In defense of the Glebe

The Ottawa Citizen‘s Matthew Pearson has a new post up at the City Hall Blog (yay, they’re updating the blog again) about the recent public meeting about OSEG’s transit plan for Lansdowne. Since we’re talking about the Glebe, there have been a lot of comments disparaging the complaints of the (stereo)typical Glebe resident.

But not to fear, Glebites, Pearson’s got your back:

Now, I’ve covered a lot of public meetings during my time as a reporter and can tell you that this is usually when public meetings lose the plot. People line up in single file with all their grievances and unload, their voices rising in anger as their confidence (or indignation?) is boosted by cheers from the audience.

The temperature in the room rises to a boil and soon nothing the people answering the questions can say will appease the angry masses.

Well, I sat in that grand hall on Third Avenue and can tell you it didn’t go down this way. Sure, some folks made snide comments about the Lansdowne redevelopment, but the vast majority was civilized and respectful. They got up, asked questions about things that matter to them and then returned to their seats.

Obviously, there’s middle ground. Some people are reasonable; others are not. Some people have strong opinions about the transportation plan; some of us don’t. However, there’s even something to be said for those who react strongly to these matters. As I wrote last year:

This does, of course, smack of NIMBYism (generally a scourge on development, progress and personal freedom). As bad as NIMBYism can be, it does have an upside. Those who so value their backyards and their communities are those who are working to make our communities stronger. Yes, the melodramatic lamentations over the removal of a few trees may be hard to take, but the opposite – living in a purely atomized city where you do not feel a connection to the community in which you live – is worse.

This is not an all-out defense of NIMBYism, but a sense of community is a wonderful thing.

Who wants to go to Lansdowne?

OSEG and the city have released their initial game day travel plan for Lansdowne Park. It’s pretty thorough, but also rather straightforward (dear God, don’t bring a car to Lansdowne). You can read about it in the Metro, the Sun or the Citizen. The Citizen’s Joanne Chianello also has a good take. It’s really too soon for an in-depth analysis, but it seems like a pretty good plan. Here are a few initial thoughts:

  • It’ll still kind of suck. Face it, transportation kind of sucks. You may like a leisurely Sunday drive in the country or cruising on your bike along the canal, but when it comes to more utilitarian transportation—especially when we’re talking about moving 20,000+ to one location, it’s going to suck. All we can hope for is that OSEG and the city make it suck as little as possible. They may have come close to achieving that.
  • Cars are not really welcome. Sure, you can take your car to Lansdowne, but—unless you’re a V.I.Fan—you’re not parking on-site. Even then, there are only spots for about half the number of potential VIPs. You can try parking in the neighbourhood, but no special accommodations will be made. OSEG claims there are 2500 spots nearby, but “nearby” means from the Queensway to Riverside and from Bronson to the river. Many people won’t consider such spots within a walkable distance to the stadium.
  • Yes, drivers, OSEG is trolling you. Live with it.
  • They really want you to use buses or shuttles. They’ll be churning up and down Bank Street and along the Queen Elizabeth Driveway. And you’ve already paid for them (they’re included in the price of the ticket, so they’re “free” on game day), so you might as well use them.
  • Fans who bike or walk will be subsidizing everyone else. Cyclists and pedestrians already subsidize all road users, but now those fans will be directly subsidizing mass transit-using fans. But no one should complain. That’s the price of having a CFL team back. If you don’t like it, don’t go to the games.
  • Concerns about transportation are overblown. People seem to think that the Glebe has never hosted an event with tens of thousands of people coming and going at approximately the same time. It’s like the Rough Riders never happened. I used to attend Riders games, and I used all modes of transport (walk, drive, drive-and-walk, bike, bus, bus-and-walk, shuttle bus). We all poured out of Lansdowne at the same time, and the place cleared out pretty easily. The only thing that didn’t was the parking lot. It’s a good thing we won’t have to worry about that now.
  • Seriously, why would you drive to Lansdowne?
  • For the first game, the city is barring all parking on Bank Street. This is probably a good thing, though there is a chance cars will drive way too fast. There’s also a chance pedestrians will fill the curb-side lanes. This would be a great use of the street. It also underscores the idea that we should make Bank a two-lane complete street.
  • I imagine part of the reason that there won’t be any parking on Bank Street for the first game is to drive home the message, you won’t find parking down here. If so, good job by the city and OSEG.
  • Apparently, the BIA doesn’t like this idea but have agreed to it for the first game only. The city wanted more. Well, the BIA helped kill any plan for a complete street on Bank, so I have no sympathy.
  • To that end, this gem came out in the Citizen’s report, “But some business owners remain concerned about how the narrow street will accommodate the additional traffic while leaving room for regular shoppers.” Well, if they’d just pushed for a complete street…
  • Glebe residents are going to complain. I say that as a Glebe resident who lives closer to Lansdowne than probably 98% of the neighbourhood. They’ll complain. I might grumble a bit, but it’s just the price of living in an urban centre. I’ll take this over the suburbs.
  • That being said, some residents will likely have legitimate beefs. For instance, residents on Lakeside Avenue (though not in the Glebe) are getting the shaft. My street is occasionally used as a cut-through to Fifth Avenue (it saves time only if you speed… unless you have to stop to clean dead children and pets off your grill). The city will need to address specific gripes.
  • I don’t want them to change parking limits to one hour. That also hurts residents and patrons of other shops. Keep it at three hours (maybe two or two and a half), and patrol it religiously at first. People will be away from their cars for more than three hours. Ticket the hell out of people.
  • If they put special one hour parking on game days on specific streets (say Clarey or Holmwood…maybe those are one hour now, I don’t drive so I don’t park), I’m not going to complain. My street tends to be full at all times, so I’m not too concerned about it.

