The Art of Persuasion: Combatting Suburban Flight

proximite1.jpgLast September on this site, we mentioned the City of Montreal’s advertising efforts to stem the tide of people fleeing the island for the fool’s gold of the suburbs. It’s been eight months since then, and the city’s ads are still found all over Montreal.  But have they been effective?

The idea itself if a good one: sell Montrealers on the virtues of living on the island and counter the overwhelming pressure on young people to find cheap property in far-flung places around the metropolis.  The City of Montreal’s goals seem to include increasing the density of the downtown core for the benefit of sustainable transport, accommodations, and commerce, as well as, less altruistically, to regain some of its tax revenue lost to the suburbs.

In my mind, selling the virtues of living close to the downtown core of Montreal might be the easiest advertising job in the world, but I am heavily biased by my unconditional love for living in the Plateau.  Still, objective advantages to living on the island are bountiful, including lower transportation costs, reduced commuting times,  mixed-use communities that are walk friendly, immediate access to arts and entertainment, and close contact with the vast majority of Montreal’s historical, cultural, and geographic patrimony.

 The City’s ads have done an admirable job of attempting to convey some of these advantages, but I still have to wonder whether they’ve missed their mark.


Ads like the one above could be less ambiguous, and I wonder if aiming for “high-concept” was a smart choice for a demographic that moves to the suburbs for extra space, safety, and lower property costs.  I’m no advertising expert, but I don’t think this ad quite screams: “Stay on the island and your reduced transportation costs will more than make up for any higher property costs”.

I would keep it simple, and hit Montrealers at their Achilles heel: their civic pride.  Instead of a a high-brow comment on the quality of life around the island, the City of Montreal should be treating this much like they would an ad for tourism in Montreal.  Evoke the most celebrated parts of Montreal and make it clear that it IS an affordable option for anyone to live in these areas.  I can’t count the number of young Montrealers who cling to the myth that it is too expensive to live anywhere on the island.  The City comes closest to breaking this myth with the following two ads:


This one above may be the most effective of all the ads, because it evokes Montreal’s distinct architectural heritage while making it clear that there are options on the island for every demographic. 


This second one above has the right idea in evoking civic pride, but it’s formulation is clumsy: are they suggesting that anyone with global ambition who leaves Montreal for another country or city has lost their claim to the title of “Montrealer”?  The ad should make it more clear that they are contrasting those who stay on the island of Montreal with those who are fleeing to the suburbs, not those who stay in Montreal all their life with those who leave for other cities. And why not use some more poignant Montreal imagery?

Finally, though I have been adopting it myself, I’m not sure that we want to establish a dichotomy between the “island” and “suburbs”. Nobody would deny that much of West Island is one large suburb.  Do we want to continue to encourage the type of development we see in the West Island?  I think the city needs to be more surgical in its campaign, and target its true goal: sustainable, dense development around the downtown core.  This kind of development should be contrasted against suburban sprawl, whether in be found in Laval or Pierrefonds.

What do you think: has this campaign be successful?  Should it be re-tooled? Or should the city focus instead on concrete policies, be they taxing, zoning, or otherwise, which encourages high-density, mixed-use development?


  1. “Nobody would deny that much of West Island is one large suburb. Do we want to continue to encourage the type of development we see in the West Island? ”

    The West Island isn’t Montréal (Flower). There was a bit of a discussion about this in 2003.

  2. Point taken. But what would you call Pierrefonds-Roxboro?

  3. I like the concept of these ads, but they look…. blah. Especially the first and last ones (above) – a bland, pukey-yellow-white background? Why not an aerial view of Mont-Royal overlooking downtown on an autumn day? Or some images of old cathedrals intermingling with skyscrapers downtown? Or some nice pictures of the Plateau? Kind of makes me want to stay more than an ad that looks like it comes straight from the 70s.

    newurbanshapes –

    Okay, so technically (and in the minds of most residents I assume) most parts of the West Island are separate municipalities. Still, in reality, most of the West Island remains a large suburb of Montreal. Separate administrative status does not change reality. Westmount is a separate city on paper, but that doesn’t mean it is not part of Montreal. You can’t claim something is or is not a part of a city based on administrative boundaries, but rather, you need to look at the relationship between the various areas.

  4. I’m not sold on this campaign, especially the one that says “Un Montréalais c’est quelqu’un qui reste à Montréal”. As I see it, these ads promote an exclusiveness to Montréal and does it in a snarky, holier-than-thou way. People who already agree with it will be all the more secure in their attitude, but I’m not sure that it will change the mind of people who are considering a move to the burbs.

