The neighborhood around 505 Preston (tall towers-ville)

The previous post covered the proposed 45 or so storey condo proposed by Claridge. I’ll post more info on the building as it becomes available.

But what about the neighborhood it is proposed to go in? Here is an aerial shot, the dotted circles show the easy walking distance to LRT – OTrain stations; the arrow points to the Carling Station:

The area has a secondary plan approved by Council some time ago, and here is what is allowed:

Note the intersection of Preston and Carling, identified by the white label Main Street Corridor. The traditional main street designation is for lowish rise buildings, in the three to nine storey range.

Note also that the major Sakto development near the Queensway is a mixed use development with 2 higher office towers, a low rise office, streetfront and tower-base retail, and a residential building, and is wildly popular in the neighborhood.

The Claridge site at 505 Preston is right at the tip of the white arrow, and notice that it divides the Claridge lot in half: the half closest to Preston is main street; the half further east, up to the intersection of short little Norfolk Street, is high profile offices. There is already a 18 storey office building belonging to NRCan; this is the equivalent to a 25 or so storey condo tower.

So, even years ago the city was designating the north side of Carling for high profile (ie, high rise?) buildings. The office market is now not so hot, the condo market is HOT. It might also be useful to note that NRCan is planning a second office tower immediately north of the existing tower, on a block-sized parking lot. And the flat lawns around the existing low-rise office buildings along Rochester, Booth and LeBreton are not considered in the secondary plan as these were Federal lands, but the Feds have already told the city that they will be on the market for redevelopment (but the wheels of government grind ever so slowly…).

So, as a mental exercise, what would the north side of Carling look like if it was redeveloped with a lot more high rises? For the Soho Italia project, I did up this little Sim Preston sketch repeating their towers in the area:

For another mental exercise, consider what some other cities have done where they have high density residential developments on the opposite side of a major arterial from a major park. Here is Central Park, in NYC, where the zoning resulted in a wall-type development along the Park  (keep in mind that this is a birds eye view, some street level views will come shortly):

If you like high rises, the contrast between the row of buildings and park is exciting. If you prefer a five storey height limit, then this row will be perceived as a horrible wall. Actually, having walked this street a few years ago, the streetscape was pleasant, bustling, and fun, as was the park opposite. I don’t recall the street as seeming especially wide or arduous to cross. ( I got these pic from a city planning document).

Here is a view from a lower angle, from the park, of a similar situation in Chicago. The masonry buildings of NYC are replaced by steel and glass:

Judging from the shadows, the photo above was taken very early in a morning, which might account for the low traffic and pedestrian volumes (level of service: A).

But here in Ottawa we are unlikely to adopt a “wall” design all along Carling. Instead, modern buildings tend to be a bit more permeable with spaces between towers and inadvertent sight lines. Here is another view, this time from Madrid, showing some new modern buildings along side a wall of buildings, nicely contrasting the old and newer planning styles:

So what about examples closer to home? In Toronto, they have been building a series of high-rise residential towers along the lakefront park. Here is what it looks like today, and this, I suspect, is much closer to what we might get in Ottawa, if only because we get our developers and architects and planners from there:


Notice the podium (albeit a boring one, with little differentiation, which is now very much out of fashion)  with commercial at sidewalk level. The building faces are gentle curves, which does soften their profile a bit. The transit, conveniently close by in the median, isn’t good enough for Toronto, and they are undertaking a major rebuild to make the streetscape more pedestrian friendly:

In the pic above, the streetcars have been moved to the side, to separate pedestrians from the road. The grass medians and tree rows humanize the space. The road has been squeezed into a more compact and contiguous space.

One of the characteristics of planning in Toronto and Vancouver is that they plan for sight lines, for views, so that the first row of towers doesn’t block the views of people further back. Despite my suggestions that Ottawa do the same for the Bayview Carling CDP, the City has consistently refused to get involved. It is willing to draw lines showing possible views, but not to get involved in zoning or controlling development to this extent. Here is another view of the Toronto developments, showing the spaces between the towers and views to and from the highrises behind:

Ottawa planners are aware of the need for high buildings to transition to lower adjacent buildings. The current favorite technique is tower-on-a-podium. Sometimes this works well, with the podium being the dominant object in view from the sidewalk. All too often though, Ottawa lets developers get away with fake podiums, by just drawing a band of a different colour or material around the fifth or sixth floor and calling it a podium. Here is a more realistic step down from high-rise to low-rise, within one building:

The sidewalk scene in the above photo is telling. There is a Timothy’s coffee shop (ground floor retail), sidewalk sculpture, the clutter of utility poles, vending boxes, and the mandatory banner. There are not enough benches, so people sit on the door steps. Preston, at least, has many benches.

But what will Ottawa do to the Carling street front? Carling westbound in this area has the same amount of traffic as Preston Street. Preston handles all its traffic in two lanes; Carling needs six plus turning lanes. AND the City is anxious to WIDEN Carling by removing the green median to install more turn lanes. AND the City is intending to reserve additional space on the north side so they can WIDEN it by yet another lane. Where do these traffic engineers get their ideas? AND the City response to our community’s suggestion that we landscape the median like Maissoneuve or Alumiettieres in Hull elicited this response: our job is to move traffic, if you want it pretty, you’ve got the NCC on the other side of the street.

 Above: could Carling look this good?

