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How 180,000 rainbow balls transformed this Montreal neighborhood

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The balls create a canopy over a pedestrianized street in the city’s Gay Village

JF Savaria

For the past six summers, pink balls have been strung up like strands of pearls over a segment of Montreal’s Sainte Catherine Street East, home to the city’s Gay Village. The street is closed to cars from May to September and the space is used to host outdoor cafes and concerts. This year, as the Gay Village planned its 35th anniversary celebration, and the city geared up to host its first-ever Pride festival (which kicked off earlier this month), it made sense to turn the balls technicolor.

The Walk of Colors—nicknamed “18 shades of gay” by the community—was installed in May using 180,000 balls divided into 18 different shades to create a rainbow. The 3,400 strands alternate colors to transition from one shade to another, creating a gradient effect that stretches a little over one kilometer in length (about 14 blocks).

Raphael Thibodeau

Landscape architect Yannick Roberge, who has worked with Claude Cormier + Associates to bring the installation to life since 2012, knew that the balls had become a tradition for the neighborhood, and didn’t want to change the concept too much. “It brings the notion of seasonality and ritual, which is very important for a community,” says Roberge. “It is like a crabapple tree that blossoms to start spring.”

His idea to reference the shades of the gay pride flag was an easy decision, and one that’s aesthetically reinforced by the hundreds of rainbow flags and banners displayed by businesses and residents along the street.

Raphael Thibodeau

The balls, which are cast-resin, were made in Quebec, and hang on a rope system made by a local business. Members of the community hand-strung the balls, essentially participating in a large-scale communal craft project in the streets. The balls will be carefully taken down in September and stored for next year’s installation.

In addition to the balls—which do add a bit of dappled shade to the asphalt below—the installation includes 150 weeping willow trees, which cool the street even more. In the evening, the balls appear to glow, creating yet another interesting—and very Instagrammable—visual effect.

What Roberge likes about the installation is that it invites exploration. Taking in the balls becomes a wholly different experience whether you’re simply seated below a strand, walking the entire stretch to see the colors change overhead, or viewing them from above at a nearby building or bridge. It encourages people to move around the neighborhood.

“We see it as a piece of infrastructure in the city,” he says. “The idea is to connect one side to another.”

Jean-Michel Seminaro

Roberge has seen a huge transformation in these blocks just in the last few years, with businesses eager to set up shop near the installation. With the photos of crowds seen walking these colorful streets every day, it’s not hard to see why the installation has been so galvanizing for the neighborhood.