Five strategies for reviving the downtown core
- © Young woman looking down while sitting on green block against white background
Downtown Montreal hosts 300,000 jobs, the vast majority of which are currently being fulfilled through teleworking. According to a study conducted this past fall, 65 percent of workers plan to return to the office at least one day per week. This new reality is driving the reinvention of business models. Annik Desmarteau, vice-president of Quebec offices at Ivanhoé Cambridge, is in agreement. “Downtown shouldn’t just be about taking the metro in, working, then leaving again,” she states. “Workers shouldfeel like they’re on vacation from home while they’re there.” Jean Laurin, president and CEO of commercial real estate company Devencore, additionally notes the importance of networking. “A business that plans to develop cannot do so remotely,” he insists. “Employees need to be inspired. You need to offer them workspaces that they can’t get anywhere else.” Downtown Montreal needs to clearly stand apart from its new competitor: the comfort of home!
It is essential to establish a clear strategy to counteract the impression that it’s hard to drive around and park downtown. This would also involve a communication initiative to boost the image of public transportation, which would unite employers, companies, the City, and transit agencies. The arrival of the REM will profoundly change negative perceptions related to commuting, but in the meantime, what’s needed is a show of creativity. At least, such is the opinion of Éric Fournier, a partner at Moment Factory—a world leader in immersive environments. For example, he suggests staging construction sites. “We need to get back to Montreal and to authenticity. Construction sites could become an asset.” A big fan of the downtown core, Azamit founded Souk Montréal in 2003 to promote a synergistic relationship between designers. She insists on the importance of creating spaces that generate experiences that are so unique “you forget any problems you had getting there.”
Downtown Montreal is a key destination for anyone with plans to visit the eastern part of North America. Its festivals, food, hotels, museums, event spaces, and shopping are unlike anything else on the international scene. While many people recognize how cool Montreal is, the city has no strong brand image that can be promoted internationally. It’s time we had a positioning campaign to clearly define Montreal’s unique identity. The mission of such a campaign would be to make an impression on the imagination of tourists everywhere. “In downtown Montreal, there’s a convergence of capital, talent and infrastructure. We have everything you need for fun and business,” assures Annik Desmarteau.
Laurence Vincent, co-president of real estate development company Prével, considers downtown to be an unparalleled living environment. “We need to establish citizen initiatives to encourage people to return downtown, not just to work, but to live.” In her opinion, real estate development needs to be based on inclusive human values. Vincent Kou, VP of corporate development and growth at Groupe Brivia, notes the concrete requirements of adapting housing units to accommodate the new health environment. “We’ve noticed greater demand for workspace conversions. Technological improvements need to be introduced so that you don’t have to touch elevator buttons, for example. We need to think about the ventilation systems and create green spaces.
For several years, the importance of experiences is a concept that hasn’t stopped growing in terms of expertise and interest. In this regard, Montreal’s downtown core has a lot of potential. “Experience is really important,” emphasizes Azamit. “Downtown for me is the pulse of the city. The city has always been extremely lively.” This liveliness needs to be constantly reinvigorated. Azamit cites as an example Montreal Underground, which should be more than just a transit hub or shopping destination. It should be a place for excitement and wonder. Éric Fournier from the Institut de développement urbain insists on the importance of reappropriating the main thoroughfares and streets. “We need to understand the concept of ‘winterization.’ People want to be able to go out even in winter.” In short, Montreal needs to generate emotions that are even more contagious than COVID-19.