    I’m all for encouraging people to stay in the core, but even the more positive elements of the campaign (“Il y a un Montréal pour chaque Montréalais”) seem abstract. As the article says, people move the suburban cities or boroughs for mostly practical reasons. I think that this kind of campaign needs to focus on the practical reasons to stay, like “Why cool your heels on a bridge for two hours a day?” and things of that nature.

  5. There’s a high concept to these ads that are preaching to the converted. The look is very urban and the delivery of the message is as well, which might not work with someone who has already taken the flight out to the suburbs. It takes a certain type to move to the suburbs and I think the imagery on these ads should have reflected that “type.” Also, I agree with the assertion that the ads should have really targeted downtown living: but then you would have had turf battles on the political level with outlying boroughs wondering why their money was being spent to encourage inner city living. This kind of message really needs to come from the boroughs themselves: Ville Marie and the Plateau should consider their own campaigns, if they have the money.

  6. Personally I found that this campaign was insulting:
    “A Montrealer is someone who stays in Montréal?”
    “A Montreal for each Montrealer?”

    So show me how, on a good salary, one can afford to live in Montréal? The only areas I know where one can have a house with a garden are around Westmount and Outremont and there we are talking at least $800 000 for a house. Contrast that to what you can have for $300 000 just over the bridge in Brossard or on the West Island.

    Who can afford to live in Montréal?

    Of course, we could live in a condo – we did try with the two children for four months. The kids weren’t happy, the neighbours weren’t happy. The proximity of parks and shops didn’t make up for the lack of space and having to keep the kids quiet.

    I would love the tetes pensants behind this campaign to give and example of how a family of two adults and two young chidlren could live in Montréal for $300 000.

  7. So where do “suburbs” begin, then? Is Lachine part of the west island? It is officially part of the City of Montreal, but it feels like a suburb. Lasalle/Verdun are more urban but segregated from Montreal proper by the canal.

    As you travel from the west island to downtown, going through Montreal West, NDG, and Westmount – where is the border between “suburb” and “city”?

  8. Je crois que c’est un échec, je n’ai jamais apprécié les campagnes publicitaires négatives.

    La campagne doit se concentrer sur les avantages de Montréal même, aller cherche une émotion de fierté autant pour ceux qui y habitent déjà que ceux qui pensent y habiter et qui sont montréalais dans l’âme. Sur ce, le dernier slogan avec la clôture est vraiment ridicule et honteuse…. la ville de Montréal doit encourager le sentiment d’appartenance de tous les gens qui aiment Montréal, qu’ils y paient leurs impôts foncier ou non.

    Est-ce que les gens sont vraiment influencés par ce genre de campagne? Ceux qui déménagent en ville ou qui la quittent, le font en général pour le mode de vie, certains recherchent l’action du centre, d’autres la tranquillité de la périphérie, et ce sans compter les préoccupations plus terre à terre (emplois, coûts d’habitation, emplacement des amis et familles, etc).

    Bref, cette campagne de persuasion n’as pas empêchée la population de la ville de Montréal de diminuer en 2008.

  9. There are a few more than just the ones shown here and I think they no longer run the “Comme deuxième voiture, pensez à un duplex” one. My favourites are the two right beside each other that I’ve only seen in the Berri-UQAM station that says (translated) “live on the South Shore, of Laval” and “live on the North Shore, of Longueuil”.

  10. …since I see tons of kids living in Montreal, and some of them obviously not too well-off, I assume it’s extremely possible to live in Montreal for $300 000 or considerably less. The first-floor condo next door to me — a 7 1/2, 3 bedrooms albeit one tiny, with a yard in the back that gives way to an alleyway and parking lot, is for sale at $279,000 if you’re interested, and you could just give me the left-over $11,000 as a finders fee :)

    Plus, there are tons of kids in the Habitations Jeanne-Mance across the street, playing and making wonderful noise in the basketball courts or the swimming pool in the summer, a skating rink in the winter, and a games-room, too, so I doubt your kids would be bored, and the school is a 10-minute walk (not drive) up the street.

    Don’t get me wrong — I like the suburbs, and if you do, too, go for it, and enjoy the space, the larger houses, the larger yards, the clean, green, quiet neighbourhoods. But if we’re arguing cost (and even that elusive quality of life)… hmm. You get more space for less money initially, but if you calculate the total cost until your children turn 18 and you can sell the place and move back into a chic condo in Old Montreal, you might be surprised. The two cars, the pool, the lawn, the extra energy to heat and cool your beautiful large home, the extra toys oops I mean useful equipment in your garage to keep all this in tip top shape… well all that costs money you know, not to mention the extra gas and time you spend driving to work.

