Soho Italia sets the bar disappointingly low

Soho Italia is the proposed 31 storey condo tower by Mastercraft-Starwood, slated for the corner of Preston at Sidney Street (almost at Carling Avenue). We have now seen their landscaping plan. Get out your hanky. It is to weep.   Sidney Street (the developer cannot even spell it right)  runs east-west across the bottom of the picture. Carling Avenue parallels Sidney, just a few metres further south. Preston is running north-south on the right side of the drawing above. Recall that the rainforest of tall towers the City is encouraging in the Preston-Carling CDP, its Strategic Direction, and its new … Continue reading Soho Italia sets the bar disappointingly low

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

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

The Bambini arrive on Preston

  The Preston BIA is sponsoring a gateway feature at Preston-Gladstone, designed to frame the view up Gladstone towards St Anthony Church. A series of large (7m high) concrete and metal stelae are being installed on the northeast and southeast corners, in a semi-circle. Various interpretations of the figures are possible: family, community, soccer team … If you are familiar with the intersection, you may have noticed the paver pattern in sidewalk initiates the circle theme. Originally, the pavers were to extend over the street surface, but hey, that might “confuse” and slow down rush hour commuter traffic, so that … Continue reading The Bambini arrive on Preston

Concrete trees, sort of

Karlsruhe, Germany:  a main highway swiftly changes from rural surroundings to the denser urban environment as it enters a city. To help slow traffic, local planners bring tree planting right close to the curbs on both sides of the street. The tree canopy closes in overhead, making the roadway look and feel less open. Traffic speeds slow. Down the centre median, trees are also planted to complete the canopy. Between the trees are the standard concrete light posts for the overhead highway lighting. These have been “greened”, quite effectively creating additional “trees” down the boulevard. It was surprisingly effective. And … Continue reading Concrete trees, sort of

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

Somerset Planters being installed (finally)

After years of lobbying, approvals, bureaucratic fixes, and engineering and contractual delays, the tree planters along Somerset viaduct are finally being installed. The idea is that these will enhance the pedestrian environment, knitting the communities of Dalhousie and Hintonburg together. The current elevated roadway is windswept and feels isolated. Perhaps more importantly, the precedent has been set for significant plantings of trees where there is no underlying dirt or “room” for tree roots. These may be the first irrigated planters the city has installed; they use water from the Plant Rec Centre building to automatically water the trees. Let the … Continue reading Somerset Planters being installed (finally)

Westside touristing this week

This week will be good for touristing around the west side. Perhaps you noticed mysterious markings on the walkways along Somerset near the OTrain?   Then work crews drilling holes …   The holes were then plugged with paper to keep them clean …   On Tuesday, all will be revealed, as the first of the giant concrete planters arrive on Somerset. Under the odd brick inserts along the walkway is a buried irrigation pipe system connected to a water supply at the Plant Rec Complex. Once put in place, pipes will be drawn up through the bottom of the … Continue reading Westside touristing this week

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)

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 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)

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

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

Playing Pedestrian in the Middle

It’s easy to make excuses why sidewalks so often don’t meet pedestrians’ basic needs. And sometimes there are genuine instances of “falling between the gaps” Like this one Here the view westwards, along Lisgar: .Do you see it? Try this view, looking eastwards on the same sidewalk: In the foreground of pic two is Hudson Park, condo by Charlesfort. It has a wider-than-normal sidewalk, about 6′ instead of the regulated 5′. Which is good, because the walk is busy. The brick condo is by Domicile. The Domicile condo widened the walk in front of their building with cobbles and a … Continue reading Playing Pedestrian in the Middle

Will Art on Bronson be better than lipstick on a pig?

Bronson is downright butt ugly. And it’s unsafe too. Now the City proposes putting some public art on the street verges to “humanize” the experience. The City didn’t believe the community when we lobbied for a better, safer design (see previous Rescue Bronson stories). Instead they opted for a remake of the 1950’s horror show version. That nightmare unfolds daily.  Can public art be more than putting lipstick on a pig? Battered and bruised community residents came into the Bronson Centre earlier this month seeking to find out. Seven artists had proposals on display. The City had “steered” the artists to … Continue reading Will Art on Bronson be better than lipstick on a pig?

One small victory

Dealing with the City, or property owners, can be tiresome. Sometimes there seems to be so little progress. Or progress gets undone by strange decisions, like the City’s push to rezone most of the low rise residential areas south of the Queensway on both sides of Preston, to high rise, now that the neighborhood has been stabilized… But there are victories. Little bits of progress that make one come back and try again. Do you recognize this? Its on Somerset Street, opposite the Plant Rec Centre. It’s the back wall of Luciano’s and May’s Chinese Garden restaurant, beside their parking … Continue reading One small victory

Multi modal transfer station design

Ottawa will soon be getting a dozen or so LRT stations. We don’t know what the “final” design will be.  The PAC for those stations hasn’t met for months. I do hope it gets one last kick at the penultimate designs of the winning contractor. PACs can and do offer good advice, very practical, from the user perspective. Until then, here’s a look at the Hyannis MA multi modal transfer station. Located in the downtown (such as there is in low density America) on former rail yards, it has a passenger rail terminus, the inter city bus station for buses … Continue reading Multi modal transfer station design

Pop up parks don’t pop here

Pop up parks have been an urban trend for some years now. Consider this tiny sidewalk cafe in New York (internet picture): Can’t you just imagine our bureaucrats worrying about safety from wildly careening cars? Where’s the crash barricade? The flashing lights? the bollards? After all, it’s an intrusion into the realm of the car. The focus groups at the recent Downtown Moves study brought up the idea of pop up parks and cafes, but the idea didn’t seem to make it to subsequent drafts of the report. Earlier this year, I thought I read about a pop up park … Continue reading Pop up parks don’t pop here

The shadow knows …

  The city can talk all it wants about how walking, cycling and transit are high on its list of priorities, but the real test is where the feet hit the ground, the wheel hits the pavement, etc. An attractive, safe-feeling pedestrian environment welcomes walking, so that it becomes a desirable thing to do, rather than a “have to” or “should do”. Goodness knows, we have been very successful in making motor car travel the default choice. This bias in the public realm won’t be undone overnight. But sometimes there are very little measures that really help. The benches along … Continue reading The shadow knows …