The world is full of creative villages, the vast majority having been developed organically over centuries of use. Their buildings were huddled close together, often around a major religious or government building which frequently accompanied an open town square. The town square became the focus of gatherings ranging from fresh market vendors to public hangings. It was the center of resident gatherings and often featured access to government buildings, hotels for visitors and restaurants that expanded their table settings into the square. Unlike more modern cities that developed neighborhoods of poor people close the center, the lower income residents of historic villages were frequently pushed to the outskirts because of the domination of central sites by wealthier families.
The allure of center-dominated villages, and even those that grew into cities, was, and remains, the multiplicity of activities concentrated in and around the central square. Of course, many of the larger cities were overcome by the emergence of the automobile, and its larger evolution of vehicles containing goods for the central city merchants as well as buses devoted to carrying people, both residents and visitors.
In recent years, the architectural and city planning professions focused on a variety of schemes to coordinate activity centers with transportation. The allure of European pedestrian-only centers became a popular objective for an increasing number of North American cities, both young and old. The so-called “new urbanism” movement promoted dense mixtures of residential and commercial uses to replicate the village center theme. Although it may not have achieved a major movement back to the city center, it certainly increased the multiplicity of housing choices in a great many cities.
In January of this year, I visited what appeared to be the perfect locale for re-creating the pedestrian-based village center. It is the year-round resort of Mont Tremblant located in the Laurentian Mountains about eighty miles northwest of the French-speaking city of Montreal and eighty miles northeast of the Canadian capital of Ottawa. The original colony of settlers was located on the beautiful Lake Mercier at the base of the mountain, named in French from the Indian language for “trembling mountain”. In 2000, the ski facilities and adjacent land were purchased by Intrawest Resorts Holdings, Inc., originally a Canadian company formed in 1976 specifically to own and manage major resort properties (and perhaps best-known for the development of Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains in British Columbia).
Intrawest planned the area uphill from the original village which became the city of Mont Tremblant in 2000. It was planned on the lower portion of the ski hill to extend the old village up to the base of lifts to the top of the mountain, and to an intermediate destination, as well as beginner slopes for the ski school (L’Ecole Des Neiges). Another lift took guests up to a casino overlooking the valley. Lower lifts descended to parking lots at the foot of the mountain. In sum, this area became the focus of winter activities, connected to new commercial equipment rental, entertainment, dining, and lodging facilities accessed by pedestrian streets. Mid-rise hotels ringed the outside of the village, with vehicle access from the outside, parking underneath and rear access to the ski lifts and commercial activities. Hotel guests in the major hotels parked upon their arrival and did not need the car until departure. All activities were inside the pedestrian village, in an attractive version of the historic European village.
Free-standing chalets and other types of housing emerged outside the city of Mont Tremblant, requiring automobile or bus access to the pedestrian lifts. But the vibrant core of the city was entirely devoted to mobile pedestrians engaging in the pleasure of activities adjunct to the primary recreation of snow skiing and boarding. Like other visitors that we met in bars, restaurants and the hot tub, we fell in love with the new Mont Tremblant as being the best of the Intrawest creative villages at its many cold and warm weather resorts in North America and abroad.
Dr. David Forster Parker
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