Lisa MacLeod and De-politicizing Our City

Lord, save me from a sanctimonious politician imploring everyone else from politicizing an issue. Save me from partisan rhetoric dressed in post-partisan garb. Save me from ridiculous diatribes. Save me from the hubris.

Oh, sorry, I’m not being terribly specific. This could be about pretty much anything. My bad. Let me try again.

Lord, save me from Lisa MacLeod. (No relation. The spelling should give it away.)

Let me offer a bit of background. One of the defining features of our city is the Central Experimental Farm. Built in 1886, the farm is a valuable research facility. It provides knowledge and economic benefits to our city and our nation. It doubles as an educational institution. So many Ottawa school kids have received hands-on learning thanks to the farm.

It’s also a fabulous bit of greenspace. Take a walk, ride your bike, go for a jog. These are some of the pastimes in which you can take part in the farm. And there are fewer things more magical in our city than walking through the farm in the black of night and seeing the Northern Lights.

I don’t know what MacLeod thinks of the farm, but I know what she thinks of the attempts of local residents to save the farm.

“I just hope this isn’t an idea by local Liberals to say let’s undo everything (former federal Tory cabinet minister) John Baird did. We don’t have time for that,” she lamented.

Opposition to a poorly thought-out giveaway of a public asset is just Liberals hating on John Baird, apparently.

“If we are going to reopen (the search for a hospital site), the federal government has got to be cognizant of the real timelines the provincial government has. It shouldn’t just be because John Baird is a Conservative.”

Look, we’re not talking about reopening the process. The process was never open to begin with. There was no consultation with the public. There was no consultation with the farm. There was no consultation with scientists.

The Ottawa Hospital, complicit in all this with federal politicians and bureaucrats, made sure this wasn’t an open process.

Local residents aren’t the ones playing politics. The Conservative Party spent years playing politics with our city, and now MacLeod is carrying water for their (hopefully) failed vision of a lesser Ottawa.

Remember the Victims of Communism memorial? The backers and the NCC worked together to find a nice little spot for it, the Garden of the Provinces. This spot, on “Confederation Boulevard” wasn’t good enough for the Conservatives. They decided that all the non-partisan planning that had gone into the Long Term Vision and Plan (LTVP) of the Parliamentary Precinct should be scuttle for their pet project.

The NCC never seemed on board. The decision not only went against the LTVP, it went against their mission, as well. The Tories didn’t care. They stacked the NCC board and made sure that this monstrosity went through. It wasn’t supported by Canadians. And it wasn’t supported by Ottawans.

So, yes, the federal Liberals and the NCC are undoing the damage done by John Baird and the Conservatives. This isn’t playing politics. This is scrubbing cynical political maneuvering from city-building.

John Baird was not a trustworthy steward of the NCC or our city. The Liberals could hardly do any worse.

I’m with Jim

It hasn’t been a stellar week or two in federal-municipal relations. First, we had the feds announce that they were going to waste $80M refurbing the old-moldy-bread-factory-turned-“temporary”-science-museum rather than building a proper facility in a proper location. That was unfortunate, but worse was the NCC ambushing the city on their LRT plans, deciding that their precious highway is more important than building a livable city.

Thankfully, it appears that Mayor Jim Watson and the ranking local government MP John Baird have reached a bit of a detente for now. This is an improvement, and certainly better than a bunch of appointed NCC henchmen hijacking our development plans.

Before this peace in our time, Watson made the comment that residents needed to make this an issue in the next federal election (which is supposed to occur next year), and he’s absolutely right. There can be valid debates about the LRT. Is it worth the money? What’s the best route? What should be buried? But there is no debate about the fairly useless, almost malicious, organization that is the NCC.

It’s ridiculous that NCC’s prime mission right now is to save a waterfront freeway in Kitchissippi. There is nothing, nothing, about the Parkway that has national significance. It ruins the riverfront, blocks the actual parkland from people and actively destroys the environment. And it’s not even in a particularly significant location.

