Life’s a Beach, even downtown

The NCC is responsible for most of what is good and attractive in Ottawa.

In the process of delivering the nice stuff, the NCC relies on government ownership of the property. Alas, the Law of Unintended Consequences comes into play. Measures intended to promote access to the waterfronts end up cutting them off, “public” space is too often “dead” space.

The introduction of a new urban beach in downtown Ottawa might go a long way to rectifying this. The beach, between Ottawa U and the canal, on the east side of the Corktown Bridge (not to be confused with Corkstown Road, which is way far away), is now taking shape.

I could smell the new-sawn wood before I could see the patio structure. I must confess to being amazed that the patio was so large and elaborate, for a temporary structure. There is some serious money going into this pop-up canal side experiment in urban recreation. I hope it can be easily dismantled in September and resurrected next year.

Closer , the nicely trimmed overhead beams can be appreciated, and the food vending wagon identified. I hope they are licensed to sell beer, both for the popularity of the beach and its financial success…

At the present looks, it will be a very sunny deck. Note also the nice glass railings, in order to not block the view of the soupy Rideau.

Is not worth pondering for a moment that in a city surrounded by major and minor rivers and lakes, we are creating an artificial beach?

Near the back of the patio was a minor forest of fences, presumably for the food waste, plastic cups, and human waste (go huts, not sloshed citizens).

The beach itself was surprisingly modest. Big enough for a beach volleyball tourney for sure, or beach badminton, and maybe even toasting some flesh. But the money is in the patio and not the beach.

The patio is certainly welcome. For all the “public space” along the canals and waterways, there are surprisingly few places to go for dinner. The Westboro Yacht Club is unpretentious and affordable. I took guests to the Canal Ritz on the weekend, and found the patio delightful, without so much as a bike path between it and the water, but O La La one pays a handsome price for the privilege.

Where else should the NCC or Ottawa be encouraging cafes?

24 thoughts on “Life’s a Beach, even downtown

  1. I agree — that’s a nice patio. But, I’m sorry, I get “sandbox” more than “beach” when I look at that photo. And everything is so neat and squared off. The Parisian “beach” seemed a little more chaotic, people didn’t mind sand spilling all over the place. Keep on missin’ the point NCC!

  2. I like this! …..but if temporary, why wasn’t it built at the beginning of summer (March 17th) instead of July? They’ve already missed out on 3.5 months of great weather! Being near the University, I can only hope they serve beer so that it provides a spring break sort of experience for those people that are young enough to participate in such a venue. Sadly, those days for me were about a decade ago.

  3. According to the entrepreneur setting this up – who was interviewed on CBC last month – it will be licensed, and the deal with the NCC is for three summers. There will be staff at the “beach” renting out chairs and umbrellas, but yeah, you can see that the patio (and the alcohol revenue that comes with it) is the real focus here. And good on the NCC for baby steps!
    As for other places to help Ottawa’s waterfronts come alive with some focused commercial activity, I would *love* to brainstorm on that. For starters, here are some waterfront attractions we’ve lost along the way – including a real beach an easy walk from downtown.

  4. The NCC prevents waterfront development. Which is what you’re looking for.

    And given their stellar track record in other areas, (“Lebreton redevelopment for the Centennial. Well, maybe the Bicentennial”) it’s odd that you’d be singing their praises.

  5. David: I can sing NCC praises because the other significant party — the city — accomplishes much less and rarely considers the long term. Most of the “nice” things in Ottawa are not provided by the city, and it isn’t simply that the NCC got their first. The City never tried.

    1. I’ve lived here for a much, much shorter time than you (so maybe the dynamic has changed), but since I’ve been here, I’ve seen the city imperfectly trying to tackle big problems and the NCC appearing overwhelmed with planting flowerbeds and putting decorative flags on poles. The idea of the NCC getting involved in any truly city building exercises gives me the chills. They. are. screwups.

      1. ah this perennial debate-starter, Ottawa: who screwed up first / who screwed up worst, the City, the Province or Feds/NCC? Seriously, depending on the frame of reference or time period, there are excellent arguments for each; arguments that should only be aired over drinks, because on comment boards, the debate is literally un-endable!

    2. And to their credit, this “beach” thing is an offshoot of a vaguely framed NCC initiative from the Fall where they requested proposals from the public to “animate the canal”. I was cynical, but this project looks like a step toward progress to me.

      1. I agree — this beach thing is small, self-contained and something the NCC appears to gravitate to: small risk, small reward. Nothing wrong with that; the little things often make a city much more livable.

        However, when it comes to things like interprovincial transportation and rapid transit development, –major infrastructure–, big issues with complicated solutions, well, I don’t have to worry about the NCC because they seem to self-censor and realize that they are out of their depth and prefer to stand on the sidelines. Maybe throw out a critique from the cheap seats, maybe commission another report that will die quietly on the vine…

    3. What, exactly has the NCC done that’s so great? Lebreton flats? The Parkways? Selling off vast tracts of land for condo development? Out of everything that the NCC has done, I can only think of Gatineau park as an example worth keeping. Everything else has been a disaster.

      1. Really? The best parks in this city are NCC parks. They look after Mackenzie King Estates…a gorgeous place. They maintain the pathways and gardens along the canal…that visitor flock to. Did you see the crowds at the tulip beds this spring? The NCC is hardly a disaster. Do they make mistakes…for sure. But I dread what this city would look like if the NCC ceased to be and the City of Ottawa took over.

