At Home in Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles Festival Neighborhood

Edda Bild, Daniel Steele, Catherine Guastavino

1. Introduction


City-makers (including planners, designers, politicians, and a litany of public and private organizations) are constantly looking for ways to attract an audience of global travelers to their cities in order to promote a range of touristic, economic, and cultural activities. In many cities this need is manifested in the form of festivals, available to locals and tourists alike, which, over time, can become synonymous with the city itself (e.g. Bayreuth, Woodstock, Sturgis). While providing vitality through festivals, cities also need to ensure that their spaces remain inhabitable and hospitable to residents. This livability is often characterized through quality-of-life measures, where quiet is the presumed desired norm (World Health Organization 2018; Shepherd, Welch, Dirks, and McBride 2013). Thus livability-vitality is often framed as a dichotomy or tension between stakeholders, associating livability with the perspective of residents and vitality with the perspective of tourists and other visitors (see e.g. Ottoz, Rizzi, and Nastasi 2018).


Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles[1] (QDS) – a central, one-square-kilometer downtown neighborhood, dedicated to housing most of the city’s festivals and artistic life as well as diverse groups of residents, students, and workers – provides a unique setting to investigate this livability-vitality debate. This neighborhood functions as a bustling hub to the city and is seen as a special case, even among peer cities, due to its almost year-long, near-continuous festival season, boasting indoor and outdoor cultural events, that takes place in this full-time residential and commercial neighborhood.[2] Previous research on the Quartier des spectacles has shown the presence of many diverse stakeholders, including city officials, festival promoters, and residents (Ethier and Margier 2019). In this study we concentrate on a topic where conflicts between stakeholders can be pernicious: sound (and noise).


This aspect is even more relevant considering that the Partenariat du Quartier des spectacles (PQDS, Quartier des Spectacles Partnership) – a not-for-profit organization that provides representation in decision-making – is taking what has been coined as a turn toward “sound awareness” (Maag Bosshard, and Anderson 2019) through its interactions with researchers, such as the Sounds in the City team.[3] Shifting away from the underlying assumption that festival sounds are unwanted noise, we bring together insights from bodies of research on soundscapes, festivals, home, the creative city, and “touristification.” These multiple perspectives help to address the underdeveloped and understudied aspect of the experience of being at home in a festival neighborhood, as mediated by the sounds of festivals. In this way we address a gap in the literature by expanding the usual research focus on the opposing experiences of festivalgoers and residents to the documentation of the holistic experience of people living within a lively neighborhood where festivals often occur. Even though the sound – or noise, depending on who is talking – of festivals frames the aforementioned conversations on annoyance or on livability and vitality, the multimodal (hearing, seeing, smelling, experiencing) ecosystem of living with and around festivals is influenced by much more than sound itself; the ways in which the sound of festivals is evaluated is contextualized by, among others, the expectations, histories, and daily activities of residents and users of a festival neighborhood as well as by a host of socio-economic, spatial, and temporal considerations. We acknowledge this complexity by using an exploratory, qualitative approach based on a diary study and interviews with residents to document their sonic experience of home and of public spaces both as locals who conduct their everyday lives but also as festivalgoers who partake in public life. We challenge the usual noise/issue-oriented approach in addressing festival sound and ask the broader question – “What does it mean to be at home in the Quartier des spectacles, a festival neighborhood in Montreal?” – while applying a sonic lens to discuss the diverse relationships of participants with their neighborhood. This paper reports on the findings from an exploratory study, developed to provide context for the research questions, research instruments, and approaches of a larger, multi-method research project on the experience of living in a festival neighborhood that is currently underway. 


Based on the in-depth experiences of a small, yet diverse, group of participants, we took a sonic perspective on the notion of porosity of spaces and the fluid boundaries of private/public spaces to reveal how the sounds of festivals and the adjacent festival experiences frame ideas of life in the neighborhood. Specifically, the festival sounds shape participants’ memories and relationships with others and, crucially, notions regarding for whom the Quartier des spectacles is and, implicitly, is not. This latter aspect informed an exploratory conversation on typologies of the Quartier des spectacles users and the development of the idea of soundscape personas