Saturday, May 26, 2007


This is the first full summer where i have my own backyard. I've done the whole balcony container garden thing, and i've done the whole community garden thing. Nothing compares to having your very own fresh earth to break right outside your kitchen's back door.

When i'd moved in, the backyard had not been taken care of by the previous tenants for many many years. Vines that had been planted had not been led up the walls properly and the Day Lilies were left uncontrolled. I've managed to do a tonne of work, thanks also to my father who came to help pull out those damn pervasive Day Lilies and alter the borders. Intermingled with the new plants and shrubs i've planted cucumbers, kale, nasturtiums, tomatoes, peppers, beets, spinach, sage, oregano, basil, thyme, parsley and rosemary. Here are some photos i took of some flowers that have begun to flower. Long-live the digital macro zoom! Hopefully as my garden progesses, so will my photography skills.

Note: I will be starting a new full-time job which will be occupying much of my time. So, you may expect these posts to slow down a little.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Ontario and Smart Growth

Here's an interesting article from the Toronto Star, by way of Spacing, on Ontario's adoption of a Smart Growth policy. I know that they have been commissioning reports from the Neptis Foundation right left and centre for several years, but it appears that the province is going to officially adopt such a policy. The most important facet of Smart Growth is that it involves planning growth on a wider scale, rather than the ad-hoc nature of most suburban development. Carefully planning out safe and walkable neighbourhoods to complement and feed public transit corridors. And of course the words 'sustainable' and 'sustainability' are rampant in the Smart Growth reports.

The article mentions that this adoption will not only affect municipalities (having to conform to the provincial legislation), but will permeate through all provincial departments. Using the article's example, the government liquor stores will no longer be able to locate in strip malls surrounded by parking. This shouldn't be only accomplished through tough legislation, though. Federal and Provincial governments should implement policies of 'consistency' (for lack of a better word) to avoid such obvious hypocrisy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Heirloom Vegetable Seedlings at Maison Verte

The Coop La Maison Verte (5785 Sherbrooke West) has received their annual shipment of heirloom vegetables seedlings. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and other organic vegetables and herbs are available. Here is a list of what they have received, you can no longer order them, but have to go in and choose from their selection. There are some interesting varieties of tomato plants like the Pineapple Tomato (red and yellow stripes), as well as purple, black, green, yellow and orange varieties.

They're a little pricey, but well worth it!

A Billion Trees

The UN has managed to garner pledges to plant a billion trees, thanks to Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai. Maathai (the first African women of her status) started the programme to combat climate change and fight poverty. The article mentions that deforestation in Africa has led to conflict over the now scarce resource, and planting trees will help calm the fire. Maathai successfully influenced the planting of 30 million trees in Africa, which sounds more like a reforestation programme or a restructuring of African forestry (which i assume is sustenance harvesting).

Hopefully this programme doesn't merely plant trees without each participant country laying out laws and guidelines on forestry practices. The forest is usually cut down for a reason, and that need for energy (which is the most common end-use for wood in the developing world) will just shift to other areas.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why Tramways over More Buses?

So this is the debate. Montreal has decided that its priority is to develop a tram network, starting with about 20 km that will eventually expand. I took a course a couple of years ago in Urban Transportation and one main focus was on the differences between bus service and tramways in the way they shape a transit system and travel behaviour (as well as the city landscape). I have to first point out that i am not a tram enthusiast. I just truly believe that the a tram system is needed in Montreal.

Because there is a large initial capital cost in a tram system, it's more relevant to compare costs of the two services over a long period of time. With any sort of transit service the level of service (the type of service as well as frequency and quality of service) needs to be relevant in it's context. The bottom line all depends on ridership. Luckily, the proposed lines along Park and Côte-des-Neiges would replace the bus lines with the highest ridership. Apparently the Park bus line actually carries more people than the blue line (according to some big hotshot McGill researcher who gave a lecture in the course). So here is why, in Montreal's case, a tram network is advantageous :

-Fast. A tramway with a Dedicated Right of Way (that is, separated from normal traffic), is faster because it does not get stuck in traffic like buses do. Even the dedicated bus lanes have snarls when cars are turning. And a tram would have its own right of way even outside peak hours.

-Permanent. Tram stops have a more permanent place in the minds of transit users, like a metro station does. Same thing with tram lines. This is important in attracting investment and users. Bus routes and stops are not very prominent in the streetscape and (in the minds of transit users) can be moved or removed at whim. This also means trams routes aren't as flexible as bus routes.

-Clean and Quiet. Trams have no emissions and are quiet. Air and noise pollution is almost non-existent when compared with buses. This has a tremendous effect on quality of life of an area.

-Comfort. Trams don't change lanes or swoop into stops like buses do, so it is a much more comfortable ride.

-Ridership. Other cities have experienced an increase in ridership when tramlines are introduced.

-Maintenance. Tram cars have an average operating life of 25 years versus 17 years for buses. They also cost less in ordinary maintenance.

