What does “Traditional Mainstreet” conjure up in your mind? Many people might imagine a heritage-era high street with low-rise buildings, and a collection of shops and services serving a town or local community.
In Ottawa, Traditional Mainstreet (TM) is the term used to refer to a planning zone in the city’s Official Plan. The purpose of the zone is to:
Accommodate a broad range of land uses (retail, office, residential, etc.)
Promote compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development
Recognise the function of Business Improvement Areas as primary business/shopping areas
Impose development standards to ensure that street continuity, scale and character is maintained, and that uses are compatible and complement surrounding land uses
How does the TM zone do this? Through zoning provisions that spell out things such as allowable residential and non-residential uses (i.e. yes to mixed use buildings, no to automotive services and drive-thrus), setbacks from property lines and building height.
For example, the maximum that a building can be set back from the property line is two metres – the intent is to ensure a fairly continuous “edge” along the street. The TM zone also requires that buildings be no shorter than 6.7 metres (roughly two storeys), and no taller than 20 metres (roughly six storeys). Does this mean that TMs in Ottawa can all be created or developed equally? Quite literally, no.
For example, take something as fundamental as street width. Bank Street in the Glebe is one of the narrowest, if not the narrowest, TM-zoned streets in the city. At just 18 metres wide (as compared to 20–22 metres elsewhere), this narrower width leads to different choices about providing for sidewalks, vehicle lanes, room for cyclists and other elements typical of mainstreets such as sidewalk trees and café seating. Ever wonder why outdoor seating is limited, why our newly planted street trees are largely failing to thrive?
Street width is one of a number of basic parameters that needs to be considered when thinking about street front development. Too little height along a wider street can result in a lack of a sense of “enclosure” for pedestrians – in other words, people start to feel a bit exposed or uncomfortable unless elements such as trees or awnings can be added. Too much height can result in significant sun shading, a feeling of being loomed over, and increased wind tunnel effects. All things that don’t encourage people to visit, to gather, to spend time on our Mainstreet. But with some care and imagination, these elements can be addressed to foster an inviting experience.
In other TM areas including Elgin Street, Beechwood, Wellington West and Main Street (Old Ottawa East), the city has developed more tailored approaches to the general provisions of relevant planning policies, through Community Design Plans (CDPs). These CDPs are meant to “translate the principles and policies of the Official Plan to the community scale.”
What kind of refinements have other communities made?
On Elgin Street
- A cap of 600 square metres of gross floor area on ground floor uses, and maximum storefronts no wider than 20 metres, to ensure a diverse street front that fosters a more interesting pedestrian experience
- Maximum building height is 15 metres (or four storeys) rather than 20 metres (or six storeys), to encourage reasonable “enclosure” and maintain sidewalk sun
On Beechwood Avenue
- A minimum building setback from front lot line of 2 metres above the first 3 storeys, rather than the default 4 storeys (to increase sun on sidewalks and encourage more pedestrian friendly scale)
- Reduction in required rear yard setback requirements to 5 metres from 7.5 metres (for the first 3 storeys) to enable development of building lots that are not very deep
In Wellington West
- A minimum building setback from front lot line of 2 metres about the first 3 storeys, rather than default 4 storeys, for buildings higher than 4 storeys (similar to Beechwood provision)
On Main Street in Old Ottawa East
- A minimum building setback of 2 metres is required (rather than 0 metres) on Main Street, which already is wider at 20 metres. This provision would result in a minimum “street width” (ie. distance between facing buildings) of 24 metres (as compared to 18 metres on Bank Street)
- A parking garage will only be allowed below grade in a building, to create a more pedestrian/people friendly street “edge”
What do you think about future development of our Traditional Mainstreet, Bank Street in the Glebe? Are there elements from other communities that you think should be incorporated? Are there other uses, services or businesses that you would like to see?
Send your comments to email@example.com.
Carolyn Mackenzie is Chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Planning Committee, which is conducting the Bank Street planning exercise called ImagineGlebe.
The type of building allowed under the default Traditional Mainstreet zoning provisions
How do you imagine Bank Street in 20 years?
