Saturday, September 30, 2023

The brief history of access to Mount Royal Park

The decision to close one of two roads leading to Mount Royal Park is the latest twist in a centuries-old debate over how to balance the conservation of downtown Montreal’s forested refuge with the metropolis’s transportation needs.

The park’s architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, is responsible for some of the most famous public green spaces in North America, including New York’s Central Park.

In 1872, the city of Montreal asked Mr. Olmsted to draw up a plan for its new Mount Royal Park. However, the Camillien-Houde route was not part of Olmsted’s proposal.

Montreal built the highway on the northeast side of the mountain in the late 1950s in an effort to expand automobile infrastructure. This is indicated by a study of the site commissioned by the city in 2018 and written by historian Denise Caron.

What would Mr. Olmsted think of the closure of the Camillien-Houde route?

It’s not clear, says Witold Rybczynski, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania and Olmsted biographer, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

It is very difficult to try to understand what a person like Mr. Olmsted would think about our world today. He was a very pragmatic person.

Olmsted died in 1903, before automobile use became widespread. “I am sure you will have something interesting to say about cars,” Mr. Rybczynski continued. But I have no idea what it would be.

Vehicles And A Cyclist Circulate On The Camillien-Houde Route.

Vehicles and a cyclist circulate on the Camillien-Houde route.

On Wednesday, Mayor Valérie Plante announced her intention to close the Camillien-Houde route to cars from 2027 and reopen it as a new pedestrian and cycling route two years later. Only emergency vehicles will be able to continue circulating on the street, indicated the mayor, for whom the mountain is not a shortcut but rather a destination.

A simultaneous public consultation on the future of access roads to Mount Royal Park in the summer of 2018 resulted in a recommendation to keep them open to cars.

However, the Plante administration maintains that the closure of the Camillien-Houde trail is necessary to protect the biodiversity of Mount Royal and make the park more accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and people with reduced mobility, who could use the new wheelchair-friendly path. wheels.

Mount Royal, Mrs. Plante insisted, belongs to everyone.

First a place of contemplation.

Creating a universally accessible destination for all city residents was also Olmsted’s goal, according to researcher Charles Beveridge, whose 2009 study was published by the city of Montreal.

The idea was for the park to be disconnected from the city, a quiet place of contemplation where people of all social classes and backgrounds could gather.

At The Mount Royal Lookout At The Beginning Of The 20Th Century.

At the Monte Real viewpoint at the beginning of the 20th century

Bérubé suggests that this ideal was at odds with the park’s location, as well as the desires of the local bourgeoisie, who used the Olmsted-designed carriage paths at Mount Royal to escape the hustle and bustle below.

People from the lower classes could not access the park because at that time it was quite far from the urban center and the working-class neighborhood. Bérubé explains. Therefore, having easy and affordable access to Mount Royal Park has become an important political issue.

Black And White Photograph Showing A Funicular Over A Forest On A Mountainside.

The Mount Royal funicular railway around 1900

Although a funicular connected the top of the mountain and its base from 1885 to 1920, there was no public transportation connection leading from the east to the top of the mountain until the opening of a tram in 1930, according to Mrs. .Caron.

Black And White Photograph Showing A Tram On Top Of A Mountain With The City Of Montreal Below.

The Mount Royal tram on what would later become Chemin Camillien-Houde.

M. Olmsted he opposed any rapid promotion that would short-circuit the visual experience he had organized for pedestrians and for riders who climbed the mountain in horse-drawn carriages, according to Beveridge’s 2009 study.

Divided experts

Professor Bérubé argues that the construction of the Camillien-Houde route further undermined Mr Olmsted’s vision. It was really a way to cross the mountain, to cross the park, Bérubé stressed. So the park, instead of being an oasis outside the city, essentially became an obstacle to the city’s development.

Central Park suffered a similar fate when its aging walkways began accommodating cars, Rybczynski recalls. New York City banned vehicle access to these trails in 2018, although four lower roads remain that connect road networks east and west of the park.

The difference with Mount Royal, he adds, is that Camillien-Houde Way is largely on the edge of the park, partly on land acquired by the city after Mr. Olmsted’s death.

It is difficult for me to say that (the Camillien-Houde route) is intrusive, says Mr. Rybczynski. Instead, the professor admits that he enjoys the experience that the course offers to visitors.

For Bérubé, eliminate car traffic on the Camillien-Houde route perhaps it would return the park to its beginnings, to this idea of ​​a park that should be outside the city.

Nation World News Desk
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