Jack Astor’s and the Urban Vision

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.

And here:

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.

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4 thoughts on “Jack Astor’s and the Urban Vision

  1. Well, you’ve only highlighted the Kanata location, which of course would look terrible in Lansdowne. I counter with these locations, all in very urban communities and all doing a very good job of fitting in to their environments.

    Front St @ University (Toronto): http://goo.gl/maps/Br5LO
    John St @ Nelson (Toronto): http://goo.gl/maps/Oqb78
    Front St @ Church (Toronto): http://goo.gl/maps/qxliq
    Dundas St @ Yonge (Toronto): http://goo.gl/maps/ncCHT

    They are a chain, yes. They have locations in big box malls that look like they fit in at a big box mall, yes. But they also have urban locations that look like they fit in at urban locations (which, last time I checked, is what Lansdowne will be).

    The other major problem with your argument is that you are basing what should go into Lansdowne solely on what would fit into the Glebe and the wants of Glebe residents, ignoring the large family oriented sports facility directly next door bringing in people from all over the city. However Lansdowne DOES have a large family oriented sporting facility in it, and as such, a family oriented restaurant that is popular with children with a bit of a sports bar theme going on that has somewhat reasonable pricing does kinda-sorta fit the bill, no?

    So what are we left with? You don’t like chain restaurants.

    • Have you read the original vision for Lansdowne? That’s what I’m basing my judgements on. I could base them on my own preferences, but I know that’d be rather silly.

      I never said that the development needed to “fit” into the Glebe. The word I used, because it’s the word OSEG and JC Williams use, is “complement”.

      The Glebe and Old Ottawa South have a lot of families. These people go to restaurants without falling into the need for a suburban big box store experience. And who needs a “sports bar theme”, that’s the fake authenticity that OSEG and JC Williams decry. We have a lot of bars in the Glebe. You can get good, inexpensive food there. You can grab a drink, sit on a patio and watch the game. And they’re all (from what I can tell) very family-friendly (booster seats, kids menus, crayons).

      And of course we should want people from all over Ottawa coming (it was the final statement in the op-ed!), but Lansdowne was supposed to be an “authentic” urban village, not a faux urban amusement park. Turning Lansdowne into a suburban island in an urban setting is a horrible idea.

      And, yes, it’s horrible because it doesn’t fit with OSEG’s alleged vision and because it doesn’t jibe with what I want (and my neighbours want) in a neighbourhood. It’s why I choose to live in an urban area. If I wanted suburban living, I’d move back.

      If other people want suburban living, that’s cool (depending on the costs it places on others), but that doesn’t mean urban re-development has to be subverted.

      • “Fit” vs “complement” – that’s just semantics. We both understand what you stated and what you meant.

        As for the suburban big box experience, I agree with you whole-heartedly. It would be a shame to see Lansdowne fill up with nothing but characterless big box stores that you can find in any power centre anywhere in Ottawa, but your fixation on Jack Astor’s being a big box store is wrong. Did you not look at the links above? They directly disprove what seems to be your argument. Each of those locations is in a heavily URBAN setting, fitting in and tailored perfectly with surroundings. Yes it is a chain, but it’s a chain that re-imagines itself based on its location – ie. a good corporate neighbour not just shoe-horning in a cookie cutter concept. To put it in your own words, both its design and general form DO fit with the urban vision of Lansdowne. They aren’t garish, as seems to be your complaint about the suburban locations. They aren’t portraying some sort of vision of an “urban amusement park”. So again I ask, what is your point about Jack Astor’s?

        Your argument against big box stores is a valid one, but you undermine your own position by forcibly lumping in a restaurant that actually is a good fit for the development simply because it isn’t something you feel you or your neighbours would enjoy.

      • If you say the fit vs. complement issue is semantics, that’s fine. I’m good with that, but, again, this isn’t about me. It’s not about what I meant. My whole analysis was based on OSEG’s plan. I’m holding it to their standard.

        Further, I’m not the one focused on Jack Astor’s. The op-ed spoke about a lot of different aspects of Landsowne (and I remain very cautiously optimistic!). Further, I didn’t even single out Jack Astor’s. I lumped it in with the other stores that OSEG has signed up–Winner’s being the most egregious example (especially since they won’t commit to creating a boutique experience, which, apparently, they’ve done elsewhere outside of Ottawa).

        Context here is important. I didn’t write that Jack Astor’s was bad. I wrote that the targeted residential demographic wasn’t the “Winner’s/Jack Astor’s crowd”. I’m clearly writing about Jack Astor’s in the context of other mal-placed retailers. On its own, I don’t have much against it, and, as I wrote:

        “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 throwing out a couple of instances where Jack Astor’s hasn’t been Big Box-y doesn’t assuage my concerns when it’s going to be neighbours with Winner’s. This is more about OSEG than it is about Jack Astor’s, and that’s what I’ve been trying to focus on.

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