2011 was the year in which urban planning and development became the confirmed fashionable topic of conversation around town. What with real estate having boomed as it has and with the amount of development Ottawa is (finally) seeing in its urban core, not a week went by without some intense debate about one project or another. And, true to Ottawa fashion (although hopefully this fashion will evolve into something more constructive), it always starts with vigorous opposition. Stepping back, however, here are ten reasons why not only “all is not lost”, but why Ottawa is in fact the city to watch in Canada when it comes to urban development.
1. The LRT. Rail rapid transit has been debated way too long. We now have a plan, and it’s the right plan. Subway downtown, east-west first, north-south to the airport next, then add spokes to the corridors with the mose density (and ridership potential). This will completely transform our city for the better. Rapid transit will truly be rapid. The system will be worthy of a big city and support our growth for at least a century.
2. Lansdowne. This is Canada’s first and most serious attempt at requalifying an urban stadium and knitting it better into its neighbourhood. Not only will we reclaim our rightful place in the CFL and gain a pro soccer team, we will also gain a park, a new market, and a network of pedestrian-friendly streets and blocks that will be animated day in and day out. This project will be studied by other cities.
3. Westboro. A neighbourhood that started as a distant streetcar suburb is now an urban hotspot, and its main street is starting to come along nicely. The new mixed-use buildings that line it are creating a much more enjoyable, coherent, populous and animated street.
4. The Westboro Convent. A cherished historic structure will be preserved, restored and re-used as the centre piece of an intimate network of pedestrian spaces linking a busy main mixed-use street edge with an elegant treed allée that constitutes a new pedestrian shortcut. The project will also help knit together Westboro to Wellington Village.
5. Wellington West. From a recent past as a non-descript highway commercial type of corridor, this street has found new life as an arts district, and the recent street reconstruction has left it looking spiffy. With more people moving into the area, restaurants and bars can start opening later and on Sunday mornings and more retail choice can be brought to the area.
6. The Parkdale Market. Recently rebuilt, this City market and the park next to it are now refreshed, updated, and better blended together. Witness the little building on Armstrong Street that features a vending space. Hopefully, this will be a good catalyst for Parkdale and Holland Avenues to also refresh themselves.
7. Preston Street. Not only is it looking much nicer after its rebuild, it’s become a genuine go-to area at night, an alternative to the Byward Market. The area is now sought-after by condo developers, so there is a frank discussion about development happening in the neighbourhood, which is also in the midst of a Community Design Plan process. The area has the jobs, it has the festivals, it has Dows’ Lake, but it needs more residents if it wants to attract a grocery store, an LCBO, and other services that would make it a true full-service neighbourhood.
8. Montreal Road. Vanier’s main drag has the Wabano Centre under construction. Wabano will be a strong and positive expression of First Nations’ appropriation of, and participation in, urban space in Canada; a cultural hub, a community centre, a business incubator and an architectural beacon. There are a few other exciting new projects in the pipeline for Montreal Road. As they say, “watch this space”.
9. The Laurier Avenue Bike Lanes. There was huffing. There was puffing. There was concern. There were complaints. There was scepticism. And then it happened. And people adapted. And cyclists used them. And Ottawa proved, just with that little project, that the car no longer needs to be king, that it can be equal to other modes of transport without overriding the others in design priority. More of that is needed.
10. The Rideau Centre’s Forever 21 store. For the space of those 10-12 metres, the old mall’s façade looks like it could belong on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, or Boylston Street in Boston, or Ste-Catherine in Montreal, or Yonge Street in Toronto where they meticulously opened up the Eaton Centre’s streetside in a similar way, but along its whole length. Our downtown mall has to reinvent itself to be worthy of a subway station. The Forever 21 store model is the way to go for the Rideau Centre. And so is blowing out the overpasses above Rideau Street.
photo by Robbie’s Photo Art