First, Champlain came on the Mayflower ….

Canada Day. Time for some history. First, Champlain came over on the Mayflower. Well, actually Champlain didn’t. Come on the Mayflower. They were someone elses. Protestants. But they all struck first landfall at the same place, now called Chatham, on Cape Cod. The Mayflower folks we know a lot about. After sticking around Provincetown harbour for a few months, they found the atmosphere a bit g(r)ay, and moved on to Plymouth Rock. The rest is history. And very well documented history that is prominently displayed to any and all tourists to the area. Meanwhile, Samuel de just gets an obscure plaque, which … Continue reading First, Champlain came on the Mayflower ….

Bad day for swimming

Although my wife finds it a bit creepy, I enjoy visiting old cemeteries. You learn a lot about who the early settlers were. Sometimes you have to read between the lines, to find patterns in the lives and deaths. And sometimes read between the stones, to notice whole clans of people. I noticed this tombstone while browsing through an old cemetery in Ottawa south: What happened that two brothers drowned the same day? What would the family response be?  The cemetery is right beside the Rideau River. Did the family live close to the river? Did the children learn to swim … Continue reading Bad day for swimming

Dismal, and better

Downtown, the new EDC building has a planter on the O’Connor side. It’s pretty dismal, if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron. Part of the problem may be that much of the planter is under the overhang of the building, so lacks water and maybe even enough light. The predicted problems were correctly identified by Urbsite last year: It comes as no satisfaction to see the prediction come to non-fruition. Such careless architecture and finishing. In contrast, they put a planter by the front door that looks pretty good; maybe you are supposed to forget about the rest of the … Continue reading Dismal, and better

Great Minds Think Alike

About a month ago I wrote about three models of urban growth: low-rise suburbs; high-rise clusters amid a sea of existing low-rises; and the magic Paris model of six storey buildings. If you’ve forgotten the plot, follow this link: I think those that romanticize Paris do so from the perspective of visitors (not residents) and  focus on the main streets, not the miles of six storey apts behind. Six storey Paris main streets function well because of the abundance of residents within a short walk, also in six storey apartment buildings. These wonderful Paris streets are not backed up by 50×100′ lots with … Continue reading Great Minds Think Alike

Is Walking only for the Rich ?

  A while back, we reported  on a talk by Theresa Grant at City Hall , comparing the walkability of four urban neighborhoods. They included a high income and low-income urban neighborhood, and high and low-income suburban-style neighborhoods. Guess which neighborhood came out best for walking, and which one the worst? Hint: you can read the original post here: And now you can hear Theresa herself talk about the safety of walking in our west side neighborhoods. Hint: it’s depressingly bad to live here. You are much better off being rich. BUT, things can be better. Come out and get some facts and … Continue reading Is Walking only for the Rich ?

New facade on Bell Street Towers apartments

The apartment buildings on Bell Street south of Gladstone are amongst the oldest in Ottawa. We were becoming a big city when young single people no longer needed to “board” with someone or continue living at home. Of course, these independent living arrangements were not chaperoned, giving the Bell Street Towers the moniker “Peyton Place” for the first decades. After all, why else would young people leave home if not for immoral purposes? I recall back in the 70’s visiting other students who lived there, and discovering the ceiling above was at a crazy angle, and there were large bolts and metal … Continue reading New facade on Bell Street Towers apartments

Scanning for everyone

The self-serve checkouts at busy places like Loblaws or Ikea are a mixed blessing. Good, if you can get yourself thruput faster. Bad, if you fumble your way through because of awkward lookups, etc. On a recent trip to New England I noticed a few fun differences at their grocery stores. Pack-people ( I would’ve said “packboys” but some were girls, and the one we had I couldn’t tell what gender it was). Cheap eggs ($1.29/doz — jeeze, where are those consumer-protection people in Canada when it’s the government monopoly that screws us?). And Chobani yogurt, only $5.45 (it’s over $8 at Loblaws in Toronto where … Continue reading Scanning for everyone

