Cow Plats in the Pasture

So, PWGSC held the long-awaited open house to reveal the two schemes for the cubicle farm at Tunney’s Pasture.

It would be hard to imagine a worse letdown.

First, the event site was unmarked from the outside; the sidewalk along Tunney’s Drive was scattered with people wondering where the event was.

Once up the incredibly hostile “entry” to the Jean Talon building, with its angular steps, brutal walls, and concealed floral beds; it was into a very unwelcoming dark lobby. Have these guys ever taken energy saving to the hilt — please, someone, buy them some lightbulbs!

The display room was similarly confused. Most people enter a room and drift right. This is very common knowledge. So the displays started on the left side, right after the collection of comment boxes that would suggest it was the exit end of the room. At the far end was a TV endlessly recycling a french and separate english run through of some PPT slides, to an audience of 12 year-olds dragged out to the meeting by parents economizing on babysitters. The kids at least were self-entertained with their video gadgets.

The ambient noise in the room reached a noisy-bar level, making conversation difficult, and totally impossible to listen to the TV. It was difficult to identify the staff. There were no presentations or runs through, which might be for the best since so many displays were earnest things of interest only to the terminally bureaucratic (“our project will be sustainable!”, “be accessible”, “follows this mind-numbing course of endless consultant engagements,” etc. Would that a big project be unsustainable? Energy inefficient? Horrible to work or visit?). Planning platitudes at the worst.

Site Plans, or, the Cow Plats themselves

I asked for copies of the slides and was directed to the website, but alas couldn’t find them there, so dear reader you stuck with my two snaps of the project. Unfortunately, neither included the title as to whether they are option TweedledumA or TweedledumB.  So my identification of the two options, shown below, may not match those of the Feds.

No matter.

Pasture Plat 1


Pasture Plat 2

Mixed use? Ha ! The Federal Bureaucrats have obviously learned from the city planning process, because they basically wrapped their arms around most of the site and said “mine! mine! mine!  

The “residential component” is kept well off to the east (right in the pictures, shown in urine yellow) along Parkdale. This, we were told, is because that is a city street, so people can access their condos without using PWGSC property, and PWGSC can retain 100% ownership and control of most of the site. No pesky city types influencing, controlling, or thwarting their plans through road or land ownerships within the Pasture. Mine! Mine!

The three pink towers at the front edge, by the transit station, are commercial buildings. Presumably including a hotel (look for deeply discounted rates on Friday and Saturday nights and holidays) and private offices (for the Canadian Corps of Consultants, and shrinks and dentists).

The bright red bit near the centre of the site (and it is a very small bit) is retail.

This configuration really surprised me. Surely it is an obvious organizing tool to run a main pedestrian access from the Transit Station  to the cubicle buildings via a N/S axis with retail along that, so that people can grab something on their way in or out of work? But no, the planners seem to have gone to extraordinary effort to keep land uses or occupancies well compartmentalized and separated. No doubt wrapped in red tape. It’s all for your own security, you know. You can thank us later.

Parking Rules

The current Tunney’s layout is a scattering of buildings of various heights and mostly utilitarian design amongst a sea of parking lots, interspersed with occasional lawns cris-crossed by paved walkways, where perambulating pedestrians are continually threatened by bunnies planning ambushes.

Today, there is traffic congestion getting in and out of the site by car. Not to worry, there are no plans to build much more road capacity to the site.  But the workforce size will double (in numbers, hopefully not in girth) and the number of parking spaces will actually increase. Yup, somehow, it’s a Federal urban planning priority to enable exurbanites to live in Wakefield or Kemptville and commute by private car to their workplace. What’s not to love about this?

The New Tunney’s Pasture will go from one traffic  circle thingy to three traffic circles. Oh, the excitement. The challenge of driving! Gilles Villeneuve would love it.

And what of that little glob on the Plat Pictures (above) marked “7”? You know, the locale of prime potential (look to the lower right on the pic) on the public street, close to the transit station, visible to everyone passing by?

It’s to become a multi-level above-ground parking garage.

Seriously. Your prime frontage view will be of the ass-end of cows cars.

