Megacity, Schmegacity – It’s Time For The Microcity!

Worth A Look, Urbanization, Frontier Centre

I’ve had the blue-collar blues recently, brought on by too much contact with city construction – er – make that destruction crews. My problems started with:

Incident 1 – The Keystone Kops konstruction krew: Back in September, I described being awakened at 7 a.m. by firemen who evacuated my house – because a city repair road crew had accidentally hit a gas line. But ever since my street has been a tragicomedy of errors, as city workers put on a performance that’s a symbol of megacity life.

After fixing the street, the blue collars departed – leaving more chaos behind. During their stay they had somehow knocked over both stop signs and the one-way sign at our corner – so cars were driving every which way.

We phoned city hall and eventually got through to a woman who seemed alarmed – and promised they would replace the signs immediately. But “immediately” turned out to mean three days later, when an emergency crew erected a temporary stop sign.

They left the old sign poles strewn all over the sidewalk – obviously that was a job for the permanent erection crew. They didn’t replace the one-way sign at all, so cars were still turning the wrong way.

We kept calling City Hall, but it took two more weeks for another crew to replace the one-way sign. Incredibly, this time they put it on the WRONG corner, where we didn’t need one.

More phone calls. More waiting. More cars going the wrong way. Finally, last Friday, some five weeks after we complained, city workers replaced the signs they had destroyed. Overall, it was a glimpse into how our megacity operates but not our only one. We were also battling City Hall, over:

Incident 2 – The fight over the light: The street lamp in front of my mother-in-law’s house in Côte des Neiges had burned out, plunging her walk into darkness and making her nervous to leave at night. She’d called the city, but weeks later there was no sign of action – so she turned to my wife, a professional journalist used to taking on bureaucracy.

She quickly tracked down someone at city hall who promised to look into the problem. Yet another two weeks later there was still no street lamp, or any word from city hall – so my wife phoned again. This time she reached a bureaucrat who flatly informed her “the request has been denied.”

Why? asked my wife. Because, the bureaucrat answered, while my mother-in-law’s house was in the city of Montreal, the street lamp in front was deemed to be in bordering Town of Mount Royal – and therefore not their job. Case closed. Goodbye.

My wife called TMR city hall for help – and in seconds she was put through to their engineering department. A friendly urban planner said she’d look into the problem immediately – but in TMR “immediately” meant right now.

The woman rustled through some city maps, then quickly faxed one to my wife so she could mark the lamp post’s location. My wife faxed it back – and was quickly told the light was on Montreal territory. Yet the TMR planner advised my wife not call back Montreal – she would call instead, so they’d take it more seriously.

Sure enough, a week later, a city of Montreal crew arrived to fix the light – proving the fastest way to fight city hall is to call the nearest suburb.

It also shows why suburbanites clung so stubbornly to their towns during the merger battle. The megacity was supposed to be more efficient and less costly, with a new arrondisement system that promised suburban-style service for everyone.

But even with the best intentions, it’s just created more layers of arrondo-bureaucracy, piled atop mega-bureaucracy, piled atop blue-collar-ocracy. It’s become obvious that bigger is not more efficient. It’s slower, more bureaucratic and less friendly. Big is bad and small is, well – here’s one last story:

Incident 3 – Seeing the light: I was playing tennis with a friend in Westmount last summer, when some court lights went out. It was 9:15 at night, so I turned to leave – but my friend turned to phone Westmount city Hall. I looked at him like he was the Mad Hatter.

In Montreal I don’t expect to reach anyone after 3:30 p.m. – but my friend was so Westmount-ified he actually believed you could reach someone anytime at night. I laughed as the phone rang and rang with no reply. Then, someone answered – and ten minutes later a repairman arrived. I was as speechless as if fairies had shown up to fix the light by magic wand.

It’s now clear to me that instead of the megacity taking over the suburbs, the suburbs should take over Montreal. Maybe TMR could oversee service in Côte des Neiges, while Montreal West runs Snowdon and Westmount manages all downtown.

It’s time for the microcity.