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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Dancing in the streets

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One of my favourite things about summer in Montreal is the sheer abundance of street closures. Of course, they aren’t closures at all, they’re openings — streets given over to pedestrians. This past weekend, cars were banned from at least seven areas, including most of the streets in the Latin Quarter, all of Ste. Catherine St. in the Village, Plaza St. Hubert, Crescent St. and, most impressively, the entire two-kilometre stretch of Ste. Catherine from St. Urbain to St. Marc. Although it was pouring rain for most of Sunday, Saturday was a perfect day to get out and explore the city, which is exactly what I did.

I wasn’t alone: streets everywhere were thronged with people. I spent most of the afternoon wandering down a sweltering Ste. Catherine St., stopping every so often to take in the passing crowd. Unlike some other street fairs, like Nuit Blanche sur Mont-Royal or Main Madness, the annual Ste. Catherine street sale is primarily a commercial event, closing up shop in the early evening and populated mostly by people hunting for bargains. But there are still buskers and DJs on hand to keep people entertained. Outside the Eaton Centre, where a DJ was blasting music into the crowd, one woman set down her shopping bags to dance in the street.

While I was downtown, Fagstein was checking out the street fair on St. Hubert in the Petite Patrie. “While there are many boring old regular places selling stuff (wallets, sandals and suitcases are never in short supply), there are also plenty of strange shops you’d never go into. Their stuff gets displayed, allowing you to pay attention without committing or having an awkward conversation with a store employee,” he wrote.

“Some places feel they can’t be left out. Like the Bank of Montreal, which setup a table with forms on it. Awesome.”



  1. street closures?

    i don’t know, i’m with jane jacobs on this one.

  2. Plaza St-Hubert is such a delightfully weird place. I can’t really even describe it but from time to time I think about writing a little piece on its odd personality.

    I didn’t even know about it until I moved to the neighbourhood. I have no idea how some of those stores survive.

  3. Jane Jacobs was not a fan of pedestrian streets — she cited Boston’s Downtown Crossing as an example — but I don’t necessarily agree with her because I think she was working within an overly narrow context. There are plenty of successful pedestrian-only streets around the world.

    In any case, I don’t think she ever said anything about temporary street closures for fairs and festivals, so I’m not really sure how this applies here.

  4. There are some dreadful failures, such as the Sparks St Mall in Ottawa, but there are a lot of reasons for that. I think the leases are also terribly expensive. But many are very successful. Not just Las Ramblas, but also market streets such as Albert Cuyp in Amsterdam.

    I don’t see how it applies to a temporary closing, which is an event, not permanent town planning.

    Indeed, Plaza St-Hubert is very bizarre. There are stores that seem full of outdated knick-knacks – I’m not talking about the junk shops but slightly more tony ones with names such as Décor du Plaza (?) staffed with elderly ladies and selling amazing kitch – but they also sell just about every size and type of lampshade and I found two there for lamps I had.

    I walked up and down it a couple of times this year. But I had no desire whatsoever to go to the street sale downtown.

  5. Funny, I read her Death and Life of Great American Cities and I didn’t recall Jacobs coming out against pedestrian streets.

    She WAS opposed to no-man’s land-type project squares where there were no human traffic, no “eyes on the street,” and therefore less vitality and public safety.

    But I can’t imagine her being opposed to any urban concept where there was human-scaled density, variety and vitality. It’s not like she was pro-car.

  6. That said, I have to admit, some of the permanent pedestrian malls — not temporary street closures — are dreadful.

    And speaking of Sparks Street, I visited it recently and was shocked to see what a wasteland it had become.

    Thing is, I remember visiting Sparks years ago and it DID seem vital and alive. What happened to it? I guess this is more a question for Spacing Ottawa, but what gives? Is a street mall like a new stadium — there’s a novelty factor that carries it for a while and then it wears off?

    Or did Ottawa somehow screw it up…?

  7. Last thought. My (uninformed) theory: Sparks was probably too close to the magnet-pull of the historic Byward Market, which grew at Spark’s expense.

  8. Pish posh. Sparks St. failed because all the real estate along it is geared to boring, shitty uses that don’t draw people. Banks, government departments, more banks, and a joke of a CBC building that doesn’t even face Sparks! Throw in a museum, a theatre, public art, a water fountain, LITERALLY ANYTHING, and it would pick up.

  9. This is really pushing the boundaries, very innovative….


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