Transit, or Not to Transit

The office complex is located on a major E-W transit line, with easy bus access to the Gatineaux via the two bridges (and maybe the Prince of Wales railway bridge if that is converted to a STO Rapibus transitway). Alas, the planners informed us, the north-west and north-east parts of the site, along with the north edge, are “beyond the City-recommended walking distance” from the TP LRT Station, so additional car parking lots will be incorporated into those areas.

And all those brave civil servants, the ones with enough energy to self-propell themselves to the transit station, will they be well served by the soon-to-be award-winning station design? Well, those waiting for the LRT will be sheltered. But alas, the transit planners had to scale back the station where it was planned to encompass the people waiting at street level for buses. So rather than being inside, on a sort of balcony providing eyes on the platforms below, part of the bigger bustling station,  they will be relegated to small little plexiglas shelters parked on the sidewalk.

All because in the 1930’s some Frenchman decided Ottawa needed Washington and Paris-styled grand vistas, and he decreed that Tunney’s Pasture would be one such grand allee, running north towards the river. Except the view doesn’t culminate in a magnificent mountain, or any nature, or a monumental building of national significance, or a monument, or a tour Eiffel.

In Ottawa, it culminates in the view of another dark concrete cubicle farm building. Greber may be long dead, but his dumber ideas live on, condemning residents and workers for the next century to have a chopped-short station, and grand vista along the parked-car-clogged street to Judy LaMarsh’s tower, to be  enjoyed while stomping your feet to stay warm waiting for the bus when it’s forty below.

The plans are also careful to stay back from the Claxton tower (lest it go off), giving it lots of room to “breathe” and be admired. Ohh, the bleak windswept piazza around it! The waste of prime perimeter space!

The finely-mixed-grain urban fabric residential component

I overheard an attendee ask why there weren’t condos along the north edge, to take advantage of the views. Wouldn’t that make them more valuable? Well, the planner replied, their location will make them attractive, the view has nothing to do with it.

Wait, wait, cried the attendee in a shocked voice, over here on Parkdale existing residents will lose value because you are blocking their river views! People on the next street over from Parkdale are already selling their condos in a panic since new condos (99 Parkdale, twin 28 storey towers) are going to block their river views!

Nonsense, said the planner. Views won’t affect their value.   (I paraphrase).

That whole conversation was incredible, unreal. Who let that planner out of the crib?

 I now know who buys those second floor condos on the back of the building with no view except the garbage dumpsters of the older building behind: Planners!

Need I say anything more of the sad relegation of residents to the perimeter?

Building shape

Both Pasture Plats show most of the new buildings as thin structures, strung around largely-inaccessible courtyards, with occasional thin, elegant point towers soaring upwards. This is certainly a popular style in apartment construction (see, for example, the exemplar of Federal Planning, LeBreton Flats).

But why on earth would the Feds want thin buildings with huge perimeters? Are these good for heat loss/gain and attaining sustainability goals? The Feds are, in practice, building or renting buildings with very large blocky shapes (eg Export Development building or its clone under construction on Albert-Elgin-Slater; or the new buildings in Gatineau, etc).

I fully expect the actual build-out to follow the economics of PWGSC’s preferences for large floorplates. Forget the courtyards, it’ll be more of the same sort of hulking high rises we are currently accustomed to seeing there.

All the more reason, then, to choose the option that had a number of surface ponds and vistas. The geese will love them, and give the inmates something to look at. And it will be more pleasant for those searching for empty roads to teach their teens how to drive on Sunday afternoons.

Evaluation of Pupil’s work

Grade: C-. Can do better. Please re-read textbooks on good urban planning and resubmit the plans. The team leader, HOK, needs to review previous examples of their better work, eg Dubai or Abu Dabi or wherever the last sandbox was, and plagiarise those if incapable of original work. Note: grade would have been higher if assignment had been “incorporate all the worst aspects of the downtown Ottawa experience”.

