In the heart of one of the trendiest boroughs in North America, the patisseries and bistros of leafy Laurier Avenue have become a staging ground for a revolt against a municipal administration some locals say is ruining the neighbourhood with an out-of-control, anti-car campaign.
Merchants in le Petit Laurier, a relatively quiet district in the Plateau Mont-Royal – home to Arcade Fire, performance artists, media celebrities and tech startups – orchestrated a one-hour shutdown of their establishments Saturday afternoon. This was part of a highly vocal campaign to force leftist Plateau mayor Luc Ferrandez to reverse a plan that would result in reduced availability of some one-hour free parking spots for car-using shoppers on Laurier.
It's the latest flashpoint in a drawn-out battle between two seemingly opposed lifestyles in the densely populated Plateau: younger, social-media savvy, bike-riding hipsters, families and environmentalists – Mr. Ferrandez's fiercely loyal political base – versus a generally older, car-owning, middle-of-the-road demographic. Some among the latter despise the mayor and have been known to shout him down at various stormy public meetings.
"It's two different visions but the mayor has a strong activist base. The population is younger. The car is not of such great interest among the young," Danielle Pilette, associate professor of urban studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal, said in an interview Sunday.
Mr. Ferrandez was first elected in 2009 and re-elected in 2013 on a platform of making the Plateau's eight square kilometres a greener, more liveable urban space where the automobile no longer has so much sway and poses less of a threat to pedestrians and cyclists. For many Plateau citizens, he and his Projet Montréal party have gone too far, too fast. The administration has brought in such measures as street-narrowing and sidewalk-broadening, laid down an extensive network of bike paths and reduced through traffic (destined for downtown) by breaking up residential streets into opposing one ways.
Merchants, professionals (dentists, lawyers etc.) and the residents who back them say the Plateau is in economic decline because these and other measures have discouraged shoppers and diners, who drive, from stopping by. Shop owners on the commercial strip Avenue Mont-Royal – south of Laurier – have also had their share of beefs over the years, saying they too have seen significant declines in their customer traffic since the victory of the Ferrandez administration.
"For stores and restaurants, this is a catastrophe," said Patrick Louchet, co-owner of patisserie Les saveurs du Plateau on Laurier. "This is more than arrogance. [Mr. Ferrandez] despises us.
"They [he and his team] are like a sect. They demonize drivers and merchants as being dirty capitalists," said Mr. Louchet, who plans to move out next year when the lease on his store comes up for renewal.
Mr. Ferrandez and administration members are holding off on interviews for now and a meeting with the merchants is set for Friday. But in a May 29 letter to the protesters, councillor Marianne Giguère suggests that change has been long overdue in a city that for decades made huge concessions to the car.
"We were elected twice by putting forward a clear program: to give residents healthy, safe and green living environments – a task that cannot be achieved without imposing a minimum of restrictions on automobile traffic in a city where the infrastructure has for a long time been conceived for it," she said in the letter, adding there is room for compromise on the current parking set-to.