Sunday, April 10, 2011

Projet Montreal, what the hell is going on?

A very disturbing announcement in LePlateau from Friday, concerning the borough's new resolution to close the terrasses at 1:00 am instead of 3:00 am (via the always helpful Montreal City Weblog)

Is Projet Montreal starting to reveal its true colours as a party that is more concerned about promoting gentrification than the environment? I voted for them in the Plateau and have been generally quite pleased with the work Luc Ferrandez and his team have done since they took office. Just their transparency and communication alone has been a huge improvement over Helen "help developers build condos" Fotopolous. They have put forth some aggressive (though not yet realized) traffic-calming projects and made a big effort to improve the cleanliness. But little by little, they have also started to get into disturbing law and order and public behaviour legislation that is reminding me of the co-opting of Vancouver's Green Party by NIMBY yuppies who equated the environment with property values.

The thing that is setting off my alarm bells big time is the resolution to close the terrasses 2 hours early on the Main during the summer street festivals. Currently, the terrasses close at 3 am. This summer, they will now close at 1. The ostensible reason is that the police have an excessive amount of work and trouble with the late night crowds during these festivals.

There are so many things wrong with this legislation, I don't even know where to start. In general, it attacks the very heart of everything that makes this neighbourhood so awesome. This is a place of culture, of society, of people hanging out. Montreal has proven for decades that people can stay up late, drink and have fun and it makes the city a better place. Closing the terrasses at 1 gets us one step closer to the hell that is Vancouver nightlife (though hell is the wrong word, because hell is at least exciting.)

I do believe the police when they say they have more trouble during these street festivals late at night. However, all the trouble is localized along the strip between Prince Arthur and Sherbrooke, at the trendy clubs that all the out-of-towners and suburbanites go to. During the festival that's where all the packs of prowling men and gangs of cops are to be found. Above des Pins, it's always mellow. And there are many great terrasses there (Frappé, Cabana, Le Divan Orange, Laika to name a few). So now they all have to suffer because a bunch of losers from Longeuil can't get into a club on the other end of the street?

Also, the cops have had a giant hard-on for those clubs for years. They are always harrassing them, closing them down, citing them for code violations. I don't know the politics behind it all, I suspect the club owners are probably associated with organized crime, but this look suspicously like another attempt to harrass these clubs. That's great, I really couldn't give a shit about those over-priced, mediocre establishments that are designed purely for people to see themselves being seen. But don't kill the whole vibe of the street festival to attack a small group of establishments.

The other thing that really worries me as well is the "diminishing the quality of life of the residents". I am a resident here. I am a property owner. I am a taxpayer. Rowdiness on St-Laurent improves my quality of life. I am not kidding. If I wanted to live in a neighbourhood where having fun is suppressed, I would move back to the west coast. My neighbours feel this way. We live one block away from St-Laurent and Mont-Royal and in the summer we get a lot of fallout from the clubs up here. Cars going up and down the street, drunken groups of guidos, garbage in the mornings. Yeah, it can be annoying, but one the flip side, we can go out and walk to a cool restaurant or bar ourselves. We can come home drunk at 4 in the morning. We can go over to the park with a foam sword or a bongo drum. These things all go hand in hand. You start cracking down on the bars and soon you start getting aggressive by-laws about unleashed dogs or dangerous foam swords. There is a lobby out there just waiting in the shadows to jump in and stop you from having fun. They will latch on to anything they can and start screaming about safety and the children the moment they see an opening. These are the same losers who bought condos on St-Dominique and then complained about noise from the Fringe festival.

And these words are not coming from some wildman with a pick-up truck on blocks in his front yard. Au contraire, I am very uptight about cleanliness and the appearance of the neighbourhood, as anyone who has followed this blog will know. I take civic responsibility very seriously and I believe that suppressing other people's fun generally is not good for a community.

What is going on here, Monsieur Ferrandez? Monsieur Alex Norris? Where is the motivation for this law really coming from? Unless you can provide me with some other information that I may be missing, then I strongly encourage you to re-think this resolution and find a compromise that will make the job of the police a little easier on Friday and Saturday nights without killing the fun for everyone who does enjoy simply sitting out on a terrasse and people watching and jasing until 3 in the morning.


