Development != Overdevelopment

On a recent trip to the Farmer’s Market at Brewer Park, I had occasion to walk the streets of Sunnyside, a lovely neighbourhood that I never really see very much. That day I was walking down Aylmer Avenue, and I happened to notice protest signs on two houses next to each other. Both signs decried the scourge of “overdevelopment” in “our neighbourhood”.

Interestingly, on my walk, I saw very little development at all. There were some renovations, and clearly there had been some infills in the past few decades, but, for the most part, it all fit with the rest of the neighbourhood size-wise, if not aesthetically. There was very little mixed-use development and barely any commercial enterprises (and those that existed are well-established as part of the neighbourhood).

Sure, there were a couple of sets of row houses and a retirement residence, but if this is what was considered “overdevelopment”, then the word has ceased to have much meaning at all.

I assume, of course, that it these signs were an oblique reference to the development at Lansdowne, which is certainly an expansive interpretation of the concept of neighbourhood (but good for them for wanting to be in community with so many other city residents!).

But the question remains, is the Lansdowne project actually overdevelopment? For years, the stadium has been falling down; the land has been of little use; and even when it was in use, it was often little more than a parking lot. Lansdowne’s recent history has been a testament to underdevelopment. Perhaps having this asphalt pit in the midst of a growing urban neighbourhood has skewed people’s views as to what overdevelopment actually is.*

Interestingly, the two houses that had these signs were rather large houses. They weren’t on especially large lots, but they were certainly large homes in a rather dense, urban locale. That, I would argue, is its own from of overdevelopment.

*Note: I’m arguing that Lansdowne isn’t really an example of overdevelopment… at least, not an egregious example. That doesn’t mean that it is appropriate development, just that it’s more in line with the appropriate use of the land than the stadium-turned-demolition site was.

Karaoke and Cheap Quarts, a Part of our Heritage

I was walking down Bank St. recently, and I was struck (once again) by the state of Somerset House – the former home of the Duke of Somerset and the Lockmaster Tavern. Back in the day, it was a good place to grab a beer, sing some karaoke or maybe catch some Pay-Per-View sports on TV. Today, it’s a shell. The facade remains, somewhat, but it’s hardly a building; it’s not even a construction site. It’s an eyesore and a potential danger. It cuts into the sidewalk with its ugly wooden barricade. At such a prominent intersection, Bank and Somerset, it’s quite the embarrassment. But still it stands.

You see, it is a Heritage Building.

I don’t really know why – though I’m sure I could look it up – but it’s a part of our heritage, just like burnt toast and illiterate school councilmen. This heritage status has prevented anyone from razing the damned thing, so it just sits there, in all its decrepit glory.

There have been disputes between the city and owners. There have been illegal renovations. There has been a collapse that trapped a worker and closed down this major street. Nonetheless, it’s a heritage building, so there it sits.

There was talk of development. That was in December, and no timeline was ever given. So we can believe it when it happens. In the meantime, there it sits.

There is value in preserving many of our heritage buildings. With the current rate of development, many of these buildings could be lost to condos or commercial centres before we could realize what they meant to us. But urban decay should be offered no such protection.

The city should do something with Somerset House, even if it means tearing it down.

The NCC, LRT and the western Parkway

In the past week, I have been communicating to the west end. This meant, many times, traveling by bus along the Transitway and onto the Parkway, roughly charting the route of the proposed light rail.

In my last post, I wrote a measured defense of the NCC’s stance. If we accept that the area along the western Parkway is of national significance, it is well within the NCC’s purview to make certain demands (though that means they should also foot the bill). However, after a week of travels, I am skeptical of the NCC’s claims.

The point of the NCC is to create/preserve a capital city that the nation can be proud of… or something. Naturally, this places a number of locations and buildings in the downtown core under the dominion of the NCC. It’s understandable that within metres of Parliament Hill, these locations will have such significance. Similarly, much of the canal is of sufficient significance that a case can be made for NCC control.

Eventually, though, the NCC’s claims on Ottawa will become absurd. The NCC would have no legitimate claim over the lands of Barrhaven, or Orleans, or Kanata. Even newly trendy areas like Westboro and Hintonburg – though they may attract attention from tourists – don’t fall under the letter or spirit of the NCC’s mandate.

The riverfront land along the western Parkway is woefully underused. There is a lovely bike path, some grassy areas and, eventually, a beach. But that’s about it. The land is cut off from the city by what becomes a four lane freeway (speed limits are more of a suggestion, you see). Yes, it provides a lovely view for people living in condos, but that hardly serves the interests of city residents or the nation.

Further, the land is all overgrown. It was rather sad, as I traveled, to see what was once a lovely drive turn into a bushy mess. As a national treasure (or whatever the NCC thinks of it) it is a national embarrassment. If the NCC is so concerned about this land, they should begin maintaining it, developing it and making it more accessible to the public.

Light rail – in a ditch, obscured by greenery – isn’t going to ruin the area along the western Parkway. It appears the NCC has already done that.