Ottawa: Rebuilding and revitalizing a city, street by street: Part 2

Ottawa's Downtown Moves study team has been busy since June analyzing public feedback in a downtown plagued by a dearth of shoppers and faced with a climbing office vacancy rate, largely due to the federal government relocating to suburbia.
Last week, Property Biz Canada reported that Ottawans are one step closer to living the new North American dream in Rebuilding and Revitalizing a City: Part 1
The Downtown Moves squad has been tasked with identifying ways to create vibrant, safe and accessible streets for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders by seeking a balance among street users and by improving the streetscape environment. Downtown Moves’ raison d’etre has been largely spurred by a major investment in Confederation Line, Phase 1 of Ottawa’s Light Rail Transit System. It is set to open in 2018 at a cost of approximately $2.1 billion.
World-renowned urban design consultant Ken Greenberg met earlier this month with Ottawa-area residents at City Hall to unveil the group’s final document, which will be presented council and to the Transportation Committee on March 6.
Kanata North city councillor Marianne Wilkinson, who is also chair of the Transportation Committee, is pleased with the final document.
“The improvements we’ve identified, when implemented, will not only improve pedestrian access to light-rail stations, but it will also ease cycling downtown and the viability of transit will be enhanced,’’ she said, “and that will be key to making our downtown streets lively and functional public spaces.
“(The downtown streets will be) full of people and this will in turn will ensure the core area is dynamic and exciting for generations to come. It fosters continued economic growth and vibrancy because good streets lead to good development.”
Greenberg, an architect, teacher, writer, former director of urban design and architecture for the City of Toronto, has spent more than three decades helping to improve urban settings throughout North America and Europe. He is confident Ottawa is following the correct path.
“This is a very similar phenomenon to what we’ve seen in downtown Toronto, which is an astonishing change,” said Greenberg.
“Vancouver is also seeing a very similar phenomenon and perhaps can be a leader in terms of residential in the heart of the city. Montreal has very similar things happening. And Calgary and Edmonton . . . Huge amounts of residential (units) are being built right around the downtown area.”
Greenberg said in the East, St. John’s, Nfld. is seeing the same phenomenon. “I would say this is pretty much a national trend.”
Greenberg cautioned that finding a balance for the downtown streets is paramount.
“The key concept that underlines all of this is a concept called sub-optimization,” said Greenberg. “That is not making the street perfect for any of those users, but making it good.”
“We actually optimize the totality, so rather than splitting up people into categories and having them be warriors for their particular use of the street. Even benign ones like cyclists can become tyrants when it comes to insisting that the street only serve their needs.”
Greenberg said in the end, it's all about balance for the community.
“This whole concept of complete streets which really underlies all of the Downtown Moves work is really about reallocating the spaces, the operation of the street.”
Amanda O'Rourke, the director of policy and planning for Canadian non-profit organization 8-80 Cities, said the plan is important because “it looks at how to prioritize one street over another.”
O'Rourke, whose organization promotes people-friendly cities, suggested changes should benefit citizens of all ages to truly be effective.
“The question we always ask is what if everything we did in Ottawa was great for everyone from (age) eight to 80?” said O'Rourke. “We think this document is a really transformative study for the city and could be a great benchmark in Canada and around the world. The first reason is it really does put pedestrians first,” she said.
“It really defines a new role for the streets in Ottawa, really a new idea where streets are beyond just movement corridors, but also about creating communities.”
“There’s actually no city in the world that has ever solved the issue of traffic congestion by investing in private cars. You have to invest in transit. This is a fantastic opportunity to get those new people that are coming into downtown using transit, walking and cycling.”
Greenberg, referring to a study in The Economist, said the public has made it clear that changes are indeed afoot.
“It’s about a phenomenon called demotorization,” Greenberg said. “In almost all cities in the developed world, the number of kilometres travelled on an annual basis is actually decreased.
“In 1983, as soon as you were 16 years old and you were able to do so, almost everyone went out and got a driver’s licence. By 2010, in U.S. and Canada, 26 per cent of the age cohort between the age of 16 and 34 doesn’t bother to get a driver’s licence at all, so this is an astonishing change. We can also expect that people will stop driving earlier as well if they live in places where it’s possible to do so.”
For Nelson Edwards of the city's Planning and Growth Management Department, the document represents uncharted territory.
“It is really a unique project because it cuts across traditional silos . . . where you have towers of thinking,” Edwards said.
“Downtown Moves has to cross all that. It has to go from including ideas around how we operate and maintain our streets, the mix of people we want on our streets and how businesses imprint on the street will all fit together. That's how all of this will be driven forward by this incredible investment in the Confederation Line.”
Resident Gaetan Provencher, who has been following the process closely, was impressed by the open house presentation.
“I saw a lot of very positive things,” Provencher said. “I look at different projects all across the world and there are a lot of similarities. Ottawa understood that one or two years ago that they had to be on the leading edge of the renaissance of transportation and I see all the steps in that direction.”
Provencher did find one thing missing, however.
“It would have been nice to have people tonight from the commercial side, the (Business Improvement Areas), to stand beside them to show approval and bring ideas. They should be there.”



Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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