Community Gardeners carry on …

Community Gardeners, sometimes called guerilla gardeners, inspired by a love of plants, work to beautify their neighbourhood through planting things. Sometimes this is into otherwise empty planters the city leaves scattered around. Other times it is in less-expected places, ie real guerilla planting. Here is the community garden planted outside the Plant Rec Centre:   In the Plant case, gardeners worked with the city to install the garden. The city provided a truckload of topsoil as part of the Somerset reconstruction project. Volunteers spread the soil and did the planting with material from other sites and private gardens. A passing … Continue reading Community Gardeners carry on …

Lipstick on Pig improves looks

Last year, we wondered if the proposed artwork on the “reconstructed” part of Bronson Avenue would be enough to make a difference. Andrew O’Malley’s artwork is now installed on the porch roof of the Bronson Centre (there being no public right of way space available at ground level as its all devoted to car worship). The residents of the ‘hood, taking refuge on the Bronson Centre’s roof, were installed this week. And lit up. Here’s some snaps of the action figures: As promised, sometimes the figures are all the same colour, as we come together. I think this is fun … Continue reading Lipstick on Pig improves looks

Innovative sidewalk layout

Urban form is a diagram of the forces acting during planning. Sidewalks are traditionally glued to the edge of the curb. Their routing, and thus that of pedestrians, deemed by engineers to be absolutely perfectly defined by the road geometry designed to move cars. Might there be a more direct way? A different desire line? A more pleasant way? To even consider pedestrian needs and wants is rare (gluing a sidewalk to a curb doesn’t count). All the more delightful to come across this urban scene where landscaping was integrated into the pedestrian realm. A curvy path. Interesting sight lines. … Continue reading Innovative sidewalk layout

City sidewalks, pretty sidewalks …

  So, the picture isn’t of an Ottawa sidewalk. What are the clues? First, there is no snow. But there are people. Happy people. Sitting around with friends, drinking … alcoholic beverages ! The walking pedestrians have to share the space with others using the sidewalk as a living room. There is a [private] overhead roof. With fun lights. That someone could electrocute themselves on if they stuck a wet pole into the light socket. Oops, that last comment was my city bureaucrat bad doppelgänger coming out. Someone with a stroller would have to exercise some caution getting through the … Continue reading City sidewalks, pretty sidewalks …

Different attitude – different tree cover

I was in Montreal a few weeks back and was struck by well treed their residential side streets were. In particular, I was impressed by the neighbourhoods around the old Olympic Stadium/Botanical Gardens, because the neighbourhood also dated from the early 1900’s, like west side Ottawa.   There were many blocks of these treed streets. And they weren’t Glebe-rich either, they were the typical fine mix of rows, triplexes, doubles, apartments, and singles. The wiring is along the street too, not underground or running over the rooftops.   I do believe the Montreal climate is worse than ours for trees … Continue reading Different attitude – different tree cover

Somerset Viaduct hardening

  The local community around Somerset Street had to push very hard to get a pedestrian and cyclist-friendly environment. The results, shown above, are extraordinary (by Ottawa’s low standards): wide walks, bike lanes, ped lighting, trees and shrubs in irrigated-planters where there is no dirt … At the top of the bridge (or viaduct, to be accurate) there is a furnished belvedere. Right now the viewing point is a bit understated, but when the lines of 30-35 storey highrises already in the plans appear, there will be only one sight line to the north and south along the greenway corridor, … Continue reading Somerset Viaduct hardening

Slow progress, but progress nonetheless

The wheels of local government grind slowly. Very slowly. Very very slowly. But they do grind along, and in the spirit of better late than never, both the NCC and City are currently engaged in pedestrian improvement actions that I heartily approve of. First, consider Lincoln Fields transit station. [I note the City wants to drop the word Pasture from the Tunney’s moniker; can Fields be next?].  When the transitway was built thirty-odd years ago, pedestrian access was out to Carling Avenue. Pedestrians, after all, are only accessories to vehicular design. In the City’s and NCC fantasy world, peds were … Continue reading Slow progress, but progress nonetheless

Tree trenches

For decades urban trees have suffered from cheap planting techniques. Cities all too often opted for the meanest, smallest open square around the tree for water and air penetration, and the hole under the sidewalk was usually not much bigger than the root ball itself. Not surprisingly, the trees were unhealthy, seldom grew, often died. Even where there was plenty of room for a larger opening around the tree, the City insisted the minimum size opening was de facto the maximum size opening (see for example, the older sections of Somerset done in the 80’s). Deep down, I think city … Continue reading Tree trenches

Better sidewalk protection still eludes Ottawa

Back in December I railed against the sorry state of sidewalk protection at construction sites: Pedestrian safety sheds: treat people like sh*t and they won’t come!  It is well worth re-reading.   On a recent visit to the Centre of the Universe (TM„) I was delighted to come across the NYC-designed scaffolding in use closer to home. There is now officially hope that in Jim Watson’s eighth term of office, we might see something similar, but just on a demonstration basis, of course.   First, notice the solid concrete barrier between the pedestrians and the traffic, the construction vehicles, and … Continue reading Better sidewalk protection still eludes Ottawa

