Vancouver

Opinion: Seven Things Vancouver Should Copy from Montreal

This vibrant city has a number of wonderful features that Vancouver could learn from, says urban planner and global traveller Michael Geller

By
REW.ca
August 30, 2016






This small Montreal infill housing development offers affordable housing choices not found in Vancouver  — 
These Montreal taxi drivers drive Tesla cabs  — 
A year-round illuminated mural brightens up a grey-concrete structure at the University of Quebec in Montreal  — 
Just one of the many street planting installations in downtown Montreal  — 
Vancouver could use at least one more Jewish deli like Montreal's famous Schwartz's  — 

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I recently spent a few days in Montreal and came back with a number of observations and ideas that Vancouver might want to consider. Here are seven, in no particular order.

1. Alternative Forms of Affordable Housing

One of Montreal’s traditional housing forms is the maisonette, which offers one and two-level suites above a single level suite, with direct access from a winding outdoor staircase.

While Montreal snows more than Vancouver, I was surprised to discover this affordable housing form continues to be built, appealing to those who cannot afford a house or townhouse, or prefer not living in an apartment building. 

In other Canadian cities, the stacked-townhouse is a variation on this housing form. While some stacked-townhouse developments are now being built in Vancouver, they need to be more common.

I also discovered small eight- to 12-unit infill developments around the city. They offer grade-level townhouses with their own garages, and smaller suites above accessed from the street. Upper floor residents do not have off-street parking and must rely on street parking, car-sharing or do without a car. As an increasing number of Vancouver residents no longer need to own a car, similar infill developments would fit well in Vancouver.

2. Electric Taxis

While Vancouver is rightly proud of its many hybrid taxis, I was surprised to discover one Montreal taxi operator offers a small fleet of Teslas. Now that’s one-upmanship.

3. Illuminated Murals

Last week, many Vancouverites were delighted by the first annual Vancouver Mural Festival, which took place in Mount Pleasant. Montreal has been organizing similar festivals since 2013. It also offers the annual winter Montreal en Lumiere, which illuminates murals on downtown buildings. Some continue year-round, and I was delighted to see illuminated murals transforming a grey-concrete structure at the University of Quebec. Many of Vancouver’s building facades could serve as nightly canvases.

4. A City of Bikes

While Vancouver drivers complain about the number of bikes and bike lanes being built around our city, there seemed to be far more bicycles on Montreal’s downtown neighbourhood streets. Like Vancouver, the city has set up electronic monitors to count the number of cyclists using separated bike lanes.

While I am on the topic, I noticed that much-needed new bike lanes have been added along both sides of Southwest Marine Drive, between Granville Street and Dunbar. However, did the engineers really have to install sporadic concrete barricades and flimsy white poles? I think they look awful and question the need.

5. Slower and More Respectful Drivers

While Montrealers always had a reputation of disregarding traffic regulations, I was surprised to discover far more motorists driving at the posted speed limit compared to Vancouver. Drivers also tended to stay in the inside lane, except to pass, something Vancouver drivers rarely do. While others may not share my experience, at a time when ICBC rates are climbing due to an increased number of accidents, perhaps it is time for Vancouver motorists to obey speed limits, signalization, and driving in the proper lanes.

Alternatively, maybe it is time for the province to introduce mandatory driving tests every five or 10 years, before renewing drivers’ licenses.

6. Attractive Street Planting

Wandering around downtown neighbourhoods, I was impressed by many new street planting installations. While it was not evident whether they were funded by the city or neighbourhood improvement associations, they certainly enhanced the city. Sadly, while attractive street plantings can be found in many other cities and metro municipalities, this does not seem to be a priority for Vancouver.

7. Jewish Delicatessens

For many, myself included, no visit to Montreal is complete without a visit to Schwartz’s or one of the city’s other Jewish delicatessens for a bagel and lox or smoked beef sandwich. While we now have a branch of Montreal’s Dunns, as well as Ominitsky’s on Oak Street, and the recent pop-up Mensch Delicatessen on East Broadway (that serves a hearty pastrami sandwich), Vancouver desperately needs another traditional Jewish deli. After all, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy good Jewish deli.

While there are many things that Vancouver could teach Montreal, including how to better deter graffiti, hopefully some of these ideas will find a place in Vancouver in years to come.


Michael is an architect, planner, real estate consultant and developer with more than four decades of experience in the public, private and institutional sectors. Some of his notable projects include the redevelopment of the South Shore False Creek, Bayshore in Coal Harbour and UniverCity at SFU. He is an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University and is an affiliate of the UBC Masters in Urban Design program. Michael is a well-known commentator on real estate and housing and an adviser to the City of Vancouver's Affordable Housing Task Force. He is also a past president of UDI Pacific and UDI Canada, and has been honoured as a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Planners and a Life Member of the Architectural Institute of BC.
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