Canada Trip III – Leaving Montreal

We leave Montreal today for Toronto, where we will begin the “extension” portion of our Canada program. Our Montreal trip took us to Publicis, a French-Canadian marketing, design, and communications agency that does work in Montreal and internationally; Voxco, a developer of opinion research software, and the Jeune Chambre de Commerce du Québec, which offered perspective into public-private relations in the province.

My group’s project focused on consumer insights with regard to the proposed deployment of an electric, all-weather bike product. I came up with the idea after noticing how prevalent biking was in Montreal– but also how few electric bikes I saw. The idea of an all-weather product comes from the need to ameliorate traffic, save money for consumers, and provide a green alternative to driving in the city. Cycling rates, we noted, are more closely correlated to infrastructure development rather than to weather extremes. Though the rate of commuter cycling in Montreal is more than double the Canadian average, the city still has a long way to go to increase that rate to an ambitious target of 15%.

New construction on Rue de Bleury across from our hotel. The geography of Montreal’s highest density has pushed north-northeast from downtown in recent years toward the city’s Chinatown.

Montreal already holds major cred in the cycling world and the urban planning world alike for being home to legendary companies like Guru and PBSC. Québec indeed already has a vibrant cycling culture, and Montreal has an extensively developed network of bike lanes, but the city is also plagued by congestion. While the Montréalais(e) complain about construction during the 45-minute summer, it is, nonetheless, nice to see a commitment to infrastructure investment. A development boom in the city has also seen billions of dollars of investment in new housing, and Montreal may well even lead Toronto in the number of cranes currently dotting the skyline.

While I’m bearish of the North American glut of luxury housing, the impending collapse of the US economy will likely effect some sort of normalization of the oversaturated luxury housing market in the US and Canada. Long story short: More housing and more density mean more congestion, unless specific efforts are made to provide alternative modes of mobility. I pushed for the eBike concept after seeing how underdeveloped the bikeless Jump system is here, though the docked bikeshare system is fairly well-developed. Bixi was launched in 2009 by then-PBSC, making it the first large-scale, docked bikeshare system in North America.

Visiting Publicis, a marketing and communications agency in Montreal.

Our project was to present on consumer insights about Québecois consumers, and we focused on five elements: 1) Adaptability, 2) Resilience, 3) Diversity, 4) Sustainability-mindedness, and, what we called 5) Cautious curiosity. Québec has dueling paradigms of Montreal’s unapologetic modernity in contrast to the historical reticence and nostalgia of the hinterlands. Québec does embrace history, as perhaps best evidenced in its provincial motto of “Je me souviens” (“I remember”), but it is also exceptionally proud of Montreal (especially when pitted against those punks in Toronto), the second-largest Francophone city in the world. “Cautious curiosity” was a way of exploring Québec’s historical conservatism with embracing new media and technological change, but fitting this skepticism and reticence into the well-developed higher-education apparatuses of Montreal and the province’s leadership in mineral and resource development, technology, manufacturing, and artificial intelligence. 

Group project work in the positively sensual illumination of Tiradito Restaurant on the Rue de Bleury, where I had possibly the best ceviche of my entire life.

These paradoxes are further evidenced in the conflict between a historically very white Québec and an increasingly brown Canada. Québec’s restrictive language laws make it hard for anyone to relocate here unless they are a French speaker, which means it may well be easier (relatively speaking) for a Francophone Haitian, Moroccan, or Senegalese to relocate here than for an anglophone American. I had to catch myself a few times when speakers made references to native and indigenous peoples, saying things that did not quite add up with my own perception of reality– it seems that the anti-colonialism of the rest of liberal Canada may not have caught up with Québec.

But our argument– or my takeaway, specifically- was that the duality of language and the duality of Québec’s history, fraught with conflict between the province and the rest of Canada as a singular nation within the writ-large State of Canada, may well make it more adaptable and more resilient. The resilience of the people is similarly evidenced, we noted, in their affinity for snowsports as a way to make the most of a hideously frigid winter.

Stay tuned for the next stop, where we will hang out with Doug Ford, Aubrey Graham (Drake), and, invariably, another exciting range of diverse citizenry and companies. Read more in this series covering urban planning and culture:

V – Toronto’s Vertical Suburbs

IV – The Struggles of Canadian Ascendancy (Unpublished as of September 27)

III – Leaving Montreal (this piece)

II – Montréal and Language

I – Leaving for Toronto & Montreal

Check out more about Kogod School of Business, where I am currently enrolled, and the diverse assortment of immersion programs they offer around the world.

Walking up Mount Royal with AU’s “B” team on a perfect, late summer day.

About Nat Zorach

Nat Zorach is an urban development and energy professional working in Detroit and Chicago.
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