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Lessons from La Belle Province

Jody Vance: Many of Vancouver’s problems are treated as either unsolvable, or a question of picking winners and losers. Montreal shows it doesn’t have to be that way.

Last night I landed back at YVR after a whirlwind trip to YUL (Montreal) to cover the federal election — my new contract with Al Jazeera English sees me with duties as a freelance Canadian correspondent, so I’m getting to know cities across the country.

The last few days offered such an education, and what stood out most for me is this week’s Middle. Liveability is possible.

We should all be so lucky to reset, get out of BC, and see how things work (or don’t) elsewhere. Staying hyper-local can get us stuck in the weeds, twisting ourselves into pretzels in a desire to be Greenest. This is important – but there’s a way to be green and not crush livability.

Quebec’s jewel of a city is both, with green spaces and places built for and used by the taxpaying public. No agendas reflected in Montreal’s parks, plazas and waterfront gathering spots. They are built for visitors, with parking for those who come from far away places. Yes, in cars. Using parking that is affordable for families. Facilities that are functional, and not built like a tank to keep homeless out. Places built for all people.

It was so refreshing.

Obviously it is not all rainbows and unicorns in Montreal. But when we rolled out to cover polling places on the city limits, the beautiful gentle density was downright amazing.

Block after block after block of brownstones and walkups, low-rise apartment buildings with green spaces in between.

There it was, right before my eyes — communities of people living in spaces we’d all consider a win in Vancouver.

Affordable in their shape and size. Not fancy glass boxes with afterthought art slapped on the side — but rather sturdy, safe and hearty.

Walkability and availability of resources of all kinds nearby…for block after block after block.

And the PARKS…good lord the parks.

There are good, clean, old-school garbage cans all over the place. I mean ALL over the place, every few meters. Not coincidentally, the streets are clean, because the garbage is IN the garbage. No multi-layered ask to recycle at the trash bin, just a place to put the trash.

Now, before the arguments that “it’s different here” I say it’s not so different that Vancouver can’t take some lessons.

It’s safe, it’s clean. It is walkable and bikeable. There are beautiful nods to history and stunningly functional green spaces and public plazas built for actual use — rather than some architectural showcase submitted by someone from far away.

This place has — wait for it — liquor sales in convenience stores and it isn’t Armageddon!

Montreal is the example of The Middle between a European City and No-Funcouver.

The next Mayor of Vancouver, or the current mayor if he retains the office, should really direct staff to learn from Montreal, and apply it to BC’s big city equivalent.

We have parks in utter disarray, broken water features and overgrown grasses where kids can’t play — and garbage cans where coyotes find their three square meals. Montreal has gorgeously kept and clean spaces where citizens gather to sit on the many — and I mean MANY — benches. Benches where one might even stretch out and relax without some overthought barrier to keep the impoverished from actually relaxing.

Somehow, someway, the city of Montreal has figured out policing and city hall working to make things not just liveable, but rewarding.

I have very little knowledge of the inner workings or politics in the City of Montreal. But my first search for news stories on local controversies revealed the new OMG (Office montréalais de la gastronomie ) established to help support Montreal’s incredible restaurant sector recover from the impacts of COVID-19. A Vancouverite might only dream…

It IS possible to have a thriving downtown, sprawling suburbs, waterways all around, robust transit and gentle density with great neighbourhoods without harassing the homeless or telling drivers to stay away – I’ve seen it. I was there yesterday.

The Middle today simply suggests that someone at the planning level at Vancouver City Hall spend some quality time in Montreal.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.