Rearranging the benches on RMS Primrose

 Two neighborhood parks on the west side are getting major surgery this year. The redo of Chaudiere Park on Elm Street seems to have found a winner design. An especially innovative feature will be the expansion of the small park to take over a few parking spaces on Elm Street, although that feature may not be constructed until 2014 while bureaucrats fret over jurisdiction (it’s good to keep them busy on the innocuous). The remake of Primrose Park, a larger site just a block further north, is much more curious. The park was originally designed in the early 1980’s as center piece … Continue reading Rearranging the benches on RMS Primrose

City’s tallest office towers proposed for west side

Phoenix DCR is going to Council in August seeking rezoning of the parcel of land known as 801 Albert Street. They are proposing a 34 storey office tower; a 31 storey office tower, and a 7 storey office tower. Currently, the tallest office buildings in Ottawa are Place de Ville at 29 stories and Place Bell, both in the downtown core. The parcel of land they propose to build these on is right across Albert Street from the existing Bayview transit station and the adjacent OTrain station. The triangular parcel of land is immediately north of the 8 storey City … Continue reading City’s tallest office towers proposed for west side

Turtle racing on Petrie Island

I don’t recall ever being to Petrie Island before. So it was a bit of an adventure. To get there, it’s a dirt road marked with warning signs of “turtle crossing”. Alas, the speed limit (merely a suggestion, if one goes by the speed of other vehicles ) is 50 kmh so one would never see the turtle let alone the kids that might be walking to the beach on this sidewalk-free bit of exurbia. Part of the beach is named for the Orlean’s family that sailed around the world on Northern Magic, Herbert and Diane Stuemer (and their 3 kids). At … Continue reading Turtle racing on Petrie Island

If you go down in the woods today …

Well, to be more accurate, if you went down in the woods last week — you may have come across some of Ontario’s bloomin’ flower. Here’s a few I found in Orleans: And in the same neck of the woods: And some close ups of a white one: And a red one:   There were a few minor potholes in the patch, indicating that someone(s) has been removing them. The footpath through the centre of the bed also had a lot of tire tracks on it. The thought of mountain bikers careening through this jungle made me cringe. Amongst the foliage, … Continue reading If you go down in the woods today …

Putting the pieces back together in the right order

Sometimes streetscaping projects by the City use lots of bricks or other paving blocks to enhance the sidewalk experience. Other times they use good ole’ concrete. I have mixed feelings about both. The biggest advantage of concrete is that it begs to be trowelled off level. No matter how crude the installation, or unskilled or careless the crew, the finished walk is usually usable. In other words, it’s a forgiving substance. Pavers look nice, but because each one is small they are subject to being laid with an uneven surface. Pavers have the advantage of being removable and relayable after disruption. When pavers … Continue reading Putting the pieces back together in the right order


To the casual observer, the placement of the very large ped lighting fixtures along Preston may be annoying. They hop from inner to outer boulevard, from left side to right side of the sidewalk. Sometimes on decorative metal posts, sometimes bolted to wooden utility “telephone” poles. More careful observation shows that that they are grouped in rows, designed to line up, creating a pedestrian corridor. That pattern is reinforced by the trees along the street. A back curb serves to protect the plantings from feet, plows and other intrusions. The columnar fruit trees along Preston were in full bloom last week:   I … Continue reading Promenade

Getting out a bit more

From time to time I think my life has gotten a bit staid. Like, in a rut. So I took an invite to head off to the NAC on Wednesday for a wine tasting of Prince Edward County wines. Now you should know that my wine drinking preferences run to warehouse do-it-yourself wineries where great Merlot comes through at $4/bottle. And I recall being to Prince Edward County once, to stay overnight at an overpriced lakeside “cottage” that did not leave me impressed. So PEC wasn’t high on my “must do” bucket list. But I was open to change my … Continue reading Getting out a bit more

