Cities can look better in Winter, Issue 24

 Covid-19 compliance ennui has settled in ! While most of us take the Coronavirus very seriously, I think that almost everyone is probably guilty of at least some minor transgressions of the mash-mash of the many confusing rules, regulations and recommendations that are being issued by national, provincial, and municipal authorities. I get an average of five weekly e-mails from each of two different  law firms giving updates on new and ever tightening rules. 

Slush and Salt

Winter is coming and the number of daylight hours is down to about nine in Montreal and most of southern Canada.  The time between sunrise and sunset will be down to about eight hours and forty minutes by December 22. In the meantime we have allowed our communities to get grey and dowdy . I am fed up counting the number of discarded face masks in the streets and in the parks, in the centre of the city and in the suburbs, just everywhere. This can’t be good for controlling the spread of Covid-19. These masks should be treated as bio-hazards. Summer time pedestrian street configurations that proved popular for many have been dismantled for the winter.  The snow will come and with it, car-friendly snow-removal protocols that will change streets into rivers of grey slush. Restaurants and bars have been forced to close for indoor dining and outdoor dining. Restaurant closures have a triple-whammy  effect on high street traffic. There is nowhere to take a break from shopping; because of the paucity of public washrooms in most of our cities, nowhere to pee; and, retailers are suffering from the loss of traffic these good neighbours generate. The festive holiday season that many look forward to all year will not be the same. This could well be The Winter of Our Discontent  .

The time has come  for a collective effort to focus on hope and happiness. My thoughts:

  1. It is better to start with a very strict regulatory framework, aggressive closures and social distancing measures and then to ease off as conditions permit. Impose two weeks of strict lockdown followed by say selective re-openings and incremental increases in the numbers of people permitted in social gatherings and public places. These become rewards for sacrifice. Currently there seems to be incremental  tightening of regulations, and extensions to restrictive measures and with no end in sight, this causes feelings of futility that lead to less adherence to the sanitary guidelines rather than compliance. 
  2. Moderna and Pfizer have announced very promising results for their vaccines currently in Phase 3 trials. There is an enormous amount of guessing about when vaccinations will start. I know it is impossible to confirm the start date of inoculations as there remain many hurdles such as ensuring efficacy, duration of immunization, and safety but it should be possible to start setting out a month one, month two, type schedule. It  would be good to know what the national and provincial logistical plans are. 
  3. There should be a concerted effort to make our communities shine and to make our community outdoors attractive. Holiday lights and decorations should be up early and stay lit until March. It is a time to experiment with new winter street configurations  that prioritize people and not cars in shopping areas. I grew up in a northern community where salt was not used on very well-ploughed streets and sidewalks. This left them clean and pleasant to walk on. If cars have to slow down a bit to handle those conditions, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  
  4. Avenue Mont-Royal was a popular pedestrian street this summer. Should it now be a cross country ski trail leading all the way up to the mountain? Maybe Avenue Duluth would be a better choice as it would link the Lafontaine, Jeanne-Mance, and Mount Royal Parks. This would create a large, interconnected outdoor area with lots of room for social distancing and natural air dispersal. It could be a permanent fixture and tourist attraction. I realize that it would be necessary to take skis off to cross Park Avenue. 
  5. Restaurants are allowed to operate pick-up and delivery services. In addition, they should be allowed to provide outdoor dining options. Many operators will choose not to pursue this opportunity but many restaurant owners are creative and entrepreneurial people and would create simple cold weather menus and attractive spaces bringing streets alive. There are small vacant lots that could host winter gardens and there are areas where there are microclimates caused by the venting of warm air from buildings and the subway system. If shops are allowed to be open, there should be some allowance for indoor dining even if it is only at 20% of allowed occupancy. Maybe the restaurants preparing takeout and delivery meals would welcome a little extra traffic for a few hours each day.
  6. Everyone has to make an effort to keep our outdoors clean. Pocket used masks and gloves, don’t leave cigarette butts in the street, pick up after dogs. 
  7. Dress warmly and get outside. The first day is always the coldest. Conditions we consider cold in November we think of as warm in March. Buy indoor / outdoor bioethanol fireplaces from Montreal’s Eco-Feu

