    Haussmann was on to something

    When comparing the streetscapes of Paris (forum link "Streetwalls of Paris" 2005-04-01) to the streetscapes of Montreal, Paris looks so much more coherant and aesthetically pleasing. I think Georges Eugene Haussmann (1809-91) was realy on to something when he was designing Paris.

    The biggest difference I noticed was the number of cars -- the streets of Montreal were packed solid with cars, while Paris had relativly few. What does Paris do that Montreal doesn't (or what does Montreal do that Paris doesn't)? Is it the uniform medium-high density across the city, the wider sidewalks, the 'bus only' lanes?

    On the other hand, the streets of Montreal were much more alive with pedestrians. Perhaps it was the spacific locations the pictures were taken, but nonetheless, the vibrancy of Montreal's streets was notable.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Whenever I see photos of Montreal I get a very strange sense of the city. I have never been there and very much want to visit. The entire place seems so hodgepodge. The people may be a coherent force, but the form of the city sure is disjointed in its own special way (as opposed to say, suburban disjointedness).

    I'm having trouble describing what I mean, clearly. It's just a strange feeling.

    On the other hand, the streets of Montreal were much more alive with pedestrians. Perhaps it was the spacific locations the pictures were taken, but nonetheless, the vibrancy of Montreal's streets was notable.
    This is exactly it. Despite what I attempt to describe above, the people are vibrant.

  6. #6
    actually, i'd say that montreal as a whole has a very cohesive urban form. much of the urban residential landscape is dominated by triplexes that look similar whether you're in verdun, little italy or hochelga-maisonneuve. the neighbourhood commercial architecture is usually quite similar from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, too.

    but ste-catherine is a street of transition. it has been the city's major retail street for more than a century, but it hasn't always been downtown. various parts of it were residential, some were commercial/industrial, others more institutional. two other main streets that seem similar are yonge in toronto and market in san francisco.

  7. #7
    The biggest difference I noticed was the number of cars -- the streets of Montreal were packed solid with cars, while Paris had relativly few. What does Paris do that Montreal doesn't (or what does Montreal do that Paris doesn't)? Is it the uniform medium-high density across the city, the wider sidewalks, the 'bus only' lanes?
    it seemed like a lot of ablarc's photos were taken in the morning. from my experience in paris, both vehicular and pedestrian traffic was extremely heavy throughout the intra-muros city, certainly heavier than most north american cities.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by christopher dewolf
    it seemed like a lot of ablarc's photos were taken in the morning. from my experience in paris, both vehicular and pedestrian traffic was extremely heavy throughout the intra-muros city, certainly heavier than most north american cities.
    That's right, Chris; and Sunday morning at that.

    Some architectural photographers wait until there aren't many people around, so photos aren't really strong evidence of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. I know you, by contrast, revel in getting as many people in your pictures as you can. The result is pretty lively.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally posted by JVeltkamp
    The biggest difference I noticed was the number of cars -- the streets of Montreal were packed solid with cars, while Paris had relativly few. What does Paris do that Montreal doesn't (or what does Montreal do that Paris doesn't)? Is it the uniform medium-high density across the city, the wider sidewalks, the 'bus only' lanes?.
    From the point fo view of a parisian like me who have lived 23 years in Paris, I think that Paris is less car-friendly than any american city, especially since we have elected a left-wing mayor (Delanoe). Bus-only lanes, lanes for bycicles, less lanes for cars,"zone 30" (speed limit of 30km/h), new public transport modes (tramway), etc..

    This is a deliberate politic to reduce the vehicle traffic inside the city and encourage the use of public transport and bycicles, which can be found in a lot of other european cities. This is not only an answer for environmental issues, but also the aim is to make the city more lively.

    The fact that Paris is a small city compared to american standard with a pretty good public transport system helps too.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Welcome, Edouard; good to have someone from France.

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