June 2016
Layla Belmahi

What's Montreal's 99% Invisible?

Montréal can be considered from a number of angles, whether by walking around the city and having conversations with those who contribute to the city’s growth, or by taking a look at what’s happening elsewhere. With this second approach in mind, the podcast 99% Invisible is an inexhaustible source of ideas and content. 

99% Invisible is an independent American radio show that explores urban themes like architecture, technology, and infrastructure. The show is available as a podcast, in English only. A good portion of the episodes (there are more than 200) evoke the power dynamics and the changes occurring in other major cities. For example, this podcast on the well-known H-day in Sweden, when the government declared, against the public’s wishes, that drivers would have to drive on the right (like in Montréal) rather than on the left (like in London), shows there can be major urban consequences to the way that changes are presented to and received by citizens. To prepare Swedish drivers, a contest was even held to find the best song to use as a reminder of this radical change.

It is worth asking whether similar creative efforts are deployed in Montréal to prepare citizens for similar inconvenient changes, like the numerous troublesome but necessary construction sites, for instance. Judging by the large number of sites that come and go without explanation, this does not happen to a sufficient degree. That being said, a number of commendable initiatives do come to mind, particularly the large terraces set up on St-Denis, which make the site more inviting to pedestrians.

There is also this podcast on the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, which has become a white elephant with a number of parallels with a certain project in Montréal. We by no means have a monopoly on poor planning or megalomaniacal ideas that go nowhere.

The stories presented on 99% Invisible have a lighter, anecdotal side to them that effectively complements the important reflections on urban life. The focus is often on details, but as you can see, they are often details that we can easily relate to. I am often surprised to find myself imagining the situations presented on 99% Invisible in the context of Montréal.

Essentially, this show puts the focus on things we tend to gloss over in our daily lives. It is a reminder that our world today is made up of a series of transformations (sometimes minor, sometimes more consequential), just as history is made up of a series of events.

There are number of lessons to be drawn from the show. Firstly, 99% Invisible highlights the importance of seemingly trivial details that have a great impact on our world. In other words, the details matter. The second lesson: when will there be a Francophone podcast on urban issues in Montréal? Amplifier Montréal would likely be very interested in such a project. Write to us with your ideas!