  11. oops… $21,000 finder’s fee. I can’t do math, must be the quality of edjacation available in the city compared to the suburbs :)

  12. I find these ads passive agressive and to be honest, they make me kind of uncomfortable, even though I am passionate about living in Montreal.

    These ads all about making you feel like you SHOULD stay, not that you want to. And honestly who DOSEN’T want to live in Montreal? Well, some people don’t. And that’s ok – they don’t have to.

    But the people who DO want to may need some tools to help make it possible. Fortunately this campaign comes with a useful website (why don’t they put it on the poster???) with info comparing transportation costs and describing programs available to home-buyers in Montreal, etc. They even have a google map with all the new residential projects, daycares, schools, libraries, sports centres etc.

    Déjà moins pire!,15415617&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

  13. I agree the ads are blah – I’ve seen them and had no idea they were to promote the de-suburbization of the region.

    From another angle, it seems I am increasingly surrounded in my neighbourhood (Mile End) with people who should have gone to the suburbs! They gut the duplexes and triplexes, renovate the hell out of them, drive up property value and property taxes, still use one or two cars, and are not very friendly. I wish they had chosen Brossard or Roxboro or Chomedy instead.

  14. To be fair certain areas on the South Shore are much more densely populated than certain areas in Montreal. For instance, St. Lambert, Old Longueuil, Laflèche or Greenfield Park are considerably more “neighbourhood like” and more densely populated than say Lachine, TMR, the West Island, etc.

  15. I love this campaign, both for its look and its witticism.

    The main problem, as one of the comment highlighted, is that they seem to preach to the converted; some of them make me feel smug about living in Montreal but they don’t go a long way toward convincing those who want to move to the suburbs.

    When I think about the people I know who moved to the south shore, the main arguments were cost and some beliefs about quality of living (maybe now we should add political corruption or staleness…) and those ads don’t address those problems.

    BTW, my favorite one was “Quitter Montréal, mais pour aller où?” ;-)

  16. Anyway, this is all pretty pointless when the Liberal government is building tons of autoroutes & commuter trains around Montréal to speed present and future suburb dwellers past the urban fabric — Manque de cohérence total.

  17. The campaign is more of an eyebrow-raiser than anything else. It does seem to miss its mark as it won’t be persuasive to people who want to live in suburbs. And the smug thing about people “staying in Montreal” isn’t even true. On the flip side, there’s a way that someone not born here will never be “from” here.

    @Richard: If you want a house with a lovely yard outside of Westmount or Outremont, try Rosemont, le Petit Patrie, Villeray, Verdun, NDG. When we were looking for a place, we saw such houses in all those neighborhoods (not what we wanted but hey). Not Westmount mansions, mind you, but real houses (some attached, granted) with yards, basements, garages, the whole works.

  18. The real issue here is collecting taxes, the city doesn’t care about keeping it’s citizens happy otherwise they’d be trying to solve real issues in the city like the always increasing propriety/school taxes and poor public transport offerings. Instead they went for a cheap shot at trying to create hostility between two groups.

    We blow money on pointless projects like the bike paths to nowhere, the most flagrant example must be the one on cote St-Catherine in Outremont where one lane was taken away to build a similar path to the one on Maisonneuve (almost equally useless). How does cutting down one lane during peak traffic hours reduce our “carbon footprint”, in a neighboorhood that has many old people who couldn’t care less and students who use the metro to attend UdeM since they can’t afford to live nearby.

    I’m an avid biker in my recreational life, but as a daily commute it just doesn’t make sense unless you live a few blocks away which is only the case of a few people who didn’t drive those distances anyway.

  19. Jack – you talk about the “bike paths to nowhere, the most flagrant example must be the one on cote St-Catherine in Outremont where one lane was taken away to build a similar path to the one on Maisonneuve (almost equally useless)”

    I could not disagree more.

    1. Useless? How are either of these bike paths useless?
    – They simply removed one lane of parking from Cote Ste Catherine
    – Both lanes are faster than driving at rush hour
    – It is safer for cyclists (and motorists) to have a separated bike lane in a busy area like this, than to be forced to ride in traffic with many careless drivers
    – Removing cyclists from traffic can speed up traffic
    – How about reducing our dependence on cars/oil? Promoting exercise?

