March 07 2014

Taking a Stroll Through Old Montreal: Is it Merely a Seasonal Hotspot?

A popular tourist destination, Old Montreal and the Old Port have gained popularity amongst locals in recent years, as seen by an increase in both residents and businesses. Settled in 1642, it is now home to historical landmarks and museums, government buildings, restaurants, bars and clubs, art galleries and souvenir shops. During the period of late spring to early fall it is a bustling district. Coupled with its many outdoor spaces, it is the perfect host for the seasonal Third Place.

In the summer, all of Montreal seems to spring into action due to extended store hours, the arrival of seasonal vendors, and a heightened period of internationally recognized festivals, events and concerts. Attention is paid to people at the community level, the utilization of the spaces around them and the exchange of ideas and information in an array of capacities and places.

By taking the time to enjoy one’s surroundings both equally indoors and outdoors, throughout Montreal’s diverse neighbourhoods, people truly make use of the Third Place, beyond that of the primary place of home and the secondary place of work. According to urban planning sociologist Ray Oldenburg, the Third Place is one where everybody knows your name. Thus, NBC’s “Cheers” got it right: a comfortable, regularly frequented location within outdoor and pseudo-commercial public spaces that prompts conversations between strangers and friends alike.

While the warmer months offer virtually unlimited place making possibilities and thus increased opportunities for community building, the winter months host a strikingly different scene. When outside temperatures can feel like -30°C, Montrealers simply hustle from Point A to Point B, heads down against the gusty winds, eyes watering, noses running. It’s a familiar scene, even in the city’s historical district.

While Montrealers are hustling from Point A to B, the city of Montreal heavily promotes winter events and activities in Old Montreal. While the ClockTower Beach is closed, an ice fishing village takes primary focus on the frozen St. Lawrence river below. Similarly, the Old Port skating rink replaces paddle-boating along the river. Electronic music festival Igloofest and artistic all-nighter Nuit Blanche also draw thousands of people to the area on winter nights.

Old Port Skating Rink, Montreal, Quebec

Yet a shift occurs in the winter from place-making to mobility. When most people enter Old Montreal in the colder months, they generally have a goal-specific destination in mind and intend to get there by the quickest means possible. The streets, rather than acting as a gathering point, transform solely into a means of travel. For this reason the city only pedestrianizes certain streets during the summer, when walkability within neighbourhoods is at its prime. As such, while the Old Port waterfront is a permanently designated pedestrianized zone, it is underused during the winter because people are generally uncomfortable in the cold for extended periods of time.

Closed Store Sign, Old Montreal, Montreal, Quebec

Further, many businesses operate seasonally, specifically cafés, restaurant terraces, cycling tours, and artist pop-up vendors selling jewelry, crafts and paintings. Public spaces like the Jacques-Cartier Square and Rue des Artistes are virtually void of activity when these commercial venues are absent during the winter.

Jacques Cartier Square, Old Montreal, Montreal, Quebec

Though the use of outdoor spaces may decrease during the winter and the streets lose their place-making capacities due to an increased focus on mobility, indoor pseudo-commercial public spaces become ever more important for place-making.

Which indoor or outdoor public spaces act as a Third Place in your city?

Credits: Images by Caitlin Dixon. Data linked to sources.

Caitlin Dixon

Caitlin Dixon is a recent graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Québec, holding a B.A. in Geography: Urban Systems and a Minor in History. Born and raised in Montreal, her love of travel has propelled her to partake in several international field courses. During her academic career she has studied Human and Physical Geography in Sutton, Québec, Environmental Management in Holetown, Barbados and Urban Geography in Berlin, Germany. Now, she will begin work in Rio de Janeiro as a Public Space intern for Catalytic Communities, an advocacy empowerment NGO centered around community development and urban planning. Her role will be to research and document the forms and functions of both informal and formal public spaces in different neighbourhoods and favelas across the city. Her main interests include public space design and use, as well as urban revitalization. She hopes to capture and further explore these subjects in her blogs for The Grid.

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 7th, 2014 at 9:49 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


3 Responses to “Taking a Stroll Through Old Montreal: Is it Merely a Seasonal Hotspot?”

  1. Raghu Krishnan Says:

    In Philly, Rittenhouse Square is THE place to have a casual time and meet strangers and friends alike. As Jane Jacobs puts it, one of the most ideal areas in the country for a mixed use atmosphere year round.

    In Cambridge, Harvard Square is a meeting place for people to enjoy people watching and being entertained by street performers, protesters, and the like.

  2. Raghu Krishnan Says:

    As a follow up, I am a huge proponent of seasonal Third Places. I get to know more about people in the city instead of living in a silo and being hyper local in my own neighborhood especially during the winter months when that is a high likelihood of happening. By “practicing” how to be cordial with other folks in the city at these public places I feel more at ease exploring different areas. The people at squares and parks do not have the same frame of mind as the same people at a pub or an indoor concert. It’s a more relaxed and free wheeling environment that is not necessarily directed towards a particular focus in conversation. And this can lead to an unexpected enlightening experience. During the winter months there are limited spaces like this. But…by restaurants/pubs/businesses alike combining forces we can transform street level parking lots or abandoned areas into THIRD places with heat lamps during colder months. We can have a biergarten or a space for live music atop a grassy area versus concrete or blacktop. Some of the most beautiful clear nights are during the winter, so let’s have at it and not keep going into hibernation during that time of year….

  3. Caitlin Dixon Says:

    Great point, Raghu. All it takes is for people to come in, occupy an abandoned or underused space and transform it to suit their own public needs. This, of course, leads to more spontaneous interactions when people come across it by chance, having stumbled upon a space transformed into a gathering spot. Much like the “Accidental Playground” in Brooklyn.

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