Montreal: A World City
Taking a break for a moment from all the human-rights stuff, let’s enjoy some iphone pics I took on my trip last weekend to Montreal, Canada.
Montreal’s main draw for me was the fact that French is the city’s official language. As a Francophonie (French speaker) who hasn’t visited France in almost 3 years, I was dying to get some of that joie de vivre (read: French bread and crepes). After an almost eight-hour Greyhound bus ride, my husband and I arrived in Montreal Friday night and, despite our short stay, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how diverse, cosmopolitan and interesting the city is
Montreal is considered a world city: the Globalization and World Cities Research Network categorized Montreal as a “Beta +” world city in its 2008 report. World cities are usually designated due to their population and physical sizes, cultural diversity, role in world economics and world politics.; Professor Saskia Sassens of Columbia University wrote in Foreign Policy that a world city must “reinvent itself” and reinvent Montreal has: in a city where Canadian bagels, poutine and French-flavored crepes must now jostle with cuisines from all over the world, Montreal has no doubt embraced the Whole-New-World concept.
Here, 10 reasons why Montreal (culturally, at least) is a good world city.
1. French is the official language… but it’s OK to speak English. I mean, obviously, since Quebec is not its own country, it is a part of Canada, and Canada’s main language is English. Everything is in French: all the adverts, signs, voice on the Metro; menus and tourist areas translate into English as well. To me, this is the number-one indication of a world city if more than one language holds political sway. Book stores sell both French and English books, which means that Montrealers (yes, that’s its demonym!) are exposed to everything wonderful the Francophone culture possesses as well as the English one. It also means that they can communicate with people from every region of the globe.
2. Everything is CLEAN. Did I mention it’s clean?? Not all designated world cities are clean (*cough* fellow Beta+ city Cairo) but cleanliness indicates that a) people have the time/wealth/knowledge to care and b) their government has the money/inclination to do something about it. It also means that the city is serious about environmental health, a major point of disagreement among world cities. Montreal was so clean you could eat off the streets; garbage cans in the Metro were neat and tidy and were separated into recyclables. There were park benches! and they were so clean they looked brand-new. A clean city is a happy city.
3. The Metro ROCKS. For me, I would definitely use public transportation as a deciding factor for labeling world cities, and Montreal passes with flying colors. The Montreal metro is super-clean, fast and aesthetically pleasing-and not at all claustraphobically overwhelming. More about this in my next post, but efficient transport=happy citizens
4. Tourism. So tourism should definitely factor into what makes a world city; if no one wants to go there in their time off from business stuff and saving the world, then why should we deem it worthy/safe/stable enough to be a world city? Furthermore, a lack of tourism means that there’s nothing even architectually pleasing to see. Montreal is a popular tourism destination thanks to its Vieux Port, and it has its fair share of tacky tourist shops selling Canadian flag keychains and t-shirts with obscene French jokes on the front.
5. The drinks are stronger. Alright, this doesn’t really make Montreal a world city, but it’s nevertheless a cool fact about Montreal. And isn’t drinking the international language of how to make a deal-at least in the Western world? Seriously: even though Riyadth is considered a “Beta” city, and Jeddah and Kuwait City are considered “Gamma” cities (Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are dry countries), I don’t feel like a world city should be so uptight as to ban alcohol. In fact, I don’t feel like Riyadh, Jeddah or Kuwait City should be on the world cities list, not just because alcohol is forbidden but also because they are not interested in democracy, personal freedom or cultural liberation. Montreal, on the other hand, serves up strong drinks-and isn’t overly anal about carding people at the bar. Or maybe the drinks are strong because the bartenders know how to bartend-i.e., they actually put brandy in the sangria, not just cheap wine, which my father says most American bartenders do. Montrealers are doing their damn job.
6. Breathalyzer Tests! OK, so even though a world country should allow the consumption of alcohol, said country should also care about its citizens health and safety. Hence, Montreal has breathalyzer tests posted in the city; I found one located inside the Bon Secours Market. Just pay, breathe out, and voila! Should you drive or not? That way Montreal has less vehicle accidents and vehicular manslaughter cases to deal with (je te vois, Etats-Unis!)
6. TamTam’s. Drum Circle.An internationally-minded city should be a melting pot of cultures, no matter how subtle the voices. A drum circle may not change the world, but it is indicative of a relaxed and tolerant culture which is open to the integration of other cultures as well. Most of the people attending TamTam’s
8. Location on the St. Lawrence River. How many times do we have to hear the word location, location, location? OK, so I personally feel that Montreal has a crappy sort of location (if the ocean is more than 3 hours away, I call the location crappy unless it is London or Paris) but if a world city cannot be near the ocean/sea than it better damn well be located on a river. At least the St. Lawrence is a strong and imposing river (you can even surf on the rapids on a small section of the river in Montreal!) that can be plied by huge Norwegian cruise ships and freighter steamships, not to mention the Bateaux Mouches boat I took. Indications of what Sassins calls the world-city requirement “infrastructure of international trade,” having a harbor really is important for a world city.
9. The diversity! The youth scene! If there’s no scene for young, hip people, how can culture and innovation flourish? Montreal has a diverse population, requirement no. 2 of a world city: I saw countless ethnicities represented. Its got grand basiliques catholiques and humble mosques, rue Jacques Cartier with its imported-from-Paris outdoor cafes and New Zealand-born street performers and Middle Eastern fast food joints scattered around the city. And Montreal’s busy nightlife means that the city doesn’t shut down after dark, another important factor: a world city shouldn’t have an early bedtime!
10. Bike lanes. Like the breathalyzer tests, Montreal’s bike lanes prove that the country is into both environmental and human health, which means that it’s paying attention to what’s what in global research. More bike lanes=more people are willing to risk riding a bike in the city, since the lanes are huge (NOT like in “New York) which means they might not get run over. Montreal is not terribly big, so biking doesn’t seeme like an insane option like it might in Los Angeles or Shanghai, it’s good for the environmental, flow of people, one’s weight and one’s wallet. International cities must care more about the environment and their people’s physical well-being!