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What defines a city?

What defines a city? What best explains why some cities are great cities? While geographic location does in fact contribute to a city’s composition and therefore its natural qualities, and while the myriad of people from multiple cultural backgrounds dwelling within do indeed serve to provide a city with its character, the answer to this question lies in its architecture and urban design.

Regardless of all the other components that make up the vast fabric of any metropolis, it is without question the architecture of any city that provides the necessary forum, or rather the “stage” on which all modes of expression and endeavor are performed each and every day. It is within the boundaries of architecture that the majority of our lives play out and it is therefore the very quality of this architecture that defines us. Our collective and our individual efforts in all things would not produce results of the same magnitude if not for the spaces within which they transpire. Our celebrations, our academic achievements, our entrepreneurial pursuits, our political demonstrations, -our lives in general, are all enhanced by the character of the architecture that surrounds us.

The importance of architecture cannot be understated. The impact that design has on all facets of life is extremely profound. More than the creative use of light, the inspirational detailing of the structure, the height of the ceilings, the choice of materials, the selection of colours, and the application of new technology, architecture, at times, transcends the tangible and provides us with a historic recounting of our previous triumphs and access to what the future can hold.

While the importance of the preservation of historic architecture has been well understood, recognizing the value of our city’s legacy is but only half the issue….

Enabling the architecture of the future and benefiting from its ability to address our ever changing needs, in a manner that is not confined to the short term, is most definitely of equal, if not, increasing importance.

Unfortunately, due to our political instability, poor zoning regulations, general lack of sophistication, and the effects of our past urban planning mistakes, Montreal has had and will continue to have a difficult time realizing its true potential. Aside from the obvious infrastructure problems that plague our city, the fact that our downtown core lacks sufficient public spaces, pedestrian avenues, property frontage along our main streets, and the fragmented way in which we have been proceeding with the densification of our underdeveloped zones, the main issue lies in what is being built. True some great efforts have been made to unlock the value of our urban environment, however, so long as short term planning continues to dominate the conceptualization of what is being built, our historic legacy will very soon be overshadowed by a skyline of nondescript banal structures that do not reflect, in any manner, one iota of future thinking or design, nor the true needs of those they were supposedly developed for and will have already become irrelevant the moment they were delivered. The copy pasting of antiquated equation based development that does not seek to achieve any level of design durability nor harmony with the dynamic ever changing essence of our city is not the path towards a sustainable future.

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