22 June 2011

Bugging Me

Montreal Kids
It is quite extraordinary really. I just can't seem to get Montreal out of my head.

I've traveled the world, living in 10-odd countries and visiting quite a few others. There are many places I love and I always love to return to Copenhagen. There are other places I'd like to live, sure, but coming back home is always a pleasure.

I can visit other cities like Amsterdam or Paris or Barcelona - or other cities on an equal footing - and feel at home there.

What is it, then, about Montreal that is so fascinating? What is it that makes the city so damned liveable? Fair enough, I'm mostly talking about the Plateau and neighbourhoods like Mile End, but it is really quite extraordinary how the streets are alive.

This time upon returning to Copenhagen I'm looking around the city and seeing it quite differently. It seems somehow dead. Quite an epiphany, as you could well imagine. There are many aspects of life here that are wonderful and gorgeous and that I can't live without. The bicycle culture adds volume upon volume to the urban library and the neighourhoods are certainly liveable - some more than others. But the streets seem empty compared to Montreal. There, children hang out on the sidewalks, using the streets like they were meant to be used. The atmosphere is relaxed.

While in the city I tweeted things like "Montreal makes Berlin look like a gated community somewhere outside Phoenix". Berlin is the role model for so many cities and it is a fantastic place. But Montreal has something else.

The concept and definition of Copenhagenizing, relating to bicycle culture and traffic, is certainly something special and something worth exporting. It is something that would fit in well to Montreal.

But talking about 'Copenhagenizing' as some larger urban planning movement is not really something I subscribe to.

This city has many things to learn from other cities. Montreal, certainly. As well as Barcelona and Berlin and Amsterdam. Too many things to be set up on a pedestal for world-leading liveable streets. In the urban planning perspective, Copenhagen needs a great deal of copenhagenizing, instead of all this overrated urban planning focus on Danes waving their magical wands to transform other cities.

We can inspire Montreal bicycle-wise, absolutely, but Montreal could teach my city a great deal of things about making the city a nicer place to live.

It is still bugging me. Montreal is a riddle and one I wish to solve.


Jewish Cooking World said...

I am really impressed by your comment. I think it takes a lot of honesty to see the place you live in the light of another cities. I am afraid you need to know Montreal a little more, though. Look like you had a fatal case of "falling in love".
I like this blog very much. Thanks!

tj92 said...

It makes me proud to be Canadian! I've been to Montréal many times, but sometimes I forget to take part in the culture since well- It's pretty much the same where I live. I'm a country boy at heart, even though I live in the suburbs of a Canadian Maritime city.

Here in Fredericton, we have this mentality that Montréal is a rushed society, busy, congested. Ever since you started posting about Montréal, I've had a fascination of this old city's bicycle culture. The only thing stopping me from moving there is: the heat in the summer and my job! Plus, I'm trying to transform my current city :)

Anonymous said...

Well Mikael,

In the winter, the city kinds of dies off, or better, cuddles up in its winter coat. Now some folks do enjoy it, and there is a lot to be enjoyed about the winter alright...

But man, when spring comes, do we burst out of our holes!!! Oh boy, you better believe me, we suck the sh*t out of every sun ray... from april about all the way to october...

That's the reason why people live their summer so intensely... They store joy, happiness, fun etc. like ammo, to be able to hold through winter till the next summer.


Anonymous said...


Montreal IS congested I you are going to adopt the suburban lifestyle.
If instead you want to be reasonable and live within a decent footprint, life is nice and relaxed in here.

Lucas Jerzy Portela said...

Jaymr Lerner, urbanist and Curitiba's former mayor, says: "Every city is possible in its own, idiossincratic, way".

I don't excatly agree, and prefere to twist it psicoanalyticaly:

"Every city is impossible in its own, idiossincratic, way"

I'm happy you finally discovered it, Mikael. Alas, when will you come to Salvador (Bahia, Brazil) and see the most crowded streets you ever will, during the biggest carnival on earth (500 thousand people, everyday, for five days).

centrallyisolated said...