Alex Norris said...

Hi there, I share most of the sentiments you express here and this is not a decision we made with any joy in our hearts. It's true, as you note, that the situation south of Pine is worse than further to the north. But from a legal perspective it's difficult to shut down some terraces and not others; the broader problem is that at bar closing time there are frequently brawls that break out and we need a police presence up and down the street to keep things under control. We already devote a great deal of public resources to doing this (at great public expense, I might add) but during the street fests, with big outdoor terraces jammed full of people at 3 a.m. just as fights are breaking out on the street, it's hard for police to keep things under control. The advice we got was that having both the bars and the terraces shutting down at the same time was a nightmare from a law-enforcement perspective; it just made things too difficult for the police to do their job safely. Keep in mind that police officers and regular passers-by have been injured in these melees. It's not a pretty scene. Plus, a number of bar owners were too greedy last summer and jammed their terraces full of patrons -- cramming in up to three times the legal limit -- putting their safety and that of their staff in jeopardy. You may love (or at least find tolerable) living very nearby a street where every Friday and Saturday night fights break out, people urinate and puke right outside people's front doors and so on (I take it you consider this comes with the territory with living in an area with a rich offering of places to go out and to some extent it does), but I can assure you that there are a good many residents of our community (and not all uptight yuppies living in newly bought condos, either) who have had their fill of it. This is not the way the Main was 10, 15 or even five years agao. There even a good number of merchants who feel this way. (For an example, check the clip from the restaurant at the end of this piece on Daybreak: ) Having fun during street festivals is great and we do not want to be killjoys. I myself have enjoyed many a beer on an outdoor terrace in the wee hours of the morning on the Main. But things have gotten a little out of control and we are trying to restore a bit of balance between the vitality of our street life during festivals and the need for police to keep things under control and, just as importantly, the right of passers-by and locals to be able go about their business safely.
So, sorry you're disappointed with this move. Glad you're happy with other things we're doing. Please keep this in perspective: we're talking about three events a year during which street terraces will be open 18 hours a day ( 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.) instead of 20 hours a day. True, the bar owners will make a little less money and some people won't be able to enjoy their drinks outside for quite as long, but the Main will remain a great place to have fun during these street fests and the terraces will stay popular. And, if things improve and the bar owners act more responsibly this summer, we will be able to revisit the decision and be more permissive next year.
Hope this answers your question as to "what the hell is going on."
--Alex Norris, city councillor, Mile End

OlmanFeelyus said...

What was I saying about transparency and communication above?

Whether or not I agree on the decision, I have to applaud and thank you for making the effort to come and explain the thinking behind it, Mr. Norris. Given the obfuscation and evasion (and most likely lying) going on in City Hall right now, Projet Montreal's policy on openness is particularly satisfying. Let's hope that you represent a trend for the future in municipal politics.

Thanks also for your in-depth answer. It provides a better perspective on the various factors you had to weigh on your end. I'm an office manager and have to make decisions that many people don't like but I believe are in the best interest of the office as a whole, so I am sympathetic to the difficulty of your position.

A couple of thoughts:

- I wonder if 2 am might not have been a possible compromise?
- Is the advice from the police supported by actual data (# of arrests, cost of damage, etc.) or is it just anecdotal? I often walk up and down the Main several times during the festivals and while it certainly gets pretty drunk and testosterone-filled around 3 or so, I've never seen even an altercation.
- Totally agree that the bar owners who abuse the situation are very much to blame here.

I guess for me my main concern hinges on a decision being made based on advice from the police. They are a major stakeholder and thus should have a strong voice, but their solution is always going to be "shut it down". I wonder if there are other ways to reduce troublesome behaviour? How does the Nuit Blanche handle things? I guess other methods are probably more expensive.

Thanks again for your response. I'll try to be more flexible in my thinking this summer, but I hope that you keep this issue on the table so that it doesn't become locked in, the way for instance the anti-food vendor law deprives Montrealer of what is one of the hottest trends in cuisine in North America right now.