NCC Watch

Working to consign the NCC to oblivion

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Carnage at Mud Lake

What's this, carnage at Mud Lake? The NCC must be 'upgrading' its trails again. And so it proves - from the Citizen:

Residents thought the NCC was just taking out a few diseased trees over the winter in the area, formally known as the Britannia Conservation Area.

Then the snow melted, and people started walking through the woods again. Where they used to have branches brushing against their arms as they walked, there's now room to drive a good-sized truck, and sometimes two side by side.

One section of the widened path measures 18 metres wide.

[...]"It used to be a place where humans could sneak up on nature and peek through the trees," said Herb Weber, who lives nearby. "Now there is nothing to look at except wood chips." He calls it "a clearcut."

And the crews have left behind all the chipped-up wood, in effect spreading a layer of coarse mulch that will suppress new growth.

[...]The federal agency said it had to do the cutting for the sake of safety, as ash trees are dying and may fall on someone.

"We did cut down about 200 trees in a 250-metre length. Those were ash trees" that were dead or dying, said spokeswoman Dominique LeBlanc.

"For the health and safety of the public we can't leave trees that are diseased or dead because it causes a hazard for the public."

[...]Dan Brunton, an environmental consultant who helped draw up the NCC's formal plan for Britannia Woods and Mud Lake in 2004, says the area has been officially rated with the highest possible ecological importance.

And he said most of the trees and shrubs that were cut are not ash.

He wrote this week to the NCC: "Who was your trail clearing contractor...Rommel's Panzer Division?! That's not trail maintenance or upgrading, that's ecological vandalism worthy of the mechanized shrub and tree slashing used to clear mile after mile of Interstate highway edges in the southern United States! Aside from representing an inexcusable disfigurement of this swamp forest, the slash is vastly wider than ANY pedestrian trail ROW (right-of-way) needs to be, let alone one through an ecological sensitive habitat."

Ah yes, consider the number of hikers who might have been maimed and murdered by dying ash trees. Whatever the case, this sort of bulldozing, widening and flattening is NCC standard practice, ask any mountain biker or Gatineau Park trail user.

Citizen: Extensive cutting by NCC in protected area of Mud Lake called 'carnage' [26 April 2018]
NCC Watch: The Gatineau Park Trail Riders

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Union Station gets Senate retrofit

Union Station is getting another makeover, this time as a temporary home for that august body, the Senate:

When the Senate moves into Ottawa's revamped Government Conference Centre, visitors will be able to take a seat in the entranceway and reflect on more than 100 years of history around, above and even beneath them.

That's because the Senate has secured the return of one of 12 original benches from the 55-year period when the downtown Ottawa building was the capital city's central train station.

The bench, which had been on display at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, will return to what used to be the train station's general waiting room.

During the first half of the 20th century - the golden age of rail - the public entered this cavernous hall through an entrance off Rideau Street marked by four-storey limestone columns. Double-sided benches resembling back-to-back church pews could seat as many as 12 people each. Visitors could relax, read a newspaper and wait for their trains to arrive. The station, built in the monumental Beaux-Arts style and unveiled in 1912, handled up to five million passengers a year until it was decommissioned in 1966, when trains were rerouted to a new station. A year later, the National Capital Commission stepped in to spare Union Station from the wrecking ball. Eight of the station's benches were transferred to the newly opened national science museum.

Ah yes - that time the NCC stepped in to save Union Station from the NCC's plans to demolish it. That was ever so forward thinking of them.

Anyhow, the Senate has put up a series of articles on the ongoing work, including many archival photographs. Apparently the Senate will take over the station for 10 years or so, after which "a new use will be found for the Government Conference Centre that will keep it open for the public for decades to come."

Senate: Museum helps Senate secure historic seat [29 March 2018]
Senate: Union Station Renovation
NCC Watch: Blunders: Union Station

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Meanwhile on Sparks Street

With yet another makeover of Sparks Street being discussed, CBC has unearthed some of their archival coverage of the moribund mall over the decades.

The NCC and the feds generally steered Sparks into the ditch decades ago by expropriating most of the properties on the street and pushing out anything interesting.