In the end, there’s nothing new to complain about. If you never liked the idea of football in the Glebe, you’re still unhappy, and many of your concerns are reinforced. If you think you have a Russ Jackson-given right to drive your car anywhere and everywhere and especially to CFL games, you’ll be disappointed when you’re forced onto buses or sidewalks with the unwashed masses. I mean, you’re going to a football game, you certainly don’t want to be crammed cheek-to-jowl with other people.

For some fun rubbernecking, read the comments on the Sun or Citizen stories. Then weep for humanity.

Smelling Roses

The Ottawa RedBlacks received some deserved and much undeserved ribbing for their choice of name (and, generally, no name is going to be universally loved). Ottawa’s new Can-Am baseball team decided that they needed to out-do the RedBlacks in naming shenangians, and so we have the…

Ottawa Champions.

Yes, having never even played a game, they have dubbed themselves the champions (in a city which is not known for its modern-day championships…Carleton basketball, aside).

No pressure, fellas.

In an attempt to live down to cliches, city hall sends money down the drain

This seems a rather embarrassing realization for city council:

Costly new drainage requirements for splash pads in Ottawa have nothing to do with the provincial environmental restrictions, according to the Ministry of the Environment.

How costly, you ask?

“This new requirement has taken the cost of these popular park amenities from $100,000 to over $400,000 and is denying communities a fun, safe means of outdoor activity for children,” states Hubley’s inquiry, which also asks why water used by street-cleaning vehicles can enter storm sewers but splash pad water can’t.

Surely, quadrupling the expense was necessary, no?

Since then, Hubley said he’s heard informally that the splash pad drainage issue has more to do with regulating how fast water ends up in treatment systems and ultimately the river. He said there are cheaper filtering options out there.



More Pigeons!

This tweet caught my eye:

No doubt, this would be an attempt to reform Hudak’s legacy. It would also be quite funny.

Funny in a painful, painful kind of way.

Update: Well that didn’t last:

Tory candidate Matt Young is pretty bitter

Matt Young, the Progressive Conservative candidate for Ottawa South, signaled the unofficial end to his unsuccessful campaign with an ill-advised tweet this morning:

I’ve no love for the victorious John Fraser or his Liberal Party, but this morning, I’m ok with him winning.

