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 were some who maintained the struggle for a long time, fighting a rear-guard action against the steam-rolling city. That’s a useful strategy, as sometimes the City changes course. At various times, other members realized that the big battle was lost, but if the City is going to spend a bazillion bucks re-creating the 50’s, then at least grab some of that money to make the project better. I’m generally a member of the opportunistic school.
When life hands you lemons … make lemonade. Never accept a municipal defeat (of a rezoning, road or other project…). Regroup, and seize the opportunity to get some local improvements. Get ’em while they’re feeling guilty.
When the City reconstructs roads they tear up a lot of front yards. Their policy is to “restore” the property to its prior condition. But if that road and City has been blighting the neighbourhood for decades, then the landscaping and conditions might well be … well, Minimal. Neglected. Dysfunctional Choose your adjective, they come to mind easily when walking Ottawa’s roadside disaster zones.
The City tried to greenwash the project, drawing huge green circles around paved intersections and declaring them “greenscape zones” and similar such rot. * In reality, they were putting a few trees and shrubs on the side streets where they met Bronson because there was “no room” left along the city-owned Bronson boulevard.
(above: houses are not too close to the street. They used to have lovely front yards. Trees. The city blighted space, leaving only what it couldn’t pave for cars. The road is too close to the houses. How can we make it better?)
We let the City know in no uncertain terms that a few token trees on sidestreets, and “restoring” ugliness wasn’t acceptable. New front sidewalks should be as wide as the stairs up to front porches. Front lawns and gardens needed protection from snowplows, garbage, errant feet. Any space bigger than 12″ x 12″ had to be planted. We had to end front yard parking. While the City generally won’t “improve” private properties as part of road reconstruction they can be pushed into implementing a common streetscape design that blends into private properties. In my view, that blending occurs over 100% of the frontage, right up to the foundation.
After all, if they can bring the road bed and sewers up to the latest standards, suitable for the next century, why can’t they fix the side boulevards too?
The Rescue Bronson membership included experienced hands from the Preston and Somerset traditional mainstreet rebuilds, so we knew the features that make for a liveable street. We started a list, and reiterated it over and over. We demanded more meetings, more face time with the planners, til they were sick of us. We wanted protected, in-ground planters. Trees. Planters that sit on the surface, if utilities underneath prevented digging.
We ridiculed the City’s suggested planting and landscaping as pathetic, underachieving, uninspired. We demanded a walkabout with the landscape architect, planner, consulting engineers, and city’s supervising engineer. The Councillor came, and gave a voluble public dressing-down to staff along the lines of it not being a game to see who can do the least, that they weren’t listening, that we expected a lot better. More senior staff starting showing up, attracted by the stink.
Rescue Bronson members had written to the project team saying what features we wanted all along the street, but then we kicked it up a notch. We took a picture of every front yard, every house, and every business frontage along the reconstruction zone. We prepared a report. Each page had picture of a house or cluster of properties, and the text underneath specified exactly how our general wish list could be applied to each location. This was necessarily repetitious, for property after property, but we felt it necessary to spell it out, so the city wouldn’t cheap out. No excuses.
Tomorrow: we start checking out the rebuilding process on Bronson.
*greenwashing takes many forms. Notice that the remaining route options for the Western LRT have been assigned colours. Guess which one is the “green route”?