This is not to say that a tram system in the order of Projet Montreal's proposal is needed. Tram lines could only really be efficient on those lines with demand. As a intermediate mode between bus and metro, the capacity needs to be there. A line along Park is especially necessary to help alleviate the congestion on the orange line between Henri-Bourassa (or Montmorency) and Berri. That line is already fully saturated and can't handle any growth.

Update: i re-enabled comments, i must have accidentally clicked on 'don't allow'. Sorry about that!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Montreal Tramway

A new tram system in Montreal has been the talk of the town for the last month if not the last year. I somehow fell upon this document [pdf 240 kb] put out by Projet Montreal, complete with maps of every borough, and their proposed tram lines. If you haven't forgotten the last municipal election, Projet Montreal is the very new municipal party that surprising won a seat. They are the ones who have been putting the pressure to introduce a tram system.

Their proposal is a very bold one at that, seemingly drawn up by randomly connecting lines using a blue felt pen. This is the type of ambitious project, however, needed to stop the automobile's pervasiveness. Implementing the key routes like Park Ave, Old Port, Henri-Bourassa and Notre-Dame would be a great beginning.

Update: (Thanks to the Montreal City Weblog) The city will unveil a transit plan today that will apparently address the need for sustainable transit on the island. Bridge tolls and streetcars are in order. It seems a lot of people (including Kate from the Mtl city weblog) do not think there are advantages of trams over buses... maybe an upcoming post?
Update #2: For those with a lot of free time (like myself) the 155 page pdf document released by the city is available here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bois Franc Development

My parents have decided to move back to Montreal from Suburban American Hell. I had taken the responsibility of real-estate agent in showing them several properties as 'ideas'. Of course it has been incredibly stressful for me, and i have now resigned. It's clear they have acquired a taste for suburban living that can hardly be changed. Even in light of global warming ( i mean it's even on the American news that my mother watches so religiously!), and the fact that her son has chosen the environmental challenge as a career path, they cannot see the reality.

I am already disturbed and upset just writing this bit about it, so i will move on to the point of this post: the Bois Franc Development in Ville Saint-Laurent, Montreal. If they are going to pick the suburban lifestyle, i figured they may as well pick the 'better' option. Bois-Franc has been developed on the principles of New Urbanism. In a nutshell, here is a short summary of (what i believe are) the most important principles of New Urbanism:

-The pedestrian is encouraged.
-The density is higher than traditional suburbs.
-High-quality of the architecture and design.
-A mixed-use centre is within walking distance.
-A mixture of housing types

I have visited Bois-Franc twice now, and i am actually pretty impressed with the development. The first most-striking thing upon arriving is that people are actually present. Like a scene from their promotional video, there are people, couples and families walking and biking around. This is something i have almost never seen in traditional suburbs. While i am impressed with the development, there are some things i am still concerned about:

1. The housing is quite expensive, and there are no affordable housing projects or low to medium-income rentals.
2. This is still a suburb, and most residents still depend on their cars to reach areas outside the development.
3. The central commercial square has a lot of parking around it, and are single-use buildings without any residential development on top (i.e. no vertical mixed use).

They had an observatory at the centre, where i took most of the pictures:

The centre has a lot of different services: movie rentals, café, restaurant, bakery, depanneur, etc.
The housing development around the centre
Notice the bus that runs through the development. Both times i was here, the bus had mostly young people riding them.
High density development
Many of the more prestigious developments are placed around these squares (notice the playground)
These townhouses are facing each other with a common landscaped walkway in the Garden City style.
Mixed housing types: retirement condos in the large building with lower rise duplex-style condos behind.
The higher density is achieved through small land parcels and narrow buildings with 4 floors of liveable space (finished basement to loft-attic)
Phase 3 of the project will start soon, which will cover all of the adjacent golf-course.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Montreal Restaurants

I've been visiting a new bar every two weeks with a group of friends in order to acquaint myself not only with new places but also new friends (we each invite new people to come out with us). I bought the book Montréal Resto À Go-Go by Sarah Musgrave a while ago, and have used it as a guide for our new bars. The core members of the group have decided that we should visit a new restaurant once a month as well. I realised that it is not very often that i try a new restaurant. It's very rare that i do eat out, so when i do i tend not to want to take my chances with a new restaurant.

This new group will definitely help expand the repertoire of restaurants. Using Sarah Musgrave's book and some suggestions by friends, here are some that i have chosen so far (please comment on the one's you may have been to):

La Maison Hantée (The Haunted House), 1037 Bleury: How could you not want to eat at a dinner theatre, a haunted one at that! They have some burlesque shows going on, the next one being on June 29th. Eat and watch burlesque? I'll take seconds! The menu is fixed per show, but they say that if you notify them of an approaching vegetarian within 10 days they can accommodate them.

