(Editor-at-Large Walter Wasacz writes a weekly column on life in Hamtramck.)
By Walter Wasacz
Last weekend, I got lucky. Not only was I in Montreal to write about at an extraordinary electronic music festival called MUTEK — which features five days and nights of live events, picnics, panels and Q&A’s with some of the best artists and journalists from all over the world — I also got to perform there with my laptop group nospectacle.
Cool stuff. Nice people. Good times.
But while I was there, I also did some thinking about Montreal the place, and how it compares to Detroit (and by extension, Hamtramck, an integral part of the Detroit narrative).
While it is arguably Canada’s most interesting city, it is a place with major economic, social and political issues. There is a perceptible tension between French and English Montreal — largely due to laws enacted beginning in the 1970s that supported the conservation of French culture and language to the extent that all signage in English, or even bilingual signage, had to be converted to French.
In the 1980s, an exodus of English-speaking Montrealers, including those with business and financial interests, began driving population down (to the benefit of Toronto, which saw huge gains in population and investment). The cruelest irony might be the fact that the Bank of Montreal left the city and is now headquartered in Toronto.
In 2002, 27 other smaller municipalities were merged with the larger city on the Island of Montreal, though two years later a “demerger” left only 15 of those intact.
Population is now at around 1.6 million on the island, with another 2 million in the suburbs — bigger and more vibrant in its city center than Detroit, but slightly smaller than our own metropolitan area.
As I walked around the city, from our hotel in midtown, down to lively old Montreal — where buildings from the 1600s still remain intact — back up again to the Latin Quarter for multiple choices for excellent food and drink, the overriding impression was that the city was humming.
Everything is accessible without motorized transportation. Every one walks or rides bicycles (Montreal has a great public bicycle project that enables pedestrians to rent bikes at various locations around town.
You can do it with coins or a credit card, like paying at a parking meter, then take the bike to your destination and drop it off at another city-owned rack, people look more fit and healthy, shops, restaurants and bars benefit from the intensity of foot traffic.
There is a clean, efficient subway and bus transit system. Cabs are plentiful, if you need them. There are multiple festivals and street parties going on all summer.
But how can some of these ideas be implemented here? I have a few more thoughts on that to share next week. Until then, I bid, well, adieu.