Bienvenue to Montreal
Last week our office had the opportunity to travel to Montreal for some business and fun. The trip was sponsored by Schluter Systems. If you are not familiar with this company, we would encourage you to check them out. We highlighted a few of the neat products we learned about in a recent post. Before and after the classes and workshops, we found time to explore the french & english speaking city.
Montreal: A City on the Island
The first impression of Montreal can be described in one word: unique. From the plane, we immediately recognized that the city is on a big island in-between portions of the St. Lawrence River. The city has a wonderful mixture of old and new buildings that are connected by bike lanes, wide sidewalks, and various mass transit systems. To top it off, everything is in French, which is pretty amazing since it is only a few hours away.
A visit to the Habitat ’67 residences provided a unique perspective on the idea of living. Designed by Moshe Safdie for the Expo ’67, the structure utilizes a concept of modular concrete cubes to create a high-density residential complex. The units themselves were simple and perhaps, haven’t quite aced the test of time; however, the pedestrian links, stairs, gardens, and all the other spaces in between created amazing view corridors and micro-environments. The architecture was most expressive when attempting to navigate from one side of the structure to the other. In some cases, it felt like you walked into an M.C. Escher painting.
Our days were pretty full with scheduled classes with Schluter Systems, so I did my best to explore the city in the morning with a jog. I can’t speak for other times of the year, but Montreal in September is the ideal time to explore the city on foot. I was up and out on the sidewalk around 06:10 each morning and gathered some first hand insight to the city:
- Trash day in Montreal is Monday. My normal runs are through residential areas of Asheville or UNCA, so I quickly picked up on the unique odor. I decided to take a deep breath, and did my best to appreciate participation in the by-product of a metropolitan necessity. Montreal is the 8th largest city in North America and is home to 3.8 million people-so that’s a good bit of garbage smell.
- There is diversity in scale and style of the buildings in Montreal. I’m by no means a quick runner, so my jaunts were limited to 30 minutes before I had to get back to the hotel. One morning I went west, and found myself running around Old Montreal. The streets are narrow and many are cobbled. The buildings are older and have retail or dining on the first floor. It’s a great feel! Another morning I headed south from the hotel and found myself around lots of high-rises.
- The parks made me jealous. There were portions of city blocks dedicated to tree-filled parks. I didn’t see many people using these this early in the morning, but have no doubt they’d be a great place once the sun is up.
- Montreal-ites (or is it Mont-realists?) are bike riders. The city has BIXI; a bike share program. In the parts of the city we visited, there were rarely any bikes available to use; I think that’s a sign the program is doing well. I noticed on my morning runs that lots of people were riding their personal bikes to work. The landscape of downtown is not too hilly and there are amazing paths along the river and major roads. While I am not a bike rider, I got the sense I could more easily become one in Montreal than in Asheville. It felt like there were less obstacles (i.e.: hills) and friendlier bike paths.
- Montreal doesn’t just have parks-it has parklets. If you’ve never heard the term, a parklet is a tiny park or extension of the sidewalk that fills up what was a parking space.Last year, we spent some time working with the dedicated people of OPEN Asheville testing the viability of bringing a full-time parklet to Asheville. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to fruition, but Montreal gives me hope that there will one day be a place for a parklet.
Overall, I enjoyed experiencing Montreal in the quiet morning, or as quiet as a large city can be. I like how small a person feels in the negative space pushed against a density of buildings in big cities. I liked that the blocks that were long enough to get some momentum before having to stop at a red light to cross. I like seeing parks that make me jealous, only to then realize I could find more green space that I’d know what to do with just 10 minutes from my house. Like many a northern places I love, they are so wonderful..as long as I can avoid the cold wind of winter!
Despite the time constraint I was able to experience two out of the many districts that make up Montreal and I hope to return to fully experience the city.
In many ways Montreal is not unlike any other major North American city I have visited in terms of population, activity and traffic. What sets Montreal apart is its age and French heritage. Founded in the 1640’s by the French and also having a long history with the British gives Montreal a unique culture that is evident in its people and architecture.
Old Montreal is the city’s historic core and my first impression of the city (our hotel was there). Many of Montreal’s historic land marks are located here including the Notre-Dame Basilica and City Hall. Old Montreal is the most European feeling area of the city i was able to visit. Its narrow streets, public squares and gothic architecture made me forget I was in Canada. Old Montreal is also home to storefront after storefront of what appeared to be the exact same tourist store, selling the exact same stuff. Despite its reputation as a tourist trap, it is still a beautiful area of the city.
Downtown Montreal is home to its financial center. Downtown is a mix of modern skyscrapers and historic structures. It is also home to the Bell Center and The Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame. Being a huge hockey fan, I had to visit it even though it was pretty hard setting foot in there being a Tampa Bay Lightning fan. No matter what team you root for or even if you don’t care about hockey, it is a pretty impressive, well designed museum.
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