Glebe and change – how are we doing?


by Rebecca Atkinson

A massive, shiny, development situated on the border of the Glebe towers over the quaint and charming community of local businesses, restaurants and coffee shops. The unit, which encompasses TD Stadium and the Aberdeen Pavilion, is of course more broadly known as Lansdowne Park.

The area was revitalized in January 2014 and initially upset residents due to its industrial presence. And although the change initially struck a negative chord within the community, many have accepted the site in the neighbourhood.

“People have come to terms with it,” said Councillor David Chernushenko. “There’s good and bad… But there was virtually nobody saying not to develop a very dilapidated Lansdowne site.”

But while the community is now generally tolerant of the big, commercial entity in the amidst of the neighbourhood, concerns loom around what might happen next as more changes come to the Glebe. Namely, the Boston Pizza that arrived in December 2017. The regeneration of Lansdowne and the movement of chain restaurants creeping into the area have some people wondering if this could be the harbinger of more to come.

While changes come to the Glebe, residents and community members are asking the tough question of whether the Glebe’s culture will be preserved. The traditional, heritage-style character appeals to many who move into the area or who already live there.

“This [character] is what was so appealing about [the Glebe], but if you kill it then it’s just another commercial street. People resent that. So, are people generally content with where things are? No, I think it’s all right. But they’re worried that this is the slippery slope to really big change,” said Chernushenko.

But regardless of new developments, there are older businesses staying steadfast. While some storefronts are vacant, there are places that have been fruitful amid transformations.

“What keeps us successful and keeps us relevant is adapting with the area. There’s been a lot of transition over the past five years,” said Rebecca McKeen, store director at McKeen Metro.

McKeen’s grandfather opened the Metro, located in the heart of the Glebe’s main stretch along Bank Street, in the 1950s. The store has seen three generations of McKeen family ownership and has sustained a loyal customer following over the years. The most notable “transitions” – renovations on Bank Street and the revitalization of Lansdowne – meant some upgrading for Metro.

“We just kept up with the change and the progression of the area,” said McKeen, who was born and raised in the Glebe. “It gave us an opportunity to revisit our roots. We wanted to make sure we were following our own vision and our own culture.”

Things are looking up for the business, especially after the transition. “I think we’re on the more positive side of the change,” she said. “With change comes conflict and some transition time. I really feel we’re on the better end of it now.”

While some are concerned about what’s to come for the Glebe, 18-year resident Christine Havey is confident the base of the Glebe will never go away. Havey isn’t particularly pleased with the McDonald’s that opened last year and she dreads the thought of more commercial buildings moving into the neighbourhood. But she remains optimistic.

“We can weather a few chain stores as long as the majority of the neighbourhood stays local, more than chains,” said Havey. She added that “chains are more aligned with parking,” and with the Glebe being the walkable neighbourhood that it is, the area may not be exactly what larger businesses require for development.

Havey has seen a lot of transition over the years. She has seen five different businesses come and go in one location and often knows if a store will be successful or not. Havey affirmed that the Glebe is a solid community that can be kept as such if the proper support continues to help local businesses.

And despite concerns over the exterior face of the Glebe, there is some certainty that the community will not readily fold. “Community [here] is so strong and it’s pretty much impossible to damage that,” said Andrew Peck, executive director of the Glebe Business Improvement Area (BIA). Peck emphasized that many concerns of community members are not unique to the Glebe. Although the concerns are legitimate, the issues are normal.

He is strongly convinced that the community will never lose its appeal. “[The Glebe] is not just its own character, it’s also emblematic of people in Ottawa,” said Peck. He mentioned that it is possible to support businesses “in a principled fashion through expenditures,” meaning you shop where you live and you eat where you live.

“We support the businesses we believe in and the people we believe in,” said Peck. The important thing, he said, is facing the challenges that change can bring and managing them in a healthy way.

A Boston Pizza now sits on the edge of the neighbourhood, raising concerns among residents. When one looks down Bank Street, McDonald’s sticks out like a sore thumb among the older buildings – almost as though it doesn’t belong. Some are convinced that it doesn’t.

“At the end of the day,” said Peck, “change is inevitable.” And while not everyone will be pleased with the changes, it is necessary to have a strong and open dialogue.

Rebecca Atkinson is a reporter for the Kanata Stittsville Community Voice biweekly newspaper and a recent grad from Algonquin College’s journalism program. This piece was part of an assignment in her program.

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