No leg left to stand on
Photo: Lansdowne is the home of a number of professional sports.
Photo: Liz McKeen
Urban planning in Ottawa
By Douglas Parker
Ottawa City Council and their mandarins have a habit of shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to urban planning in Ottawa.
New Civic Hospital campus
The first shot in the foot was the expropriation of land to construct a new hospital on the Central Experimental Farm, a national heritage site. This was a Harper/Poilievre/Baird decision. Like good public servants, Agriculture Canada rolled over and gave up the land without a whimper. After all, who can complain about building a hospital? It could have been built somewhere less historic, less congested and more suitable for public transit, but nobody was brave enough to stand up to the three amigos. The Friends of the Farm was one of the lone voices of opposition. You might want to make a visit to the historic hedge collection before the hospital swallows it up. Stay tuned for the congestion where Carling, Preston and Queen Elizabeth Drive meet at Dow’s Lake, along with the new hospital, ambulances, police cars and the tallest apartment building in the city. What a mess.
A shot in the other foot was the rapid transit system. What an embarrassment. Watson [former mayor Jim Watson] and company obviously did not see Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or travel to Europe to see elevated trains in other cities. There could have been a line right down the Queensway, up high, from Orleans to Kanata. No worry about freezing rain and blizzards. And all those idling commuters below could look up and weep. And you could run lines off it – no expropriations, no clearing trees, no sinkholes, no new ugliness, no falling concrete. Mayors and councils of the past lacked vision. New diesel trains – excuse me, what year is it? We are incapable of building electric trains in Canada?
But Ottawa was in for more. The Sports and Entertainment Gods have spoken again after Lansdowne 1.0. Public land will again be given to private interests for more consumerism and sports. With promises of a “unique” shopping experience in Lansdowne 1.0, we got Winners, Rexall, LCBO, TD Bank and Good Life Fitness. Public land was used for that? Lansdowne may be the place to go for socks and chicken wings but there is nothing unique there. Lansdowne 1.0 was a sellout – Lansdowne 2.0 is no different. It is déjà vu all over again.
The city planners have bowed to interests that are no longer relevant – malls, consumerism and sports. It seems that Ottawa would pave over graveyards if it would lead to more sports and shopping. From reports of impending doom, it might be better to invest in foodbanks, homeless shelters and tree planting rather than football and hockey. The architect John Leaning had a very good plan for Lansdowne well before this fiasco. However, there is no winning when you get in the way of the sports and entertainment gods.
Lansdowne has an excellent little arena for hockey, convertible for concerts and trade fairs. The roof leaks but so does mine. Good thing councils like Ottawa were not around in the days of the Parthenon. It is always better to renovate than to destroy under the present economic conditions. TD Place is good enough for the 67s and the new Women’s Professional Hockey League, sports that most citizens might still afford.
With environmental uncertainties, would it not be better to use the land for our citizens to walk, have picnics, play ball, breathe? Plant mini forests on every available space. Turn it into an inner-city oasis for all, like the Experimental Farm and Arboretum have become, both of which are under threat from the mega builders. We need spaces that are free for all our citizens. No measurable revenue there but it is better than losing millions of tax dollars on antiquated ideas in an uncertain world.
How high can a building go? Builders usually propose an unreasonable number of floors for their buildings, never expecting it to be approved. The council negotiates less height, giving the citizenry a feeling that they have had a say in the process. The municipal mandarins, the planners, the lawyers and the land grabbers are satisfied, and the citizens are not.
The future looks bleak with the two new towers to be built across from the Experimental Farm. The shade cast by the structures will make it impossible for plants to grow thus negating agricultural research, more important than high-end housing. And what about the shadow cast by the planned towers in Lansdowne? Is your access to natural light about to disappear? What about the microclimate – how will it affect the winds, the water table, sound and light pollution and bird migration? Has anyone done an environmental assessment of the proposed plans?
Keep up the fight, citizens. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Remove these clowns and get representation from councillors who want more than sports and buying stuff for our future. Menard and MPP Harden should be more vocal, more militant.
Sometimes it is better to do nothing with public land until somebody with real vision comes along. This council and this provincial government don’t have it. The planet is on fire and we are still building monuments to sports, high-end housing and consumerism?
In the meantime, get ready Glebe and Old Ottawa South for the backhoes, cranes, rock slingers, traffic cones, roadblocks, detours and cement mixers coming to your neighbourhood for up to 10 years.
In the immortal words of Cat Stevens, “Where will the children play?”
Douglas Parker was a long-time former Glebe resident with a keen interest in the well-being of the neighbourhood.