La Couscoussière d'Ali Baba, 1460 Amherst: A Tunisian restaurant that not only has tonnes of couscous, but belly dancers on the weekends and shisha. The food is apparently not that great, but again - belly dancers and shisha.

Abiata, 3435 St. Denis: I've only heard good things about Ethiopian food, and this is apparently the place to go. The food is eaten with a sort of spongy bread called injera, no utensils.

Chez Gatsé, 317 Ontario East: This was the first Tibetan restaurant in Montreal. There is a limited choice of vegetarian fare ( a couple of dishes or so), which is strange because i always though Tibetan food was largely vegetarian.

If anyone has any other suggestions... by all means, let me know. And if you'd like to join us, we're always up for meeting new people.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A New Green City

The Inhabitat blog has posted an interesting piece on a new city in Abu Dhabi to be completely green. Designed by firm Foster + Partners, this 6 million square metre walled city (called Masdar) will be completely car-free, waste-free and self-sustaining. I wonder if it will consider the other 2 pillars of sustainability, social and economic. Hopefully this city will be a centre of innovation in Eco-City design, especially with the planned university within its walls.

When reading about this city, many other failed projects come to mind. We shouldn't forget that there was not one successful city that had been founded will the goal of Utopia that is still functioning on those principles. New Harmony, Indiana and even Radburn New Jersey come to mind. Radburn had gone bankrupt before the city could be completed (a very watered-down version of a Garden City), and New Harmony erupted in chaos.

Apparently the creators of this new green city have not down any research into the (un)success of creating new towns that are structured on completely new ideas. I just say why not focus on improving the cities and towns that exist today, before creating entirely new ones?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

City Stars: A Comic

I would encourage everyone to check out the City Stars comic, by illustrator Grant Collins. This was part of the Logocities Symposium that just wrapped up a couple of days ago. The comic illustrates the tales of someone who, triggered by the pope's death and the resultant 'purple cross illumination', searches for meaning in the logos that dot Montreal's skyline.

The signs and logos of the city are as large a part of Montreal's symbolic landscape as Mount Royal or the distinctive architecture of (let's say) the Golden Square Mile. If it were not for the price of attending, i would have definitely been there.

n.b. to read the text in the comic, make sure to double-click to zoom in.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

City as Developper

Thanks to the Montreal City Weblog for linking to this article about a giant area the city is planning to develop. The giant area located in Montreal east is bound by Sherbrooke to the south, The metropolitan autoroute in the north, the Lafarge Quarry to the east and west until about Pierre-Bernard street.

This project seems to be on the right start by incorporating a mix of affordable housing, social housing and condos for both retired folk and low-to-medium-income households . A total of 60% of the new housing will be affordable housing and social housing (39% affordable and 21% social). Other than a small band of commercial area to the south ( most probably along Sherbrooke), there is no news whether this project will adopt principles of sustainable development or at least New Urbanism.

Hopefully the commercial zone will be mixed use, with housing and offices above. I don't think Sherbrooke east needs any more strip malls or restos floating in a lake of parking. Hopefully all the housing will be somewhat mixed as well. The condos, social and affordable housing unsegregated. I will be keeping an eye on this project.

The city has partnered many times before in large development projects (often call PUDs, Planned Unit Developments). This seems to be the first the city has gone pretty much solo. For some info check out the Angus Shops Development, considered a successful sustainable community.

May 9th Update: The area to be developed is in fact not in Montreal East as the article mentioned, but in Mercier-East, which is part of a different borough.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Energy Tree

A post on Treehugger profiles a new concept called the Energy Tree. A real tree is connected to your homes electrical system and watered according to the homes energy consumption. If you blow dry your hair - boom - no water for the tree. Well, it's probably not so direct but the more power you consume the less fertiliser and water your tree receives. A simple concept, really. The more efficient your household, the more your tree is likely to flourish.

This device seems to be banking on the human capacity for guilt. It's a inventive concept, but those likely to feel guilty about not watering a tree probably are already feeling guilty for leaving the light over the stove on overnight.

I propose something different. We apply these devices to childhood development. Every newborn child will be fitted with a device at the back of the neck. It can control eating as well as perform other functions. It will be wirelessly connected to your home and car. If you idle your car - boom- no dinner for your son. Forget to turn off the tap while brushing your teeth - boom- your daughter gets electroshock currents buzzing through her body. Parents around the world will be sitting in darkness afraid their consumption will retard their children's growth. And the children, they will be the future saviours of our planet! They will be at the forefront of developing the most energy-efficient devices!

I say screw the Energy Tree, long live the Energy Child.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The UnSustainables

I fell upon this animated series called The Unsustainables. The online episodes feature a 'mixed' family struggling to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. I've watched 3 or 4, but i'm confused as to the objective of such a series. There is almost no useful information on how to successfully adopt a sustainable lifestyle.

The episodes are created by SustainLane, an online resource that helps find green businesses and products. It seems mainly to be US-based listings. For local Montreal green businesses and products check out Ethiquette.