Mapping neighborhoods

If you’ve taken the time to browse through the links on the sidebar of this blog, you may have stumbled across my ongoing project to map the neighborhoods of Ottawa, a project that’s gotten so big Google Maps split into two pieces on me. What I’m starting to find interesting as I spread out into mapping the suburbs is when I start to debate what these shapes on the map actually mean.

For example, here’s central Ottawa, which still includes a wonky little splinter of a neighborhood because of conflicting Wikipedia descriptions:

Neighborhoods of central Ottawa

Neighborhoods of central Ottawa

Again, I stress that this is a work-in-progress, hence there are gaps and things that need to be fixed. But I digress; what I want to get across with this map is that one only really needs a passing knowledge of Ottawa and the ability to read a map to know what some of these neighborhoods are. Places like the ByWard Market, Lowertown, Sandy Hill, Centertown and the Glebe are all clearly visible and easy to pick out. Now, here’s Kanata:

Neighborhoods of Kanata

Neighborhoods of Kanata

Can you pick out Beaverbrook? No? Howabout Katimavik-Hazeldean? Or Glen Cairn? Chances are—unless you recognize a street name—you can’t. I wonder if people who even live in these neighborhoods can even name them, even though I was able to find reference to them online. Do people living on Knudson Drive really know that just by crossing the street, they can move from Beaverbrook to Marchwood-Lakeside? And do they feel any different, between the two places?

What I’m getting at here is something that I’ve always disliked about suburbs (and if you read this blog regularly, you know I’m no great fan of suburbanism). We lose much of our sense of place when we’re in a suburban area, because it feels just like almost any other suburban area, barring differences of climate and geography. Yet if you plonk down someone who’s never been in Ottawa before and tell them to walk down Bank Street, they can probably tell the difference between the CBD, southern Centertown, the Glebe, Old Ottawa South and Billing’s Bridge. Why? Because they’re all appreciably different places with appreciably different feels to them, wheras one part of Kanata, Orleans or Barrhaven feels much like any other.

Now, the reality is, suburbs exist, and there’s not much we can do now but deal with that fact, but is it too much to ask to try and imbue our newly created neighborhoods with the same sense of individuality that our old ones have? There’s nothing quite like living in a place you can call unique; it tends to improve your relationship with the city and people around you, and increaing your appreciation of the city’s built form. Sure, it may not even by a concious thought for most people, but it still happens whether you’re aware of it or not. As we rethink how to build cities into the future, let’s not forget how important concepts of uniqueness and community can be.

6 Responses to “Mapping neighborhoods”

  1. December 19, 2008 at 9:31 am

    In answer to your question: No, it isn’t too much to ask. It’s going to take a little while yet for some of our ‘burbs – including mine own – to play catch-up with those inside the Greenbelt.

  2. December 19, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I think it would be better for the mapped areas for Centretown and Dalhousie to reflect the community associations they represent, and same for Preston Street/Little Italy and Somerset Street/Chinatown.

    Centretown (as defined by the by-laws of the Centretown Citizens’ Community Association, of which I am Corporate Secretary) includes everything between Bronson, the Ottawa River, the Rideau Canal, and the Queensway–including the Golden Triangle and the CBD.

    Dalhousie (as defined in the 1995 by-laws of the Dalhousie Community Association–contact me if you want a PDF of them) is “that area of the former Dalhousie Ward that lies east of LeMieux Island CPR railway line,” and in an attached map shows the North boundary at the river (including islands between the Prince of Wales railway bridge and the Portage Bridge), the West boundary at the O-Train line. The remainder of the boundary, from the Southwest, goes along Carling from the O-Train line to Bronson, Bronson from Carling to the 417, the 417 from Bronson to Bay, Bay from the 417 to Gloucester, Gloucester from Bay to Lyon, Lyon from Gloucester to Wellington, and Wellington up to the Portage Bridge. I.e., this overlaps with parts of Centretown (hence my membership in both community associations), with Little Italy, with Chinatown, with Lebreton Flats, and possibly also with the Glebe.

    I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone say they’re from “Centretown West” (indeed, the Wikipedia article is entirely unsourced), and the Centretown Buzz (co-owned by both Associations) is delivered to both Dalhousie and Centretown. The Preston Street BIA’s area was recently expanded (though is still smaller and more nuanced than that outlined in your map, and the Somerset Street Chinatown BIA’s area was also recently expanded further West to border upon Preston Street’s boundaries. (See City Council meeting minutes/agendas for appropriate maps).


  3. 3 David McClelland
    December 19, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Thanks for the information, Charles. I did the most central neighborhoods quite some time ago, and I just haven’t gotten around to redoing them since. I’ll take what you’ve said into account, though I think I’ll keep the Golden Triangle mapped separately as it is now, as I find it to be a neighborhood distinct from the rest of Centertown.

  4. December 21, 2008 at 12:11 am

    Neighbourhood boundaries are often in the eye of the beholder, as is so much else in life.

  5. 5 David McClelland
    December 21, 2008 at 12:19 am

    Quite true.

  6. 6 rodionx
    April 4, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Very interesting info from Charles A-M about the official boundaries of Centretown and Dalhousie. I always thought I was in Centretown, but apparently I’m in both neighbourhoods. So now I know why I had the option of going to both health centres. It’s funny – when I lived in the Golden Triangle, Bronson Street was the edge of the known universe for me. Now that I live near Bronson, I cross it all the time, and kind of consider everything from Elgin to Preston to be my ‘hood. Neighbourhood boundaries are in the eye of the beholder indeed.

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