Expo 2008

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Trees, Floralies & Forgotten Mayors

Victory Gardens & Habitat 2017

Griffintown vs Dockside Green - a matter of commitment

War, Blackouts, and the Expo Lamp

Bilingualism - a Failure?

The Mother of Expo 67

Liberals looking for Expo in Montreal?

Vision, or Blindness 2025?

A New Paradigm

To attract the U.N. to Montreal...

Searching for Habitat 67

Expo 17 in Ottawa?

New Life for a Troubled Area

A New Paradigm

Posted by RP McIver at 3:22 AM

Though the dust has settled since the collapse of the De la Concorde overpass near Montreal, the tragedy, along with similar concerns, has many of us wondering what the 50's, 60's and 70's wrought.

Back then, suburban sprawl and snaking expressways were the norm. Tearing up tramways and slicing up or flattening older areas of town was all part of the march of progress. The car was king and public transit was/is presumably for creeps and weirdos.

As a kid living in the Montreal suburb of Saint Laurent, I remember driving along the Decarie Expressway with my dad early in the morning, on our way to the administration building at Cité du Havre where he worked. The brand new expressway was shimmering on either side with rows and rows of embedded lights and in the first blush of daybreak they flashed by like a space-age journey into the future. It was an entrancing thoroughfare, a grand allée to an even grander event taking place, the fairest of all fairs, Expo 67. My dad would park the car near the entrance (Place d'Accueil) and I would board the Expo Express, North America's very first fully automated rapid transit system. This ultra-modern train would silently whisk me and many more Expo visitors along the Cité du Havre peninsula, across the Saint Lawrence River, and over the islands of Ile Ste Helene and Ile Notre Dame. Eight trains ran from early in the morning till late in the evening, seven days a week for six months, carrying a total of fourty-four million passengers without a hitch. The system was roundly hailed as an engineering marvel and it was a shining tribute to public transit.

Soon thereafter, the Expo Express was parked, dismantled, and eventually cut up for scrap. And it took only a few winters for the glittering ramp lights of Montreal's expressways to disappear, chewed away by frost, salt and snowplows. While no one had mourned the demise of the Expo Express, signs were already appearing that the myriad of expressways that had wiped out so many tramways and propelled Montreal into the automotive future were not the infrastructural panacea they had promised to be. Neighborhoods had been cut up or cut off entirely from each other, noise and air pollution increased substantially, and suburbanisation was all but declaring the city a no man's land, except for work during the day and the occasional show at night. By the 1970's Montreal's status as a leading metropolis was in decline.

Granted, other cities suffered similar problems through the stagflation seventies. And though it's easy to shake our heads in hindsight, I must honestly confess that nearly anyone in Montreal in 1967 couldn't help but feel it was indeed the city of the future. The automobile was, of course, a big part of that vision. In the Cities of Tomorrow everyone would own a car (a relatively accurate prediction) and glide along an ever-increasing network of smoothly-paved roadways to work and back.

Since the sixties alone, countless billions have been spent on expressways, overpasses and bridges across Canada, and many of them are already in need of extensive renewal. Some of the structural deterioration is due to design and material deficencies, but much of it, if not most, is due to age, corrosion and an increase in automobile traffic that even the gas-guzzling 60's did not anticipate. In other words, our existing network of expressways can't handle the load much longer. Neither can the planet.

There are two ways of approaching the situation. We can throw up our hands in despair and fling billions more tax dollars at the problem, desperately propping up and patching an infrastructural paradigm of the post WW II generation, or we can start over and adopt a new paradigm for a sustainable future. In a sense, our crumbling roadways are signaling the end to an era and dismantling themselves, providing us an opportunity to clear away our past mistakes and start over by investing more of our taxes in public transit and clean air.


Posted in Expo 67, Expo 67, Montreal, Montréal and tagged

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