Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dumpster Diving

ReadyMade Magazine, the DIY Bible for Gen X, has a blog post on Brooklyn's cool new insider hangout, the dumpster swimming pool.
New York's hippest borough is home to a lo-fi country club in the industrial neighborhood of Redhook. Its centre piece is a swimming pool made from three recycled industrial bins
The dumpsters, about seven metres long and 1.5-metres deep, are lined with heavy plastic and a bed of sand. Each contains about 6,000 gallons of fresh water that runs through a chlorinated filter. Wooden decking, plastic patio chairs and barbecues complete the picture. There's even an outhouse. Acces to the club is by invitation only.
Project spokeseman Jocko Weyland reckons a halfway handy DIYer could put together a pool for less than $1,000. Maybe cheaper, if you know where to steal a dumpster (Let's be honest folks, don't we all?).
By the sounds of it, the Montreal equivalent would be to set up a secret swim club somewhere on the Lachine Canal in the wilds of Ville St. Pierre or industrial La Salle. You know the kind of place I'm talking about; it screams transmission fluid not tanning lotion.
The company, Macro Sea, has gleaned a ton of press in the New York papers for this offbeat idea. Spokesman Jocko Wayland says he and his partners were motivate to create their secret spa because there are so few places to swim in New York.
I suspect it has more to do with not wanting to be surrounded by squalling kids, screaming mums and fat guys with hairy backs in Speedos. Or maybe I'm projecting.
To me, the cool thing is that Macro Sea thought outside the box and found a new purpose for something as smelly, disgusting and ubiquitous as the common dumpster. It's part of their larger corporate mission to bring new life to underused urban spaces like strip malls.
You can read The New York Times story and watch a video here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Imagine Montreal Without Old Montreal or Mount Royal Park

Happily, we don't have to entertain such nightmare scenarios, thanks in large part to visionary architect Sandy van Ginkel.
There was a time in Montreal when the powers that be in city hall and development circles saw the cobbled streets of Old Montreal as a slum ripe for urban renewal. In the early 1960s, a plan to build an expressway through the heart of the old city was formulated. Van Ginkel is credited with persuading the city's first urban planning director, Claude Robillard, of the cultural and historical value of Old Montreal.(Duh!) The Ville Marie Expressway was dug a few blocks north and Old Montreal was saved.
It wasn't his only gift to the city. He worked on the master plan for Expo 67 and saw promise in a young architecture student named Moshe Safdie. With van Ginkel's help, Safdie went on to design Habitat 67. He opposed development on Mount Royal. His other accomplishments included designing new towns in Sweden and the Netherlands after World War II and a hydrogen-powered bus used in the city of Vail. Did I mention he was also a member of the Dutch Resistance during the war?
Van Ginkel died on July 5 at the age of 89. The Globe and Mail has a nice obituary here. Canadian Architect weighs in here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Moss, Apparently It's Not Just a Problem on the North Side of Trees

I've been a Jon Eakes fan for a long time. The TV and radio handyman is a wellspring of home-repair and renovation information and a good talker, to boot.
I interviewed him once when I was still The Gazette's real-estate columnist. Instead of sitting in a café or office to chat, he took me on a ramble through Shaughnessy Village, that neighborhood around the old Forum and Montreal Children's Hosptial, pointing out giant icicles on the roof lines and diagnosing the probable causes. (Improper insulation is the number one cause, if memory serves me right.)
Anyway, Eakes has a great fix-it website. Every once in a while he sends out a newsletter. The latest issue has tips on removing moss from roof shingles. The rainy weather hasn't only been bad for sunbathers. Moss can eat away at the shingles, reducing the life of your roof.
I've been meaning to get up on a ladder to check out my rain gutters. Guess I might as well check for moss while I'm up there.
While on the topic, when was the last time you had your chimney professionally cleaned? Most insurance companies require an annual cleaning to reduce the risk of fire. It only costs about $50 to have done, but it's easy enough to forget about, especially if you don't have a fireplace. Now's as good a time as any to make that call. . .

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Montreal Real Estate Resales, Straight From the Horse's Mouth

June sales were up, up, up despite the lousy weather. I love that the real-estate board spokespeople are huddled under an umbrella outside the front door of the massively ugly Greater Montreal Real Estate Board headquarters, better to take advantage of the natural light. I guess they don't have the technology to shoot video indoors under fluorescent lights.
BTW, it has always struck me as funny that GMREB operates out of one of the tackiest office buildings in the city. How tackiest? If the GMREB was a custom tailor, it would be wearing a white polyester leisure suit with stealth-bomber lapels.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Housing Affordability, Hard to Beat Montreal

A new study by RBC Economics finds that housing affordability improved across Canada during the first three months of the year, with weaker home prices and lower borrowing costs substantially reducing costs in many markets.
On average, the cost to own a typical bungalow across Canada fell by 17 per cent, to $1,350 a month compared to $1,650 a month during the first quarter of last year.
RBC's affordability index looks at the percentage of pre-tax household income used to pay mortgage, utilities and property taxes. The Canadian average was 39.4 per cent, though you probably paid waaaay more than that if you lived in Vancouver, where the average household spends nearly 63 per cent of pre-tax income covering housing costs.
There would be revolution in the streets of Montreal if housing costs ever gobbled up anywhere near that percentage of income on anything as stodgy as a roof overhead.
In a city where renters still make up a bigger percentage of the population than in any other large Canadian city, people put a premium on living well with their money, even if it means settling for a smaller, possibly shabbier apartment. Don't believe me? Just peek through the window of any reasonably good resto on St. Denis St. on any Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night. We like to eat out, and wash a good meal down with a good bottle of wine. Not once a week or once a month, as often as possible. Good food, nice clothes (your humble blogger excepted) and travel, these are the things Montrealers like to spend their money on.
The good news? It remains more affordable to buy and maintain a home in Montreal than in almost any city in Canada.
In Toronto, housing costs eat up nearly 46 per cent of household income, in Ottawa, it was just over 39 per cent. The two large cities that had costs lower than Montreal were Calgary (35 per cent) and Edmonton (34 per cent).
The RBC report found that Quebec housing markets fared better during the downturn than other parts of the country. Prices dipped a little during the last few months of 2008 but rebounded quickly in the spring.
"During this blip of a few months, prices barely missed a beat, generally staying their upward course (albeit at a slower pace.)" according to RBC's economists.
There was a common theme with the first-time buyers I worked with during the first half of the year. They all seemed to think the housing market was in freefall and that they would be able to pick up a house at a steep discount.
They were half right. Prices did not fall in Montreal. They held steady or rose slightly compared to last year. Where the discounts came was in borrowing costs, which fell steeply. That's what made this spring a good time to house hunt.

You've Got Fe-Mail!

Alert reader and avid kayaker Karen spotted this mail box/work of art on her way down to the Lachine Canal for a paddle. Nice!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sunday Morning on Wellington St.

A mismatched assortment of chairs appeared on the walkway in front of this Wellington St. church a few weeks ago. At first, I thought they were a barricade to keep pedestrians from stepping in wet cement. Apparently not. The church's owner, who lives on the premises, set them up to give transit users a place to perch while waiting for the bus.
An interesting side note. The purse on the high stool remained there for a few days before eventually disappearing.