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  #121  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 4:40 AM
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Gastown is a great looking urban area. But to tie it into the theme of aesthetics vs captivating/interesting, I personally wouldn't say it grabbed my attention for very long.

There's a lot of bars and restaurants in Gastown, so if that's not your thing than I guess Gastown ain't for you.
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  #122  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 4:50 AM
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Gastown is a great looking urban area. But to tie it into the theme of aesthetics vs captivating/interesting, I personally wouldn't say it grabbed my attention for very long.
Of course, everyone has his or her own personal tastes, preferences and ideas of what constitutes "interesting" (and there is no point in arguing about them), but I wouldn't be surprised if there is more going on in Gastown than you realize, from relatively hidden creative spaces where vital art, music, fashion and performance are taking place to an ambitious spirit of independent entrepreneurship that impacts other parts of the world.
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  #123  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 5:40 AM
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My impression was it felt a bit "dumbed-down" for tourists (Water St at least). I liked the look and feel of Cordova but there wasn't a lot of action there. There was an alley that looked interesting. I liked Yaletown more - super trendy but some really good spots.
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  #124  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 6:09 AM
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Ehh. There's a few souvenir shops and The Old Spaghetti Factory, but most everything is geared towards locals. I don't mind Guilt & Co as a place to see live music.
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  #125  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 6:26 AM
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My impression was it felt a bit "dumbed-down" for tourists (Water St at least). I liked the look and feel of Cordova but there wasn't a lot of action there.
I suspected your experience of the neighbourhood was unfortunately on the superficial side. No doubt, Gastown is popular with both locals and tourists and has a handful of offerings to cater to some of the latter, but the bulk of the neighbourhood is much more substantive, funky and edgy than that. Indeed, the real Gastown is a dynamic crucible of creativity, style and innovation--from art, cuisine and fashion to technology. And despite all the polish it has acquired over the last couple of decades, it is still one of the grittier urban neighbourhoods in the country.
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  #126  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 5:43 PM
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I've long been of the school of thought that Montreal is more interesting than it is pretty, but in recent years I've been coming around the idea that it is a fairly decent-looking city.
I liked the light displays (I guess mostly around Place des Arts when I was there) were neat. The city's definitely gotten nicer over the years, sometimes due to major projects but mostly incrementally as the rate of small improvements and restoration work has outpaced the unavoidable annual deterioration. I never meant to give the impression I think it is ugly. Back around 2000 it felt like Montreal and most Canadian cities were slowly falling apart.

In the 90's I would say just about everywhere in Canada looked shabby compared to world cities, but the gap today has shrunk. And the reality is you are not going to find a lot of big cities with a million people or more in them where every corner is picturesque. Most places like that are much smaller than Montreal, and don't have the responsibility of functioning as commercial and industrial centres.

This is just a vague hypothesis but I sometimes get the impression Montreal is more focused and ambitious with civic projects (and was even more so in the 60's and 70's), but not so great with maintenance and day-to-day operations. American cities are often like this too, where there is some great new thing that is hugely overbuilt and then a few blocks away the streets are falling apart. Toronto and Vancouver are the opposite; a lot of infrastructure, new stuff included, is weirdly underbuilt, overused, and modest but the cities are by and large more functional than what you find south of the border. A visitor might want to see the cool new stuff but as a resident you may not wish to pay for it and working infrastructure might be good enough.
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  #127  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 5:51 PM
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I liked the light displays (I guess mostly around Place des Arts when I was there) were neat. The city's definitely gotten nicer over the years, sometimes due to major projects but mostly incrementally as the rate of small improvements and restoration work has outpaced the unavoidable annual deterioration. I never meant to give the impression I think it is ugly. Back around 2000 it felt like Montreal and most Canadian cities were slowly falling apart.

In the 90's I would say just about everywhere in Canada looked shabby compared to world cities, but the gap today has shrunk. And the reality is you are not going to find a lot of big cities with a million people or more in them where every corner is picturesque. Most places like that are much smaller than Montreal, and don't have the responsibility of functioning as commercial and industrial centres.