When capitalists conspire …

Last April, the Dalhousie Community Association, of which I was President at the time, held its AGM. Hard pressed to come up with speaker to trump the previous year’s John Doran of Domicile speaking on the economics of condo developments, I searched around for an interesting and educational speaker. Enter Ottawa Senators founder, engineer, professor of architecture, etc etc  Dr Bruce Firestone . He agreed to give a talk on urban redevelopment in older neighborhoods, good or bad. He sure doesn’t pull punches.  In fact, he referred to a certain yellow brick condo development as being akin to a brown substance … Continue reading When capitalists conspire …

Western LRT raises it head

The western extension of the LRT used to have a high-profile, but has been out of sight for a long time. No public advisory group meetings for ages. Some of the low profile is understandable. They were clearly doing some very detailed planning and costing exercises, so that a fully informed decision can eventually be made. Decisions made in haste, or under the barrage of emotional or superficial criticism, are seldom good decisions. Today’s Sun has a story that the Carling option is dead, due to cost. Recall that there are three main route options: Carling, Richmond, or the Parkway. … Continue reading Western LRT raises it head

The neighborhood around 505 Preston (tall towers-ville)

The previous post covered the proposed 45 or so storey condo proposed by Claridge. I’ll post more info on the building as it becomes available. But what about the neighborhood it is proposed to go in? Here is an aerial shot, the dotted circles show the easy walking distance to LRT – OTrain stations; the arrow points to the Carling Station: The area has a secondary plan approved by Council some time ago, and here is what is allowed: Note the intersection of Preston and Carling, identified by the white label Main Street Corridor. The traditional main street designation is … Continue reading The neighborhood around 505 Preston (tall towers-ville)

Claridge, 505 Preston @ Carling

Claridge today unveiled proposals for a very tall condo at the corner of Preston and Carling, facing Commissioner’s Park and Dow’s Lake. This would be the tallest building in Ottawa, taller than Place de Ville Tower C (Transport Canada), and taller than the Metropole condo in Westboro. The 45 storey building is designed by David Pontarini, a prominent high-rise designer based in Toronto. Here is a view from Dow’s Lake:   The podium levels would possibly contain office uses, which is good mixed-use for a building. There are no details yet as to the amount and location of parking. Just a bit visible to … Continue reading Claridge, 505 Preston @ Carling

Even further down from the Summit

Mayor Watson repeatedly used the word “certainty” when describing urban planning, infill, intensification, etc. And Councillor Hume certainly used certainty a lot too. While certainty might be an admirable destination, I see a number of bumps on the road. Some of this comes from the bureaucratic tendency to want to prescribe things in ever more detail. And community associations lead the chorus in demanding new fine print in the rules, hopefully for a better neighborhood and not simply to trip up developers, although I too-frequently hear that second motivation. But the more detailed the rules, and the more rules in the … Continue reading Even further down from the Summit

Walking is for the Rich

The Elizabeth Bruyere Research Institute and Cdn Institute for Health Research have done a study on walkability in Ottawa, with a special focus on older people. Here is the title of the study; interested persons are advised to read the whole thing and not just the excerpted bits that follow: In general, I would have expected pre-1945 neighborhoods, with sidewalks on most streets and nearby stores, to have been more walkable than suburban areas where distances discourage walking and retail is auto-oriented. And I would have thought that most downtown neighborhoods would rate similarly. I was wrong. Very … Continue reading Walking is for the Rich

West Side Ottawa, 1960’s

The railway cut is being constructed on the west side of Dow’s Lake; it is now the O-Train corridor. The southwest side of Preston & Carling is a sea of temporary buildings. On the top right, much of LeBreton Flats remains unflat. On the top left, the first tall building at Tunney’s Pasture appears. On the bottom right, the NRCan complex at Booth and Carling is underway. Here’s a 1967 aerial view of the temporary buildings near Dow’s Lake, just before demolition started. To the left, the brand-new Sir John Carling building, now empty and slated for demolition. To the … Continue reading West Side Ottawa, 1960’s