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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Société Radio Canada plans to re-create dense urban neighbourhood

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The Office de Consultation Publique de Montréal is holding and information session and three workshops this month on the Radio Canada’s site.

This post by Guillaume St-Jean describes how the site was once a bustling neighbourhood that counted 778 homes, 12 groceries, 13 restaurants, 8 garages, 4 print-shops and 20 factories. Once known as the Fauboug M’lasse (molasses town) because of the smell that permeated the dense, working class neighbourhood, this area was home to 16,000 people in 1880. The construction of Jacques Cartier bridge in 1930 sliced the area in half and demolished several industries and residences. After a further decline throughout the ’50s, the remaining 5000 families were evicted in 1963 to “clean up” Montreal’s downtown area. The Radio Canada tower was built in 1973.

The new plans for the site include 2000 housing units, offices, commercial space, and public spaces. Furthermore, the new development would re-link the street grid through the site. The $1.6 billion investment basically strives to recreate the dynamic neighbourhood that existed mere decades ago, without the industrial stink. Pardon my cynicism -I know we can’t erase the past.

There is a ton of further information on OCPM’s website, and you can also attend the information sessions and workshops this month:

November 18, 7pm: Information Session at l’Église St-Pierre-Apôtre, 1323, boul. René-Lévesque Est

November 19: Workshop on urban integration (density, building height, zoning, sustainable development)

November 20: Workshop on social integration (housing, employment, impact on surrounding businesses, public spaces, project phases)

November 24: Workshop on access to the site (street grid, impact on local traffic, transportation management, public transit and active transportation infrastructures).

The workshops take place at 7pm at Centre St-Pierre, 1212 rue Panet, salle 1205 (Métro Beaudry).



  1. Yeah – tall buildings don’t belong downtown . Longueuil and Laval only.

  2. The plans call for 40m tall buildings – i guess about 12 stories. Developers often say that apartment/condo blocks are necessary to create high density urban neighbourhoods, which support local businesses and public transit. But 5000 families lived in this area before the 1960s and there wasn’t much taller than a triplex. The Plateau is still one of the densest neighbourhoods in north America. I suppose blocks like this can be done well, but to me they just don’t feel like Montreal.

  3. The problem is that what we see is a very preliminary computer “sketch” – we have no idea about the quality of the buildings, and how their archetectonic features will integrate with the surrounding buildings that have survived (walk along la Gauchetière just west of Radio-Canada).

    I think it is admirable to redensify the area, but will there be “commerces de proximité” and other community amenities to keep the area alive? Little parks? There are a lot of features remaining to be seen, and hopefully the consultation process will bring these to the fore.

    Two questions: percentage of social and affordable housing (social housing isn’t just HLMs – more likely co-ops, and special-needs non-profit housing) and housing friendly to families with children. Creating a neighbourhood welcoming to everyone: old or young, gay or straight, with or without children, of various income levels and backgrounds.

    Hopefully they will build the tram along René-Lévesque, as well as the nearby Beaudry métro station. If the tram is similar to the new ones in cities like Amsterdam, it would be more accessible to everyone.

  4. Rene Levesque is very fast-moving along that stretch. From my own experience living and working in that ‘hood the city will have their work cut out for them to tame the traffic and avoid pedestrian deaths. The Beaudry metro station will probably also need a re-vamp for increased traffic.

  5. Anything has to be better than a motorway trench. While recognizing the importance of public consultation, I hope this important project doesn’t get caught up in a cancerous political debate.

  6. yes, we sure need more expensive luxo condo projects in this city.

  7. Sid, the project is supposed to include a strong percentage of social housing of various kinds. But it is up to tenants’ and community associations, and citizens in general, to make their voices heard to make sure that becomes reality.

    Misha, I think the proposed tramline might help calm traffic along there. Trams can accomodate a lot more traffic than a bus can, and a lot of commuters would take it.

    Oh, the poor Beaudry métro station, with its infamous, and often broken ramp!

