Archive for November, 2006

November 30th, 2006

Portraits of a Neighbourhood

Posted in Art and Design, Canada by Christopher DeWolf

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They stare at you—seven faces, their expressions ranging from jubilant to amused to vaguely perplexed. They are portraits of Café Olimpico’s employees, pasted above a bookstore at the corner of St. Viateur and Waverly Sts., right across the street from the well-known Mile End café (also known as Open Da Night). They first began to emerge last winter, with a portrait of the baby-faced Phil; he was soon joined by the rest of the Olimpico staff.

The man responsible for them is Francisco Garcia, an artist whose posters have, over the past year, become fixtures in Mile End and the Plateau. “I’ve always liked doing faces,” Garcia said on a chilly November evening, sitting outside on Olimpico’s terrasse. “I guess I just thought it was funny.”

He explained his process for making the portraits. First, he took a photograph of each staff member. Then he reduced the image to two tones in Photoshop, projected it onto canvas, drew an outline and filled it in with shades of grey paint. After transferring the portraits onto recycled posters, he pasted them on the empty plywood space above the bookstore L’Écume des jours, opposite Café Olimpico, over a period of seven months.

The end result is seven striking paintings that draw the eye to an otherwise unremarkable white brick building. “It’s tough, you know. I’ve got to find the right shades of grey and everything. It’s not just paint-by-numbers,” insisted Garcia, smiling self-effacingly as he fidgeted with a cigarette.

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November 30th, 2006

City in the Snow

Posted in United States by Eric Bowers

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Kansas City is amid its first major winterish weather event. The ice came first, then came the snow. I was planning on riding my bike to work this morning, but found that my bike lock was frozen, and was thus unable to unlatch my bike from the porch post on the back of my building. So I went around front and began scraping off my car to make the 1.6 mile trek to work. Upon arriving, one of my coworkers suggested that urinating on the bike lock would unfreeze it. Then, a more dignified approach to the dilemma struck me – I could simply pour a pot of hot water on the bike lock.

I find it odd though that everyone around me thinks it strange that I would consider biking in this weather. I would rather get in a bicycle accident than wreck my car.

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November 30th, 2006

When the Buildings Smoke in Calgary

Posted in Canada by Christopher DeWolf

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In Calgary, when it’s freakishly cold, so cold your skin starts to burn just from walking outside—cold like it was just a few days ago, after temperatures plummeted to 30 degrees below zero—the skyscrapers release giant plumes of steam as if they were on fire, or perhaps enjoying a few good cigars.

I’m glad I’m not there right now, but the beginning of winter always makes me think of the place, since that’s usually when I return to visit family. Maybe that’s why I finally got my act together and uploaded all of my Calgary photos to Flickr, which you can see here. (Permanent links to my photosets are available in the sidebar.) More Calgary photos after the jump.

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November 29th, 2006

Goodbye, Park Avenue

Posted in Canada, Heritage and Preservation, Politics by Christopher DeWolf

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Yesterday morning, Montreal city councillors voted to rename Park Avenue after former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa in a motion that passed 40 to 22. Opponents of the name change were not surprised. We are Montrealers, after all, which means we know enough about this city’s political process that we have been engrained with a deep cynicism. We know that citizens and ordinary city councillors are excluded from the most important decisions, which are made behind closed doors by the all-powerful executive council. We know that, as if by fate, Montreal mayors become so smitten with their unchecked power that they eventually transform into the autocrats they once derided.

That doesn’t stop us from being disappointed. It wasn’t long ago that the Gazette announced that name change opponents were just five votes shy of winning a council vote; then, last week, Mayor Tremblay held a caucus meeting. Afterwards, many of the councillors who had indicated they would vote against the name change mysteriously changed their minds. Anyone who has listened to Tremblay deliver a speech knows how unlikely it is that they were swayed by his impassioned rhetoric. So what convinced them to toe the party line in what was obstensibly a free vote?

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November 27th, 2006

Three Parking Structures

Posted in Architecture, Canada, Europe by Patrick Donovan

Quebec City, Quebec. Built in 2006. This one has a green roof.

Quebec City, Quebec. Interior built in 1960s, exterior added in 2003. Here’s another view.

Malmö, Sweden
November 26th, 2006

Les toits verts : profitons d’un territoire sous-exploité !

Posted in Architecture, Canada, Environment by Owen Rose

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Image rendue du Plateau aux toitures vertes

Les toits plats font partie de la culture de construction à Montréal et dans bien d’autres villes du Québec. Au lieu de maintenir des déserts de goudron et de gravier sur nos toits, nous pouvons y faire pousser des champs, des potagers et des jardins. Au-delà des avantages de climatisation naturelle, de gestion des eaux de pluie et de prolongation de la vie du toit, les toitures végétales sont simplement belles.

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November 25th, 2006

Transit Myth-Making, One Button at a Time

Posted in Canada, Society and Culture, Transportation by Siqi Zhu

At Spadina Station

The true mark of a city that has shed its pimply adolescent past and gained preeminence is the development of a larger-than-life personality, a personality that is based on layers of collective memories, recollections, human dramas real and ficticious, observed and enacted by oneself. A story of one’s adventures in Camden Town will almost certainly be echoed by someone else’s tale of a London romp; likewise, a hispter’s salacious anecdotes of Saturday night debauchery in the Lower East Side will solicit from others more than just a few recollections of the Lower East Side, and not just from fellow hipsters alone.