I was in Austria last December and on many days the temperatures hovered around 0c and on a couple of days, it was much cooler in the evening. We were surprised how many Christmas parties were being held outdoors in sheltered passageways and open courtyards. The streets were full of holiday revellers and shoppers and they could easily find outdoor terraces to eat and enjoy a warm drink. New York City has increased its number of outdoor terraces from 1000 to 10,000, many of them winterized. The photo array on the left is an installation in the NYC Flatiron districting was designed by the New York office of Australian architecture firm BVN. Mayor Bill Di Blasio has declared that NYC outdoor dining will be permanent and year-round. Oslo’s average temperature December through February is 0c to -5c. It does get colder with all kinds of mixed precipitation and Oslovian’s enjoy dining outdoors all year long. There is year-long outdoor dining in all of the Scandinavian countries.

People are social animals and will congregate. Winter is already difficult but if we don’t make an effort  to improve the outdoors, people will meet indoors.  Canadians in general and Montrealers in particular pride themselves on their hardiness . It is time to put our fabled hardiness to good use.

And as always, shop local, support local businesses, buy from local farms, and support local artisans and manufacturers. As always, wear face masks as required, wash your hands, practice social distancing, hydrate, and exercise. 


One Issue 23 reader reminded me that there are opportunities to support favourite restaurants and pubs during these difficult times. Check the web sites of your favourite haunts and find out if they are preparing pick-up meals, supplying pantry essentials, or selling wine and beer. He specifically mentioned L’Expresse,  the Benelux brew pubs, and La Boite du Chef

As I was writing this e-mail, I received an invitation to a private sale at my favourite men’s wear store, Le Clusier . It was a plea more than an invitation. It is located at 432 rue McGill and it is  just about the only retail location opened in that area. Almost all of their neighbours that attract traffic are restaurants. You may not need anything but if you can afford it, maybe you could donate some of your existing wardrobe to a homeless shelter and buy a new winter coat with accessories. Dress the homeless and support your favourite retailer. 

We Should Know Better

August 26, 2023

I know! I am going to sound like a grumpy old man. Maybe that is because I am. I have been scratching my head in wonderment at the Taylor Swift phenomena. Is she an Incredible song writer, composer, and performer? I really don’t know! A discussion for another time? But probably not. At my age […]

Not in My Back Yard

August 4, 2023

Don’t build it! At least, Not In My Back Yard ! I acted as an advisor  in the sale of a beautifully natural, 14-acre urban waterfront estate. Existing zoning allowed for the development of 30 to 35 single-family homes, which after road dedication would leave very little green space. I did not think that was […]

Glasgow – That Dear Green Place

July 31, 2023

We were visiting Glasgow (literally that Dear Green Place in Gaelic) to see where my father was born, grew up, and went to University. Fortunately for me, my cousin John from Australia had just visited and had met with historians, Bruce Downie  and Norry Wilson.  So,  we too arranged to meet them in the Govanhill […]

Vienna on Top Again

June 25, 2023

Vienna on top again. This week both Monocle Magazine and The Economist unveiled their quality of life / most liveable city indexes. There are differences in the way each publication sets its index. So it is even more impressive that once again, Vienna tops both lists. I am a bit lazy today so rather than […]

Large interior courtyards

From Hot Bedding to Superblocks

June 20, 2023

Many Viennese went from hot bedding to superblocks overnight. Could they even imagine  an apartment complex 1000 metres long built along two streets with even more massive landscaped courtyards? Could they conceive of 1400 apartment units built to house 5000 people on 56,000 square metres or 38 acres of land.  Or a vertical build-out that […]

Vienna – the World’s Most Livable City

June 16, 2023

Vienna had been a poor city even before the First World War. “Normal” housing arrangements  meant six to eight people sharing one room and a kitchen. Then, in early 1919, just after the Armistice,  the cost of living tripled in two months. Bed lodgers could no longer afford their 8-hours a day in a shared […]