Posts Tagged ‘subdivisions

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.

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15
Feb
09

Some links

A few interesting links\reads I’ve found over the past couple of days.

First, a discussion over on Spacing Toronto about the urbanization of Mississauga. We don’t have anything even close to this phenomenon going on in Ottawa right now due to the way the development patterns of this city currently stand, but there’s a chance it could be in our future if we begin setting serious targets about creating a denser city. After all, Westboro is already home to the third-tallest building in Ottawa-Gatineau.

Next, over at Greater Ottawa, David Reevely gives a rundown on how Scotiabank Place came to be built where it is. It’s interesting for me, as someone who was not in Ottawa at the time (nor was I old enough to pay attention to the news, if I was), and in a weird sort of way it almost makes sense. Of course, it’s now even more obvious that the overall plan for the area has been a failure, even though the Senators have managed to do well for themselves. As the debate over whether we should invest in an MLS stadium in Kanata or a revitalized CFL stadium at Lansdowne Park heats back up, it becomes even more important for us to look at what went into the decision to develop out in Kanata in the first place and critically analyze its impact on the city. I think anyone that reads this blog regularly has probably picked up on my opinion by now, and I’m glad that Ottawans seem to be coming out much more in favour of refurbished Frank Clair Stadium rather than a white elephant in the suburbs.

Finally, there’s a new blog over at the Ottawa Citizen called Designing Ottawa by Maria Cook. It looks to be all about urban design within the city, both building interiors and exteriors, as well as our streetscapes and landscapes. There are already a number of interesting posts up about the new Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat building on Sussex and the Sir John Carling Building at the Central Experimental Farm. The latter I find particularly interesting, as she creates a fairly impassioned argument for the building to be saved from demolition and given heritage status. A tough position to take, considering the building is not exactly beautifuly in the conventional sense, but it certainly has its merits.

04
Feb
09

Ontario wants to help Ottawa curb sprawl

According to the Ottawa Citizen, Ontario is ready to help step in and grant Ottawa an exception to rules that force it to set aside land on the fringes of the city for suburban development. Some choice quotes:

As part of the land-use planning process, the city intends to set aside 850 hectares for new development. Construction on the land is expected to consist of a number of single-family homes in low-density subdivisions.

At the same time, the municipality is attempting to boost population density as a means of stemming sprawl and improving the efficiency of the public-transit system. Several provisions in the plan, and an associated transportation plan that emphasizes light rail, aim to promote intensification in areas that have already been developed. Some councillors, however, have said an 850-hectare expansion of the city’s growth boundaries will undermine that end.

But Councillor Peter Hume, the chair of the planning committee, said Monday that space for low-density projects is required by the “provincial policy statement,” a declaration under Ontario’s Planning Act that sets the ground rules for local land-use plans.

André Sorensen, a professor at the University of Toronto, says the city doesn’t have to banish suburban development to become more densely populated.

“You can’t entirely change the trajectory of how cities get developed,” Mr. Sorensen said in an interview. “What we want to do is shift to a higher and higher percentage of new housing units being built as intensification.”

This last quote is something I particularly wanted to point out. I’m obviously something of a booster when it comes to densifying cities and changing the way we develop urban areas, but at the same time I know that it’s not something we can change instantly. We’re fighting against about a hundred years of inertia, where the ideal life has always been seen as owning a house in the suburbs with a big yard and white picket fence. It’s not easy to tell people that everything they wanted is wrong and that they would, in fact, be much better off doing something completely different. Really, it’s not something that we can do.

So the trick will have to be to change attitudes slowly. We can’t just sit down and eliminate suburban development entirely, in fact, I don’t think we should. As Sorensen mentions, suburbs won’t just go away, and we’re going to have to work with them if we want to densify cities. They’re already built, what we need to look at when it comes to suburban areas is making them more like urban ones: for instance, how can we combine living spaces with working and shopping spaces better, rather than having them as separated clumps, like they are in so many existing suburbs? I don’t have the answer to that, but I think it’s questions like that that we’ll need to be answering in the future.

Going back to the original article, I’d like to see Ottawa have minimum density targets set, like municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area. Basically this requires existing developed areas to hit a certain target for population density, while new development is also held to higher-density standards. This forces developers to change their strategy for new proposals, and seems to be working so far in the GTA, albeit slowly. It would be at least worth looking into in Ottawa, if you ask me.

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.

25
Nov
08

Subdvisions, the southwestern frontier

First of all, welcome to any and all new readers who came here through the link in Ottawa Start! Glad to see you here, and I hope some of you stick around.

Today, I saw a piece in the Citizen about a developer from Calgary proposing to build a major new residential development between Barrhaven and Stittsville in southwest Ottawa. Here’s a map, to illustrate:

Long-term plans

Blue: Immediate development, Orange: Long-term plans

Just a note about that image, it’s not official in the slightest, I made it myself. The short-term plans I’m fairly sure of, based on the Citizen’s description, but the long-term plans are nearly a complete guess. It’s what made sense to me, based upon the existing road network in that part of Ottawa.

Back to topic, I thought most of the points made in the article made sense, especially the “Live, work, play” notes. This is something I see attached to suburban developments, but what they don’t usually tell you is that the emphasis is on “live”. If you want to work or play, you’re probably going to have to start commuting.

What I’m sitting here asking myself is why we should even consider such a plan? I thought that sprawling new developments were supposed to be becoming a thing of the past, and that even in relatively-conservative Ottawa, we were starting to move towards intensification and sustainable development. I guess that because the price of gas has dropped back down to under $1 per litre, it’s okay to try to go back to outdated theories of suburban development.

Personally, I hope to see this get quashed at Council, but it’s hard to say which way this will go. The City is starting to see that we need to change how we build cities, but these changes occur slowly so who knows which attitude will prevail.

(As an aside, I recommend listening to this in the background to lend this post a proper atmosphere)




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