By Carolyn Mackenzie
Bank Street in the Glebe is actually a place. “I’m going to Bank Street!” I call out before I leave the house. I shop there, meet friends and colleagues, go for coffee and walk my dog. I look in store fronts to see what’s new. I’m no different from most people – we are naturally drawn to places that attract other people. Just think of the recent explosion of coffee shops – is it really just about our collective addiction to coffee? Or are they meeting basic social human needs?
Bank Street in the Glebe has been a successful “place” for a long time. It meets both functional and social needs. People don’t simply go to Bank Street – they stay, and connect with people. It has the advantage of many vibrant historical mainstreets. It was designed and built to reflect a human scale before the emergence of cars shifted priorities. It scores well on walkability ratings, and includes public space to relax, gather and be entertained. Storefronts tend to be narrower and continuous, with inviting doorways and windows. Sidewalks are relatively uncluttered and safe from vehicular traffic. Buildings don’t loom, allowing sun to reach the sidewalks, and building detail is focused at eye level to maintain interest as you walk. In short, it is a lively place.
Recently, I walked and looked at the full length of Glebe’s Bank Street. I really looked. And I was surprised by the properties that were no longer in use, or seriously underused – in fact, roughly 30 per cent of Bank Street frontage when tallied up. Consider the following: McKale’s automotive (Bank/Fifth), the former LCBO (Powell Avenue), Bucklands store (First Avenue), the Beer Store and the recent fire site. Suddenly they stood in stark contrast to some very attractive stretches and spots along Bank Street. The blocks between First and Fourth Avenues provide lots of continuing and interesting storefronts. The Starbucks patio, essentially functioning as public space – with a tree offering shade, a low knee wall providing casual seating for passers-by to stop and chat, and the outdoor location itself an ideal place to people watch. These areas are successful at attracting people.
Redevelopment of the under-used properties won’t happen overnight, but it will happen, and that is a good thing. City policies including intensification along “Traditional Mainstreets” (see background on this designation in accompanying Glebe Report article) will surely have an impact. The question is whether and how it will enhance life on Bank Street. How will adjoining neighbourhoods be affected, and life in our city generally?
Think about what the neighbourhoods look like in cities you like to visit – what elements invite you not just to pass by, but to stay and to return again? Jan Gehl, a renowned architect and urban designer who has worked around the world, has spent his career thinking about just those questions – the connection between architecture, physical form and human behavior that result in successful city life, or “liveliness.” In his book, Cities for People, he says:
“City life does not happen by itself or develop automatically simply in response to high density. The whole issue requires a targeted and considerably more varied approach. Lively cities require compact city structure, reasonable population density, acceptable walking and biking distances and good quality city space. Density, which represents quantity, must be combined with quality in the form of good city space.”
So how will we meet city planning/intensification goals while adding to the quality of city life, public space? How can the community participate in and develop a “targeted and varied approach?” How can we provide input and continue to build on the successful “place” or Traditional Mainstreet (TM) that is Bank Street?
The City of Ottawa’s Official Plan states that Community Design Plans (CDPs) are meant to “translate the principles and policies of the Official Plan to the community scale.” Community scale is in keeping with what Jan Gehl describes as the “small scale, the human landscape … It is the quality of the human landscape as experienced by people walking and staying in the city.”
So a CDP seems like the right tool. Many areas including Wellington West have them. CDPs have introduced refinements to city policies that work with local circumstances. But the city does not intend to develop a CDP for the Glebe or for Bank Street.
With BIA and local developer involvement, the GCA is launching a community-based, forward thinking visioning exercise this fall. It is intended to assist in managing development and growth that will meet community needs as well as the city’s strategic growth policies.
How do you ImagineGlebe (Bank Street) in 20 years?
The ImagineGlebe Committee of the GCA will be seeking your input on these issues and we are eager to hear from you. Stay tuned for more information on upcoming consultation events. For more information, check us out on Facebook at ImagineGlebe, Twitter @imagineGlebe or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carolyn Mackenzie is Chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Planning Committee, which is conducting the Bank Street planning exercise, ImagineGlebe.