Revamp of Place Jacques-Cartier is problematic
Jan 19, 2016
It’s normal, during these bitter days of winter, to yearn for summer. This is a city where complaining about the weather has become a sport of sorts. And yet, some merchants in Place Jacques-Cartier are looking ahead with a sense of dread — and they have good reason to worry.
Last week, the city of Montreal unveiled its plan to revamp the historic square in Old Montreal, with a view to revitalizing the tourist site in time for the city’s 375th birthday in 2017 and highlighting its architectural heritage. Some elements of the plan make a lot of sense. Others seem more problematic.
Among the positive aspects of the $5 million makeover is a move to extend the use of the square year-round. Place Jacques-Cartier is the most popular tourist area in Montreal, but it is under-used outside the summer months. It would make sense, then, to schedule more festivals and activities there, like a Christmas market, to draw more people beyond the busy season. To that end, the plan calls for a new electricity grid.
It also calls for the installation of much-needed public washrooms, and benches for sitting. For the milder part of the year, artists, caricaturists and musicians will be assigned spaces in the square, while artisans and some artists will be moved to the promenade along de la Commune St. This is expected to alleviate some of the congestion some merchants have complained about.
However, the city has failed to listen to some key concerns that were raised when the project was first announced last summer. For example, existing terrasses affixed to the fronts of restaurants are to be removed, so that centuries-old facades can be exposed. The structures are to be replaced by a row of uniform, covered terrasses seven metres from the buildings, in a manner seen in some European cities. But given the unpredictable weather here, including late-afternoon summer cloudbursts, it makes little sense to move patrons to a spot where they are more likely to be vulnerable to the elements. And a uniform design seems more suited to a food court than a historic square.
Of bigger concern, servers laden with trays of food and drinks will be forced to navigate through the moving masses to reach tables, a scenario one restaurant owner called a logistical nightmare. In response, Mayor Denis Coderre acknowledged “maybe they will drop a few plates” and joked the exercise can be turned into a “balancing contest” as part of the city’s birthday celebrations.
Complaining about the weather might be seen as a sport, but the work of servers should not.