Expensive Bikes and the sud-ouest of Montreal
June 2, 2014 § 4 Comments
I was in Montreal for a nano-second last week, in and out in 22 hours. As I sat Friday morning sipping a proper café au lait and a croissant amande at Pain D’Oré at Atwater Market, a woman kitted out in cycling gear pulled up outside the boulangerie. She took off her gloves and helmet, and then leaned her very expensive bike up against the shop’s window and came in to get her coffee and croissant. I thought to myself that things had changed in the sud-ouest of Montreal.
Not too long ago, in response to a post on this blog about gentrification, my friend Max, who is a gentrifier, and has bought a place in a gentrifying neighbourhood, chided me for being so dead-set against gentrification. I am not necessarily. But I think we need to problematise the process, to recognise what we’ve lost, and so on, to not simply jump into the future unquestioningly. But. He pointed out some benefits about gentrification in his neighbourhood: he could find a decent cup of coffee and he said hipsters, as annoying as they generally are, are safe. He doesn’t have to worry about his wife walking home at night.
I thought about that as I watched this woman leave her expensive bike outside the boulangerie, unlocked. When she came back out with coffee and croissant, she moved her bike to her table on the terrasse. I lived in the sud-ouest for the majority of my time in Montreal, mostly in Pointe-Saint-Charles, but also in Saint-Henri on the Last Ungentrified Block in Saint-Henri ™. The rue Saint-Ferdinand, north of Saint-Antoine remains ungentrified. I drove up it last week just to make sure. But the streets on either side of Saint-Ferdinand ARE gentrified, so, too, is the block on Saint-Ferdinand below my old one. So are large swaths of Saint-Antoine. And so on. The first place I lived in the Pointe wasn’t. There are housing projects on the block, and my place backed onto the asphalt back lot of a project (Montreal’s projects, I might note, at least in the sud-ouest are not great towering cinderblock apartments, they are usually no more than 3-4 story apartment blocks. They usually fit into their neighbourhoods). My second place was definitely gentrified, as, by that point in my life, I was no longer a struggling student, but a tenured CÉGEP professor.
And still. There is no way in hell I would ever leave an expensive bike outside a boulangerie at Atwater Market. I never left my car unlocked. Or my front door. I keep a close eye on my computer bag. Do I just trust people less? Or had I just lived in the Pointe longer than this woman? But, yet, her bike was completely safe, and not because I was sitting in the window. About 15 people passed it as she got her coffee and croissant. And no one even gave the unlocked, very expensive bike a second look.
Has the sud-ouest changed that much? Or was her bike simply in a high traffic area and safe? I can’t decide.
I should also point out, for American readers, that gentrification in Canada tends not to get caught up in questions of race like it does here in the US. Most gentrifying and gentrified neighbourhoods of Canadian cities are places where inner-city working-class white people lived. So while class is still a very prevalent issue, race tends not to be. There are exceptions. of course, such as in the traditional Anglo Black neighbourhood of Montreal, Little Burgundy, which is undergoing a massive shift right now. But, on the whole, discussions surrounding gentrification don’t centre around notions of race. Then again, few things in Canada do, at least publicly. But that doesn’t mean that race and skin colour aren’t central components to Canadian life.