Friday, October 3, 2008

Montreal's Many Benches Make People Welcome

The Toronto Star:

It would be easy to write off this city that separatism almost destroyed, but make no mistake about it, it's alive and well.

For visitors, Montreal is an especially comfortable place to spend time. In addition to all the regular attractions – museums, restaurants, shops, bars, etc. – it feels like one extended park. It's not that the city is so much greener than others; the difference lies in the ease with which it can be inhabited.

What does that mean? Well, to begin with, benches – and lots of them.

Compared with Toronto, where finding a place to sit out on the streets is next to impossible, Montreal positively invites visitors to sit down and watch the passing parade. Benches are everywhere you turn.

In the new Quartier international, for example, the streets and squares are filled with literally dozens of benches.

In their own way, they are even more important than the fountains, the sculptures and the exquisite Art Nouveau Metro entrance designed at the end of the 19th century by Hector Guimard and given to Montreal as a present by the French government.

Simply put, benches allow us to inhabit a city. They help transform a place into a destination. They tell us we're welcome and give us a chance to be spectators as well as participants.

Here in Toronto, it seems benches are regarded with suspicion; perhaps our attitudes are vestiges of a time when this was a city that associated sitting and relaxing with slothfulness and indolence. To sit is to loiter. Even now, there are plenty of signs reminding us that loitering is forbidden. The devil makes work for idle hands, and, in Toronto, idle feet.

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