It is precisely here that Toronto’s city-building efforts flounder a bit, and the problem is certain even more acute for the multitudes of smaller cities that find themselves on the losing side of the battle for population and talents. Sure, the air might be cleaner, the people friendlier, the street safer, but what does all this matter if your place is constantly mistaken for Anyplace? The occasional appearance in Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje novels aside (and same goes for Montreal and Mordecai Richler/Leonard Cohen), does the Toronto myth mean anything to anyone?

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November 24th, 2006

Can A Downtown Be Too Lively?

Posted in United States by A.J. Kandy

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Madison, capital of the state of Wisconsin, is home not only to a handsome seat of government, but also to the sprawling, lakeside campus of the University of Wisconsin. It’s said that the population of the city grows by a fifth during the school year; the central city and suburbs number about 200,000, and UW Madison alone boasts more than 41,000 students. With its mix of students and government, Madison’s comparable to Quebec City somewhat in scale and feel.

Carfree State Street is arguably the heart and soul of the Madison isthmus; a walkable, vibrant commercial thoroughfare. However, the proliferation of downtown bars and street-party events means that the area’s rowdy university nightlife scene is bumping up against new residential condo construction right around the Capitol. In an era of dead downtowns, is it possible that Madison’s downtown is too lively?

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November 24th, 2006

Lighting Up the Plaza for the 77th Time

Posted in Architecture, United States by Eric Bowers

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Every Thanksgiving night, the Country Club Plaza district in Kansas City, Missouri sets aglow amid thousands of revelers. The older, faux-Spanish low-rise edifices are adorned with miles upon miles of Christmas lights.

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The first iterations of what is now known largely as “The Plaza” were built in the 1920s in the formerly swampish southern nether-reaches of the city. The area today serves primarily as an upscale shopping and restaurant district, as well as a home for both condominium owners and apartment renters. Offices are now prevalent as well.

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November 23rd, 2006

Ottawa Street Art

Posted in Art and Design, Canada by Nick Wellington

Street art like this pops up from time to time in Ottawa’s central areas, but, unfortunately, it is usually promptly removed.


Vanity mirror near Bank Street, now replaced with “For Sale” sign.

November 23rd, 2006

Morning Coffee: La Croissanterie

Posted in Canada, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

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On a recent evening, I sat in La Croissanterie, a small café on Ste. Catherine Street in the west end of downtown Montreal. Before me was a café au lait and a warm apple turnover. Next to me sat a mousy English student whose notes were sprawled across the table. La Croissanterie is a strange little place, its wood-panelled, green-accented interior lost between an alpine lodge and a kitschy casse-croûte, but since I started working nearby earlier this month, it has quickly become my favourite downtown coffee shop.

Part of the reason for that is La Croissanterie’s unabashed, endearing hominess. Its mostly anglophone clientele, a mix of students and random downtowners, lounge in their seats as if they were in a basement rec room. The menu is decidedly quaint, with comfort-food staples like pâté chinois (a Quebec version of shepherd’s pie) cozying up to the café’s namesake: fresh, gloriously crispy croissants baked on-site throughout the day by the café’s friendly immigrant owners.

Another part of what attracts me to this unassuming café is, quite simply, its good value. In my years of drinking caffeinated beverages in Montreal, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a definite correlation between high-quality coffee shops and low prices. La Croissanterie is no exception. A mug of café au lait—the espresso rich and smooth, the milk thick and frothy—costs only $2.25, tax included. A croissant costs just one dollar. Best of all is the daily special: a ham, cheese and egg sandwich on a croissant, with a café au lait, for $4.25. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

The strange decor, the relaxed atmosphere, the good value—all of it give La Croissanterie the air of a throwback to the days before downtown Montreal was monopolized by bland chain cafés. More

November 21st, 2006

Just Another Day in Lavapiés

Posted in Europe by Christopher DeWolf

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Photos taken in Lavapiés, a neighbourhood in central Madrid
November 20th, 2006

Then and Now #1: The Windsor Hotel

Posted in Architecture, Canada by Kate McDonnell

Windsor Hotel, then and now

In the top photo, taken in August 1936, the grand Windsor Hotel sits at the corner of Peel and Dorchester in downtown Montreal. By 2004, at the same corner (Dorchester now renamed René-Lévesque), the Windsor Hotel was no more, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce tower rising in its place.

The major part of the hotel burned down just before New Year’s Day 50 years ago, and was replaced by the starkly modern CIBC tower, finished in 1962. Only the annex survived, visible beyond the CIBC tower; it has since been converted into high-priced retail and office spaces.

Gazette clipping, 1957

1936 photo: Ville de Montréal. Gestion des documents et archives.
Newspaper clipping from the Montreal Gazette, December 31, 1957
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November 20th, 2006

Public Space Cadet

Posted in Canada, Politics, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

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Toronto City Hall from above. Photo by Sam Javanrouh.

In last Thursday’s post on David Miller and the recent Toronto election, our handsome and talented Hogtown correspondent, Siqi Zhu, briefly wrote about the Toronto Public Space Committee and its rise to prominence in the civic lovefest of the Miller era. Now, there is absolutely no doubt that the TPSC has indeed risen to prominence: the latest issue of Toronto Life, the glossy journal of the city’s chattering classes, includes a lengthy profile of the Public Space Committee and its founder, Dave Meslin.

The Toronto Public Space Committee is at the forefront of a resurgence in Toronto civic spirit, one rooted in the city’s west end and a clique of devoted followers with a decidedly grassroots, populist vision of urban design, development and planning — “the spiritual grandchildren of the late Jane Jacobs,” as Toronto Life calls them.

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