Could McGill College Avenue be home to an ‘urban river’ after overhaul?

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WATCH: Montreal plans to revamp McGill College Avenue – Mar 2, 2019

There was a meeting of minds in Montreal on Saturday to discuss the future of McGill College Avenue. The uncommonly wide street in the heart of the downtown core is set to undergo a face lift in the coming years and experts from around the world have spent the past few days brainstorming what that should look like.

“The idea is to co-create potential positionings, vocations for the future McGill College Avenue,” said Sebastien Turbot, executive director of New Cities, which organized the “citizen’s morning,” to discuss potential plans with the public.

“We had experts come in for three days from New York, Barcelona, Australia and Brazil, and had them work on designing and defining potential positionings for the future of McGill College Ave.”

After two days of brainstorming, those experts presented ideas to about 200 members of the public and to Mayor Valérie Plante.

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“What we’re seeing here is a real craving for innovation, for outside-the-box thinking,” Plante said.

With its four lanes of traffic, extra wide sidewalks and one of the city’s best views of the mountain, it’s no wonder McGill College Avenue’s planned overhaul has attracted a lot of attention.

READ MORE: Ste-Catherine Street vacancies mirror the rise of online shopping

On Saturday, hundreds of citizens accepted the city’s invitation to give their thoughts on what the street should become.

“I want to make sure whatever happens to McGill College, which is my favourite street, doesn’t get screwed up,” said Marie Gravelle, who lives downtown. “I’m absorbing all the ideas here.”

“It’s about ‘What is the purpose of downtown?’ ‘What is the purpose of McGill Ave.?” said Turbot. “It’s not talking about designs yet. It’s not about trees or benches, but it’s ‘What is it for?’ and ‘Who is it for?'”

With a light rail REM train station being built in the area, the Plante administration thought it would be a good opportunity to re-imagine the street as a pedestrian plaza.

READ MORE: REM officials lay out mitigation measures for commuters as construction ramps up

A report released by the Montreal Public Consultation Office (OCPM) in February recommended against banning cars completely.

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“There are entrances for some buildings on McGill College, and of course the idea is not to close those entrances that lead to big shopping malls. We’re for sure going find ways to accommodate,” said Plante.

Urban designers and architects from all over the world shared their big dreams with citizens and the mayor. Most proposed more green space, but other ideas included a river in the middle of the street, an open air lab, Montreal history showcases, an “urban prairie,” and a natural haven.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the drawings, but some people are suggesting we make a river! It’s fantastic!” said Plante.

Citizens were able to write their feedback on the ideas on white boards.

“Just don’t destroy McGill. Make sure the view is still there,” said Gravelle.

The man who designed McGill College the way it is now, proposed one lane of traffic in each direction.

“If you do make big changes and affect the economic equilibrium of downtown, you might be throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” said architect Miguel Escobar.

He also recommended any change be winter compatible.

“If you start putting squares there that are dead in the wintertime like Prince Arthur, then you risk killing the whole purpose of what McGill College is,” Escobar added.

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Plante said the McGill College revamp would begin after the downtown section of Ste-Catherine Street construction was done, but didn’t give a date.