Rescue Bronson (part v): gas station flip flop

Several years ago, Suncor rebuilt the Petro-Can station at the corner of Gladstone and Bronson. It is on a fairly big site for a city. It has the conventional layout: gas pumps under a canopy out front where it can be seen, a convenience store and pay point in the rear. The whole station architecture is part and parcel of a “branding” exercise so we all know whose station it is without any signage actually being required.   Now, let’s look at the Petro-Can at Somerset: When trying to rescue Bronson from the City’s original excessively auto-obsessed design, community members … Continue reading Rescue Bronson (part v): gas station flip flop

Rescue Bronson (part iv): how to plant trees in gravel

It’s somewhat scary to look at the pictures of the Bronson reconstruction zone. One naturally wonders how trees could possibly survive in such little squares of space in a sea of asphalt and concrete. The tree roots are underground, and it’s what’s underground that counts most for their survival (although the concrete curb around the planting hole also helps a lot but preventing the soil from being compacted, and deterring cars and other forms of abuse). Here is one method of planting trees in the hard-compacted gravel road base: Plastic frames, very similar to those ubiquitous plastic milk cartons found on bike … Continue reading Rescue Bronson (part iv): how to plant trees in gravel

Rescue Bronson (part ii): why concrete is good landscaping

    Once the underground utilities are in, visible structures start to appear on the surface. The City necessarily puts a high value on the unseen stuff; as members of the public we relate more to what’s visible. And members of Rescue Bronson wanted a quality surface landscaping. If the City merely restores what used to be there, we end up, after two years of construction mess, with an expensive  landscape that facilitates front yard parking, dinky walkways to what were originally-built as celebrating building doorways, foot traffic that wears out the front foot (or more) or soft landscaping, etc. … Continue reading Rescue Bronson (part ii): why concrete is good landscaping

Rescue Bronson makes lemonade (part i)

Long-time readers will recall the bru-ha-ha about Bronson reconstruction. The City rather high handedly announced it was rebuilding Bronson through the west side of the downtown, was going to widen it by 2′, and do precious damn little for pedestrians, cyclists, and residents. The Rescue Bronson led a valiant two year battle against the current dysfunctional and dangerous road design that blights the community. Efforts to put Bronson on a road diet failed. The City opted for a faithful remake of the 1950’s roads-are-sacred movie (best seen at a drive-in, of course). Within the Rescue Bronson group and community at large, there … Continue reading Rescue Bronson makes lemonade (part i)

Celebration New Town: the residential villages

So, as shown yesterday, they did a good job of  downtown Celebration, building in flexibility, growth, and finely mixed uses. But every city is more than its downtown or mixed use mainstreet. These commercial places are backed up by the primarily residential hinterland. Are these simply more traditional suburbs or can new urbanism successfully mimic the more naturally evolved pre-1940’s neighbourhoods  urbanists love? Over the next few posts, lets look at several  residential neighborhoods in Celebration. The first neighbourhood is Sienna, part of the South [quadrant] Village. Once again, let’s talking about pictures (and video links too !): Above: Sienna neighbourhood is close to … Continue reading Celebration New Town: the residential villages

Building a liveable Ottawa

So, on Tuesday night I trotted off to the City’s launch of its OP (official plan) and TMP (Transportation master plan) tweaks. My, so many fine words. So many nice drawings. Lots of display boards. Mind you, there are some pretty fine words in the last plan too, like the promise that public spaces would be designed for pedestrians first, cyclists, transit, then motorists. To those fine words, every neighbourhood has their own response. Ours is: Bronson Avenue ! Some observations: the traditional traffic analysis uses “level or service”, rated A thru F, for motorists. No measure of pedestrians, cyclists. New measure … Continue reading Building a liveable Ottawa

Smokin’ hot bike racks

A reader kindly supplied this picture of the many innovative ways that bike racks can be used. This one is on West Wellington, just west of Holland. In this case the bike rack is still OK, abeit with a damaged ashtray box. I’ve noticed everywhere I walk in the city that bike posts are falling victim to plow damage. I do wonder how this conflicting use of a post will work out in the spring when more cyclists try to use it. Or maybe the adjacent restaurant wood prefer to cater to smokers rather than cyclists. Continue reading Smokin’ hot bike racks

Burlington Design Smarts

Every place offers new twists and variations on urban design. My fall visit to Burlington revealed some interesting ones that were not on Church Street Marketplace. (see the previous series a week or so ago on Burlington, this completes that series) One of the streets dead-ended at the lake. It terminated in a traffic circle. A mini-traffic circle. Can you imagine Ottawa’s engineers designing something so tight you couldn’t drive a 53′ tractor trailer around it at 50kmh?? At the lakefront park, they had park benches mounted as swings. They looked glorious. They looked fun. But I dunno how well they worked, … Continue reading Burlington Design Smarts

