Modern architecture, transportation and nature

Shifting attention from the old to the new, and turning on my “Planner” antennae, Montpellier seems to have achieved a nice balance of density and livability, at least in the neighbourhoods close to the centre. The residential areas are mostly row-houses and other attached multi-plexes, with three to five story apartments along the tram lines and closer to the centre.

Some newer “high rises” are up to about 17 storeys – in Burnaby and Vancouver (Canada) this would be considered a mid-rise. But in contrast to the Vancouver region’s propensity for glass-dominated high rises, the buildings here have more modest sized windows that allow for (in my opinion) more interesting architecture, facades and external window shading. Montpellier is billing itself as a “smart eco–city” and encouraging innovative design and technology in its buildings.

I haven’t had time to research all these buildings, but I did come across a NYT article about L’Arbre Blanc.

For transportation, a tram system with four lines criss-crosses the city, along with rapid buses, and a robust bike network. Some of the main arterial roads have a lot more space allocated to these modes than to cars. I especially liked the green (grass-lined) tram right of way with abutting bike paths, which helps with stormwater management and urban cooling.

There were separated bike paths on the majority of streets I rode on, even narrow roads, except in the historic district when it was a moot point since there were very few cars. It’s not perfect – for example, in this video (in French) a former director of public transportation laments the poor bus service in the suburbs, and low percentage of trips by bicycle. Nevertheless, even if it’s “so-so” for a European city, it would probably be the envy of transportation planners in most cities in Canada or the USA. 

I rode the bike path that connects Montpellier with several scenic beach communities, following the Lez river through the southern part of the city that’s undergoing a lot of new development. In this area, the landscape architecture plays on and integrates the theme of water – a pavillion overhanging the river bank, a lake feature with condos surrounding it, cafes with seating along the public river path, stormwater areas that double as passive greenspace. The river banks are hardened in the area closest to the city centre, but have some areas that have been planted with trees.

Ahhh, nature! OK the river is in need of some ecological TLC, having been straightened and dyked. But it was great to enjoy the greenery, sunshine and exercise along the 13 km route from Montpellier to Pavlavas sur Flots, and my first sight of the Mediterranean Sea. Bonus salt marsh with swans, herons, cormorants, swans and flamingos!