Ruelles With Potential

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Montreal is one of the most dynamic and engaging cities in North America, but sometimes I wish that creativity would be reflected in its urban planning. So many corners of this city brim with potential — but much of that potential is being wasted. Consider the case of two downtown laneways: Mount Royal Place and the ruelle Nick Auf der Mar. Each could be transformed into engaging public spaces but, for the time being, they are little more than urban afterthoughts.

Mount Royal Place is named for the old Mount Royal Hotel, once the largest in Canada, which was converted into the Cours Mont-Royal shopping mall in the late 1980s. (You can tell it was named for the hotel and not the mountain because its official name, place Mount-Royal, maintains the English spelling.) It runs along the south side of the mall, between Peel and Metcalfe, just behind a row of buildings that front Ste. Catherine Street.

What makes this particular lane so interesting is that the Cours Mont-Royal faces it with terraces and retail spaces; when the mall was built, Mount Royal Place was renovated with brick paving, planters and new street furniture. It almost seemed as if the mall intended to line the alley with cafés, restaurants and shops, but this plan must have fallen through, because the terraces are empty and retail spaces are closed, occupied with shops that open only into the mall’s interior.

I’m not sure what happened back in the 80s but it’s not too late to make up for past mistakes: the city could encourage the Cours Mont-Royal and other property owners to open up new shops, install café terraces and make this a real downtown destination.

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Nick Auf der Mar Alley is named after the well-known journalist and rabble-rousing politician who was politely known as a “boulevardier,” which is why he was honoured with an alley off Crescent Street when he died in 1998. Sadly, the alley itself is unexceptional, leading straight into a loading dock. Given its location in the heart of the downtown party district, it would only make sense if it was renovated and made more inviting with new street furniture and maybe even a bar terrace.

Converting these two alleyways into vibrant pedestrian spaces wouldn’t be without precedent. In Toronto, many of the lanes in Yorkville are lined with cafés and shops. In Melbourne, lanes throughout the downtown area are filled with fascinating cafés, art galleries, bars and other businesses, along with some very innovative street art. Montreal should learn by example.

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Centre Lane, Melbourne. Photos by Tony Peric

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Tuesday June 03 2008at 10:06 pm , filed under Canada, Public Space and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “Ruelles With Potential”

  • Desmond Bliek says:

    Chris,

    Urban alleys certainly are an underused resource in Montreal; in many cases there also seems to be confusion (in terms of toponymy) as to whether one is dealing with a street or a lane, a fuzziness that probably clouds the consequences of these spaces in terms of urbanism, activity, and use.

    As for Mount Royal Place, I’m pretty sure it’s private space, even though it’s got a Ville de Montreal-issue street sign; years ago I tried to lock my bike to one of the lampposts in the lane, and got hustled out by one of the security guards from the Cours Mont-Royal mall complex. Sometimes the best guide to whose space is whose seems to be just keeping your head down and looking at the lines in the concrete/pavers/asphalt, though one wishes there was a more welcoming way to tell what the space was about.

    There was recently a Globe and Mail article about the sale of Toronto’s first laneway house; the comments section revolved almost entirely around ‘what is a laneway?’ and ‘why would being on a laneway make a house particular or special?’

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080523.re-laneway-0523/BNStory/RealEstate