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What is Montreal's U.S. equivalent?
December 20, 2011 11:33 AM   Subscribe

What is Montreal's US equivalent?

I love Montreal, but moving out of the US isn't an option for me right now. What US cities have a vibe similar to Montreal? The things I most like about the city are it's European flair, homey-feeling neighborhoods within walking distance of downtown, bike friendliness, decent public transport, the fact that people take advantage of outdoor activities, and it's a manageable size. New York has a lot of these down, but is so huge. Have you been to Montreal and been reminded of a US city? Which one?
posted by margoc19 to Travel & Transportation (44 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Duluth, MN?
Madison, WI?
posted by ian1977 at 11:37 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only US city I've ever been to which reminds me of Montreal in even the least is Portland, and the resemblance is more in the passions of its citizens than it is the city itself.
posted by Jairus at 11:37 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


New Orleans.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:38 AM on December 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


I've been all over the US to cities big and small and I've never gotten the same vibe as in Montreal. I'd dare say that, in part, there are no cities in the US that are dual language cities. These are the ones that are closest, in my opinion:

Boston - for it's multiculturalism
Portland, OR - size, walk-ability, neighborhoods.
Denver - same as Portland and lots of outdoors opportunities.
San Francisco - It's a bit of a stretch, but I can pick up a bit of the same vibe there.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:40 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


homey-feeling neighborhoods within walking distance of downtown - check
bike friendliness - check
decent public transport - check
the fact that people take advantage of outdoor activities - check
it's a manageable size - check

There are cities that might have more of a European vibe, but your list was a description of Portland, OR.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:44 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I agree with Portland as a good choice. It's not as "European" as Montreal, but otherwise has a similar feel.
posted by mkultra at 11:46 AM on December 20, 2011


Boston. I live in Boston and feel right at home in Montreal. The cities are similar in their size, "European" feel, culture of the residents, and Boston meets all of the criteria you're looking for.

Washington DC may also qualify but to a lesser extent.

(I jokingly sometimes refer to Montreal as 'Las Vegas with a soul,' but the cities are quite different. :)
posted by Aethelwer at 11:56 AM on December 20, 2011


I'd dare say that, in part, there are no cities in the US that are dual language cities.

Chicago is darned closed to bilingual (English/Spanish.) Not that it's anything like Montreal.

Really, I don't think any city is. There are the middling cities, which all have a sameness to them, and then there are the big cities, which are all unique in their ways. New York is very different from Chicago, or LA, or Houston, or London, or Paris, or Mexico City, or Tokyo -- and all of them can say the same thing.

Montreal is Montreal. The only city like is it Montreal.


Chicago est sacrément fermé à bilingue (anglais/espagnol.) P'as que c'est comme tout Montréal vraiment.

Je ne crois pas qu'aucune ville est. Il y a les middling villes, qui ont tous une similitude à eux, et il y a ensuite les grandes villes, qui sont tous uniques dans leurs moyens. New York est très différente de Chicago, ou la, ou à Houston, ou London, ou de Paris, ou à Mexico, ou Tokyo -- et ils peuvent tous dire la même chose.

Montréal, c'est Montréal. La seule ville comme est-il de Montréal.
posted by eriko at 11:57 AM on December 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Add to your list:

Festival- and live-music centric, well beyond the usual
Distinct regional cuisine and food culture
Bicultural, with the dominant culture not being NA default anglo
Large first-generation immigrant population (not just black/white/latino)
Almost fully bilingual (less than half anglophone)
Old, as long a history as anywhere in North America (settlement dates from 1500's).

New Orleans approximates some of this, particularly in the French character, but is it's own place. Nowhere in New England feels similar to me, too anglo.
posted by bonehead at 11:57 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't speak for Portland, OR because I've never been there, but Boston certainly fits the bill. If you're used to big cities like NY, LA or Chicago, Boston is teeny. Bike culture is firmly rooted, especially in the near suburbs. Not every neighborhood in Boston is a winner, but there are some very nice ones, and not all of them the expensive or tony ones. All of central Boston is extremely walkable. Boston can have a very cosmopolitan and international feel (as well as a very, very parochial one sometimes, sadly) And the outdoor activities abound, even in winter. And the weather is about the same -- hot, humid summers, bitter cold winters, and usually our share of snow.
posted by briank at 11:58 AM on December 20, 2011


Philadelphia feels surprisingly European in the downtown areas, is quite a bit smaller than New York, and is very walkable. It also has a very active arts and culture scene on both the fine art and the grass roots ends of the spectrum. The parks are beautiful, massive and well-used and the people are friendly to a fault.

