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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

OPINION: Ten reasons to be optimistic about Ottawa in 2012

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Alain Miguelez has much to look forward to -- including the day they knock down the Rideau Street overpasses.


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




  1. Number 11 suggestion: funding for the design phase of the pedestrian/cyclist bridge from sandy hill over the rideau river was approved…hopefully paving the way for construction to start in the not too distant future.

  2. What’s wrong with the overpasses on Rideau? They are certainly well-used and practical, especially in the winter months.

  3. On the one hand, I see Mr. Miguelez’s point: There are a lot of things to be excited about in the coming year in Ottawa. On the other hand, I’m not sure if the Forever 21 Store is one of them (unless you’re 14-25 and female). I agree with Dave, the Sandy Hill bridge is something to be very excited about, for example. Also, as much as it is wonderful that Wellington(West)boro is growing, gentrifying and urbanizing, it is still mostly along the main street (Wellington – Richmond) that there is a sense of urbanity. 

    Mostly, though, I would love to see a follow-up to this article, of a series of challenges that present themselves to Ottawa urbanists, including planners, in 2012. And how they might be met?

  4. I am not sure I would agree with Alain on his characterization of both neighbourhoods in the near west – Westboro and Hintonburg. Yes – they are improving and wonderful to live in. But as a long time resident of Hintonburg, affordability in the near west is making these wonderful urban neighbourhoods unaffordable to most. Urban life is great but must be able to be shared by all. The city needs to make real efforts in the affordable housing plans proposed for these communities – like the Hintonburg Hub proposed in 2011 and build virbrant partnerships with those in these fields.

  5. I am reminded again why I don’t normally look at this blog. 2 for 2 fails in my experience. Mr.Miguelez is a senior planner at the City of Ottawa, which is not disclosed here (again) , and his comments on Lansdowne need to be deconstructed in the context of the inherent conflict of interest his employer has created by getting into bed with developers on this site. Where is the motivation for the City to enforce larger planning objectives on this project when doing so may hurt their own bottom line and political justification for the entire deal?

    Indeed this project will be studied in years to come, but not for the reasons this piece suggests. I would be interested to see a single positive analysis of this project emerging from academia to counter the many castigating it for its failure to protect the public interest in any way.

    When the City spends hundreds of millions of dollars to build a stadium in an awkward location used 10 times a year for a pro sport that has failed repeatedly in this market, I see no reason for optimism for future decision making prospects from council or City staff.

  6. Hi Allan,

    We always identify Alain M. as an Urban Planner, but it is true that we don’t identify him as a City of Ottawa planner in his bio blurb. We do this to make it clear that he is speaking for himself, not his employer.

    Alain in no way hides his affiliation, however. In fact, I suspect he is likely one of the best-known planners at the City, not least because he has the courage of his convictions, and speaks plainly and honestly to Ottawa’s citizenry when he is asked to.

    Frankly, at Spacing Ottawa we wish more City and NCC staff were like Alain in that regard; agree or disagree with him, the reader knows where he stands.

    In contrast, it may well be the bureaucrats who carefully arrange their careers to be answerable to no one but their superiors that do the real damage to the public realm.

  7. What is awkward about the location of the stadium?

  8. Mr. Miguelez’s opening statement is that ‘urban planning and development became the confirmed fashionable topic of conversation around town’. Fashionable is not the word yo use in this context. I agree that it may have been a topic of converstaion but that is because so much development has been approved by the City about which a lot of residents are concerned. CDPs and Secondary Plans have been basically brushed aside so that developers seem to be able to build just about anything they want. One meeting I attended Mr. Miguelez opened his remarks by telling us what the City wants to do. What about the residents/taxpayers – when will their thoughts and wants be listened to with respect and inclusion? And it’s not just what is happening along our ‘main streets’ but also the intensification in the abutting residential neighbourhoods. Let’s hope the City starts listening and stops telling us.

  9. Lansdowne redevlopment will without doubt be a major improvement to our rather drab city core. 

  10. Gary, I am a resident and a taxpayer, and not afraid of intensification one little bit. What are the “thoughts and wants” of residents and taxpayers, anyway?

    What is happening along our main streets?

  11. Change is happening on main streets, like valuable abandoned parking lots being turned into places where people live, while Gary and his neighbour’s homes’ resale values go through the roof.
    Remember, voicepieces of special interest groups know all and speak for everyone.

  12. It’s ironic that broad-brush, sarcastic comments are so frequently made by people who dismiss the concerns of others with Emerson-esque consistency.