Sparks Street Mall SOUTH (part iii)

The Burlington Church Street Marketplace had mostly older buildings along it, which gave it character and an attractive pedestrian scale. Sparks has lots of older buildings, plus some new office buildings which should generate lots of pedestrians. I did not notice any Burlington buildings with tinted-almost-black windows, like our public broadcaster. Nor was there a block of storefronts facing an indoor mall and turning their backs to the outdoor mall, a la 240 Sparks or D’Arcy McGee. The Burlington indoor mall met Marketplace outdoor mall at right angles, with corner stores facing both, complete with big windows and operable doors … Continue reading Sparks Street Mall SOUTH (part iii)

Sparks Street Mall — SOUTH (part ii)

The Burlington VT marketplace is in a much smaller town than Ottawa, with a metro population of about 200,000 (Ottawa is 1 million or so, depending on combien des Gatineaux you count). Yet their mall showed much more vitality than the Ottawa version. Some of this may be due to the proximity of a college; students were visible on the street. It is also surrounded by a residential and commercial hinterland, whereas Sparks is shoved off to the side of the Ottawa downtown commercial district and centretown residential areas. I saw several kindergarten or daycare rope-trains of tykes walking the … Continue reading Sparks Street Mall — SOUTH (part ii)

Sparks Street Mall — SOUTH (part i)

I was delighted to see the more proactive role taken by the Ottawa Sparks Street Mall for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. While I cannot say whether the crowds justified the event, or if it broke even, it was valiant marketing and so necessary to revitalize this mall. It made me think of another urban mall I visited in the fall: Burlington VT’s Church Street Marketplace. I don’t know when it was inaugurated  but I suspect the late sixties or seventies, and it appeared to have the original brick pavement: Most of the centre area of the mall is left open, … Continue reading Sparks Street Mall — SOUTH (part i)

Where loading docks and walkways conflict

One of the exciting things about being in an urban environment is the variety of people doing different things, of different vehicles, and the shear jumble of activities. Sometimes it is wise to separate these activities, sometimes not. One area I am very undecided about is delivery docks for downtown buildings. Consider the south side of Constitution Square: There are several indoor loading docks, behind the garage doors. Beyond that is a busy entrance and exit to the underground parking garage. Beyond that, is the pedestrian entrance, conveniently located mid-block, opposite the mid-block transit station. The concrete surface is all broken up … Continue reading Where loading docks and walkways conflict

The joys of winter

  The front of these stores on Somerset is much the worse for wear. The cause: walk  plowing. I have every sympathy for the walkway plow drivers. The pavements are uneven. Obstacles abound. Throw in hidden objects and frozen masses of snow, and its a recipe for difficulty. In this case, the plows seem to be crashing into the buildings to avoid the parking meter kiosks:   I have no doubt that the minimum 5′ gap was allowed for when positioning the parking meter kiosk. I did the walkabout with the meter installers with both the Preston and Somerset BIA’s, … Continue reading The joys of winter

Maybe the temporary on Bronson should be permanent

The noisy work crews on Bronson have taken a winter break. They need one. It must be dispiriting for them to be reconstructing Bronson in the same dysfunctional 1950’s pattern of urban abuse. Our city is sometimes like a dysfunctional family, where the mistakes of the prior-generation parents are doomed to be repeated by the so-called adults of the present. Here’s a view of the Bronson-Somerset intersection prior to the construction. Note the big yellow signal lights we so love to festoon above the traffic lanes, suspended on long metal arms in turn supported by freestanding metal posts, sometimes known as “street furniture”. For … Continue reading Maybe the temporary on Bronson should be permanent

Pedestrian safety sheds: treat people like sh*t and they won’t come!

Do you recall when downtown construction sites built wooden structures along the walkways to protect pedestrians from falling objects, dust or dirt? These used to be the full width of the walk; had a waterproof roof; and ceiling lighting. Often they had wooden floors, too, for a level walking surface. I see fewer and fewer of these each year. More often, the walk is simply closed for months at a time. The Albert – Elgin – Slater construction site is an example. It’s a if pedestrian movements in the downtown are discretionary, and can be foregone when convenient. Here is … Continue reading Pedestrian safety sheds: treat people like sh*t and they won’t come!

New Brutalism where least expected

The Somerset Viaduct is a long bridge-like structure that extends from near the Plant Rec complex to Breezehill Ave. Unlike a bridge, the underside isn’t an open space, but is earth fill. Sort of like a dam. Nonetheless, the sides of the road are elevated above the surrounding terrain, and that is what is of interest here. The viaduct has guardrails on both sides. They consist of horizontal pipes, designed to keep cars from falling off the viaduct. They are of an older, un-crash-tested design, so the city is wary about modifications. A dozen years back (or maybe two dozen) … Continue reading New Brutalism where least expected