  6. From speaking to those building this thing I think it would be best to call it a seasonal restaurant rather than a beach. It’s also inaccessible to cars. Something nice for the cyclists and pedestrians. I do agree though with dh though that it should have been opened before now.

    1. Really? The best thing about Ottawa is the NCC Parks? Ottawa is thrice blessed by having three waterways run straight through it’s centre (4, if you count the Gatineau). Yet, with the terrible exceptions of the NAC’s Le Cafe (terribly expensive), and the Canal Ritz (just awful), there is nothing. Absolutely nothing.

      Every other city that is similarly blessed has vibrant waterfront promenades that are enlivened by patios, shops, restaurants, promenades, and life! What do we get? Parks. Miles and miles of parks.

      To add insult to that particular injury, these are not nice parks, they’re not the secluded hideaways from urban life that parks should be. No, they have stupid “Parkways” running through them. The intent was to have people be able to do scenic Sunday drives on them. If there was ever an idea that is both backwards and stupid, that’s it.

      Those “Parkways” have become yet another way for drivers to get from point A to point B 5 seconds faster than some other useless road. Even the proprietor here calls the Ottawa River Parkway, the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway. Nobody’s done a “Scenic Drive on them since about 10 minutes after they ripped out the trees and laid asphalt down.

      “But,” you say “what about the greenbelt?” To which I respond, “Oh, you mean those farms that were meant to reign in urban sprawl?” from my desk in Kanata. Yeah, that was a HUGE success. Now we’re ripping up ecologically sensitive forests, and much needed farmland outside of the city limits, so that the NCC can play landlord, badly I might add, to a bunch of ignorant city people who want to run a farm downtown.

      But, you’re absolutely right. Kingsmere and Gatineau park was a good idea.

      1. Completely agree that the rose-coloured idealism of the NCC / Federal District Commission circa 1950 has turned into the current nightmarish “cordon sanitaire” between Ottawa and its incredible rivers. Also agree that the “parks” along the waterways aren’t even well-designed as parks and public spaces (forget restaurants: find one play structure on NCC land in Ottawa!).

        BUT, I also agree with @Chris that the NCC has a plus side – they at least managed to preserve a lot of valuable land that could become real public space in the future , with political will, dollars, and a real sense of civic mission.

    1. Matt Rose, please point out to me where in my comment I said the NCC parks are the best thing about Ottawa? I also didn’t say anything about the river parkways. I’m actually a big proponent of developing waterfront. After all, why should only car drivers enjoy it. Anyway, pick apart my points if you like but don’t try to pick apart points that I did not make. Cheers.

  7. “Real public space”, like Lebreton Flats (moonscape), or Moffat Farm(suburban subdivision), or The Daly building (condos), or Sparks St (No comment necessary, really)? Really the successes of the NCC almost seem like accidents compared to the astounding failures we see around us every day.

    Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the NCC. I’m able to bike 24 kms to work almost exclusively on NCC pathways from downtown to Kanata, but every time I travel to another city, I see the shortcomings of Ottawa, and when I see more of the same old bureaucratic nonsense here, I just want to weep.

    Parks especially make me turn into URBAN PLANNING HULK! In Ottawa, the default solution for any urban planning problem seems to be “More Parks! We should put a park there”, even though Ottawa already has a ton of parks, and they’re all terrible.

    Prospect Park and Central Park in NYC, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Hyde Park in London, Villa Borghese and Villa Ada in Rome. Those are parks. What has the NCC got? Major’s Hill? The Garden of the Provinces? Useless. Absolutely useless.

    Along my daily commute there are vast areas which *could* be nice, except for the huge four lane expressway running through it. Oddly enough, the nicest area, and the area where I usually stop if I’m so inclined is the city-run Britannia park.

    Even Gatineau Park pales in comparison to the GGNRA, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

    The NCC has been screwing up for 50 or 60 years now. Why do we keep banging our head up against that wall, hoping for them to do something right for once?

  8. Given that the current head of the NCC has just announced she’s leaving one bureaucratic post for another, it’s a logical time to have a discussion about the role of this organization…not that there will be one that will result in any reform. My major problem with them is that, on paper, they could theoretically wield significant power and take a leadership position to transform large areas of the city for the better – however – their current refusal to do that is actually a blessing, since they would undoubtedly screw things up further. Am I the only one who sees a major competency issue at the NCC?

    Clearly, the region requires some organization like the NCC to oversee issues of national interest, most capital regions in the world have something like it. However, my relatively uninformed opinion is that the current incarnation of the NCC is such a basket-case that some massive reform, i.e. destruction and reincarnation, is necessary to create an authority that could actually be a force for good.

  9. Do we really need yet another bureaucracy to make sure that all of our I’s are crossed and T’s are dotted? There are only two capital cities I can think of have this kind of structure, and, while DC is … nice, Canberra is … meh. Every other city on the planet has to maintain all of their own parks, roads and infrastructure, why can’t Ottawa? And to anyone that says City council would do a worse job, please see my previous post.

    1. Well, if the choices are the NCC as it currently exists, or nothing, I go with nothing. Move the heritage properties and Gatineau Park to Parks Canada, sell off the commercial properties (realizing that there are complicating factors to this plan). Let the city take over the bike paths and running Winterlude. It’s not clear to me what the NCC is currently bringing to the table. The eviction of Nicholas Hoare was illustrative: if the NCC is going to act like any other commercial landlord…why are they doing so with a gov’t budget? What exactly are they “safe guarding”?, irrespective of who the tenant was.

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