July 04 2014

The Underground City: Beneath the Surface of Montreal, Quebec

The name “Underground City” draws images of a thriving metropolis lying deep beneath city streets. Instead, these subterranean spaces contain a network of links to transportation, commercial, recreational, and residential uses. Though underground cities exist all around the world, what makes Montreal’s system of corridors and tunnels stand out from the rest?

RESO - map of the Underground City, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

It is officially designated as RÉSO: the réseau de la ville souterraine, or rather, the network of the underground city. Many corridor links, however, are both below and above street level, and so the title of the Indoor City is often a more appropriate term for this system of enclosed spaces. Development began in 1962 with the construction of an underground shopping center located beneath Montreal’s first modern skyscraper, Place Ville-Marie, which is also connected to Gare Centrale, the central train station. The inauguration of the metro system in 1966 encouraged the construction of more subterranean malls along the subway lines. In time for Expo 67, this marked the continuation of grand visionary urban projects taking place in the city.

A sort of mythical status has developed among tourists and non-Quebecers, impressed by the extent of the network and the presence of large enclosed social spaces. It is made up of continuous pedestrian corridors accessed along the parallel Green and Orange metro lines that run through the downtown core of the city. To stay indoors throughout the entire network, certain parts can only be reached by these metro stations. Used by 500,000 people daily, it stretches along thirty-two kilometers, across sixty-three connected buildings, and holds 190 different points of entry. Though locals are quick to dismiss the network with bored disinterest due, in part, to the series of interconnected shopping malls filled with repetitious store fronts, it does shelter people from the elements outside, and offers quick access to several transportation means. Metro stations, major bus terminals, and the central train station can be easily accessed. Official statistics also boast connections to 1,200 offices, 2,000 stores, and over 200 restaurants, banks, a movie theater, hotels, exhibition halls, and cultural institutions.

Each portion of the network within each establishment has a unique quality to it. Some passages are dark and dreary acting only as transit corridors, while others are part of larger building complexes containing office or mall space that have open areas where people can leisure about, sit, eat, or shop. Though implicit restrictions exist throughout the network, everyone’s presence of “being there,” including those at the margins of society, is generally accepted within its operating hours. Set to open and close around the first and last metro departures, therefore between 5:30AM and 1:00AM, each section of the network is privately owned and has its own set of rules. 

Carrefour Industrielle-Alliance, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

By facilitating transportation and commercial uses, the Indoor City further contributes to Montreal’s walkability and acts as an all-season extension of the city life above. Lying in close proximity to several universities, museums, and public parks, the network’s vastness allows comfortable access to these and other amenities situated near the central business district. Perhaps this is what encapsulates the sense of intrigue for tourists that are not able to regularly enjoy such conveniences.

If you have an underground/indoor network in your city, how do you utilize it?

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, July 4th, 2014 at 9:21 am and is filed under Infrastructure, Transportation, 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.


2 Responses to “The Underground City: Beneath the Surface of Montreal, Quebec”

  1. Moaz Ahmad Says:

    I live in Toronto where we have the PATH system which runs mostly between office towers at the south end of the Yonge-University subway line. There are extensions that take the PATH further North, West and it has recently been expanded South to reach Queen’s Quay on the Toronto Harbour.

    I personally use it to avoid inclement weather and slushy streets…I try yo limit my use because it can be very confusing down there. It’s not the most appealing place and tough to move if you are using a wheelchair/power chair/scooter, walker or stroller.

  2. Caitlin Dixon Says:

    Thanks for reading! It seems that the PATH could do with a few more design tweaks then to make it more accessible and user-friendly to a greater variety of pedestrians.

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