    2. How is this a bike path to nowhere?
    – The one on Maisonneuve crosses pretty much all of downtown, right between two of the busiest routes (Ste Catherine & Sherbrooke).
    – The one on Cote Ste Catherine is a major route, and the shortest between the Plateau and Cote des Neiges. Do you have any idea how many people live in the Plateau and go to the UdeM (or work at any number of areas of Cote des Neiges)?
    – Granted, the one on C-S-C seems un-finished, it would be nice if it continued to Parc/Mont-Royal, and maybe to the U de Montreal metro. However, where it finishes in the south (corner of Villeneuve), cyclists can take Villeneuve which has newly painted bike lanes on most of it, and one of the best options for east-west crossing of the upper Plateau / lower Mile End. In the north, it finishes at what is arguably a fork in the two main routes – one to the U de M, the other towards other U de M buildings, the HEC, a couple Cegeps…

    3. What bike / bus / metro route (or even major roadway for that matter) makes sense for people who don’t already live a few blocks away? By that reasoning all routes are pointless since the majority live more than a few blocks away! I, for one, commute about 5km daily each direction and the new bike path on Cote Ste Catherine is a good chunk of that distance. It is faster and safer for me, and for traffic (remember, they only removed a parking lane).

  20. 1) less than 1% of people say that they use the bike to get to work, the numbers must be even smaller with our bad weathered days (most of the year). 50% use cars (drivers or passengers) for their daily commute, another good portion use buses (around 20-25%), which also need road lanes.

    2) bike paths are essentially useless in urban centers if they are done at the expense of traffic lanes. 50 to 75 times more people need those lanes.

    3) none, they can share the street with the rest of the traffic and obey the same signals, drivers have to be accustomed to the presence of bikes. Segregating them only reduces the alertness of drivers on the road (they expect them to be in bike paths).

  21. 1. Perhaps this number (1%; by the way, where are these numbers from?) would be higher if biking were made easier, safer and more enjoyable. “Most of the year” are not bad weather days here – I bike about 90% of the days from April to November (as do many others). I agree that buses also need to use the lanes. They need to add more reserved bus lanes throughout major routes in Montreal.

    Obviously bike lanes are barely if at all used in the winter here. Maybe a solution would be instead of completely permanent bike lanes (ie Maisonneuve), to build all future lanes like the one on Clark in Mile End (from April to November the lane is a bike lanes separated by poles; in winter the lane is reverted to traffic / parking).

    2. Useless if done at the expense of traffic lanes? That’s good ‘ol 1950s North American reasoning there. Progressive cities around the world (mostly European, and cities like Vancouver) have been increasing bike and public transit capacity at the expense of private automobile capacity for years. It is actually law in Vancouver that no road capacity designed for private cars will be added. Transportation infrastructure is prioritized (for building, changing, upgrading etc) for public transit, trucking (shipping goods), cycling and walking, with private cars at the bottom of the list. There’s a reason Vancouver is constantly rated in the top ~3 most livable cities in the world.

    I agree that bike lanes may not be the most efficient use of the space downtown – but taking up almost all open space for traffic is hardly efficient. What about adding bus-only lanes? Wider sidewalks? Or should we remove sidewalks too since that space could be used by cars?

    Look at downtown Montreal. I don’t know if the statistics are out there, but I am willing to bet that a majority of people access / use downtown via foot, bike, metro and bus. Having two metro lines through downtown is amazing, and there are numerous (albeit slow) bus routes crossing downtown as well. Designating bus/taxi lanes throughout downtown (at the expense of traffic) would be a great idea. (They do this on many streets at rush hour, but traffic can be heavy downtown all day, especially weekends). Pedestrianizing Ste Catherine (from Guy to St Denis) on summer weekends would be great.

    3. So we should have nothing but roads for cars. Anyone else can bike through the traffic, or sit on buses that take ages to make it through the traffic. There is a known correlation between quality of life/liveability of a city, and the amount of space designated for non-private-automobile transportation. We can stick to old-school North American thinking and continue to depend on private cars in dense urban areas where shared transit makes much more sense, or we can enter the 21st century and follow progressive cities around the world.

  22. Just the use of the word “private car” is throwing me so off that I don’t want to pursue debating with you.

    p.s. my numbers are for Montreal city alone, check their stats page, numbers were for 2007.

  23. Samir,

    >>”Just the use of the word “private car” is throwing me so off ”

    “Private cars” as opposed to taxis, buses, car pool, delivery vans, trucks, trams, trolley buses and bicycles.


    >>”I am willing to bet that a majority of people access / use downtown via foot, bike, metro and bus. ”

    According to Radio-Canada’s téléjournal on 2007/01/22, 29% of Montrealers living within a 5km radius of downtown *always* use their cars to get around.

    What the stats don’t say, is if the other 71% use their cars for 90% or 5% of their travels.

    Judging by the amount of visible parking lots near 6 metro stations and 2 train stations, I think downtown Montreal is still very willing to accomodate cars with arms wide open:,+montreal,+qc&sll=45.496489,-73.572918&sspn=0.00919,0.022144&ie=UTF8&ll=45.497218,-73.572328&spn=0.00919,0.022144&t=h&z=16&lci=transit

    — X

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