We Don't All Have To Live In High Rises To Get Dense Cities; We Should Just Learn From Montreal

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

After speaking in Montreal about urban form and appropriate density, much of which I have written in TreeHugger in Is There a "Goldilocks Density"- Not Too High, Not Too Low, But Just Right?, I was approached by Dinu Bumbaru, the policy director of Heritage Montreal, who told me that the Plateau area of Montreal was a great model of dense living that he had actually proposed for China (and was ignored).

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Most of Montreal's housing is like this, three storey walkups with these crazy steep exterior stairs that must be murder in the snowy Montreal winters.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Many are not very pretty,

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Others quite elegant.

Ville De Montreal/Public Domain

But in either case, they get densities of over 11,000 people per square kilometer. That is extremely dense. With the exterior stairs, they are very efficient, with almost no interior space lost to circulation. Everybody wants to live there, and people raise their families there. It's just the way things are in Montreal.

You could go all Edward Glaeser and knock these down for 40 storey high rises and with the losses for circulation, fire stairs, elevators and separating distances between buildings you probably wouldn't get any more people in the same area.

I am going to conclude by quoting myself:

In the end, what we need to do is not, as Glaeser and Owen suggest, to make everything like Manhattan; It is more likely that we in fact want to make everything like Greenwich Village or Paris, with moderate height buildings that are more resilient when the power goes out. That's the Goldilocks density: dense enough to support vibrant main streets with retail and services for local needs, but not too high that people can't take the stairs in a pinch. Dense enough to support bike and transit infrastructure, but not so dense to need subways and huge underground parking garages. Dense enough to build a sense of community, but not so dense as to have everyone slip into anonymity.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Thanks to Harry of Mocoloco for the tour.

Tags: Montreal | Urban Life | Urban Planning