Archive for April, 2009


Interview on CBC Radio

For those who missed it, here’s an mp3 download of my interview on the CBC’s Ottawa Morning, alongside Nick Taylor-Vaisey of Transit Ottawa.


The Ottawa Project on CBC Radio

For any interested readers out there, I’m going to be on the CBC’s Ottawa Morning tomorrow at 7:15 a.m. to discuss the new transit tunnel. I’ll be appearing alongside Nick Taylor-Vaisey, who writes for Transit Ottawa, and was in the past one of my editors at the Fulcrum. So for all of you early-risers, please tune in and give the interview a listen, and feel free to chime in with a comment if you have any further thoughts on the proposed tunnel.


City staff releases route for Downtown Transit Tunnel

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a route.

dottThe map I threw together if you want to see it.

And the Citizen article I used as a source.

It looks like we’ll have stations at Lebreton (aboveground), between Bay and Lyon, between O’Connor and Metcalfe, around Rideau and Sussex and at Campus. The tunnel will go under Albert until Kent, where it will turn north to Rideau\Sussex and then swing south to go underneath Nicholas to the University of Ottawa. The official release of the plans takes place tomorrow, so we should have a more official-looking map tomorrow, I hope.

A couple of things I wanted to note. First, I find it interesting that there’s no station closer to Bank Street. I was certain they’d try to put one there, given that if the City ever wants to build a north\south rapid transit line through the core someday, Bank is the most logical alignment. I guess the logic was that a station between Bank and O’Connor would be too close to the one between Bay and Lyon. Second, I wonder if the City is hoping they might be able to use the old train station again. Take a look at a detail of where the line should go, if it runs in a straight line between Rideau and Sussex and Albert and Kent:

union-stationIf the city can get the federal government to sell them Union Station back, then perhaps it can be reopened to trains; albeit a very different kind from what once went through there. That appears to be all that’s out there for now, but I’ll try to find more official-looking documentation tomorrow.

(Full disclosure: I am going to be starting a summer position with OC Transpo on Monday.)


Book review: Who’s your city?

I just finished reading the Canadian edition of Richard Florida’s latest book, Who’s Your City? and I thought that I’d give my thoughts on it, since a lot of the ground he covers relates to many of the things I discuss in this blog.

Florida, for those who don’t know, has recently risen to prominence as one of today’s best known urban theorists, even drawing comparisons to the late, great Jane Jacobs. His first book, The Rise of the Creative Class, published in 2002, garner widespread attention for his theories surrounding jobs in the “creative economy”, which includes basically any occupation that involves creative thinking, from health-care and law to science and the arts. He also believes that these new economies are the key to regenerating the urban economies of cities in post-industrial North America, which is where the urbanist side of his arguments comes into play.

With Who’s Your City?, Florida sets out to examine a simple question: Does place matter? If you’re a geographer like me, the answer to that question is of course yes; we spend a lot of time examining place and what exactly it means. In spite of that, though, I still found Florida’s book to be an engaging read, as he goes over what he feels makes place relevant in today’s society.

He begins by wondering why it is we spend so much time going over two fundamental questions about our lives (What we want to do as a career?, and Who do we want to spend it with (as in our life-partners or lack thereof)?) but so little about what is just as fundamental a question: Where do we want to live?

Florida then moves into the meat of his book, three sections on what makes place so important, and a final section in which he details the result of his research into the best places to live. In the first section, “Why place matters”, Florida essentially works to refute the claim that the world is flat—not in the Christopher Columbus sense, but in that many people believe that thanks to modern telecommunications, where you live and work no longer matters, and that you can be equally active in the world’s economy in Yellowknife as you can in Toronto or New York City. What Florida shows, however, is that the world is “spikey”, as he calls it, with economy activity, education and research concentrating in various regions of the world, or mega-regions. Florida looks beyond metropolitan areas to show that major cities tend to form connections with their neighbors, forming a regional economy where all cities in the area feed off one another, even trascending international borders. For instance, Florida puts Ottawa in a region he calls “Tor-Buff-Loo-Mon-Tawa”, stretching from Quebec City to as far south as Ithaca and Syracuse in New York and west to London. Florida thinks these mega-regions are the key to economic growth in the future.

In the second section of his book (“The wealth of place”), Florida details the importance of place in economic opportunity for individuals. Interestingly, he discusses how people will often say how they’re willing to move to where jobs are, but often make predetermined judgements about where to try to find jobs—most people would rather struggle to find work for a time in a place they love than settle into a steady job right off the bat in a place they detest. Florida also brings up some interesting research about how certain types of jobs tend to cluster in certain places. Some of these seem obvious: Washington DC is home to 78% of the United States’ political scientists, and Toronto has 38% of Canada’s financial and investment analysts. Others, however, seem less likely but occur nevertheless, such as Winnipeg, which, despite it’s population of just 630,000, is home to a whopping 12% of Canada’s musicians and singers! Florida makes a very strong case for there being a connection between our careers and where we choose to settle.

The third section of Florida’s book deals with a much more local scale than the other two, titled “The geography of happiness”. Here, he goes over his research into the connection between our happiness and where we live, finding, perhaps surprisingly to some, that on average place is more important to an indivdual’s happiness than personal finances. The rest of this section deals with how the places we live can affect our lives, and how our personalities can even match where we live, as Florida finds a fascinating geographic correlation between various personality types and where people live.