Teron Road Development Update

At yesterday’s city council meeting, the proposed development at 1131 Teron Road was debated. It was originally on the planning committee’s docket two weeks ago, but it was decided that it would be tabled for two weeks while the founder of Beaverbrook, Bill Teron, could come up with a design that, well, he liked.

Two days ago, Teron presented his vision to the planning committee.

Of course, Teron isn’t a resident of Beaverbrook. He’s not the mayor of Kanata. And he’s not some noble lord who oversees a fiefdom a few kilometers west along the 417. But at city hall, he still holds considerable sway.

The only picture of Teron’s proposal that I saw was an aerial shot. Aerial shots can look pretty, and developers get to make pretty designs on a macro level, but they’re close to useless. No one uses or experiences a neighbourhood from the air. We experience from street level. So, without such a view, I cannot pass judgement on Teron’s proposal.

I will, however, pass judgement on Teron’s argument. First off, he should be afforded no special treatment by council, though he is. The maximum speaking time is supposed to be five minutes. Teron blew right through that, speaking for 15 minutes (to council’s credit, they allowed the developer to speak for 15 minutes, as well). There was a time Teron was a stakeholder in Beaverbrook, but no longer.

(Note: regardless of the merits of his proposal, it is laudable that Teron still cares this much about Beaverbrook.)

Next, the very basis of his argument undercuts his credibility on the matter. Teron continued to press the notion that the development should adhere to his vision of Kanata as a Garden City. But Kanata is not a Garden City. Garden Cities are self-sustaining. They were conceptualized to allow the working class a pleasant place to live. The green space around the city was to be used for agriculture to help feed the city.

Kanata is a garden suburb. It is the antithesis of the garden city. Kanata is not self-sustaining; despite some industry, it is still, primarily, a bedroom community. Industry and commerce do not intermingle with residences, and the green spaces–the gardens–work to separate neighbours, rather than enclose the community.

If Bill Teron wanted to create a Garden City, he failed. If he did not actually know what a Garden City is, he should not be considered an expert on urban development. Either way, his arguments are inherently compromised.

I don’t mean to pile onto Teron. His design may have been lovely, but he has no skin in the game, and his whims shouldn’t dictate what other people can do with their land. His adherence to a compromised vision shouldn’t prevent the city from being able to intensify within Kanata, a move that–either through increased transit use or demand for mix-use development–could mitigate the errors of this “Garden City”.

The planning committee, in the end, approved the development. Yesterday, it was debated at council. Kanata North councillor Marianne Wilkinson won a small conscession when the setback for the development was increased from three meters to six meters. This seems like a reasonable compromise between the developers plan, the city’s goals and the concerns of residents. Added greenery will help maintain whatever “garden” vision the neighbourhood has, but it won’t be at the expense of needed development.

Wilkinson has also graciously promised to not take the city to the OMB over this democratic decision.

Pakur Mother and Child Survival Project

I ran into a friend along Bank Street yesterday. He was out spreading word of a charity run this Saturday, June 14th, for the Pakur Mother and Child Survival Project. Here’s a description:

India leads the world in maternal and child deaths, with rural regions being most severely affected. Pregnant women and new mothers often have to walk 5km or more to reach adequate health care. As a result, women and children under 5 die every day from preventable causes such as birth complications, pneumonia, and diarrhoea. The Pakur Mother and Child Survival Project is working to boost human health and save lives in the Pakur District of India by improving access to health care for mothers and children.

It is certainly a worthy cause. You can donate here.

Toronto councillor is very concerned about Ottawa City Hall

Toronto city councillor James Pasternak is very concerned about the goings-on in Ottawa. Specifically, he does not like the Invisible exhibit at City Hall’s Karsh-Masson Gallery. He recently took to his website to denounce the Ottawa pols who would dare offend his sensibilities:

“It is incredibly disturbing for our nation’s capital to be hosting an exhibit supported by taxpayer funds glorifying terrorists in its City Hall. I am calling on Mayor Jim Watson and the entire Ottawa City Council to apologize for hosting this repulsive exhibit and immediately have it removed from City Hall. There can be no place for the promotion of hatred in our civic buildings,” said Councillor Pasternak.

