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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Places we like: three blogs about buildings and streets

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A supportive ecology is crucial to any organism, and Spacing Ottawa is no different. But whereas in many cities in North America our recent splash landing in the middle of the local blogosphere could have seen us washed us up on some very barren shores indeed, in Ottawa we were blessed to find ourselves surrounded by a rich variety of like-minded blogs from across the city.

The water is warm here; we pan to bob along with the current and share what we see along the way. For this first passage through Ottawa’s blogging archipelago, we want to highlight three sites that get right down to street level, and revel in what they find.

Charles Akben-Marchand is a Centretown resident, neighbourhood activist, and superb observer of change in downtown Ottawa. His “Images of Centretown” blog is focused on the way memory attaches itself to buildings and other elements of our streetscape, and he carefully documents those moments of transition when a street changes forever, one iteration of a particular address or streetcorner giving way to the next. Here’s Charles himself on what he does:

We often think of buildings as permanent. They’re familiar; we take
them for granted because we believe they’ll always be there. It is
easy to forget the changes that go on in our neighbourhood; not just
the subtle changes, but the big ones, too. A parking lot gets
developed, and soon we forget our memory of the parking lot by which
we used to identify that site. Indeed, we had already forgotten the
former building that was torn down to become the parking lot. Soon we
will think of the site by the building now standing on it, or even the
business and people occupying it.

The changes to Bank Street over the past several years have been rich grist for Charles’s mill; for a wonderful example check his recent photo-blogging of the demolition of the Metropolitan Bible Church at Bank and Somerset.

West Side Action is maintained by Eric Darwin, who was a transportation expert and land-use planner in his years with the federal government. He has since taken his work-a-day expertise and wedded it to his community activism on a full spectrum of planning issues affecting his district. It’s a chunk of Ottawa and a menu of topics he calls:

The west side of downtown Ottawa: Downtown to Bayview, Ottawa River to Dows Lake. News and opinion on the LRT, Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel, OC Transpo, cycling, pedestrians, development, happenings, Preston St. streetscaping.

Eric has vision. Not the kind of blue-sky dreaming so many of do, imagining a city where the walk light is always with us, there’s always a bus as soon as you get to the stop, and the sidewalks are cleared of snow before the roads. Rather, he has practical plans for things like how the city could have a dedicated bikeway running from Churchill to Bronson in straight line and costing next to nothing. It’s so simple you’ll wonder why we can’t have it by next spring.

But it’s not just the grand plan with Eric; he’s constantly on the move looking for the small things that make a big difference . You’ll love his detailed deconstruction of the poor planning behind the lack of pedestrian access at Bayview Station, and delight in his eye for detail as he explores his neighbourhood.

The Ottawa Project‘s David McClelland was one of the first local bloggers to post for Spacing Ottawa, a piece on the Corktown bridge we ran in our first week. But Dave has been taking his geographer’s training and journalist’s curiosity with him for several years now as he blogs his explorations of the entire city, from parks Orleans to proposed subdivisions near Stittsville. We first came across David’s approach via this wonderfully evocative photo-walk of the “remnant streets” of Labreton Flats.

It should also be noted that the The Ottawa Project is that very useful kind of blog that can save you time. For example, in the era of the thirty-second Youtube clip, you might not feel you have a whole quarter of an hour to give to the City of Ottawa’s latest video on intensification, as worthy a topic as it might be. No worries; OP’s already been there, and posted a summary that’ll take you less than a minute to read. The blog is full of excellent summaries like that; for that reason alone it would be well worth adding it to your RSS reader.

photo by Justin Van Leeuwen



  1. Thanks for the kind words and the link, Evan!

    I’m also enjoying that cover photo by JVL, and his blog. Keep up the good work!