The final section of Florida’s book (“Where we live now”) deals with his research into what the best places to live for a variety of different groups of people (such as singles, retirerees, parents, etc.) are, and how said groups can further be sorted into various kinds of neighborhoods within cities. As well, the final chapter is what amounts to a guide to how to choose a place to live, essentially a self-help chapter.

Overall, if you’re interested in urban issues and where people chose to live (or, indeed, are unsure of why you should carefully consider where you live) Who’s Your City is an entertaining read. The book includes easy to understand statistics and data, and numerous maps and tables break up the text somewhat. Pulling from a variety of sources, including Florida’s own work and the research of others, it’s a comprehensive overview of what it is that makes place so important. Additionally, the Canadian edition does include a lot of information on Canadian cities (and Ottawa fares quite well), so if you’re worried about any information being America-centric, don’t, as the book has plenty to offer to Canadians as well as Americans.


Whither Bayview?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ottawa City Council yesterday voted in favour of further exploring a deal to redevelop Lansdowne Park around a new Canadian Football League Franchise, beating out Senators Sports and Entertainment’s bid for a soccer stadium in Kanata. If you read this blog regularly, then I’m sure you know that I’m all in favour of major developments like this being built downtown, but the more I think about it the more I have to question whether or not the City made the right decision.

It’s not that I think a Kanata stadium would be better—far from it—but rather I’m concerned that a third option was not analyzed as much as it should have been: Bayview. The idea of a stadium at Bayview first came up a couple months ago, when the City released it’s survey of potential stadium sites, which wound up ranking the area, located between Tunney’s Pasture and Lebreton Flats, first overall.

And the more I think about it, the more I feel that a stadium at Bayview would be much better overall for the city. First of all, it’s got location. Sure, Lansdowne is right in the middle of the city, but it’s not easily accessible. Short of running light rail down Bank Street (a pipe dream at best), it’s not serviced by rapid transit, and it is only connected to the 417 by two narrow and easily congested roadways. Bayview, on the other hand, will be located right at the transfer station between our future east-west and north-south light rail lines, and can take in road traffic off the Ottawa River Parkway. And as a bonus, Bayview also offers the chance to construct a stadium with stunning views of downtown Ottawa and the Ottawa River—perhaps not the most important factor, but these things never hurt.

Secondly, I think that we’re slowly coming towards an unavoidable truth: Ottawa needs a new stadium, not to rebuild an old one. Frank Clair Stadium is, for all intents and purposes, falling apart at the seams. I was there a number of times in the fall to cover Gee-Gees games, and it was obvious that there was very little worth salvaging there. You can slap however many new coats of paint on it you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s an old, creaky concrete monstrosity with few of the creature comforts people expect from modern stadiums. And in the Citizen article I linked to at the beginning of this post, you’ll note that even with the proposed upgrades, there’s only an estimated 28 years of life left in Frank Clair… is that worth $100 million?

Given all this, I think the choice is clear. Bayview is the best place for a stadium, and because we’ll probably end up needing a new one anyway, we might as well build it in the best possible location. It’s not like anyone will miss a dumping ground for snow removal, anyway.


Parking space

When you walk around downtown, they hardly even register in your mind. Parking lots. They’re nearly everywhere, and it’s not often that we give them so much as a second glance. The truth is, parking lots are terrible wastes of space. They don’t really have many alternate uses, they’re visually unappealing, and they’re not very efficient, either, especially when you have a bunch of single-occupant vehicles parked in a lot all day.

What I wanted to know was exactly how much space are we losing to these surface parking lots? While it could always be worse (take a look around downtown Phoenix on Google Maps), the answer is still a lot. I mapped out all of the at least moderately sized lots (skipping parking garages, since they’re a little better in their space usage) in Centretown north of Somerset, and in the ByWard Market. I don’t claim 100% accuracy on these (you can see where Google’s satellite imagery doesn’t match their map data, for one), but I think they should still give you an idea of just how much room we use in Ottawa to give us spots to leave our cars all day.

Parking lots in Centretown north of Somerset

Parking lots in Centretown north of Somerset

Parking lots in the ByWard Market

Parking lots in the ByWard Market

Maybe it’s just me, but I found both of these to be pretty astounding. In both the densest part of our city, an in one of Ottawa’s biggest pedestrian areas, huge amounts of land are given over to parking lots. Just imagine if some of these were turned into apartment buildings, parkettes or squares! I’m certain it would make for a much nicer urban environment, as well as make these areas more attractive to both visitors and residents.

What also gets me is the fact that there are so many parking lots around the Supreme Court. These are federal lands, near a national landmark, so why are they given over to parked cars? Surely they’d be much nicer as public parks?

Of course, I recognize that we can’t just up and eliminate parking. We’re still a car-dependent society, no matter how good public transit use is in this city. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that we should build more underground parking lots or parking garages. The latter don’t even have to be ugly, as the Rideau Centre’s new parking garage shows. Maybe it’s not as cheap as simply paving over a square of land, but it’s certainly a much better way to deal with parking in our downtown core.

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Email: dmccl033(at)uottawa(dot)ca

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