This is just a vague hypothesis but I sometimes get the impression Montreal is more focused and ambitious with civic projects (and was even more so in the 60's and 70's), but not so great with maintenance and day-to-day operations. American cities are often like this too, where there is some great new thing that is hugely overbuilt and then a few blocks away the streets are falling apart. Toronto and Vancouver are the opposite; a lot of infrastructure, new stuff included, is weirdly underbuilt, overused, and modest but the cities are by and large more functional than what you find south of the border. A visitor might want to see the cool new stuff but as a resident you may not wish to pay for it and working infrastructure might be good enough.
Well, yeah. Compare Montreal's biggest stadium to Toronto's just for fun!
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  #128  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 9:10 PM
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In the 90's I would say just about everywhere in Canada looked shabby compared to world cities, but the gap today has shrunk. And the reality is you are not going to find a lot of big cities with a million people or more in them where every corner is picturesque. Most places like that are much smaller than Montreal, and don't have the responsibility of functioning as commercial and industrial centres.
It is surprising how far Canadian cities have come in the last 15-20 years. I think that might be one of the reasons we're on this forum. That's the reason I'm on this forum. I wouldn't have become such an urban aficionado if the rate of change in our cities wasn't so tangible.

When I was a teen in the late 1990s, most Canadian cities except maybe Vancouver seemed to be at their urban nadir. Montreal was no exception to this.

Back then, Toronto looked incredibly provincial - even as a kid I felt this way. There were hardly any downtown intersections that had a building on all 4 corners; the parking lots that occupied their place often were surfaced in gravel and had rusting or leaning signs. I was part of an exchange with a school in Germany, and I was blown away by how solid and well-kept everything was in [smaller] Hamburg. Thinking back, it was a bit of a time warp - except in the opposite direction: the solidity of their architecture notwisthstanding, their public realm had everything we are starting to have like separated bike lanes, sidewalks with artisanal pavers, eye-catching transit shelters with sleek buses, low-floor streetcars etc. When they came over here, we drove them around in our boxy Oldsmobiles, took them for a ride on TTC subway cars that still had the fake wood paneling and orange vinyl seats, and then led them over to Yonge street. Aside from the fun they had at the record stores they were like: "what the hell is this place?"

At the time they were 15 years ahead of us. I haven't been back to Hamburg since then, but I've been to the rest of Europe quite a few times, and I've been to cities that are supposedly on the forefront of good urbanism - like Amsterdam and Barcelona. Needless to say, I don't think they're 15 years ahead of us anymore.

It doesn't really surprise me that Europeans aren't really active on urban discussion boards (and I don't think it's English-fluency on SSP or the Internet, because the French-language urban discussion boards in Quebec like MTLUrb are very active) because, all things considered, their cities aren't improving that much.
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  #129  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 9:50 PM
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Have you ever been there? I'm not sure I can agree with this. I mean, if you go visit Halifax and stand in the Grand Parade, a prominent spot in the middle of town, you're on a square from 1749 and there's a church from 1750, a stone building behind that from 1760, and then a few other wooden buildings from 1760-1810. Then up the hill is the Town Clock, maybe the most famous landmark in the city, and it's from 1802.

Another aspect of the aesthetics of Atlantic Canada that I failed to mention is that I like the brightly coloured wooden buildings more than, say, brown brick. This is just a personal preference.
I have been to the Maritimes, and I agree with Monkey Ronin.

Look, I'm not saying that Halifax isn't historic. It most certainly is, but its history isn't so predominant in the way it is in Quebec City, much of Montreal, even smaller cities like Stratford or Lunenburg. Yeah, you've got the Town Clock, sure, but what's behind it? All modern buildings. It's not meant as an insult, either, as it makes Halifax more dynamic. You can be walking along the harbourfront at Purdys Wharf, turn a corner, and you're in the Historic Properties. Halifax isn't one or the other, it's both. Even outside of the downtown, there's a fair bit of infill and such (which is overall good).

