An "informational public meeting" on revamping Viger Square of Montreal, Quebec, on June 16 allowed for the re-emergence of a variety of strong oppositional forces to the demolition and redevelopment project for Viger Square’s Daudelin Islet. Everyone was in agreement: the City's will to demolish and alter the works of Charles Daudelin was moved. First of all, we should imagine the adaptation of the Agora as a way to highlight this art and architectural space. The project of the Coderre administration is an overblown response to a problem of accessibility, maintenance and the animation of public space.
The Agora was conceived as a dynamic environment, brought to life by a work of art, a market and shops. Yet, we never really gave it the chance to live. Mastodo, the monumental fountain, was only functional for a month, and the space was rarely animated. The City's disengagement in the completion and maintenance of this space is the very source of this announced demolition, which is however avoidable.
On the launch of the Guide on participatory urbanism of Montreal's Urban Ecology Center, the co-founders of Project for Public Spaces, Fred Kent and Kathy Madden, presented multiple examples of the reappropriation of public spaces, including Bryant Park in New York. Between 1970 and 1990, the square was facing the same problems of coexistence with marginal populations. The City of New York did not raze it. An operation to invigorate the space, layout and reprogramming corrections for the area were adequate. As Mr. Kent and Ms. Madden were able to demonstrate, it was a matter of providing opportunities for activity in the public space in order to spark a true urban existence.
Another outstanding case of the revaluation of an unpopular modern urban space is the recent redevelopment of Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, Canada. Investing in this great civic esplanade with a cafe, a restaurant, an esplanade on the second level and the consolidation of surrounding activities allowed for a new perspective to the planning; the real heart of the city.
Montreal should draw inspiration from these examples. It would be well worth it to really try to animate and adapt the square before investing 28.3 million in an empty and austere tabula rasa. Why not use this sum in another way, including adjustments to the existing square? The answer to the square's problems can be found nearby, in the Place Emilie-Gamelin, where the fountain masterwork of Melvin Charney, restored a few years ago, stands alongside an urban animation effort worthy of its name.
The City should give the people of Montreal a reason to frequent this space. In order to do so, it would benefit from returning to the principles of the original design, which integrated shops, cafes and a market. Viger Square needs to be accessible, maintained, rehabilitated and animated daily in order to become a quality public space. The residents and workers of CHUM, of Old Montreal and the Latin Quarter, as well as the district's marginal populations, would greatly benefit. The redevelopment proposal by the City of Montreal, the one being put forth by Mr. Richard Bergeron, does nothing but negate the potential for urban animation and the strong heritage interest the square possesses.
With a minimal design adjustment, Viger Square would fulfill the functions of an animated and quality public space. With a little bit of good will, the elected officials and planning professionals will be able to rehabilitate and invigorate this space by respecting its artistic concept and its heritage values. For a fraction of the costly design proposed by the City, it could finally become what it was designed to be, all while celebrating a symbiosis between art, architecture, engineering and urban life, which is so rare these days.
What are some other simple ideas for reinvigorating an abandoned public space? Do you have any abandoned public spaces in your community? Is there any effort to renew abandoned public spaces in your community? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally written by David Murray (landscape architect and heritage consultant), Olivier Roy-Baillargeon (PhD student in planning at the University of Montreal), Karine Dumouchel (heritage consultant), Pascal Forget (architect) and published in French on ADUQ's website, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.