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06 June 2012

Pourquoi Non?

Europe in America

modern traditions
A recent trip to Québec City (my first) was a wonderfully disturbing experience. I have not experienced a more European city on this side of the Atlantic—I don’t actually believe any could exist. Part of this, of course, was the language, but much was the urban environment: I had to keep reminding myself that we drove there and did not fly. Mind you, it rained the entire time we were there, so I wasn’t charmed by the climate (winters, of course, are worse). For someone like me who believes European cities are the pinnacle of urbanism, the dearth of more directly European (or should I say pre-Modern?) inspired cities in North America must count as a loss, and I have felt so since my Rome study year—after which I continually expected to see hill towns along the highways of Pennsylvania. The European city is, I would argue, demonstrably better than the Anglo-American alternative at every physical level—continuity, figure/ground, contained public space, fabric/monument relationships, accommodation to topography, boundary between inside and outside the city—and yet our modern world convinces itself that cities should be evaluated on other terms like “vitality,” nightlife, “energy,” etc. On those terms Toronto is far and away the better city, but it does not inspire anything like the sense of serene urbanity that Québec does. I suppose a perfect city would have both—I trust they are not mutually exclusive—but since the Toronto model has dominated the last couple of centuries, I would advocate for a few more Québecs, if only because, well, pourquoi pas?

the lower town's Place Royal
Notre Dame des [short-lived] Victoires
lower town

Rue Petit Champlain

looking up to the "Château" Frontenac
opposite Frontenac
the quintessential stuff
fabric buildings (i.e. figural space)!
the happily-sited Université Laval school of Architecture
 in the old Cathedral Seminary

the seminary court
from the passage to the seminary court

looking east on Rue St. Louis
Où suis-je ?

and if you have to have highrises....


  1. marvellous David, thank you for posting this!

  2. How far back does Quebec City date?

  3. It was founded in 1608, but the lower town dates from a few decades later, interestingly roughly contemporary with the founded town of Richelieu in France:,_Indre-et-Loire