  8. 12 stories is high? C’mon. That is a very average height. While I understand that the old neighborhood was composed of at most 3 floor buildings, it is ok to re-invent this neighborhood for the future. Afterall, Montreal of the 1940’s is not Montreal of the 2010’s and this area is at the moment almost a total deserted wasteland. Downtown Montreal is not downtown Blainville and re-building triplexes here is best described as provincial in vision at best.
    We have to increase the population base in and around the downtown core and a 12 floor building is FAR from excessive. We are building with the future of our city in mind aren’t we?

  9. Re: Alannah’s comment “about 5000 families lived in this area before the 1960s and there wasn’t much taller than a triplex” – I should like to think that the housing standards that the city is able to offer its residents have somewhat improved over the past 50 years, and I would imagine this should include increases in living space.

  10. I was pretty sure that this neighborhood planning project had been abandoned by SRC a few years ago. I have to say I agree that this part of town needs to be revitalized, but as some of you already pointed out, this area is enclaved in between René-Lévesque blvd. and Notre-Dame, which serves as 2 major entryways for people living East to go downtown. I don’t see how this project could become human-friendly in its actual form – I hope the Ville-Marie borough will be taking this into consideration.

    Also, there is specific vernacular architecture in Montreal, and I’m not sure 12-storey high towers are it. I believe some cohesive urban planning would be welcomed.

  11. !2 étages ça vous fait freaker??? Sur le boulevard le plus large du centre-ville? Vous aimeriez mieux des petits blocs d’appartements de trois étages? Après ça on se demande pourquoi Montréal est en retard sur Toronto et Vancouver dans nos efforts de rendre le centre-ville plus populeux. Vive la banlieue, n’est-ce pas? Dans ce projet, il devrait y avoir quelques tours de 20 ou 30 étages.

  12. As a nearby resident I would welcome these changes and hope that they are done well! I’ve been dreaming ever since moving down here of what they could do with space like that.

    ANYTHING would be better than what’s there right now. And I don’t think 12 stories is overkill–as others have mentioned this is pretty much smack in the middle of downtown Montréal, and having ONLY triplexes, by today’s standards, might be a bit under the development potential of this stretch.

    I think the best we can hope for: a variety of building sizes combined with a street oriented, human scale–that is what might belong more in modern Montreal. Hopefully it turns into a cohesive neighborhood, resulting in a dynamic buffer between the village, chinatown, and the rest of downtown. As far as the traffic is concerned–now they will have a reason to put a few more stoplights in! As it stands, I doubt few people cross to wander around the parking lots…

    …although there’s an excellent fish grocer just east of the RC complex on Cartier. I’ve certainly never felt wary to cross Rene-Levesque to get fresh mussels.

    And, to be honest, I’d like to see more people out in this neighborhood south of Ste-Catherine after hours. Its location relative to Beaudry and Papineau station are guaranteed to keep people around around at least until 1:00. The old “eyes on the street” would definitely apply down here!

    I think the key theme here is: as long as things are “done right.” See you at the workshops!

  13. It’s as much nonsense as the Griffintown project. Developers get paid by the square foot and the city sees a lot of tax revenue which is a very old fashioned and not too effective method of generating city revenues. The Plateau, no matter what you may think of it, is the most successful neighborhood in the city – dense, with a multitude of diversity, mixing commercial and residential in a way that people love! And yes, the bulk of the Plateau is duplexes and triplexes and most people park on the streets. But great success for neighborhoods won’t get your developers rich, so they decide that 12 stories with generic chain stores at ground level and plenty of underground parking is the way to go. The City, which admittedly has it’s hands tied by the Province on a lot of things, goes along because they just don’t have what it takes to creatively meet the challenges of creating a great city.

  14. The Plateau has several towers over 12 stories.

  15. The relationship between density and height is far from linear. Because taller buildings block light, they require more clearance. From what I know, the density of Hausmannian Paris (7-8 story attached buildings) is pretty much accepted as the maximum possible in a city.

    I guess 12 is okay, too, but as many people have said, everything depends on the quality of buildings. Let’s not get more Shaughnessy Village-style concrete crap built here.