By the same token, I would say Toronto has a lot of history, but it isn't dominated by it in any way. The '70s commie blocks are as much apart of the Toronto vernacular as Bay and Gables, despite the latter being discussed far more often. And yes, the other cities in my example, like Montreal and even Lunenburg, have newer looking areas, but in my experience, the history jumped out at me more there. Montreal is a very old school city.

For what it's worth, I didn't find the brightly coloured wooden buildings as common in the Maritimes as I thought it would be. Yeah, it exists, but I found the towns tended to err towards brick or less-colourful wooden vernacular. I didn't spend much time on the South Shore, though, which, by street view, seems to have a bit more of that. The whole brightly coloured wooden buildings thing is something I associate more strongly with Newfoundland.

This was how I found the average Maritime town. Not colourful, but somewhat historic in a shabby sense. More hugging a single road rather than having a proper grid and neighbourhoods. This is more what I think of as a typical Ontario town. I mean, there are towns like that in the Maritimes (eg Pictou, New Glasgow, Amherst, Antigonish) but they're more the exception. Compared with the Prairies -- shabbier than Ontario, but more substantial than the Maritimes.

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Originally Posted by hipster duck View Post
It is surprising how far Canadian cities have come in the last 15-20 years. I think that might be one of the reasons we're on this forum. That's the reason I'm on this forum. I wouldn't have become such an urban aficionado if the rate of change in our cities wasn't so tangible.

When I was a teen in the late 1990s, most Canadian cities except maybe Vancouver seemed to be at their urban nadir. Montreal was no exception to this.

Back then, Toronto looked incredibly provincial - even as a kid I felt this way. There were hardly any downtown intersections that had a building on all 4 corners; the parking lots that occupied their place often were surfaced in gravel and had rusting or leaning signs. I was part of an exchange with a school in Germany, and I was blown away by how solid and well-kept everything was in [smaller] Hamburg. Thinking back, it was a bit of a time warp - except in the opposite direction: the solidity of their architecture notwisthstanding, their public realm had everything we are starting to have like separated bike lanes, sidewalks with artisanal pavers, eye-catching transit shelters with sleek buses, low-floor streetcars etc. When they came over here, we drove them around in our boxy Oldsmobiles, took them for a ride on TTC subway cars that still had the fake wood paneling and orange vinyl seats, and then led them over to Yonge street. Aside from the fun they had at the record stores they were like: "what the hell is this place?"

At the time they were 15 years ahead of us. I haven't been back to Hamburg since then, but I've been to the rest of Europe quite a few times, and I've been to cities that are supposedly on the forefront of good urbanism - like Amsterdam and Barcelona. Needless to say, I don't think they're 15 years ahead of us anymore.

It doesn't really surprise me that Europeans aren't really active on urban discussion boards (and I don't think it's English-fluency on SSP or the Internet, because the French-language urban discussion boards in Quebec like MTLUrb are very active) because, all things considered, their cities aren't improving that much.
The Europeans have SSC. There's also a lot of development in Australia and East Asia, but you wouldn't know that from SSP because SSP is more North America-centric.

Last edited by ue; Apr 21, 2017 at 10:03 PM.
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  #130  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 10:14 PM
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Yeah, you've got the Town Clock, sure, but what's behind it? All modern buildings.
Behind it from the perspective I was talking about is the Citadel, indisputably a major landmark in the city. You can go inside it and see nothing but old masonry fortifications. There are many more forts around the city; it was the most heavily fortified place in Canada for a long time.

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It's not meant as an insult, either, as it makes Halifax more dynamic. You can be walking along the harbourfront at Purdys Wharf, turn a corner, and you're in the Historic Properties. Halifax isn't one or the other, it's both. Even outside of the downtown, there's a fair bit of infill and such (which is overall good).
I understand what you are saying and I agree that Halifax is a city without many large and uninterrupted historic districts. However, people often get the mistaken impression that the city isn't all that historic in a Canadian context; that it's a modest regional town without much of a past. But it is one of the most historic cities in Canada, a place where you can find many of the oldest buildings and firsts in Canada. Canadians rarely appreciate when they tell the story about burning down the White House that you can go visit the graves of those people and see a lot of that history in Halifax. A lot of "why does Canada exist?" type questions tie in with physical history you run into there. The fact that there are also modern buildings mixed in doesn't really change that, even if they make it less superficially obvious. That's all my point is. That physical history embodied in buildings, public spaces, and monuments makes the city a lot more interesting than it otherwise would be.

