Save Griffintown!

Chef David McMillan invests in the neighborhood by ajkandy
September 27, 2007, 2:19 pm
Filed under: griffintown, local economy

Liverpool House

Chef and restaurateur David McMillan is building an empire of great restaurants in Montreal. He’s best known for Main glitterati hotspot Globe, where George Clooney was known to hold court while filming in town. More recently he’s opened the expansive Rosalie downtown, a popular place right next door to several trendy nightspots.

Down here in Sud-Ouest, he’s singlehandedly responsible for nurturing the recent boom on the Notre-Dame restaurant strip between Charlevoix and Vinet. Earlier this year, he opened the oyster-and-wine-focused Joe Beef to great success; now, following the demise of its next-door-neighbour Ru de Nam, McMillan’s taken over the space for an entirely new restaurant called Liverpool House that literally opened just yesterday.

On the other side of Joe Beef, he’s taking over the space vacated by vegetarian café Bonnys (now migrated into stylishly forest-inspired quarters at 1748 Notre-Dame, right near the corner of St-Martin). According to chef-owner Bonny Tees — who renovated her new space herself with her staff — McMillan’s planning to open a small gourmet grocery store, something the neighborhood will likely embrace warmly.

The Notre-Dame/Charlevoix strip has become a magnet for the neighborhood, centered around the revitalized Le Corona theatre (which needs to book more indie bands, DJs and theatre work, IMHO), and attracting clientele from the nearby Atwater Market and antiques district. Several restaurants opened or renovated in the past year: The sadly underrated Les Îles de Catherine offers earthy, spicy stews from Guadeloupe and Martinique — well worth a visit; Lili and Oli is a cozy Wi-Fi café on the Ile sans Fil network, popular with info-workers; Itsi-Bitsi is a cupcake shop opened by a former graphic designer that just opened across Charlevoix; Limon is an elegant Mexican restaurant with two outdoor terrasses; and La Toulousaine is an unpretentious bistro specializing in (what else) southwestern French food, proudly calling themselves ‘the house of cassoulet.’

And of course, this strip of restaurants doesn’t require huge surface parking lots; they co-exist with apartments, offices and other shops just fine. It’s an excellent model for the Village Griffintown designers to copy.

James Howard Kunstler: The Tragedy of Suburbia by ajkandy
September 25, 2007, 1:20 pm
Filed under: authors, books, Live Presentations, Urbanism, youtube

Author James Howard Kunstler is one of the most perceptive observers of the urban condition on the planet. His books The Geography of Nowhere, Home from Nowhere and The City In Mind contain the most thought-provoking writing about contemporary architecture and urbanism since Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House, in my opinion.

Kunstler’s brash ex-Manhattanite take on the pitfalls of post-WWII suburbia and the emptiness of modernist architecture is vital, refreshing, funny, honest, and necessary. More than anything, his presentation at the 2005 TED conference (video linked above) served as inspiration for us to take action in our own neighborhood.

He’s got a TypePad blog, and there’s a diverse collection of broadsides, architectural criticisms, paintings, photos of the ‘Eyesore of the Month’, and a newsletter about his adopted town of Saratoga Springs, NY at his lo-tech but appealing website, His next book is a novel set in the post-oil Northeast, entitled “World Made By Hand,” due out from the Atlantic Press in March 2008.

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Concordia Urban Studies project from 2003-2004 by ajkandy
September 19, 2007, 6:11 pm
Filed under: griffintown, Urbanism

Concordia Plan - Canada Post Site

Just for discussion and illustration, here’s an image from the well-known study that the Concordia Urban Planning department put forward as part of the senior student work from the 2003-2004 class. This is a residential plan with a new street grid imposed on the Canada Post site.

Our proposal would look similar, except it’d likely involve a different grid (not rigidly rectangular), underground parking and a large layer of shops and services…making at least one major retail street with several residential side streets – or a densely mixed residential / retail zone.

Pecha Kucha Night #2 – The Aftermath by steph
September 18, 2007, 11:29 pm
Filed under: Events, Live Presentations, Pecha Kucha

Tonight’s second edition of Pecha Kucha Montreal showcased a fascinating array of topics, from Jerome Pasquero’s discussion of the sense of touch in technology, to Maroussia Lévesque’s sobering presentation on her Passage Oublié interactive art project at Pearson Airport.

After rescuing AJ from a queue somewhere offstage, we kicked off version 1.0 of our presentation on Griffintown and the proposed plans to build a big-box mall near the edge of the canal. Though we were slightly nervous, we quickly found our rhythm; the audience nodded and laughed in all the right places. The reactions and comments afterwards were positive and encouraging, including my favourite —”You put the living fear of God into us!”

We owe much gratitude to the following friends and individuals for their help, support and willingness to let us poach their photos for our slides:

We’d also like to thank Zura for beta-testing our presentation, and most especially for the rosé and Di Saronno that propelled our weekend work sessions.

We’ll be linking to a video of tonight’s event as soon as we have it. In the meantime, we’ll be adapting our presentation into a longer and meatier format for the web, complete with narration (not unlike a sausage, if done by the BBC.)

Congratulations again to Boris and the entire Pecha Kucha team for a great lineup and an enlightening evening!

Can a Shopping Mall Save Griffintown?…Maybe. by ajkandy
September 17, 2007, 5:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Recently, Quebec developer Devimco partnered with Toronto-based RioCan to build the suburban Dix30 “lifestyle centre,” a drive-in power-centre big-box shopping mall located in a greenfield development at the intersections of Highways 10 and 30 on the South Shore.

Devimco is now working with the City of Montreal to push through a similar $1B development right at the foot of Peel Street, on the Peel Basin section of the Lachine Canal, likely occupying the same land that was originally proposed for the now-defunct Cirque du Soleil / Casino complex. Reportedly, Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire are to be anchor tenants.

A suburban mall at the foot of one of Montreal’s central boulevards, in the middle of Griffintown and adjacent to Old Montreal, ignores both the “retail DNA” of Montreal and the history of a proud neighborhood. It’s anti-urban, representing low density and sprawl, and there is serious doubt that it will contribute positively in terms of built space, eyes on the street, and other issues.

Even if there is a residential tower attached, as the current proposal includes, it’s still likely going to be a lot of cheap sheds separated by acres of parking. It’s an odd decision in a neighborhood that is moving towards drastically increased residential density and good urban design, and which is likely to be enhanced by the Harbour Commission’s plans to demolish the elevated portions of the Bonaventure Expressway to create a pedestrian-friendly urban boulevard and tramway links. With Peak Oil on the horizon, are big-box malls of national chain retail even viable, anyway?

We — being Stephanie Troeth and yours truly, AJ Kandy — are proposing an alternative, urbanist vision for the project in a quick six-minute presentation at the upcoming Montreal Pecha Kucha Night, Tuesday, September 18th at the SAT, starting at 8:00pm. We hope to see all of you there, and for those who can’t attend, we’ll be republishing it online with narration, background articles and links, and providing tools for action and discussion.

In the meantime, interested citizens should get in touch with the Sud-Ouest borough mayor’s office about an upcoming series of public consultations on the project.