I’m certainly not going to lambaste someone for expressing an opinion, but Mr. Pasternak did more than that. He decided he needed to bring this issue up at a council meeting, a Toronto council meeting:

(I’ll avoid jokes about how art is better than crackheads at City Hall… well, except for that one.)

I thought, perhaps, Mr. Pasternak could use a bit of clarification, so I’m switching to the second person for a paragraph:

Mr. Pasternak, you are not an Ottawa city councillor. You are not a resident of Ottawa. You are not an Ottawa taxpayer. As a Toronto city councillor, the internal dealings of the city of Ottawa are not your worry. It is ridiculous that this matter would be brought up at a Toronto council meeting. In fact, it makes me support the display even more.

Art can be political. It can be controversial and offensive. Hell, a lot of great art is intentionally controversial and offensive. I commend the city for displaying controversial exhibits rather than pictures of fluffy kittens. If a Toronto city councillor can’t handle controversial art, he is welcome to refrain from visiting the Karsh-Masson Gallery. No one will ever force him to view “Invisible”.

Let’s go back to what deputy city manager Steve Kanellakos says:

Who gives me the right, or anybody the right, to pull an artist’s work if it’s not breaching some law of the land?

Art, by its nature, is going to be controversial, depending on your point of view.

I’d suggest the good councillor take a lesson from Mr. Kanellakos.

…or just worry about his own city, and shut the hell up about ours.

Light Rail and Development Charges

There were a few interesting things to come out of today’s council meeting, and, with a bit of grace, I’ll actually get around to writing about them. For now, I want to focus on one measure that was defeated.

The city has implemented new development charges (or DCs, which I wrote about a week or two ago). DCs are the charges the cities levies against builders when they want to, you know, develop stuff. The charges vary depending on location (greater charges in the ‘burbs outside than greenbelt than inside, lesser charges for rural lands, especially ones without much certain services), and the purpose is to fund all the infrastructure that the new developments will demand (as a side benefit, which I imagine is intentional, DCs discourage sprawl, as they put upward pressure on home prices, especially the outer suburbs). They are, in many ways, a darn good thing (especially as the OMB has usurped much of Ottawa’s ability to control sprawl these past few years).

Today, there was a motion before council to halve the development charges for all new builds around the soon-to-be-constructed LRT stations. The argument is sound. The city wants dense hubs around these stations to make the LRT more attractive to more residents. It’s also a great way to make housing within the greenbelt more affordable (more units = downward pressure on price). I have not done–and will not do–any study into the incidence of DCs, but I imagine most, but not all, of the cost of the DCs are passed on to buyers/renters (this is generally what happens when government imposes fees, levies, tariffs or taxes–businesses will pass on as much of the added cost as they can, but demand elasticity will prevent them from passing on 100%).

As a result, the DCs will prove to be a discouragement (to an extent) to developers and to potential residents (again, to an extent).

If council were to pass such a measure, I really wouldn’t have too much of a beef. It is the city’s plan to intensify around these hubs, they allow developers to build higher and denser (which developers tend to like to do), and they really want a lot of people living there. Cutting these developers on consumers a break on DCs would work towards the city’s stated (and demonstrated) goal.

But the city didn’t, and, in the end, this is the right decision. First, the city is already cutting developers a break. Zoning restrictions are relaxed around these hubs, so more and higher development can occur. As we’ve seen with some recent planning committee fights, developers generally want to build out and build high. We don’t really need to additional incentives to achieve our goals.

As well, there will still be demands on city infrastructure by these new residents. As much as we’re trying to induce people to live near the LRT, we’re also build light rail that these eventual residents will get to use. You could argue that we’re already cutting them a break by allowing more of them easy access to the LRT.

In the end, the pros and cons are pretty much a wash. Neither side is wholly right and neither side is completely wrong. In fact, each argument in favour of one side can be turned around to actually be an argument against it, and vice versa. Consequently, it appears the city did the right thing. They have decided a fair charge for new development and they’re sticking to it. In the absence of especially special circumstances, the city should stick by the decision, otherwise there was little point in making the decision in the first place.