  16. Le problème est que le projet semble encore une fois tomber dans le piège habituel de la séparation par activité.

    Ça ne donne rien d’avoir un kilomètre² de maisons à côté d’un kilomètre² de commerces à côté d’un kilomètre² d’industrie légère et d’un kilomètre² de parc, ça fait aussi con que Brossard ou Laval ou Beauconsfield. Il faut que tout ça soit mélangé.

    Que les tours aient TOUTES des espaces commerciaux au rez-de-chaussée, et qu’il y ait une tour à bureau pour chaque trois ou quatre tours à habitations. Ou mieux encore, que le quart inférieur des étages soient résevés à des bureaux.

    Les vieux quartiers sont si agréables parce qu’on y mélange les activités. Sur mon pâté de maison (dans un quartier pourtant résidentiel), en plus des maisons il y a un garage, un plombier, un studio d’enregistrement (qui fait souvent dans le cinéma), un atelier de menuiserie, trois bars dont un avec des danseuses cochonnes et un autre qui donne des spectacles pas cochons. Si on regarde les pâtés adjacents, on peut ajouter au moins huit restaurants, un magasin de meubles, deux églises marginales, une mosquée, un magasin de surplus, trois dépanneurs, trois pawnshops, un magasin de serpents et de lézards, un magasin à une piastre, un nettoyeur, une banque, un club de boxe, deux cliniques médicales, un entrepôt chimique, une vieille manufacture de je n’ai jamais su quoi, quatre maisons de ferme, un jardin communautaire et au moins vingt ratons-laveurs.

    Durant les vingt dernières années, j’ai travaillé à moins de deux kilomètres de mon logement; en fait, j’habite un village en ville mais desservi par deux stations de Métro.

    De grâce, ne recréons pas la banlieue en ville, mélangeons les activités!!!

  17. Je suis sûr que les citoyens du plateau apprécient le bordel au rez de chaussé des bistros et bars, ou les odeurs des restaurants et le risque de feu qui y sont associés, ou le va et viens d’une terrasse.

  18. C’mon its pathetic to complain about 12 floors when there is already a taller tower in very close proximity. Rene-Levesque Boulevard is not the same as Saint-Laurent, and we should accept the fact that there are some spots in town that high-rises belong. As far as I’m concerned, west of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge and below Sherbrooke is prime territory for the construction of tall buildings.

    Some of you seem to be forgetting that Montreal is not Europe! And an area that’s as hideous yet central as this needs more density.

    As a matter of fact, why not erect a few bungalows where Ben’s used to be.

  19. They need to do something about that terrible smell coming out of the Molson brewery before I’d ever even consider moving in that area.

  20. It’s one thing to consider it pathetic to complain about a building being tall. I’d love if more people would spend time in a space, think about the space, the movement and occupations of people and the feel of the built environment 35 years down the road. The problems we have in montreal are not strictly limited to those described by Neath. Exacerbated by a lack of vision for residential space in modern montreal. Like Jean Naimard mentioned mixed use, reasonable scale buildings infused with both retail and services that comfortably accommodate housing, it just plain works really well. I don’t see any reason to discourage development of spaces that work really well in favour of ‘theoretically’ higher revenue structures.

    Mr Robertson, you would do well I think, to remember that for the majority of the people who visit Montreal, the main appeal of the place is its similarity to European cities. And like Slavito mentioned height ≠ density, there is a real point of diminishing returns. One can get a lot out of the 3-8 story scale, perhaps a great deal more than 10 floors plus.

    I also think Malek’s complaint is very silly.

  21. Wouldn’t worry about any billion dollar developments coming to you soon. The credit crunch will cut off anything not involving private placement.

  22. MOLASSES Town Forever
    A s the only apparent person to comment in 7 years I believe that it is time to decide to either design a densified CBC project or get out of the way of someone who will develop the space for some other use. Unlike an egg , sat on by a hen, such an asset will not produce needed chickens without good old planning, organizing and control.

    Radio is moribund, TV is only 5 years behind it and the future of their replacement is almost here..Visionary leaders need to take the reins and develop and sell their vision .

    Charming as Molasses Town current day CBC Radio Canada may be7y66, it needs to act or get out of the way!

    OR so I would suggest!

    Le Grand Charles
    Ancien Montrealais

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