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Old May 2nd, 2005, 11:40 PM   #1
samsonyuen
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Ottawa's Downtown Design Plan...what do you think will improve downtown?

I think widening the sidewalk on Elgin would be a good idea, since there are alternatives on both sides (the Queen Elizabeth Dr. is practically a highway in parts!). I wouldn't be against some less one-way streets east-west either, but north-south is fine. Sparks Street traffic in the daytime doesn't sound too bad, but why not put the O-Train there, so it doesn't run into congestion with other cars/buses on Slater and Albert Streets? I'm just glad they're thinking... Where is the pedestrian bridge from Somerset W to E?
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New downtown design plan gains legitimacy
By Ottawa Business Journal Staff
Mon, May 2, 2005 8:00 AM EST

Downtown businesses are excited about a new forward-looking re-design of the city's core that, if implemented, will boost economic development in the area.

The Downtown Urban Design Strategy 20/20 – developed by award-winning Toronto urban designer George Dark – contains a wide range of beautification projects and street alterations designed to make the area more tourist-friendly and draw in more people wanting to live there.

And that's good news for downtown businesses.

"City council should be applauded for having a new vision for the downtown core," says Bank Street Promenade executive director Gerry LePage.

The plan – which encompasses the downtown core, the Byward Market, Centretown and Sandy Hill – has been adopted into the Official Plan, which moves it closer to reality from its initial "concept only" label.

Mr. LePage says that although not everything in the plan is practical, it represents a positive move by the city and council should be applauded for having vision.

Many of the recommendations would heavily impact businesses. They involve traffic issues, such as altering the urban grid for the Nicholas/Laurier/MacKenzie/Waller/Rideau area; narrowing Elgin Street for open space expansion to create greater pedestrian access and more greenspace; and redesigning parts of Colonel By Drive. The plan also outlines a number of beautification projects for Laurier Avenue and Rideau, Elgin, Somerset and O'Connor streets.

Other notable recommendations include: a façade improvement program for the Rideau Centre and Congress Centre, developing an urban open space program to integrate more parks, and opening up Sparks Street to traffic.

Mr. LePage is a proponent of opening up Sparks Street. He says that Ottawa could follow the lead of other North American cities by combining daytime traffic access with evening pedestrian-only access.

He would also like to see angle parking implemented on Sparks Street if it were opened up, since this could prove successful for cafes, restaurants and bars. However, there are many differing opinions, including the NCC, as to what should happen on Sparks Street.

"There are many competing interests as well as differing opinions on the functionality and design of our downtown," says Mr. LePage. "While we can't satisfy all the people all the time the common denominator in the downtown urban strategy is that there is direction."

Somerset Counc. Diane Holmes says the strategy laid out by Mr. Dark is exactly what Ottawa needs. She believes the city is currently losing out on the tourist potential of the downtown core, with the exception of the Parliament buildings.

Counc. Holmes says people don't come downtown because the city, in the past, has not done a good job with architecture, urban parks or other urban designs that attract tourist dollars. She thinks that if the city implements this strategy more people will visit and, more importantly, stay in the area longer because there will be easier access, better shopping, more restaurants and bars, and an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere – all resulting in economic development.

"These plans, produced by consultants and the city, in the past, have sat on the shelf but I think there's more determination for the Downtown Urban Design Strategy 20/20," explains Counc. Holmes. "And it does appear that the business community is on board and very excited with the potential of the recommendations."

Mr. LePage believes the importance of the strategy is simply that the city now has a direction for downtown, especially the core area. He says it is now time for council to get serious and set out a vision.

He admits implementing the recommendations will come with a price tag and one of the potential setbacks could be an increase of cost to new develop downtown. However, he views those costs as an investment in Ottawa's overall long-term economy.

"Visions have a price tag," he says. "However, this is a vision to enhance our city and we should view this as an investment."

Peter Hume, Chair of the Ottawa's planning committee, says the city needs to ensure that people want to be downtown. He wants the city to develop an area that is a good place to visit and where people will spend money, whether it be tourists or locals.

Mr. Hume also emphasizes that the strategy incorporates a need for more residential properties. "We need to marry the residential community with the business community to create economic growth in the core," he says.

According to Mr. Hume, the next step is to prioritize the recommendations and proceed with consultations with the NCC and the business community.

By Chris Gillcash

Special to the Ottawa Business Journal
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