Cultural Regeneration – Le Quartier des Spectacles, Montréal

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Agile City is a project based in the north of Glasgow in Scotland, in an area undergoing significant regeneration with arts and culture at its core. Working within this context we’re interested in looking towards other examples to deepen our understanding of how buildings, areas and cities can be reimagined through creative and cultural activity. We have written a series of 5 posts that explore this theme including; L’île de Nantes in France; NDSM in Amsterdam; Hackney Wick and Fish Island in London, Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam; here we look at Le Quartier des Spectacles in Montreal…

The present-day Quartier des Spectacles or “Entertainment District” has been developed from the site of Montreal’s former Red Light district, whose history extends back to the beginning of the 19th century. Between the 1920s and the start of the 1960s the neighbourhood was home to an impressive number of cabarets that headlined famous artists. Montreal garnered a reputation as a fun-loving city, and tourists started to arrive in great numbers. The American Prohibition (1920-1933) increased Montreal’s popularity, but also created conditions that led to the growth of organised crime, prostitution and illegal gaming houses. It is during this time that the neighbourhood was christened the Red Light district. The quiet evolution of the district was boosted by the construction of 3 subway stations that service the Quartier.

In 2001 the masterplan of “Le Quartier des Spectacles” was declared a priority by the City of Montréal, in order to position culture as a key development tool for Montréal. A brand new district of 1km² offers 40 performance halls, 40 exhibition spaces, and hosts over 40 festivals throughout the year. Its luminous signature is a part of the Quarters main features, with a red light path, architecture illumination and projections animating buildings every day of the week.

In order to encourage the use of the public space for events and activity the streets are equipped with ‘event infrastructure’ allowing people  to plug-in and connect to power, wifi and other physical sites within the area. An important network of optical fibre is linked to a central control room, allowing connection between any sound or projection device in the street and/or inside the venues.  To facilitate the projections a partnership was made with Christie Digital System, a global leader in audio-visual solutions, offering the California-based firm an opportunity to showcase its cutting-edge technology for a key audience including event producers in the digital industry.  More info on the technology here (in French)

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This project differs from other examples we have looked at on Agile City due to the top-down, strategic and definitive transformation of the former Red Light District into a brand new cultural district. From the outside it is hard to predict how this regeneration has affected the local communities through the change in use, its new international profile and culture being used as a means of economic and political leverage.   Similar to other examples such as Les Machines de l’Île de Nantes in France, we also wonder if the concentration of all this cultural activity in a sole 1km² area might affect the other cultural/event venues across the city.

What is the best practice to create favourable conditions for the creative industries in a area to develop? Is large investment and leadership required to achieve significant and measurable value for a city?  When does culture stop being art and become a vehicle for cities to leverage investment? Please let us know if you have worked on the project, live in Montréal or have visited – we would like to hear your opinion – hello@agile-city.com

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Café Cléopatre – one historical cabarets of the Red Light District, threatened with demolition in 2009 by the urban renewal project

The luminous pathway, under the artistic direction of Ruedi Baur and Jean Beaudoin

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2015 Christmas Village

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Centrally located, next to the historical city centre and harbour, serviced by three subway stations – Googlemaps screenshot

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Light & Water – photo from here

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Example of video projection on QDS’s building facade – photo from here

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The winter festival – Montréal en Lumière


Unless otherwise stated, every photo is from the Quartier des Spectacles official website – here