Monday, March 26, 2012

March 25: Well said, Norbert....

There's no doubt about it. Mass transit in Moncton is a mess. The routes are confusing, the times are erratic and, significantly, the busses are often empy. Something, as editorial writers are fond of saying, must be done. But what?

Once city council had determined the forces that would be opearting on Moncton in, say forty years - high gas prices, the tremendous cost of the automobile in terms of space, the likely economic situation (did council do any of those things), it should have next examined mass transit.

Mass trasnsit shapes a city. Mass transit makes dowtown development possible. Before mass transit came to cities, downtown was simply where the big commercial offices were - and the homes of the rich who wanted to live close to work. Cartier, John A. MacDonald's partner at the time of  Confederation, worked, dined, attended theatre within a short walk of his house.  His mistress lived down the street and around the corner.

The expensive boutiques were downtown, handy to the rich who were the only ones who could shop there. The big churches that the rich could afford to build were downtown. (Note the big churches of c. 1920 in Moncton.)

For the rest of us, shopping and entertainment was in the local neighbourhood. Two things changed that.

The first was the electric tram which made it possible for the middle class- and some of the poor - to get to a big city's super stores (like Eaton's) which, gathered together in the downtown, could provide a focus for entrepreneurs and shoppers alike.

In Montreal, the arena of Les Canadiens moved to the edge of the downtown main street. Tapayers didn't have to pay for it. The location made it profitable enough so the team owners had no need to use their political connections.

 Nothing, no restaurants, not smart shops, were attracted to the location of The Forum. It was The Forum that was attracted by transit, and by the shops that had already sprung up.

The other transit change of a century of so ago was the railway suburb, communities made possible by commuter trains which connected to the downtown.  The first railway suburb was Town of Mount Royal, built by Canadian Northern Railway, and with its two major streets crossing in a big X. At the centre of the X were the station, the schools, the library, city hall, local shopping. None of those, by itself, would have attracted anything. The starting point that made it all possible was a form of mass tranist that connected to Montreal downtown.

But the world changed in the late 1940s when cars became common. They were the new form of "mass" transit. All over the western world, downtowns withered as the shopping centre became the new destinatin.

Norbert's point about the inadequacy of Codiac transport is well taken. But it should go a step further.

Reviving a downtown coes not begin with a hockey arena or an events centre. We have a hockey arena. If a hockey arena drew other commercial activivy, the Coliseum would now be surrounded by restaurants and boutiques. Instead, it's surrounded by a huge parking lot and, beyond that, dandelions.

Downtowns are built by mass transit. That's what you start with. Study what's happening in mass transit. Study the general plan of what the city should look like in a generation or two or three. Then, if you are still all  hot on borrowing money, do it to build the mass transit system.

If we build a good mass transit system, the rest will come by itself. If we don't build a good mass transit system, all we will get is an espensive and decaying monument  to a hockey team owner who wants us to pick up the tab so he can have a new arena to make piles of money at our expense - as usual.

The world is littered with monuments like that, monuments to greed and vanity. A Mayor of Montreal was determined to have a world-recognized stadium for the Montreal Olympics He also wanted it to have a tower to celebrate its own greatness (and his). Both ambitions were satisfied with a great, slim tower that could drop a sort of umbrella over the stadium in rainy weather.

It never paid for itself. With a potential of three million customers and with a station for a superb subway system, it never even paid for its maintenance. Nor did the district around it attract anything but  the decaying housing that had always been there. Within a dozen years, engineers warned that the cost of maintaining the place was so high, it would be cheaper to demolish it. Now, it is demolishing itself as tons of concrete drop off it.

We pay one hell of a price for the greed and vanity of a few people.

If a hockey arena were a sure bet to make a profit, do you seriously believe that anybody named Irving would allow you common people to build it?

This is a family that has consistently said that taxes are too high, that government in incompetent, that private business is the only way to go - and it had muscled in on pubilc works with its public/private 'partnerships'. It supports AIMS with that  'think tanks'  constant attacks on public ownership.

And now a member of the family wants YOU, through your 'incompetent and bloated' public service to build something of huge cost. And he wants YOU to build it and YOU to pay for it so YOU can have all those wonderful profits.

Get real.

MLA Chris Collin, on the op ed page, has a calm and well-reasoned criticism of the way Premier Alward is handling the question of Moncton High School.

There's good coverage of the flooding that has hit parts of the province. Nothing on shale gas. Weren't we going to get masses of information on this? Now, it's too late for any useful debate - and it's obvious that within weeks the gas exploration companies will again be bullying their way into New Brunswick communities. The role of the police will be to protect them.

This is a country in which we allow governments to search our private records and deprive millions of innocent Canadian of basic rights (claiming this might catch some pedophiles), while we use police to make sure that people poisoning our lands and waters will not be disturbed.

Pedophiles are certainly dangerous and disgusting people. But I really think that those who are poisoning all of us for their own profit are a hell of a lot more dangerous and disgusting.


  1. from

    The coliseum was never meant to be surrounded by shops and services. It's surrounded by acres of surface parking and is immediately adjacent to an exit onto the divided highway. It is a suburban arena designed to get people into and out of the facility as quickly as possible.

    A downtown events centre on the other hand will encourage people to linger in the neighbourhood, especially if properly designed and integrated into the streetscape. It will encourage new shops and boutiques and will be a focal point for the downtown. Of this I have no doubt.

    The events centre in itself won't save the core, but it will serve as a catalyst to begin the process. What will save the core is if people want to live there and spend their leisure time there. The core has to be a vibrant part of the community. A core composed only of office buildings and parking lots has no heart and soul. The events centre will inject new life in the downtown....

  2. If something is untrue, it doesn't matter how often you say it - it's still untrue.
    No matter how many times you use words like vibrant, it's still not true.

    The Forum in Montreal was placed on main street because of mass transit. The core of downtown entertainment was well to the east of it. that remained true for sixty years. Nothing every developed around the forum, and nobody evey hung out there.
    The new Canadiens arena has, in ten years, attracted a small sandwich shop.
    There is simiply no evdience for the case you make - nothing in history, and nothing in existence.
    Moreover, there is not the slightet chance it will ever justify such an insane expenditure.
    If there were any possiblity this project were going to turn a profit, do you seriously think the Irvings would let you build it and own it?
    In any case, the frist step is mass transit. And I don't see any bright ideas there.