The “Court” in Fifth Avenue Court

I’ve written a bit about the proposed development of “Fifth + Bank” (the re-branded Fifth Avenue Court). If you’ve been following along, you know I didn’t love the original design, hated the dishonesty coming from the development team and have warmed to the re-design.

One thing I have (intentionally) neglected to discuss is the indoor courtyard currently at Bank + Fifth. It is, seemingly, a lovely little indoor public space. There’s a fountain, the businesses on both levels can open up to it and the Arrow & Loon has a sort of patio looking over the space.

Here’s an image from an old Citizen article:

I mean, yeah, it looks nice. There’s natural light. In the middle of winter it’s warm. And, hey!, there’s evening someone sitting on one of the benches there.

Further, public space is good for the neighbourhood and the city, and, in Ottawa, indoor public space is important. I think it’s easy to see why people are fond of this. It looks like exactly the sort of thing we need.

But…

Look again. There’s one man sitting on a bench and there seems to be a little yellow caution standee. Generally, speaking, this is about how busy I ever really see it. Occasionally, you’ll see kids (possibly my kids) running around it. Once there was some sort of reception held there (making the public space private). And finally, they used it for a showcase for the new plans for Fifth + Bank (a very limited and particular sort of use).

Other than that, it tends to be empty.

Now, it is possible that I just happen to be missing all the times that it is bursting with people. I’ve been known to be there at many different times on different days and have never seen it, but, hey, maybe.

Or it’s possible that the people who profess a strong fondness for it either (a) don’t really go there; or (b) are in the minority who do, on occasion. Hey, I get that. Sentiment is important and it can be really strong.

But what we’re left with is a public space that is severely underused, and closed when the building closes. (Want to sit in there on a Sunday at 5:05 pm, too bad!). I, personally, don’t see how the professed benefit of this space outweighs the benefits of the redevelopment plan. (But if you have a good argument, please let me know in the comments.)

Further, there’s a big problem with this sort of public space…it’s not really public. It’s the private space provided for public use (during specified hours).

The private provision of public space is a very tricky matter. It sounds great–we force a private developer to make and maintain space for the general public that they can’t, seemingly, monetize. This sort of arrangement tends not to work out as intended. Spaces are either poorly maintained, or the public nature of them is gradually infringed…or the public space just eventually gets developed away.

(It can be hard enough to keep public space open to the public…just look at Lansdowne.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bemoaning the fact that public space can’t be (theoretically) monetized, definitely not. That’s not the purpose of public space.

We need these sorts of spaces, but we need them to be usable and used. And we should really demand that the government–ie, the public–provide these spaces, rather than dumping the responsibility onto developers.

So, yes, it is too bad. And, yes, I feel sorry for people who have a genuine fondness for it and tend to use it, but I just can’t get worked up over the loss of this “court”.

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