Posts Tagged ‘neighborhoods

07
Aug
09

Default: Parks

David Reevely has an interesting post up about parks over at Greater Ottawa.

“Not that I’m against parks, at all. It’s just that I don’t think they’re automatically the best use of any vacant space. They can be hubs of community activity, sure, but only when they’re placed and configured right. The long spaghetti strands of greenspace we get along our waterways where commerce and other activities are all but forbidden, also thanks to the NCC, are a grievous underuse of places with tremendous potential.”

I have to agree with him on this. There is a tendency to default towards a “Well, let’s build a park, I guess” attitude whenever some major parcel of land is up for re-use. Like Mr. Reevely, I have no problem with parks; in fact, I love a good park. I even intended to do a series on Ottawa’s best parks over the summer in this space which unfortunately never got off the ground. But at the same time, simply defaulting towards parks is not necessarily the right way to go about development.

For instance, I’ve noticed that it seems to be common to make a park the focal point of new suburban developments. In some of the very new ones, you’ll find a sort of pseudo-roundabout with a medium-sized park in the middle, sometimes surrounded by townhouses or small apartments in an all-too-rare suburban nod towards smart growth.

An example of a suburban park with a roundabout in Orleans.

An example of a suburban park with a roundabout in Orleans.

You’ll notice from this example that the park is really just sort of there. It doesn’t act as any kind of focal point for the neighborhood, and doesn’t really give people much reason to go there, other than to let their dog have a run or toss around a football. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but wouldn’t this particular piece of land be better used if there were, say, a few shops there? A convenience store, a coffee shop and a doctor’s office actually might create a place where people need to go, and act as a centre for the neighborhood, giving it some extra definition. Parks could still be built, and should be built, but as neighborhood centres, they tend to be failures.

Another example, of course—if you’ll excuse me while I grab a can opener for these worms—is the debate over Lansdowne Park. The Friends of Lansdowne Park seem to want to see professional sports completely removed from the park, and have it reserved for small-scale events only, such as the Farmer’s Market, citing a desire to create a Lansdowne Park for all Ottawans to enjoy. While this seems admirable on the surface, I’m not sure that replacing a stadium with a park would do much for the vitality of the Glebe. Instead of Ottawans having a reason to come to the site (for football, soccer, concerts, etc), it would become just another park. Why would anyone want to visit it when there are any number of nice parks that already exist along the Rideau Canal and River?

The fact of the matter is we simply need to think twice about parks before we plop them down everywhere. They’re definitely a necessity to make the city livable, but they’re often not the only thing worth building and it can be quite valuable to examine the alternatives before making any kind of decision.

12
Jul
09

Main Street and wires

Despite it’s name, Ottawa’s Main Street hardly looks like one. Originally the main street of a tiny suburban village called Archville, the name was simply held over when the community amalgamated with the City of Ottawa in 1907. Today, Main Street is the central artery of Old Ottawa East, but it somehow feels  incomplete. Despite it’s very urban location, Main Street cannot really be characterized as a pedestrian-friendly area. Large open spaces and parking lots break up the few commercial spaces in the area, and the street’s two educational institutes, Immaculata Secondary School and St. Paul University, both seem to shun the street, preferring to look inwards towards their own campuses.

In spite of all this, it is ostensibly the goal of the City to turn Main Street into—well, a main street. North of Clegg Street, the street is zoned as a “Traditional Main Street”, meaning that the official plan calls for moderate density, mixed use buildings which front directly on the sidewalk to encourage pedestrian traffic, similar to Elgin Street, Bank Street through the Glebe, and so on. However, a recent proposal to build exactly that kind of building at 162 Main Street has been turned down. Why? Well, it would seem that Hydro Ottawa can’t allow a four-storey building at that site because it would interfere with their overhead wires. The developer has come up with a compromise plan, but it would involve reducing the number of apartments in the building, making it three storeys instead of four, and removing an outdoor arcade designed to allow outdoor tables at a street-level cafe. Additionally, the building would have to be five metres back from the sidewalk, instead of fronting it directly—it doesn’t seem like much, but it would definitely make the building less attractive to pedestrians.

The issue here is that this should be something that can be easily fixed, by burying power lines. However, the City makes no budgetary allowances to do so, even when it would seem to be logical. For instance, in Hintonburg right now, Wellington Street has been dug up for some time due to construction work, but it would appear no effort is being made to bury power lines at the same time. This is unfortunate, as it would likely reduce the cost of doing so significantly by combining it with other work. And these missed opportunities will add up—the more that slip past us, the more it will cost us in the long-run to bury wires.

And let’s face it, there’s no good reason for us not to be trying to bury lines. They clutter up the street, making it visually unattractive, and the poles often create obstacles for pedestrians on the sidewalk. And of course, they can block or harm valuable projects like the one at 162 Main. For the sake of our city and its neighborhoods, we need to start thinking about these issues, and being more proactive towards solving them.

A quick aside: I moved to a new apartment this weekend, and currently have no internet access there. Thus if anyone comments and it requires moderation, it may be some time before I can get to it.

18
Dec
08

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.




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