Who we approve, and who we don’t

The other day, the Planning Committee decided to delay a decision on the proposed development at Southminster United Church in Old Ottawa South. The proposal went up one storey too high and was about 3.5 M too tall. The community was against it. The NCC and Parks Canada worried about the views from the canal (a rather frivolous concern).

Windmill Developments, who is the church’s developer for this project, said they needed the extra height to make the development (financially) worthwhile.

That wasn’t enough. The church’s need to do something with the land wasn’t enough. The Planning Committee has decided the parties involved should collaborate a bit to come a compromise and, thus, a better plan.

Okay, fine, whatever. I don’t have the strongest feelings on this.

I’ve written (probably too much) about the proposal at 890-900 Bank Street. There, a private corporation wants to build a tower housing groundfloor retail and a retirement/nursing home. The proposal goes up two storeys higher than is zoned, and about 10 M. It also comes out to a greater square footage than is supposed to be built.

The developers (and their representatives) repeatedly lied at public consultations.

The developers, like Windmill and the church plan, say they need the extra height to make the project profitable.

Like the Old Ottawa South case, the community almost unanimously rejected the proposal. Individuals, the Community Association, the councillor…all came out against it. The developers made small tweaks, but never addressed the main issues.

The proposal was passed by both the Planning Committee and council. There were no demands to take some extra time and collaborate with the city and community.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? When a charitable organization seeks a zoning amendment, they’re sent back to try to work out a compromise. When a for-profit corporation–that has repeatedly lied to the community–seeks a significantly greater allowance, it flies through council.

When it’s just the community that is concerned about a proposal, council pays them no heed. When a federal government department complains, suddenly it is incumbent on the developer to acquiesce.

So, this leads to two questions: Whose voice does city council deem important? And for whose benefit is city council working?

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No, we’re not all pedestrians at some point

There’s a quip a lot of urbanists use when discussing the need for proper pedestrian safety: we’re all pedestrians at some point in our journey. It’s a good attempt to try to both create empathy and demonstrate the universal need for safe streets in our car-centric society.

It’s also wrong.

Now, please don’t get offended if you’ve said this and you think I’m picking on you. I’m not. This has been said by many people who know a helluva lot more about urbanism and street design than I do. I want this bit of rhetoric to be accurate. I want it to be a simple way of conveying deeper meaning. I want it to help people get a better understanding of how we build livable cities…and maybe it will help some people, but it’s still not accurate.

If you get into your car and drive from your driveway to the mall and it’s expansive parking lot, you never set foot on a public street. If you drive from your garage to the underground parking at work, you never even step outside throughout your entire journey.

Now, I’m not just picking a nit, here (though I understand how it might seem that way). No, I’m trying to demonstrate that so much of our development is so car-centric, that we don’t all share the experiences of trying to navigate city streets by foot.

We have spent decades designing our cities so that people never have to be pedestrians. We have done our best to design walking out of vast sections of our cities.

So this idea that we’re all pedestrians at some point in our journey may have value, but it’s limited. We are not at the point where everyone is a pedestrian at some point in their journey. We’re still working towards a time when we can use that phrase and have it be accurate.

The struggle is much greater than getting people to realize they need safe streets for when they’re walking*. In many cases, we still have to get people to actually walk.

*And yes, it’s about more than just walking. Ensuring accessibility for all people is a massive part of this issue.

Replicating the success of the Grey Cup

On Friday, one of the Letters to the Editor in the Ottawa Citizen was reflecting on the success of Grey Cup weekend and how that means we should build a mega-shelter in Vanier. Seriously.

I’m going to ignore the Vanier part. I want to pull out the Grey Cup/Lansdonwe analysis:

The Grey Cup festivities were a resounding success for the organizers. Football fans from all over the country were both surprised and delighted by the tremendous show put on during Grey Cup week. The urban park adjacent to the field was flooded with tourists and locals alike, all of whom were clearly impressed. OSEG should be extremely proud of the results of their efforts, over the years, to bring professional football back to Ottawa and to a venue that is the envy of the CFL.

OSEG was right. The “Friends of Lansdowne” were wrong. If one were to visit Lansdowne now, it would be hard to understand how the “Friends” could have wasted so much time and resources fighting such an important revitalization project.

Look, let’s ignore the foolishness of this. Let’s ignore that using the success of one day that might happen once every ten years as a metric for a massive urban development is ridiculous. Let’s ignore that Lansdowne is dead in off-peak hours (let’s call it the Tuesday Morning Test). Let’s ignore that yesterday afternoon it was a ghost town–yesterday, at about 3:30 or 4:00 on a Saturday. Let’s ignore that the Friends of Lansdowne weren’t just saying that the proposal was bad, but that it’d be bad for the surrounding neighbourhoods…and consider the store closings, empty shops and the recent stores opening up along Bank Street, it’s pretty clear they were right. And let’s ignore that judging city-building efforts based on what some tourists from Saskatchewan* think during the couple of days they happen to be in town is pure folly.

No, ignore all that. Ignore that Lansdowne was supposed to be an (ugh) “urban village”. Ignore that it’s not making money. Ignore that OSEG isn’t providing the proper oversight. Ignore the empty stores and offices, dead trees, bashed bollards and broken play structure.

Ignore it all.

I was at Lansdowne a few times over Grey Cup weekend (including at the game), and, yes, it was quite fun. So, sure let’s try to replicate it. But do you know what we did to make it so successful?

We turned the public and private spaces over to people.

We shut it down to cars.

We provided people with unlimited bus rides for $1.

So, fine. The Grey Cup was great and should be the model for all urban development going forward. Let’s do this.

*No disrespect to residents of Saskatchewan; I just chose you because of the impressive number of GreenWhites fans I saw around. Well-represented, for sure.