Over at the blog The Ottawa Project is a story of visiting Lorne Ave and the not-unreasonable assumption that what is visible on Lorne represents that which was demolished on the Flats in the early 1960’s.
I think that overview is overly sympathetic to the demolished areas. I do not wish to take the view that it was right to demolish whole neighborhoods/built up areas in favor of total rebuilding, which was the big government view of urban renewal then (note to today’s amateur city rebuilders and commentators who too often wish for bigger govt action – be careful of what you wish for … ).
The Flats was a mixed use neighborhood. There were grotty warehouses and rail tracks and SLUMS there as well as some nice houses. We dont do ourselves a favor by sugar coating or idealizing the old neighborhood. Granville Island or Old Montreal or old Halifax represent the effects of millions of dollars of disneyfication and not the normal evolution of old mixed use neighborhoods. Sometimes cheap housing is just that – it serves a purpose and then should be demolished and replaced by something better. As successful as Granville Island is, Vancouver is busy demolishing old stock in the adjcent neighborhoods for redevelopment from scratch. And who in Ottawa is clamoring to declare Hintonburg or Mechanicsville historic districts with every building preserved from demolition? If not Mechanicsville, then why LeBreton?
It is just plain wrong to assume that Lorne avenue represents what was built and demolished on the Flats. The NCC demolition targetted the polluted lands, the obsolete industrial uses and the structurally impaired housing. Their demolition continued south only as far as the worst structures went … for eg they went half way up Booth and stopped at Primrose but left the houses backing onto these from Lorne because the Lorne houses were structurally sound (and when I moved here 30 plus years ago, certainly not nice nor trendy). Similarly, only some units were demolished on Rochester, Preston, Primrose … leaving a gap-toothed landscape. But it was the bad-condition houses that were demolished and the good ones were left in place. Once a high percentage of the area is demolished, there were no doubt some structurally sound and maybe even attractive structures demolished simply because they were isolated in a non-functionable landscape.
Fortunately, the era of widespread urban demolition is past. Or is it? Will the Carling-Bayview CDP, which Councillor Holmes has agreed to try to resurrect, aim to preserve the old industrial buildings and every old house? Or will we view this area as a brownfields to be majorly redeveloped with townhouses and apartments and new park space?
Phase one of Lebreton flats in 1980 built new housing around some of the survivors and this makes a fortunate transition zone from new townhouses to old community. Note that it was the city/government that built the remarkably ugly and ill-suited townhouses at the Albert St end of Lorne Ave that blight that otherwise admirable streetscape.
In short, many of the houses on the Flats were demolished because they were substandard, slums, or structurally compromised. Certainly today, we MIGHT spend vast sums of public money to “save” and reposition such a neighborhood. Look at neighborhoods that were better than the Flats that were left alone – like Hintonburg, Mechanicsville, etc – which evolved to what they are today, with a lot of infill development of mixed quality and scale.
I dont think we should idealize the past and be nostalgic for a quality residential neighborhood that exists more in our imaginations than reality. Eddy McCabe wrote a lot about what it was like to grow up in that neighborhood, and it was anything but wonderful.