On the other hand, it's not nearly as safe or bike friendly as Montreal and nowhere near as Cosmopolitan (Though no place in the U.S. is, really, New York aside).
posted by 256 at 12:00 PM on December 20, 2011


New Orleans and Montreal both share that sort of louche decadence thing to me. That's the common ground between the two. Look at the food cultures for example - no other cities in North America have that. Especially the decandent trash food stuff.

NO has a music culture that Montreal lacks, Montreal has more of a faded industrial might thing going on - that NO sort of has but it isn't the same depth that Montreal has.

I think Boston is a terrible terrible comp btw.
posted by JPD at 12:02 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just based on the characteristics you listed, I'd say that Philadelphia might be worth checking out, particularly if you wanted to stay on the east coast. It sprawls quite a bit, but there are a lot of reasonably-affordable neighborhoods that are walkable/bikeable to downtown, the downtown-area public transport is very good (by US standards), etc. Along with Boston it's one of the older cities in the northeast, as well.

That said, I'm not sure it really screams "Montreal" to me, though, despite meeting some of your qualifications; to me, the only city in the US that felt like Montreal -- which was characterized as a very unique mix of familiarity and foreignness -- was probably New Orleans. But they're different in a lot of practical ways that might make the experience of living in one versus the other not at all similar.

To be honest, I'm not sure you'll be doing yourself or the city you move to much of a service if you're trying to find a place that approximates Montreal, that isn't Montreal. It's fine to have a list of distinct things that you want in a city, but one of those things can't be "is just like $OTHER_PLACE". That's sort of setting yourself up for disappointment, I think.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:24 PM on December 20, 2011


Re Madison, WI, where I live:

homey-feeling neighborhoods within walking distance of downtown
bike friendliness
decent public transport
the fact that people take advantage of outdoor activities
and it's a manageable size.

are all yesses. We don't have European flair, but we make up for that by sharing with Montreal the quality of being encased in black ice from December through March.
posted by escabeche at 12:32 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Boston or D.C. are your best bets on the east coast. Portland or SF on the west coast.
posted by General Malaise at 12:33 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having lived in both places, I would say San Francisco. More than a list of things, though, I would say the similarity is in the general feel of the place.
posted by dame at 12:35 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are some college towns in the U.S. that might fit some of the things you say you like about Montreal. Madison was mentioned above, and it fits quite well. If you're cool with a college town, you might try Ann Arbor, as well. But a college town won't "feel" like Montreal, even though it might have a lot of the qualities you list. Going down your list:

European flair

Hm. DC, maybe? There are some neighborhoods that feel sort of vaguely European, like Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Capitol Hill.

homey-feeling neighborhoods within walking distance of downtown

DC, if "homey-feeling" can include rowhouses and that sort of thing. DC would be my first choice if I were looking for a city that feels sort of French in the U.S.

San Diego, where very homey-feeling neighborhoods like Hillcrest and Banker's Hill are within easy walking distance of Downtown. Actually, Mission Hills is super homey-feeling and is a very easy bike ride to Downtown and walkable, as well.

Los Angeles Yes, yes, I can hear people disagreeing all the way from here. But you're wrong. If you consider "downtown" in LA to actually be about 9 different city centers, many of which are within walking distance of homey-feeling neighborhoods, it totally fits. LA is awesome, but you have to sort of dig in to see that it is actually not one city, but about 15 cities. Santa Monica, Century City, Downtown, Pasadena, Studio City, and other places all fit this description really well. They don't "feel" like Montreal, in that you'll never say "gee, I almost thought I was in Montreal." But old town in Pasadena on a nice evening is fantastic, feels old, has great restaurants, and is within easy walking distance of beautiful homey-feeling neighborhoods.

Salt Lake City Weird, I know, and Salt Lake is not going to feel like Montreal and has it's own bizarre cultural nonsense going on. But it's got some really cool neighborhoods close to downtown.

bike friendliness

DC or San Diego

decent public transport

DC, San Francisco, maybe. Salt Lake City actually has a nice new public transport system, and I know several people who use it a lot and love it.

the fact that people take advantage of outdoor activities

Ann Arbor, San Diego, Salt Lake City

and it's a manageable size

Ann Arbor, San Diego, Salt Lake City, and even Los Angeles if you, again, think of it as several cities rather than one giant one. I live in a small town 20 minutes from Downtown LA with its own little downtown area that is walkable and bikeable and that has a great community feel, and it makes LA feel like a small town.

But yeah, I think escabeche hit it on the head: Madison, WI is the place for you if you can handle the weather. It's an awesome town and has everything you're looking for except the "European flair."

Really, there's no other city that feels like Montreal. But there are plenty of cities that have their own cool feeling and personality, and some of those cities have the qualities you're looking for. Good luck!
posted by The World Famous at 12:42 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I lived in Montreal for five years and have been in Portland several times in the past year, due to living proximity. Portland is so monocultural that it almost seems a shame to compare the vibrantly multicultural Montreal with it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:44 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


New Orleans has the same decaying catholic vibe that Montreal has. You get warmer weather, but add hurricanes, poverty, corruption and serious crime.

