By No machine-readable author provided. Emdx assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

March 8, 2018; Next City

What to do with a fleet of 50-year-old subway cars—each 60 feet long and weighing 26 tons—that needs to be replaced? In Montreal, the answer was to invite proposals for creative reuse of the retired MR-63 model cars. As reported by Sandra Larson for Next City, the 2016 call for ideas resulted in 30 proposals, and seven finalists were chosen by the Société de transport de Montréal (STM). Three are described in the article, representing a mix of entrepreneurial and nonprofit-led projects, some supported by grants, others benefiting from volunteer muscle and/or pro bono professional services.

  • In the southwest corner of Montreal, near the Lachine Canal National Historic Site, a pilot phase for Project MR-63 is expected to open this summer with four subway cars transformed into a snack bar, an art gallery, a recording studio, and a design showcase. By 2020, the plan is to add four more cars and make a permanent, multi-level space to highlight local artists and food vendors and host community events. Entrepreneurial brothers Frederic and Étienne Morin-Bordeleau are behind this project, with the architectural work being donated and an active group of volunteers supporting the effort.
  • Subway car as garden ornament? Mais oui, at least in the Jardin de Métis/Reford Gardens about 350 miles northwest of Montreal, with a one-car installation designed by ABCP Architecture and a grant from a local arts council. Jardin de Métis director Alexander Reford notes that people behave differently in a subway car when they happen upon it in an unexpected place: “If you travel the metro in North America, people usually don’t talk to each other on the metro, they sort of sit glumly. This place is happy and chatty—people are spontaneously interacting. So it’s interesting how the same spatial unit can be transformed in a different environment.”
  • At Polytechnique Montreal, the engineering college of University of Montreal, another subway car will be placed inside a building and is being transformed—by students—to become a meeting and conference space associated with the school’s “fab lab,” described as “its makerspace for students, university staff and the general public.” The students will upgrade the lighting and ventilation, and along the way will come to understand “how technology was done…in the 1960s,” when the MR-63 subway cars were new. The project is scheduled for 2019 and fundraising is underway for the $500,000 installation.

NPQ has previously reported on a surprisingly long list of innovative ways that nonprofits and cities have found to repurpose older buses. This is our first newswire on repurposed subway cars, but perhaps it will not be our last. The Next City article cites several other examples of repurposed vintage subway cars. We share stories like these in the hope that they will plant the seeds for innovation elsewhere. So please let us know if your nonprofit or your community has found a practical or a playful way to make the most of public transit vehicles that are no longer being used for their original purpose.—Eileen Cunniffe