Yesterday, the Ottawa Citizen published an op-ed of mine offering measured support for the Lansdowne re-development project. I know it’s a controversial issue in Ottawa, but there was a bit of pushback that I really wasn’t expecting:
There are two points where I mention Jack Astor’s. Here:
Despite assurances of unique boutique retailers, we are getting Winners. And Jack Astor’s. And PetSmart. We are getting establishments that superficially play into the original vision, but demonstrate a lack of understanding of the connections between urban dwellers and their neighbourhood.
Lansdowne, as a residence, is being marketed as the newest hip urban experience. It aligns nicely with the compositions of the Glebe and Old Ottawa South, while still maintaining its own character — smaller dwellings, no single-family homes. This is not the Winners/Jack Astor’s crowd. The residential development is a good match for small boutique stores. Unfortunately, if the retail mix does not attract the local crowd, it will need a car-heavy commuter class to survive.
I responded noting that I wasn’t objecting to Jack Astor’s, per se, but that it is a part of the overall composition of food and retail stores going into Lansdowne, and that composition is a betrayal of the original plan put forth by OSEG and their partners J.C. Williams (in June of 2010, J.C. Williams claimed that OSEG claimed to have formal interest from many unique boutique retailers). However, my interlocutor was objecting to the specific inclusion of Jack Astor’s:
I’m still unconvinced. Jack Astor’s is a derivative corporate chain with a name that was originally just silly wordplay. It is akin to Boston Pizza, Montana’s and Outback. These are the big box stores of restaurants. Look at the current Ottawa location. The restaurant’s design, as well as the general form that the restaurant takes does not fit with the urban vision of Lansdowne.
We must remember that OSEG (and J.C. Williams) stressed that they were looking to complement the Glebe and Old Ottawa South. The vision of Jack Astor’s (either the Kanata location or their other locations) in no way complements these neighbourhoods. It clashes.
Of course, when talking about Lansdowne, we’re talkinga about a vision, a new urban village. Even if we don’t want to compare it to the long-established urban villages of the Glebe or Old Ottawa South, we could, at least, compare it to Ottawa’s newest hip urban neighbourhood, Hintonburg.
Can anyone reasonably argue that Hintonburg needs a Jack Astor’s, that the chain would, in any way, fit with the vibe of the neighbourhood? I can’t imagine taking any such argument seriously.
Further, I don’t have to make the claim that Jack Astor’s is commonplace in Ottawa. I’m not judging the project by my aesthetics, I’m judging them by the aesthetics laid out by OSEG and J.C. Williams. They’re the ones who said that they would get unique stores rather than chains, but that when they got chains, they would get ones that would then be unique to Ottawa and would fit with the overall concept. Jack Astor’s isn’t unique to Ottawa, even if it is not commonplace, and does not fit with the vision.
In the end, Jack Astor’s is a perfect fit for the types of stores that OSEG has found, stores like PharmaPlus, Winners, GoodLife, Sporting Life and Telus. These are all chains that better fit a suburban shopping model than a walkable urban village.
Perhaps Jack Astor’s will scale back their typical overbearing exterior and create something that will at least look like it fits with the Lansdowne vision. That would be nice. But there is no way to justify their inclusion with the purported vision. Lansdowne is walking a fine line. They’re a part of the Glebe, but trying to set themselves apart. If they go too far, we will see the waste of the land and the erosion of an existing comunity.