People often say that Saint John is more historic than Halifax. But what is more historic, Canada's oldest legislature or a two-block stretch of red brick commercial buildings from the 1870's? The question can be interpreted in different ways. You will run out of landmarks in Saint John way before you run out of them in Halifax, but you'll have an easier time of finding a complete block of buildings from the 19th century in Saint John. Halifax has 36 national historic sites. Saint John has 14. Quebec City has 37.
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  #131  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 10:17 PM
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This is just a vague hypothesis but I sometimes get the impression Montreal is more focused and ambitious with civic projects (and was even more so in the 60's and 70's), but not so great with maintenance and day-to-day operations.
This is SO true. The city puts a lot of money and efforts refurbishing the public squares and parks and even creating new ones, going as far as demolishing entire elevated expressways to turn them into boulevard with greenery (Des Pins interchange, Bonaventure expressway), etc. So it looks very nice. But meanwhile, the potholes are getting bigger and bigger and more numerous. Thankfully, the city will massively invest in the coming years in infrastructures.

One thing that helped made the city more beautiful is the fact that the construction boom is getting rid of so many unsightly surface parking lots. Montreal in the 1970's to the 1990's was not very pretty. Now it's getting there.
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  #132  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 10:26 PM
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Behind it from the perspective I was talking about is the Citadel, indisputably a major landmark in the city. You can go inside it and see nothing but old masonry fortifications. There are many more forts around the city; it was the most heavily fortified place in Canada for a long time.



I understand what you are saying and I agree that Halifax is a city without many large and uninterrupted historic districts. However, people often get the mistaken impression that the city isn't all that historic in a Canadian context; that it's a modest regional town without much of a past. But it is one of the most historic cities in Canada, a place where you can find many of the oldest buildings and firsts in Canada. Canadians rarely appreciate when they tell the story about burning down the White House that you can go visit the graves of those people and see a lot of that history in Halifax. A lot of "why does Canada exist?" type questions tie in with physical history you run into there. The fact that there are also modern buildings mixed in doesn't really change that, even if they make it less superficially obvious. That's all my point is. That physical history embodied in buildings, public spaces, and monuments makes the city a lot more interesting than it otherwise would be.

People often say that Saint John is more obviously historic than Halifax. But what is more historic, Canada's oldest legislature or a two-block stretch of red brick commercial buildings from the 1870's? The question can be interpreted in different ways.
I was talking about once you're up on the hill, looking out towards the harbour. The Town Clock is in front of a lot of modern buildings.

And I'm also not saying it isn't a historic city. It is and there are a lot of important historic sites and amenities like the Citadel, the Public Gardens, Province House, the Africville Museum, etc but it just doesn't always jump right out at you like it does in Quebec City, or Charlottetown, for a Maritime comparison. It isn't even always apparent in the urban fabric. It also is obviously not a modest regional town. It has a higher national profile than much larger cities like Hamilton.

Saint John feels more obviously historic and it's not just for a two block stretch. The whole Uptown, not to mention areas like Saint John West and Indiantown are substantially historic with little infill or redevelopment. It may not be nation-building historic like it is in Halifax or Charlottetown, but it really does jump out at you there. You can tell Saint John was a major industrial city at one point.
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  #133  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 10:28 PM
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Thankfully, the city will massively invest in the coming years in infrastructures.
Montreal to spend $684M in upgrades to roads, sewers and aquaducts in 2017
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The work will involve 290 kilometres of roads and 122 kilometres of sewers and aqueducts.

More than half that investment — $380 million — will go into major roads and streets around the city.
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montre...2017-1.4080045
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  #134  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 10:29 PM
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Canada's cultural landscape is not set up in a way that is conducive to people across the country being familiar with many neighbourhoods in its cities - even the largest ones. It's not like in the U.S. where cities and neighbourhoods are immortalized in TV shows, movies and songs.

