The Underground City: Beneath the Surface of Montreal, Quebec
The name “Underground City” draws images of a thriving metropolis lying deep beneath city streets. Instead, these subterranean spaces contain a network of links to transportation, commercial, recreational, and residential uses. Though underground cities exist all around the world, what makes Montreal’s system of corridors and tunnels stand out from the rest?
It is officially designated as RÉSO: the réseau de la ville souterraine, or rather, the network of the underground city. Many corridor links, however, are both below and above street level, and so the title of the Indoor City is often a more appropriate term for this system of enclosed spaces. Development began in 1962 with the construction of an underground shopping center located beneath Montreal’s first modern skyscraper, Place Ville-Marie, which is also connected to Gare Centrale, the central train station. The inauguration of the metro system in 1966 encouraged the construction of more subterranean malls along the subway lines. In time for Expo 67, this marked the continuation of grand visionary urban projects taking place in the city.
A sort of mythical status has developed among tourists and non-Quebecers, impressed by the extent of the network and the presence of large enclosed social spaces. It is made up of continuous pedestrian corridors accessed along the parallel Green and Orange metro lines that run through the downtown core of the city. To stay indoors throughout the entire network, certain parts can only be reached by these metro stations. Used by 500,000 people daily, it stretches along thirty-two kilometers, across sixty-three connected buildings, and holds 190 different points of entry. Though locals are quick to dismiss the network with bored disinterest due, in part, to the series of interconnected shopping malls filled with repetitious store fronts, it does shelter people from the elements outside, and offers quick access to several transportation means. Metro stations, major bus terminals, and the central train station can be easily accessed. Official statistics also boast connections to 1,200 offices, 2,000 stores, and over 200 restaurants, banks, a movie theater, hotels, exhibition halls, and cultural institutions.
Each portion of the network within each establishment has a unique quality to it. Some passages are dark and dreary acting only as transit corridors, while others are part of larger building complexes containing office or mall space that have open areas where people can leisure about, sit, eat, or shop. Though implicit restrictions exist throughout the network, everyone’s presence of “being there,” including those at the margins of society, is generally accepted within its operating hours. Set to open and close around the first and last metro departures, therefore between 5:30AM and 1:00AM, each section of the network is privately owned and has its own set of rules.
By facilitating transportation and commercial uses, the Indoor City further contributes to Montreal’s walkability and acts as an all-season extension of the city life above. Lying in close proximity to several universities, museums, and public parks, the network’s vastness allows comfortable access to these and other amenities situated near the central business district. Perhaps this is what encapsulates the sense of intrigue for tourists that are not able to regularly enjoy such conveniences.
If you have an underground/indoor network in your city, how do you utilize it?
Credits: Images by Caitlin Dixon. Data linked to sources.
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