My husband and I are just back from a few fun-filled days in Montréal, a city that offers a lot of useful lessons about livable communities.
I came near to weeping with envy at times at some of the more pedestrian-friendly areas of the city.
For example, off the lovely little St. Louis Square -- with neighborhood park featuring pretty fountain and a little stone building where you could buy ice cream and other snacks, and then sit outside at umbrella-shaded tables -- was Rue Prince Arthur, completely closed to vehicular traffic except for the cross streets (and all the cars had to stop for pedestrians; there were no traffic lights, just cars having to wait for a break in the foot traffic). Prince Arthur Street is lined on both sides with restaurants and cafes, all with LARGE outdoor seating areas -- several rows of tables each.
Imagine parts of Newbury Street in Boston or Harvard Square in Cambridge closed off to vehicles, and you approach the idea.
It differs from Boston's Downtown Crossing (also closed off to vehicles), because for the most part, Downtown Crossing is about allowing people to walk from one store to the next. Except for one area of benches between Macy's and Filenes, Downtown Crossing isn't about lingering outdoors -- it's about going into buildings and buying things. There aren't cafes where you're enticed to come in, buy a cup of coffee and sit outside to peoplewatch.
Montréal's Prince Arthur Street isn't simply an upscale tourist attraction, like Quincy Market. For one, it's part of the neighborhood fabric -- there are residences right around (mostly Back Bay-type 3 story buildings). For another, many of the restaurants are quite reasonably priced (although you can eat fairly cheaply at Quincy Market, too). But there are also real stores around, where real people in the neighborhood buy stuff. (Restaurants without liquor licenses even encourage you to bring your own wine, which often means ducking into one of the nearby stores for a bottle).
In the city's Latin Quarter, several main streets were closed for most of two weeks so Juste Pour Rire (Just For Laughs), the world's largest comedy festival, could take over the neighborhood.
Can you imagine Boston closing down several main roads in Back Bay for a couple of weeks -- not for political convention security, but so pedestrians could stroll around and have fun unimpeded? Street performers, stages, outdoor cabarets and more were everywhere for walkers to enjoy.
Yes, there are multi-lane major roads and even highways in and around Montréal. But you get the sense that overall, the city is designed for pedestrians and vehicles to share the space; it's not designed for cars, with sidewalks as an afterhtought. The streetscape provides a pleasant walking experience because the assumption is that many people don't use private vehicles to get where they're going.