The thing is, Montreal is not a middling city. It is a middling size city, but for culture it is a world-class city. I would compare it with New York and Amsterdam for culture. It actually does have a big music scene, but it's a big alternative music scene; New Orleans is more for jazz. (Though we do have a Jazz Festival.)

Have you considered living in New York, but in a homey neighborhood? Manhattan is jammed, but what about, say, Williamsburg?
posted by musofire at 12:51 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Burlington, Vermont? It's much smaller, but has a decent amount of culture due to being a college town. You are also within a 2 or 3 hour drive of the actual Montreal!
posted by Rock Steady at 12:54 PM on December 20, 2011


Boston is the only place I've been in the US that was as friendly as Montreal.
posted by rocket88 at 1:00 PM on December 20, 2011


Nthing Portland.
posted by Specklet at 1:20 PM on December 20, 2011


New Orleans is the only place in the US where I've visited and felt that, architecturally and culturally (though not linguistically), I was in a totally different country.

But as far as good public transport, bike-friendly, and access to outdoors activities, you want SF, Berkeley, or Portland. Maybe Boston.

DC lacks the "European" feel because it is zoned like a big suburb. It lacks the ubiquity of small markets and cafes on every street corner.
posted by deanc at 1:38 PM on December 20, 2011


I live in DC and don't think it vibes the same as Montreal. Interesting to read all the support for Boston. I've considered moving there and my largest worry was its lack of multiculturalism. Pleasantly surprised by the comparison!
posted by Hurst at 1:40 PM on December 20, 2011


What musofire said. NYC may not be as big as you think it is... you should give it a second look. If you live in the right neighborhood (Williamsburg would be a good choice) you'd probably get the benefits you're seeking without feeling like you're in a big city.
posted by mark7570 at 1:57 PM on December 20, 2011


I'm surprised nobody's said Minneapolis. I've lived here for only a year and other than European vibe I think everything on the list of descriptors of Montreal that the OP mentioned describe Minneapolis pretty well.
posted by entropone at 2:06 PM on December 20, 2011


Boston is not an awful choice, but I'd actually suggest one of the surrounding cities, like Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, maybe Arlington, etc. A little more multicultural and livable than Boston proper.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:25 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shocked that no one has mentioned Seattle.

That said, Portland is probably even better for the description given.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:50 PM on December 20, 2011


I grew up in Montreal, and I'm about to head back there for Christmas. I'm familiar with most of the places people mention here (and have lived in many of them). If you're looking for a lively walking city, there are lots of good suggestions upthread. But fundamentally, none of them feel Montrealesque to me. Fundamentally, eriko's right; any substantial city has a character of its own.
posted by tangerine at 2:58 PM on December 20, 2011


I am really surprised that no one has mentioned Miami yet. When I think of Montreal, I think of a city that speaks two languages. You get at least two in Miami. There are some really homey neighborhoods, and depending on where you live, it can be surprisingly walkable. Given the climate, it is possible to spend pretty much every day of the year outside. It is by far and away the most genuinely multicultural city that I know in the United States.
posted by msali at 4:23 PM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Shocked that no one has mentioned Seattle.

Hahaha no. Seattle is nowhere near walkable except in a few neighborhoods (and as a corollary the transit is meh), the biking is doable but not exactly great, and it doesn't have the same joie de vivre that Montreal has. Seattle is not a town that likes to have fun, not the same way Montreal does.

If you're looking for good transit, biking, and fun, I would recommend Portland in a heartbeat. (Disclaimer: Portland born and bred, lived in Seattle for about six years)
posted by calistasm at 4:24 PM on December 20, 2011


Montreal is the least racially diverse major city in Canada, so yeah, Portland.

New Orleans? NON. You might as well say that Montreal is like Port-au-Prince. Montreal shares infinitely more with Toronto than it does with NO.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:36 PM on December 20, 2011


I dunno, depending on what neighborhood in DC, you can find all of those things, and there are tons of Europeans in DC, especially if you go clubbing. Much smaller than Montreal, though, I think.
posted by empath at 5:17 PM on December 20, 2011


ian1977: "Duluth, MN?"

I'm sure Ian means well with this comment, but... no.
posted by secretseasons at 5:35 PM on December 20, 2011


In my experience, NYC and DC are not much like what the OP describes. Boston maaaaybe. Philly a little bit closer.
posted by entropone at 5:42 PM on December 20, 2011


Salt Lake City Weird, I know, and Salt Lake is not going to feel like Montreal and has it's own bizarre cultural nonsense going on. But it's got some really cool neighborhoods close to downtown.

