The NCC donated the above parcel of land on Wellington Street for the new Fallen Firefighters Memorial. The short-listed proposals can be seen on-line at the Citizen and elsewhere. I went off to the NCC open house last night to see the explanatory panels and models.
That a thousand people have died fighting fires — mostly bush fires — is worth commemorating. And I suspect the delayed death toll from smoke inhalation-caused diseases is much much higher. And the current trend in memorials to list all the “ordinary” dead has merit, although there is a role for the symbolic figure that elevates the many into one.
I was immediately struck when viewing the models and displays at the NCC about how optimistic the artists were concerning how many people will visit the memorial. Throngs of people. Everyday. I suspect it will be busy once a year for the formal recognition ceremony. The rest of the year might see a few people there each day to check out the list of the dead for a relative or friend.
So how well do the proposals do for the other 360-some days of the year and the rest of the population? Not very inviting. Lots of pavement placed at sharp angles. Beds of gravel and shrubbery. And most of them featured large walls that cut through the site or even enclosed most of it into a “room”.
Now picture the memorial location along Wellington, beside the LeBreton Flats urban community that emphasizes the excitement of urban living, and on the pedestrian route between the popular War Museum and (future) LeBreton residential areas. Will anyone want to stop in to rest their feet? Pause to get inspired? Will residents take an evening stroll or walk their kid in a carriage through the site? Is it a destination? I don’t think so. After dark, most proposals look distinctly unsafe with lengthy black walls. At night — which is to say after 4pm from October to April — it will be deserted.
The proposals all lack something to engage the public on the non-rememberance day days.
All the proposals at the presentation last evening had very similar elements and wording. I suspect they reflect the rigid programming requirments edicted by the bureaucrats. The closest the proposals came to excitement also came with the most criticism, if the public comment sheet is anything to go by: the wall of (static, plastic) fire was criticised, and the one proposal which might excite children had a 20′ tall fireman beside a hundred foot fire pole and that elicited snarky comments that it wasn’t gender neutral.
Would it have been out of place to introduce some pleasure for being alive? The site is large, it could have been zoned into a quiet intimate commemorative spot and also had room for … a play structure. Yup, a play structure, you know, for the kids not burned up in fires or accompanying adults visiting the site for commemorative purposes. Firefighters evoke images of spraying water and flames, neither of which feature in any of the proposals (although the one did have a large plastic wall of flame that was the most dynamic and exciting element in the room and clearly upset some of the viewers). How about a spray pad area with fire hoses, a squirting fire hydrant, a play-structure fire truck, a pond for weary tourists to soak their feet for a few minutes whilst trekking through the area from one museum to another with the 8 year old and 11 year old? Why can’t a memorial site also attract locals who want to sit and read, stroll, admire flowers, take the kid out on its first two-wheeler? Why does a commemorative park have to evoke a cemetary?
I think one of the joys of urban living is the juxtaposition of many different uses and users in proximity to others. This goes against the bureaucratic notion that cycling will be over there, and walking over there, and the selected beauty spot will be over there, and the dead spot will be here.
Speaking of the dead, displays featured shots of a bombed out area and rows of body bags. I thought that aspect had already been well covered by the NCC, which seems determined to build a thriving urban community on the Flats by facing expensive condos onto what appears to be a bombed-out crator evokative more of Beruit than Ottawa. Enough already, fill in the bomb hole; get a design that engages the living too.