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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered



  1. My hopes is that this project doesn’t ever see the light of day. In turn, it will have placed Griffintown back on the public consciousness. I have always said, all the city has to do is re-zone for mixed used (commercial and residential) and set guidelines for development projects much like it does in Old Montreal. Griffintown has to be treated with the same kid gloves. This district is too prime a downtown location for it to stay in its current state. We don’t need a mega development project to bring it back to life.

  2. I completely agree with edward.
    That’s it.

  3. How much will Devimco have to stall and backpeddle before the city stops playing favourites and rezones the land for EVERYONE, as Edward describes. Devimco dosen’t even own most of this site – so why are we still waiting for them to get their lousy act together?

  4. I believe if they build a cool and nice looking mall, then residential projects will appear as a result of it, even if they don’t build them themselves. I don’t know a lot about these proposals, but all the nonconstructive and seemingly pointless complaining is starting to be really annoying.

    On the other hand, comparing to other cities, I do think Montreal is in need for a large mall close to downtown, and a mega development like this one is probably not a bad idea.

    Again I don’t know a lot about the proposals so all the random Montreal-style complaining is probably more valuable than my humble opinion.

  5. I’m going to be un-characteristically optimistic and say that I think the city was beginning to see the error of their ways. Architects, academics and planners have been coming out of the woodwork to condemn the city for their backroom dealings on this issue. Could Devimco’s little $200 million snafu put the ball back in the city’s court and empower them to demand some better urban design?

  6. Adolfo: Spacing followed this development quite heavily when it was in the planning and consultation stages. I recommend going back and reading them to see just how awful almost all aspects of this plan were. Also, Montreal already has downtown malls: Plaza Alexis-Nihon, the old forum, La Cité on ave du Parc, as weell as almost all of the Underground city, one of the largest underground shopping centres on earth. None of these malls, I would argue, have had much of a positive impact on Downtown.

    Jacob: I don’t share your optimism at all. The city has been bending over backward for Devimco and I can see this as being a good way of asking for even worse urban design due to the economy. City hall hasn’t demanded anything at all as of yet so I can’t really see them starting now with the project on the rocks.

  7. Chris: thanks, I will read the material whenever I get some free time. Hopefully I will have a better formed opinion :).

  8. The big problem with City Hall is they thought they had this one in the bag. Now they may actually have to rethink the situation and there is absolutely no evidence that they are capable of coming up with a good solution. Some places have open public competitions. Here you just let the big box boys in through the back door. Does not bode well and it is an election year.

  9. I see…I see…I see a new Walmart and a drive thru McDonalds in Griffintown’s future..

  10. Poor La Cité is very down in the dumps – sure, the Métro supermarket and the SAQ outlet have plenty of customers, but they would on the street too. A nice shoe shop there (good walking shoes) failed, and if not there is a dollar store and a few marginal businesses. The food court only seems to do a bit of business at noon, when workers at the Air Transat building go down for a quick bite.

    There are Winners stores at the shopping centre where Indigo is located (forget the name) and at Plaza Alexis-Nihon, and a Canadian Tire and Zellers also at the latter. Think the true big-box type development is very car-dependent, requires a large parking lot and an area slightly outside the city centre, such as the southwestern location of Costco and of course, Marché central. The latter was so car-centred at first that there was practically nowehere to park my bicycle! (it is a short ride northwest of Jean-Talon Market area).

    I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic – it depends on the extent to which the association challenging the type of development Devimco was proposing and others interested in urban form and sustainable development are able to keep up the pressure and make their case made. None of the challenges were “anti-development” per se – the area needs new building, infrastructure and amenities, including neighbourhood shopping (grocery stores/supermarket, pharmacy etc). If you want to attract families, and anyone who has the choice as to where they want to live, it also needs parcs and community centres. And obviously, far better public transport.

  11. Dans la mesure où le plan d’urbanisme n’a pas besoin d’être modifié à nouveau, il n’y a pas d’obligation de consulter, même si le projet est modifié. Évidemment, le projet doit continuer à se conformer au plan (ce qui n’est pas tellement difficile).
    Mais bon, ça révèle l’absurdité des consultations de l’année dernière où on nous présentait un projet complété alors que l’objet sur lequel portait la consultation était un plan. Il aurait fallu comprendre que ce plan permettait au promoteur de construire un centre commercial et de disparaître ensuite.

  12. I agree with an earlier comment: downtown has far too many malls. Imagine, even Eaton Centre and Complexe Les Ailes are right next to each other and that every major building in the core is connected by one mega underground mall. While I don’t have a problem with malls here and there, especially given Montreal winters, I think street front shops and boutiques are much more desirable. Ste Catherine street’s vitality is quite amazing and it cannot be argued that it is a beacon for major retailers both Canadian and international.

    That said, I do believe that downtown can spread its wings and diversify its shoping arteries. Griffintown is a logical location. Though I think that the western edge of Old Montreal is really likely going to become our next major shopping spot.

  13. scumbag developers. They want the whole hog and then split as soon as it becomes too expensive to cook and cut it up. I’m surprised they didn’t try to get the city to make up the difference, à la the Athletes’ Village for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

    Why does Griffintown have to be developed in one giant project? The ’60s are over and we saw how city planners screwed up the city with their giant over-arching projects. How about mixed zoning, a metro station and more bus lines and bike paths, with some residences planned to attract small businesses, allowing the area to develop gradually, with some diversity.

  14. Unlike most I was never particularly worried about this project, as it was much too large and came much too late in the real estate cycle to ever seem plausible. It’s another way in which Montreal’s low wages and minimal economic reliance on real estate activity help keep the riff-raff out. There just isn’t enough consumer demand or willingness to pay a premium to make this kind of megaproject feasible, unless they time it very very well.