I think Sophie has it right, the winter here is so brutal that when the nice weather finally comes it feels like a crime to stay indoors. But somehow people still manage to enjoy outdoor spaces even when it's freezing -- during my first winter here I was quite surprised to see that there were free outdoor concerts in the dead of winter, and even more surprised to see the hundreds of people there in their hats and mittens, enjoying the show! Montreal does have a special something about it.

Kristin Tieche said...

As they say, "je me souviens..."

Kristin Tieche said...

btw - it was most probably the Poutine.

Klaus Mohn said...

Commenters are right, it's the timing of your visit, you came as the city was emerging from winter. You once wrote back to me in this comment section that you didn't think Berlin was a "real" cycling/livable city because the modal share of bikes dropped dramatically in the winter. Have you been to MTL in deepest darkest January? In "OH GOD WHEN IS THIS GONNA END???" early April? You may know what I'm talking about because you're from a northern city too, but the duality is more radical in Montréal than in most cities I've visited in both seasons. For living a full year, I'll take Kreuzberg over the Plateau without hesitation.

And yeah, the neighbourhoods thing. If you came to NYC and stayed in the good parts o Brooklyn, you'd be amazed too.

David said...

Funny... my impression of Montreal comes largely from its suburbs since that's all I tend to see of it when I head to Dorval Airport from Ottawa. Montreal's suburbs strike me as every bit as insipid and cycling-unfriendly as anything English Canada has to offer, perhaps even more so.

Montreal - and more generally Quebec - is one of the most curious places in Canada. On the one hand, there are elements of European culture, of which you've discovered and become quite enamored, and then there is the absolute worst of North American culture but spoken in French. That latter is car-obsessed, often drives badly and is known to curse at cyclists to an extent that would embarrass their redneck English Canadian counterparts, loves suburbia and its large houses with prominent garages, shops at big box stores, drinks light American beers and eats that strange creation, poutine, on a regular basis.

Having worked in the federal government in Ottawa, I've seen and worked with both. Oddly enough, the cultured Europeanesque francophones of the national capital region often live in Ottawa in its oldest 'Anglo' neighbourhoods or in the English enclaves of the Gatineau Valley in Quebec with names like "Chelsea" and "Wakefield".

Anonymous said...

There is a book for that! ;-)


Montréal la créative

Marie-Andrée Lamontagne

Les éditions Héliotrope

PDF : 9782923511641Papier : 9782923511337

Nombre de pages

Les circonstances qui président à la création d’une ville et façonnent son destin tiennent autant de l’histoire que de la géographie. Mais à quelles causes attribuer par la suite son aura, l’art de vivre qu’on y pratique, en un mot sa personnalité ? Sur la planète globalisée, Montréal apparaît comme la ville de toutes les proximités. Ville française à bonne distance de Paris, métropole nord-américaine à un jet de pierre de New York, Montréal offre le visage d'une ville tour à tour vibrante, imprévue, aléatoire, conviviale, où créer et vivre peuvent être stimulants. Qu'est-ce qui fait la spécificité de cette ville et la rend si attachante ?

Anonymous said...


In any city in the world, suburbs suck.
To evaluate properly a city, you have to go where its heart beats.
The most liveable cities will have their heart beating in the city center, where people actually live and everyone and everything is at walking/biking distance.
Montreal is such a city. People are obsessed with the Plateau but actually it is only one of several neighbourhoods that make Montreal freakin' alive: Rosemont, the Ghetto, the Village, HoMa (some areas of), NDG (parts of), Outremont (areas of), Old Montreal, the actual downtowwn/business district where, believe it or not, people actually live!!

Another reason that is often overlooked is that Montreal, a medium size city pushing 3 million-ish people, possess 4 full blown universities in Town. And I am not counting the universities in the suburbs (Bishop) or those whose student life gravitates in Montreal (Sherbrooke).
Now that's a LOT of students and young folks. Lots of graduates, youthful spirit etc.
That also counts for something.
This is also the reason why Montreal could do a lot more to improve cycling rates: people are receptive... But the administration and campuses are dregging their feet. McGill even banned bikes in the the main campus invoquing pedestrian security... Whatever...


Anonymous said...

I'm from Montreal and now I live in Copenhagen. I really miss my hometown and there's so much more to do than this tiny Danish capital. You should visit the suburbs and see how they roll ;)