The NCC needs to be reformed. It’s an outdated organziation staffed mostly with people who little connection to the city (only two of the board members have to be from Ottawa). They have no particular expertise in urban development, and their love affair with parkways demonstrates how archaic their visions actually are. The only people who rein this group in is the federal government.

So, yes, people of Ottawa, the actions and disruptions of the NCC should be a federal election issue.

Developing the Domtar Lands

In commemoration of Earth Day, Windmill Development Group has revealed a proposal to develop the Domtar lands (the Ottawa River islands located adjacent to Lebreton Flats). It’s an ambitious project for a relatively small, enclosed area. It also presents unique challenges, requiring the cooperation of both cities, Ottawa and Gatineau, as well as the NCC. In addition, the land is of importance to local First Nations people, opening up other possible issues. Regardless, the development looks promising and Windmill appears to be taking the concerns of all stakeholders seriously.

domtar-bikepath

Currently dubbed, “The Isles” (though a naming contest is underway ), the project contains key promises that, if adhered to, should make for a lovely little community in the centre of the Ottawa River:

  • An ambitious sustainability plan using the One Planet Community framework
  • Development of a series of new plazas and parks
  • Mixed-use properties including retail amenities, restaurants, commercial and
  • residential
  • Preservation of key heritage buildings for cultural, commercial and retail
  • uses
  • Public access to the previously fenced-off Chaudière Falls
  • Stunning new public viewpoints of our national symbols

“Our rezoning application delivers on the eight design principles we shared with the
public and interested parties late last year,” says Windmill partner Rodney Wilts.
“We plan to bring new life and energy to this once bustling heart of industry, and to
do it through historically and environmentally sensitive redevelopment.”

The description in the news release is a short but precise distillation of Ottawa’s current issues relating to development, taking into account heritage concerns, environmental issues and the need to build traffic infrastructure that does not imperil pedestrians or cyclists:

The redeveloped lands will feature a mix of uses in a compact form integrating existing heritage resources where possible and emphasizing sustainable and active transportation through a network of shared streets that prioritize pedestrians and cyclists over automobiles.

It is, in fact, the exact approach that should have been taken with the Lansdowne redevelopment (even if the particulars would necessarily be context-specific).

The Sun’s Jon Willing presents an interesting response from City Hall:

No doubt, Peter Hume is correct… to a degree. This will be a prominent development of a heritage area with just about no room, literally, for error. If poorly implemented, the use of the Domtar lands will be lost for most Ottawans.
Of course, they are of little use, right now. The islands are a monument to industrial decay. It is, in fact, a pleasant walk to travel from Lebreton Flats across the bridge to the old logging site. I’ve walked it multiple times. But as lovely as it may be, there is absolutely nothing of interest there. We can worry about screwing up the development, creating a little neighbourhood that would be underused and under-visited, but that wouldn’t be much of a change from the status quo.

The site promises to bring people to a central locale where they can enjoy the waterfront (a criminally underused aspect of Ottawa). Also, it is a reminder of what Ottawa has lost in the area just west of downtown. The development would help to bring people back to Lebreton Flats, a neighbourhood that was callously destroyed generations ago. The giant blemish that is Lebreton Flats (ignoring a spattering of in-progress condos, a war museum and a bunch of roads scarring the land) is a shame that the city has mostly forgotten. It is a tale of government placing their own vanity ahead of the lives of citizens. Perhaps this development would kick-start the revitalization of this neglected area.

Let the NCC pay

The city is locked in a bit of a battle with the National Capital Commission. The city is finalizing (for now) plans for the new light rail transit system. In the west end, the LRT is scheduled to cut through some NCC land near the Parkway. The city plans to build a trench to hide it, but that isn’t good enough for the NCC. They want it buried.

The city is resistant – and optimisitic – since burying the line would increase the cost by $300 or $400 million. Currently pegged at $980M, city council voted to approve the plans as they are without NCC approval. Continue reading