And so generally speaking a city like Toronto will only have household name recognition for its neighbourhoods in the area where people receive the city's local news. (Which admittedly is a fairly large area in Ontario that goes way beyond the GTA.)

I won't get into what the situation is for Montreal neighbourhoods in Quebec (and why that is), as I suppose most can already surmise what it would be.
Too young to remember "King of Kensington"?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrP8mjsmy8U
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  #135  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 10:42 PM
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Me neither. I think I haven't been there for ten years. I wonder how it evolved ?
Cheap housing/storefronts for successive waves of immigrants, notably Toronto's Jewish community (among others) before the War, followed after the War by the Portuguese and then the Caribbeans. Back in my day, it was the place to go for (then) hard to find imported foods (chouriço! bacalao! pasteis de nata! patties! plantain!) at very good prices. Also the place to go back then if you had the urge to eat/drink after hours (if the establishment was on a second floor and the owner liked the look of you). Or so I'm told....
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  #136  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 10:56 PM
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Too young to remember "King of Kensington"?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrP8mjsmy8U

I'm a lot younger than Acajack but for some reason I knew about King of Kensington when I was a kid. And the area was very much on my radar even though I'm from Calgary (albeit with family in Toronto).

Also, MuchMusic watching youth in the 80s and 90s knew that Queen West was *the* place to be as well. Although that part of the street is basically an outdoor Eaton Centre nowadays and you have to go several km west before it gets cool again!
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  #137  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 10:58 PM
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Also the place to go back then if you had the urge to eat/drink after hours (if the establishment was on a second floor and the owner liked the look of you). Or so I'm told....
This is still the case. Well, maybe not the eating part - that can be done just over on Spadina.
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  #138  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 11:11 PM
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There are pretty neighbourhoods. In the US, neighbourhoods like Back Bay, Greenwich Village, or Alamo Square are well-known. I will say that in most places there seems to be a trade-off between conventional beauty and dynamism or vibrancy. There are a lot of beautiful outdoor museums defended by neighbourhood associations. There aren't a lot of areas that are already in good shape and are becoming more beautiful in a creative way. There probably is a Kensington Market with better buildings somewhere, but maybe not in North America.



Have you travelled much outside of Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba? There are other urban areas people would say are beautiful in Canada, although I don't think Canada has very beautiful cities in the scheme of things. I think Quebec City is the most conventionally beautiful city in Canada (and it is very preservationist), while Montreal is in the same ballpark as a couple of others. Toronto's pretty far down, due mostly to its concrete jungle and slab feel and lack of historic architecture (there are beautiful modern buildings but they are in the minority unfortunately).

My ranking for urban attractiveness not counting scenery that have been be there anyway without humans is:

Quebec
Atlantic
BC
Ontario
Prairies

With scenery, the top 3 are somewhat closer together. Aesthetics are a matter of personal opinion of course, but I have a feeling that a lot of visitors would feel similarly.
The new urbanist neighborhoods in Vancouver are overall very attractive with ample water features, bike paths, planters etc.

However, Toronto would probably score very high for lo-density luxury SFH neighborhoods. I havent seen any sfh areas Vancouver that rival the quality and craftsmanship of homes in areas like Rosedale, Hogg's Hollow, Baby Point, or Forest Hill. Most of Vancouver's inspired homes are cheap stucco or wood-clad construction. However, Vancouver has great high density residential areas and contemporary style homes.
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  #139  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2017, 11:38 PM
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It's hard to call Kensington Market a neighbourhood because so few people live there. I mean more people live in the Distillery District. Ironically, both have similar functions: upscale food and dining outdoor malls for wealthy folks--KM more student oriented and DD more biz ppl/grownups. I used to live and work in K market in the late '90s so know how it's evolved in the past 20 years.
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  #140  
Old Posted Apr 22, 2017, 2:07 AM
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Too young to remember "King of Kensington"?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrP8mjsmy8U
I'm old enough to remember that. It's a rare exception that confirms the rule, though.
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