    So unfortunately, the failure of this project has very little to do with public pressure or the city seeing the light. Credit’s dried up and consumer spending is down, and I doubt even the new mall will be built. “Lifestyle centers” and other enhanced big-box developments are getting hit hard at present, and the lackluster response to the new commercial space around the ETS and the Cours Windsor projects just north of Griffintown doesn’t bode well for this kind of project. Keep your eye on Quartier Dix30: if Devimco starts seeing stores shut down there over the next few months, they certainly won’t try to further dilute their commercial holdings by opening up a similar project right across the river.

  15. Chris: your suggestion that Devimco would use this opportunity to ask for even worse urban design due to the bad economy doesn’t make sense to me. Think about all those horrible, place-killing big box centres built in an age of happy motoring and consumerist euphoria. As we’re beginning to see with 2009’s increasingly dismal economic outlook (not to mention the spike in gas prices expected this summer) that ear is over. Since WWII, as a general rule, a strong economy in North America means increasingly unpleasant urban design.

    Canadian Tire, mega-Pharmaprix, Winners – these chain stores that would anchor the development are undoubtedly contemplating closing existing locations, not opening new ones. In the coming years, new developments (and there won’t be many) will likely look more like the 3 storey, mixed-use, retail-on-the-ground-floor buildings that characterize pre-war neighbourhoods. That’s simply because they can accomodate different commercial uses on the ground floor, or even residential.

  16. Yo Adolfo

    downtown doesn’t need a big mall, downtown IS a big mall. It’s just all underground in our famous “underground city.”

    What downtown needs is a free bus circuit on St Catherine and de Maisonneuve from Atwater in the west to Berri in the east.

    While I’m dreaming in technicolor, we also need a free bus up to Beaver lake from downtown and the plateau.

  17. Jacob: I agree with you entirely that what we’ve seen over the last 60 years in urban development is quickly coming to an end however, I don’t think it’s over entirely yet. There are going to be dinosaurs who continue to push power, centres, malls, and big boxes and it’s going to take time for reality to get rid of these guys. From what I’ve seen of Devimco, they exemplify these dinosaurs quite well and I really don’t think they’ve caught on yet. Their complete ignorance as to how to build good urban spaces is excellent proof of this (It took them over 6 months of revision after revision to get from straight up strip malls with a couple towers scattered amongst them to the somewhat passable design that was finally approved by the city last year).

  18. I’m glad that this project has been canned. I don’t really understand the function of megaprojects anymore. It’s not like the Soviet Union is still building mega-cities in Siberia, so why are private Soviets like Devimco still thinking in these same failed abstractions of scale and totalitarianism?

    On the other hand, it would be a wonderful thing if the city contributed to redeveloping Griffintown. But it really ought to do so over a longer period of time with the input of many different developers/architects/pubic consultations, and not just hand over one of the city’s vital organs to some tyrant with a team of architectural illustrators and government lobbyists.

  19. since when do tall buildings make people happy? especially when they’re ugly and unaffordable?

  20. As a mother of a small child who has just relocated to Montreal for my husband’s work at McGill, I have found downtown Montreal to be very unfriendly to families. That the “underground city” can be called a “city” when it is just a giant mall is atrocious. In a city where the temperature is below freezing for the majority of the year, couldn’t they have put some playground areas or general park-like spaces down there? A fountain with some benches at the very least? And it would be helpful to have a supermarket and pharmacy with baby supplies (like diapers and baby cereals, eg)somewhere in the centre of town so we wouldn’t always have to drive to go find these items. Or do Montreal’s urban planners only want students and old people living in Centre-Ville? McGill has a reputation in the higher-ed world as having trouble finding good faculty, and now I understand why.

  21. Friends:
    Devimco is out. In the Griff, about 90% of owners are no longer, or have never been, attached with Devimco. Devimco has in fact stopped paying deposits on renewing their promises to purchase, thereby rendering them nul and void at expiration. Only a couple “sucker” owners, who believed in the BS Devimco fed them and signed onto long-term purchase promises, are still attached to their own discontent. This means that Devimco must start all over again with these owners they lost, all of whom no longer believe in Devimco’s project, and most of whom have lost all their tenants and are now left with empty rotting buildings. This is quite an embarrassing situation for the city, so it would be catastrophic for Devimco to pull out now, in an election year. They are simply playing the newspaper game the city needs them to, so Tremblay can get back into power in November, and THEN Devimco will announce that they are “officially” out. There will be no 2nd consultation, no smaller scale project, only more BS from Devimco and the city. If anyone is or knows serious investors, NOW is the opportunity to buy up Griffintown properties since a) Devimco is out, b) the city has rezoned, and c) owners are motivated to sell…and at lower prices than Devimco offered.

  22. Nina,

    The people in downtown want you to believe that downtown is self-reliant and that you don’t need the outside world. They want you to believe that you don’t need a car because everything is sold at the corner store (dépanneur). But they don’t have kids, they don’t get that public transport is not convenient, that big stores are there for a reason, for being practical for parents who don’t have the time to bike around every evening to buy their daily bread.

    Look at some of the replies here, some people are vehemently against anything bigger than a dépanneur. They don’t mind paying more for the same crap they could get at a bigger store, keep more of their monies in their pockets and spend it elsewhere.

    Downtown is the most unfriendly part of Greater Montreal for families and their needs. And that’s why ten of thousands of people flee Montreal every year for the suburbs.


  23. As a former Montrealer who now lives in the burbs, I don’t understand why so many critics believe Dowmntown will be deserted for the lifestyle mall Devimco is planning for their project. Suburbanites are going to come downtown for the atmosphere and intangibles that make St.Catherine street great. Trust me, if I need to go a mall, there’s no need to come to griffintown or downtown montreal, e,g dix-30 and carrefour laval.

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