A project to build a "natural amphitheatre" for big events by axing 1,000 trees is shuttering Parc Jean-Drapeau's popular pool this summer. The dust and noise from the construction will make swimming there unpleasant, planners say. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
After a long, cold winter, summer is just around the corner and with it should be many of Montrealers’ favourite warm-weather pastimes.
But not this year.
An orgy of construction work at Montreal parks and recreational facilities is threatening to make 2017 the summer that fun forgot, even though the city’s 375th birthday was supposed to be an occasion to remember. It may well be quite memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.
Those who enjoy baseball in Parc Jeanne-Mance just found out their beloved diamond will be out of commission this summer. It will be used to store equipment during the overhaul of the nearby tennis courts, which will also be closed.
Cyclists who train on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the only smooth-surface track in the city, are also out of luck. Construction in Parc Jean-Drapeau means — you guessed it — heavy trucks and equipment on the roadway. So no room for bikes. Plus, Île-Notre-Dame, where the track is located, will now play host to events like Osheaga, in addition to the Grand Prix, while work is underway on Île-Ste-Hélène. They’d have to keep shutting down the circuit anyhow.
The project to build a “natural amphitheatre” for big events by axing 1,000 trees is shuttering Parc Jean-Drapeau’s popular pool this summer, too. The dust and noise from the construction will make swimming there unpleasant, planners say.
Meanwhile, work on the Turcot Interchange will block parts of the cycling path along the Lachine Canal until 2019. The trail will be inaccessible on both the north and south sides where it crosses Highway 15.
So, basically, it’s going to be a long, hot, dusty, boring summer for Montrealers with fewer places to swim, cycle, play sports or simply find a patch of free grass to soak up the sun.
These closings come as a huge disappointment to many residents. After being cooped up all winter, Montrealers come out of the woodwork when the weather gets nice to make the most of the city’s already scarce green space and short summer. But more than a temporary inconvenience in exchange for improved recreational opportunities later on, these closiongs underscore several larger problems that too often mar everyday life in Montreal.
There is a serious dearth of parkland in this city, especially in central Montreal. Parks are frequently crowded in the best of times. But when people are displaced from one, they spill over into others, making all of them ever busier.
Recreational facilities are similarly in short supply. Baseball players who use the diamond in Jeanne-Mance can’t just move to another park because there either aren’t facilities or they are already in use elsewhere. Likewise, there aren’t an abundance of vacant tennis courts. There isn’t another smooth-surface racing track for cyclists in Montreal. And there are only a few outdoor pools open in summer months, all of which are heavily used on hot days. About 65,000 people a season use the pool at Parc Jean-Drapeau, including many day camps.
This administration frequently talks about wanting to attract more people to live in the core and stem the exodus of families to the suburbs. Such actions don’t convey a welcoming message. And they don’t show much respect for the residents of the urban neighbourboods who consider Jeanne-Mance and Jean-Drapeau parks as their own backyard.
Montrealers could be forgiven for feeling their needs always seem to come after those of a) construction crews and b) visitors.
The roads and sidewalks are already monopolized by orange cones and hulking machinery. Now, the parks are, too. The city has problems finding ways to keep traffic flowing for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, so Montrealers craving a swim or a friendly game of baseball have little hope, indeed, of adequate mitigation measures.
Montreal loves to roll out the red carpet for tourists whose spending during festivals boosts the local economy. But why do their wants seem to take priority over the needs of taxpaying residents? The whole thrust of the Parc Jean-Drapeau overhaul is to make more room for festival-goers at the expense of parkland used by ordinary Montrealers.
Exacerbating all of the above is the failure to communicate decisions about these sudden and simultaneous clsoings to the public. Several of the closings were only discovered haphazardly and at the last minute, turning irritation into full-blown outrage.
Projet Montréal leader Valérie Plante voiced the frustrations of many at city council.
“The amateurism and improvisation of the mayor in this file is appalling,” she said.
Mayor Denis Coderre certainly has some explaining to do about how a summer that was supposed to be a celebration is now shaping up to be such a huge drag for so many.
Montreal has a legendary reputation far and wide for being a city of fun. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to its billing for many of those who actually live here.
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