Sim Preston

Remember SimCity, a computer game that was all the rage a few hundred years ago? It’s still around. I recall that gamers could take the base maps for SimCity and create them as a specific city,ie Ottawa. Then one could run out scenarios to see consequences. City Councillors voted to hold the urban boundary, increase density, and simultaneously zoned the majority of the urban area as “out of bounds” for increased density. The result would have been predictable in thirty minutes of playing SimCity as high rises would sprout up along the transit corridors and those few areas zoned high rise, as well as various zoning-busting “exceptions”. Councillors cannot pretend to be surprised at the pressures they themselves put in place.

One of the concerns I have about the 35 storey condo proposed at Preston and Sidney, near Dow’s Lake, is that we are invited to view the project in a present and backward looking context. That is, we see a neighborhood plan that shows the existing structures plus the few already-approved ones “for context”:

neighborhood context "now"

 But, the StarwoodMastercraft building simply won’t be the only building built at the south end of Preston. The CIBC won’t stay as a drive-through bank … nor will Dow Motors stay as a low rise car dealership. And there is the vacant now-remediated Esso lot at the corner of Preston and Carling. All these property owners will be thinking along the same lines: build a condo. And they won’t be thinking of “build a cute five to eight storey condo”.

So, courtesy of Photoshop, here’s a scenario, a fantasy depiction of the same area some years out into the future. Dow Motors gets the Starwood treatment, with the 125 Hickory project repeated on that site; CIBC gets a tall condo; the Esso site gets a tower, and the vacant Mr Gas site behind it gets a lower-rise:

the simulated future with more condos

Keep in mind that I did not extend the condo belt further north down Preston Street, nor show another tower on the vacant parcel beside the Arnon two office buildings already along Carling at Rochester, nor the development of the huge parcel of land they own just south of the Sakto/Adobe/Xerox complex at 333 Preston.  And it is rather curious I restricted buildings to readily redevelopable lots … there is no reason to limit condos to those lots, someone could assemble four small houses and drop in a condo there too.

Look too at the south (left) side of Carling, on both sides of the Otrain corridor. It’s all green grass. But it is not zoned parkland. It is in the Official Plan as a high-density intensification mixed-use zone, ie lots more highrises.

I don’t want to give the impression that a bunch of condos is bad. I want intensification and a urban environment. But we need to plan for it, to ensure we get a livable neighborhood and vibrant main street. We don’t want a wind-swept alienated street canyon sandwiched between seven-storey parking garages.

I personally feel Starwood missed the boat here. If they had bought out the Dow Motors site, proposed a townhouse or commercial podium (Shoppers Drug Mart, of course; maybe a Farm Boy too) with a 35 storey tower above, and maybe two or three lower ones stepping down as you move north, I think I would be cheering for it.

10 thoughts on “Sim Preston

  1. It’s crazy that the shadows stretch up Preston for a block and a half. Not only will it be a canyon, but it will be a dark one.

    The tall buildings along Preston should be stepping up to that height (i.e. full height south of Carling), not starting there.

  2. Also crazy that the sun is setting in the south in that rendering – I’m suspecting the computer that made the image was so rattled by the alien notion of a tall building in Ottawa that it assumed the earth’s axis must be be subject to the same bizarro world rules 🙂
    As for the buildings (minus Soho Italia) in the picture, you have to be careful when predicting the future. If your crystal ball isn’t working right, you might find yourself way off. However, there’s no law about speculation. The Dow site and bank should be developed as one site, with (ideally) lower height on the west side (near train path) and stepped up to something mid rise along Preston (but keeping a uniform podium). Then the same thing should happen on the other side of Preston, only reversed, as to make a gateway and bookend the arch. That would be ideal…I also picture lots of white stone….and a grocery store….and me making 6 figures. I guess we’ll see if that vision pans out.

    1. the shadow shown falls north from the buildings, the sun being in the south (to the left foreground of the view), and the shadow is midday, not setting. But hey, it’s a fantasy world and we could put in several suns …
      I find it interesting you put the lowest rise by the otrain and rise up higher towards Preston … I would do the opposite, putting the highest rise where there are all new developments and the shadows fall on new buildings and not existing houses or the mainstreet, and keep Preston open to sun and light on the sides, with say, an 8 storey building(s) for the gateway.
      That of course is the fun of sim Preston.

  3. Urban development is welcome, particularly in this wonderful part of the city. And hopefully the sun will find a few cracks between the buildings to shine on the little houses still standing north of this fantasy high-rise world. As for the proposed building -btw, love the idea, but the design hurts my eyes- though the museum idea is quaint, and I’m generally pro-museum… let’s get real! Neighbourhood residents are not clamouring for a museum (unless it’s a museum of groceries and other necessities available for purchase). What will be of most benefit to existing and future residents to occupy the proposed towers is a Shoppers Drug Mart or Farm Boy or the like. I hope the Preston BIA will weigh this consideration heavily. Thanks for your coverage -real and imaginary- of all of this.

  4. Personally I am not particularly worried about the height of the buildings, but rather their interaction with the street. You would want to ensure that some of the buildings are built podium style with a 3-4 storey street frontage. If that is the case, I think the fear of height can be overblown. I’d gladly trade some height for decent architecture.

    There are few more promising spot for intensification in Ottawa than this group of lots. Right now that area seems vacant and windswept and really isn’t the most pleasant pedestrian environment. It makes perfect sense to me that the lots along Carling with few neighbours to impact upon would be used for the tallest buildings. The density at that end would allow Preston to fill out as a vibrant and sustainable main street.

    If we are looking to protect a site from development, in my view it should be the large parking lot across from the Prescott. That is a huge lot that would work as a perfect spot for an outdoor market/neighbourhood square to serve the new residents. I can see that as a great urban space with restaurants and businesses facing onto it from the perimeter streets. The parking could be preserved as an underground lot under the square. And though perhaps more of a pipedream, I would love to see the NRCan buildings to the east transformed into Ottawa’s version of the distillery district.

    The possibilities in the area are really exciting. I think the neighbourhood’s efforts are misplace in fighting condominiums because they are 95m tall instead of 64m. That height difference will make a negligible difference with respect to the livability of the neighbourhood.

  5. I live at the other End of Preston, so I don’t need to worry about my shade, until City Center gets replaced by a 30+ story tower.
    I studied in Moscow for a month in the mid 90s, and one thing that struck me, other than how cheap the booze was, was that how well the subways worked. Part of the reason that they worked well (People got upset if the count-up timer at the front of the platform that showed how long since the last train left got over 90 seconds), was massive state subsidies. The other reason is that every subway stop was surrounded by 5 or 10 of the largest apartment blocks I have ever seen. Hurray for Starwood for trying to shoehorn in as many people as possible on top of the Carling O-train station!
    I would also love to see the non park across Carling massively developed,but as someone that used to walk to work at the Sir John Carling building, I can tell you, it can be tough to cross Carling there.

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