Aberdeen Square proposals a good first step, but a greater vision is needed

Proposals for Aberdeen Square on an event day, with a stage set up for performance. When no event is taking place the modular stage platforms are repurposed as urban furniture.   Illustration: OSEG

By Anthony Carricato

On October 19, the Glebe Community Association (GCA) along with community associations in Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), the City of Ottawa and Councillor Shawn Menard hosted a virtual community consultation to review and provide feedback on changes that OSEG and the city have proposed for Aberdeen Square at Lansdowne Park.

The proposed redesign of the city-managed square follows a deal the city and OSEG made last year with the Casino Lac Leamy to invest $250,000 to rename and re-energize the square. OSEG CEO Mark Goudie and Dan Chenier, general manager of the city’s recreation, cultural and facilities services department, told the meeting that Aberdeen Square is not being used as much as it should be. The proposed redesign aims to make it a busier, more active gathering space that will give residents more reason to visit Lansdowne Park.

The plans call for less vehicular traffic through the square, more permanent “iconic street furniture” and seating, more foliage and a modular stage or performance area for small-scale events like concerts, comedy nights and exhibits. The architectural designs by Barry Hobin were designed to incorporate the historic Aberdeen Pavilion into the square, emphasize its heritage features and the history of the site and create “a more desirable urban cultural and lifestyle gathering place.” The plans also aim to accommodate the Ottawa Farmers’ Market, by far the most popular use of the square, and be flexible enough to adapt year-round for events like the outdoor Christmas Market. The farmers’ market has been consulted on the plans and does not object to them.

During the consultation, participants had plenty of questions about how these plans will come together, the impact on nearby residents, the effect on future programming, the impact on trees and how the approval process works. Residents on both sides of the Rideau Canal expressed concerns about increased noise, light and traffic during events in the square; the city said it sees no need for further studies at this time on those issues because studies were done when  Lansdowne was first redeveloped.

Several residents said they don’t think the plans go far enough and want the city and OSEG to “dream bigger.” They point to squares in other cities such as Berczy Park in Toronto, Millennium Park in Chicago and the Piazza Navona in Rome where people are drawn in by unique art, statues and fountains that provide a greater sense of place.

The plan is more focused on creating a space for events and performances rather than a place where people want to spend time when nothing is going on. Lansdowne needs something exciting that will draw people from across the city for more than sports, retail or the weekly farmers’ market. It needs to be an attractive, flexible, pedestrian-friendly space with more shade and seating. Incorporating a performance stage to showcase local talent is a great idea, but the square needs much more character to be a destination. As one resident noted, transforming a space into a destination that attracts people requires inspiration and vision.

The good news is that the city and OSEG made it clear they are open to feedback and suggestions. In this spirit of collaboration, the GCA would like the timeframe for consultation extended until a mutually agreeable point when the community has had the opportunity to fully explore new ideas and a greater vision for Aberdeen Square specifically and Lansdowne more generally. The square is being used less during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that provides a chance to take a step back and put in the time required to design a square that is appealing, functional and truly magnificent. Ensuring we get this right isn’t just in our best interest, it’s in the best interest of the city and OSEG who stand to benefit from a more animated Aberdeen Square that reflects the vision and ideas of our community.

What is clear from this latest consultation is that residents care deeply about Lansdowne Park and want to see it succeed. These latest plans for an Aberdeen Square facelift are a positive first step; however, to get it right, more community engagement is required. After all, if the goal is to make Aberdeen Square (and Lansdowne Park) a place where residents go more often, it seems obvious to me that residents should have a greater say in the changes. The future of Lansdowne Park depends on it.

Anthony Carricato is a resident of Fifth Avenue and chair of the Glebe Community Associations’ Lansdowne Committee.

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