Oh, my. This made me laugh. I mean, I live in SLC, I LOVE the SLC, i think this city is way undervalued and underestimated, but I moved here from Montreal, and Salt Lake is no Montreal.

That said, some thoughts:

Minneapolis: which has the SLC vibe mentioned above, but is an actual city.

Boston: eastern, cosmopolitan, but of a smaller, manageable size, like Montreal. Friends have complained that it's more uptight, though.

San Francisco: maybe not a European vibe, but like montreal, it's a city with a clear identity and flavor. Also, it's about the same size, no? Also compact, like downtown Montreal felt. I love it, go there often, and feel very similar there to how I felt when I lived in Montreal.
posted by vivid postcard at 6:12 PM on December 20, 2011


I didn't say SLC is like Montreal. I said it has homey-feeling neighborhoods within walking distance from downtown. But I'm glad I could make you laugh.
posted by The World Famous at 7:42 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you for all the suggestions! I live in Brooklyn now, and do love it, but don't see myself there forever. New Orleans and Madison are two I haven't experienced and need to, apparently. JPD--thank you for "louche decadence." A wonderful phrase, and something I wish there were more of in this world. Louche decadence and bike lanes.
posted by margoc19 at 9:11 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Santa Fe maybe. It's a smaller city, its remote, it's old and it's pretty multi-cultural. It's not nearly as modern or wealthy as Montreal or most of the places mentioned here but it's one of the only places in the US that seemed to really stand out to me (a european).
posted by fshgrl at 9:42 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Neither Portland nor Seattle. They are Vancouver's American equivalents, and none of those three is much like Montreal.

Montreal is unique. The question is like asking what American city is equivalent to Paris, France.

(San Francisco is similar in that it too is unique, and it's cohesive, has a good sense of its own history, sensibly sized, seem walkable, has strong neighborhoods and is culturally vibrant. might be what you're looking for)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:42 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


New Orleans is nothing like Montreal, except for the French influence. Different architecture, different urban planning, different cuisine, very different culture. New Orleans is as much Southern Black as it is French (if not more). Montreal is also culturally modern in a way that N.O. steadfastly refuses to be.
posted by mkultra at 5:20 AM on December 21, 2011


I really think MINNEAPOLIS is the place for you.

Pittsburgh has a whole lot to recommend it (it's won "best city to live in" from several publications). There's a lot of energy in the city from the universities and nestled into some of the most beautiful country you can find. It's about as gray as Portland come winter time, but the summers are pretty beautiful.

That being said, I have to nth MINNEAPOLIS. I've lived here for 6 years now having previously lived in Pittsburgh and Denver, grew up near Philadelphia and Baltimore and spend A LOT of time in New York. I've gone through a Portland love period, but culturally there's a lot going on here in the twin cities. Minneapolis is also widely regarded to be the most bike-friendly city in the country. If you want someplace with a little bit of an older flair, then jump across the river to St. Paul. We've got a fantastic food scene (beyond just the Juicy Lucy), a great local music community (The Current), very walkable neighborhoods, an ever-expanding lightrail system, and, yes, friendly people. I could go on. As someone who's always considered themselves a 'grass is greener over there' kind of wanderer I've realized recently that this might actually be the perfect little city for me. Consider it!
posted by ghostiger at 5:57 AM on December 21, 2011


Bike lanes, immigrants, public transportation, beautiful Euro-inspired architecture, active outdoorsy population: surprised more people aren't mentioning Chicago. Specifically Lincoln Square.
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:00 AM on December 21, 2011


I have to side with the few people who disagree with the very premise of the question. Whereas many anglo North American cities feel almost interchangeable to me, Montreal has always felt so very much a thing apart from anything else going on in the continent.

Also, I've often wondered that anglo visitors to (and even inhabitants of) Montreal get a somewhat superficial experience of the city. Eriko has it almost right, I think, but even his comment -- "is less than half anglophone" -- kind of just misses. Anglophones are a much smaller minority than that. They are less than 20% of the larger metro area and about 10% of the city proper. I knew native born anglo Montrealers who refused to believe that the city was much less than half English, because they spent their entire lives in a smaller city within the city, mostly unable and unwilling to engage with the main culture. If you've spent a bunch of time in Montreal, and you weren't spending the overwhelming majority of your time speaking French or being surrounded by French, you may have similarly been enjoying the tip of a much larger iceberg.

There are lots of nice urban, neighbourhood centered places in the continent (Hi Boston!), but none of them are like Montreal to me. Montreal does dense urban living very, very well, but that's not its defining feature. There is a unique culture there that is not entirely French, but its very, very different from the anglo cities of North America.
posted by bumpkin at 2:51 PM on December 21, 2011


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