10 thoughts on “Cow Plats in the Pasture

  1. I’m a little confused.
    If I judge the images correctly it looks like increased building density and much higher occupancy – at least 2x if not 3x the present site capacity.
    But I thought the Feds were downsizing? And have they not just aquired the old Nortel site out at Carling and Moodie, not to mention the old Nortel site at Baseline and Merivale plus new construction in Gatineau, plus new construction at Elgin and Slater?
    Did they provide any rationale for the increased site density?

    1. the civil service grows, year after year, usually faster than the population as a whole. Every once in a while, there are cutbacks, which merely slow the rate of growth for a while. And thousands of CS work in smaller, older buildings which the feds reasonably want to consolidate into new, large buildings. There is plenty of demand for buildings at Tunney’s, 801 albert, out near st laurent, JDS Fitel site, Nortel site … the CS is not disappearing, or staying shrunk in real numbers.

  2. That plan is disgusting and is totally the wrong mix/layout. You are right, it is very compartmentalized and will be a dead zone on weekends. We are lucky to have so many ready-for-development areas around many of our planned LRT stations and this one has so much potential to be a textbook TOD. I had really high hopes for this site and I am let down. They really need to start following the teachings of international leaders of the planning world such as Peter Calthorpe or Jan Gehl on good urban design, place-making and try to follow the best practices for TOD in which they preach.

  3. I love the bit about views not affecting property/unit value.

    I am especially surprised at the lack of seizing the opportunity for some high-priced condo sales on the north edge. It is, as they say, the furthest from the transit station and therefore the least suitable for office or commercial. It would even be entirely consistent with their apparent predilection for keeping residential at the perimeter.

    I’m glad I didn’t waste my time attending. It’s like a surreal time warp of bad ideas, bad process, bureaucratic hoarding and bad presentation.

    It’s pretty clear that no one did a serious inventory on surrounding site conditions and opportunities.

    Take for instance the southwest corner of the site. Behind that is where the mosque and church are located on Northwestern. They have a great opportunity for an east-west pedestrian-oriented axis anchored at one end by the mosque and church and at the other by the transit station, yet any such possibility is cut off by buildings in both plans.

    And then there’s Remic Rapids. It’s not exactly obvious how to get there from points south right now, or even if you’re allowed to (you are – just not clear that you are). One of the north-south streets at or west of the transit station (and it would be an interesting debate as to which it should be) could be extended north across the SJAM Parkway, with a possible relocation of the existing parkway access depending on which is chosen. My personal preference would be to knock down the Claxton building and extend the grand allée of the Tunney’s Pasture Driveway to the northwest while replacing the building with something worthwhile of a vista view, but as you say the view of that dark office cubicle farm apparently has to be preserved.

    Speaking of that grand allée, nothing much seems to have been considered for it, either. Perhaps it could become the site of a farmers’ market like that of the Byward Market downtown (what effect this would have on the Parkdale Market would remain to be seen)… a farmer’s market on Tunney’s Pasture Driveway… what a strange notion.

  4. I had planned to attend the meeting, and had really high hopes for something really inspiring. Reading this, and other articles, on what was proposed was a real let-down. I’m sorry you had to go through this!

    Let’s hope PWGSC planners realize that their design is less than inspiring, and go back to the drawing table. Otherwise, we risk ending up with another LeBreton… dull, boring, uninspiring, unimaginative, plain…

  5. This is calling out for someone with some architecture or planning experience to organize a publicly generated alternative.

    I’d love to see the site connect to the river (have the JAM run through it).

    Maybe have another tall building at the south end of the grand boulevard to provide some symmetry.

    And I wonder if they could mix the office and residential. Make a neighbourhood like downtown DC, where there are buildings with large podiums of 4-6 stories, and then put more slender residential and commercial towers on top (not both in the same tower). I’d much rather they fill most blocks with buildings and then have one full-sized central park and some pocket parks than spread out strips of unusable green landscaping throughout the site.

  6. With the Daly building gone, Brooke Claxton is the best remaining International style building in Ottawa. I’m glad they aren’t going to touch it.
    Sad news about the increase in parking.

      1. I was thinking of the Daly building, but got the styles mixed up. It was the last big Chicago style building in town.

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