Developers are galloping ahead in the Carling – Preston neighborhood. And the City drags its feet, almost guaranteeing that planning will be done only when all the major lots have been rezoned. The only Certainty in this neighborhood is that the plan will be too late to steer development. After all, the city does have it priorities. What was it Hume said at the Planning Summit: there will be more buildings, more tall buildings, more very tall buildings.



11 thoughts on “The neighborhood around 505 Preston (tall towers-ville)

  1. I think the south west corner (where the parking lot is) would be a very good spot to put a large grocery store similar to the one in westboro. It would be on a major road and very close to transit. Who currently parks there?

    1. dfg – It is a pay parking lot with attendant. Mostly it is used for Dow’s Lake pavillion parking, or people visiting whatever festival is going on – Winterlude, TulipFest, etc. The pink area beside it for medium use office is currently green space.

  2. The city planners, traffic planners, and the current planning group regarding how to make our city appear beautiful and progressive, seem to have their heads where the sun don’t shine. If their only priority is to keep traffic moving as fast as possible, they obviously don’t have the time or the initiative to do a proper job. There are many Ottawa size cities that have done wonderful jobs of making good use of their boulevards, main streets, and cultural areas, such as China town and Little Italy, making them attractive to locals and visitors, but the imagination of our city planners and councillors are lacking any beauty and thought for the future.
    Please, someone with some imagination as to what our city and especially down town could look like, take the reins and get involved before it’s too late.
    We are the nation’s capitol and should show it by the beauty and imagination put into proper planning of what we should look like as the NATION”S CAPITOL.

    1. I think you put city planners and traffic planners in the wrong order there. Besides, everybody knows that the role of the inner city neighbourhoods are to move commuters from the Suburbs to Downtown.

    1. Yes, a station is still planned for Gladstone. BUT, the city has decided that while it is double tracking the OTrain, and possibly extending it further south, and while the OTrain will be forced to go very very slowly on the double track section in order for the opposite direction train to pass, they will not actually stop at a new station because the station would cost money. Instead, it will be left for later when it will cost more to insert it.

      If the city applied the same logic to the new strandherd road bridge, it would construct the bridge but not the access roads since those would cost money, instead opting to build the road access in another 10 to 20 years out. .

      1. Eric- This may not be the best place to pose this question, but I’ll ask anyway: in your experience, are totally bewildering decisions like the deferment of the Gladstone station due to:
        a) It is truly impossible to round up the money for a particular project and the competency and imagination of the pertinent city staff is irrelevant
        b) It is really difficult to round up the money, but competent, imaginative, engaged city staff could do it, which ours are not.
        c) The money is there, but the pertinent city staff are effectively saboteurs given their rank incompetence and/or disinterest.
        I would like to know how to think about these things.

        My current feeling is that it’s b): the current system makes it difficult for any novel city building reforms and only truly engaged and committed people can make it happen (i.e. more than just competent).

        Because, the civil tone of this comment aside, stuff like the Gladstone station malarkey make me go a little crazy. I won’t even get started on the wasted opportunity of closing major transit corridors for 6 months at a time, over multiple years, (i.e. Bank, Bronson, Rideau upcoming) and not even discussing what an expanded LRT system would look like, and where it might go and maybe preparing the way…

      2. @evensteven

        Here’s a painful truth: the City’s transit planners really don’t like the O-Train very much, so I’d go with (c) and a bit of (b), except that’s “uninterest”, not “disinterest”.

        It was inexpensive, and that’s never a good thing if you want to manage large sums of money and big prominent projects. Since it used an existing track and was built in about a year, there wasn’t a lot of visibility to the project. It was the idea of volunteers not associated with transportation consultants and was pushed by those volunteers and wouldn’t have happened without those volunteers, so also not a good thing from a bureaucrat’s perspective. It uses diesel rather than electricity, which you wouldn’t think would be an issue in a city with a love of buses, especially since the O-Train uses much cleaner fuel than do the buses, but there you go. The O-Train runs on a federally-regulated railway, which the City also doesn’t seem to like much, though it makes for a convenient if inaccurate excuse not to do other things with it like extending it anywhere.

        Finally, after years of being urged to do so, capacity on the line will be increased by increasing frequency. But guess what? They waited so long to do it that finding the same model of trainset is now difficult, so they opted instead to buy a whole new fleet and dispose of the existing fleet. Conveniently, that makes the expansion project more expensive than it needed to be so there is a built-in reason not to add more stations.

  3. I’d opt for B. Most planners are nice people. Some a really imaginative and interested in their work, in the production of a better city. BUT, the Gladstone station would be in place to encourage infill and intensification, which would benefit the whole public, but at the same time alienate a small subset (those who dont want change). And those who benefit/buy into the neighborhood, won’t connect the money spent on the station with their new neighborhood. It’s just a convenience to living in their new ‘hood. Compare this to spending money on a vocal constituency already in place and clamoring for something. They will be able to make a straight line connection between politician and the product. As always, democratic spending decisions collect a little from many, and deliver benefits to a select few who will respond with support. There are no votes in spending money for a long-term benefit. Political horizons are next two elections.

  4. Eric, I think you are aiming low for Carling. I would rather see it look like a street in Strasbourg, with the streetcar/lrt down the centre, and bike lanes along the edge, with a wide sidewalk.

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