CBC: Re-making Sparks: Ottawa's downtown pedestrian mall through the decades [13 January 2018]
CBC: City launches campaign to revitalize Sparks Street [13 January 2018]
NCC Watch: Blunders: Sparks Street

Friday, June 9, 2017

Lemonade saga redux

Hey kids! Interested in attending a boring workshop and signing long boring forms in exchange for a permit, schlepping lemonade to a designated location on a parkway for three specific NCC Sunday Bike Half Days to sell to cyclists, and then be forced to report your income and turn seven per cent over to some charity that will just waste it on administration anyways? From the CBC:

One year after being widely booed for booting two young sisters selling lemonade along Colonel By Drive, the National Capital Commission has pulled a bureaucratic 180 and is now inviting kids to get their entrepreneurial juices flowing by opening kiosks of their own on NCC land.

[...]NCC officials "strongly recommend" kids who want to open a kiosk participate in a workshop for young entrepreneurs at NCC headquarters before obtaining a free permit, the posting said.

[...]There are no fewer than 15 conditions kids must follow, according to the NCC posting:

  • They must display the permit on their kiosk.
  • They must take sole responsibility for their kiosk, and not hold the NCC responsible for lost, stolen or damaged equipment.
  • They must be sure the beverage or other product they sell is safe for consumption.
  • They must be sure to keep their work area and kiosk clean at all times.
  • They must be sure that they operate the kiosk safely, so that the public and their customers are not in any danger.
  • They must respect all laws and regulations while they're operating their kiosk. This includes federal, provincial and municipal laws and regulations concerning, but not limited to, health and safety.
  • If they post any signs on or near their kiosk, they must appear in both English and French, with English appearing first.
  • They must agree to indemnify the NCC, and anyone for whom the NCC is responsible, from all financial consequences, including reasonable legal fees, arising from any demands, claims or actions made or brought against the NCC, directly or indirectly, even after the permit expires.
  • They must donate at least seven per cent of all revenues they collect to a cause or charity of their choice, and report all revenues earned to the NCC.
  • They must agree to operate and be present at their kiosk for three Sundays.
  • Location is based on availability of the site.
  • They must confirm that they're between the ages of five and 17 years old.
  • Kiosks must not be larger than 10 feet by 10 feet, and must be installed before the roads close for Sunday Bikedays, and dismantled as soon as the roads reopen to vehicles.
  • They must be present and supervise their kiosk during the entire activity.
  • Parents or legal guardians must read and sign the permit.

Andrew Lawton at AM980 comments:

Never underestimate the government's ability to suck the fun out of, well, everything.

[...]I'm not sure government could more laughably reveal its bureaucratic instincts if it tried.

Responding to a problem that doesn't exist? Check.

Overcomplicating a simple process? Check.

Pretending this is doing everyone a favour, when it really isn't? Check.

What better way to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday than a firsthand example of the make-work projects that keep much of the public service in business.

[...]NCC senior manager Bruce Devine told Global News that his office "simplified the process a lot." Compared to setting up a regular business, that may be the case. Compared to just stepping back and letting kids be kids? Hardly.

Needless to say, the stipulations are ridiculous, but in a perverse way they're useful. These rules tell children from a young age how anti-business the government really is, surely testing the mettle of anyone who might later on wade into this territory for a living.

I'm surprised children aren't required to lab-test their products to offer calorie counts on the menu and guarantee a living wage to any subcontractors who help for the day (great news for mum or dad, if so.)

NCC Watch's advice remains the same: kids, do yourselves a favour - tell the NCC to go shove their permit and its absurd provisions, flout the law on city property instead, and keep that undeclared income for yourselves.

CBC: 1 year after lemonade stand eviction turned sour, NCC inviting kids to set up shop [6 June 2017]
Global: Ottawa's lemonade stand rules a reminder of how bad Canada is for business [9 June 2017]
NCC: Calling All Young Entrepreneurs [21 May 2017]

Friday, November 25, 2016

Meanwhile on Sussex Drive

The ongoing handwringing over what to do with the Prime Minister's residence has somehow ended in a 32 million dollar price tag. No, really. From the Post:

Just as we all suspected, the cost to renovate 24 Sussex Drive has ballooned well beyond the initially quoted figure of $10 million. According to iPolitics, it's now about $38 million; four times larger than the property's assessed value.

And yet, there is no shortage of fervent defenders maintaining it petty, distracting and downright unpatriotic to question such an amount. A "drop in the bucket!" they say. "Would you rather the Prime Minister sleep in a tent?" they harrumph. "Don't you care about projecting an image of power and modernity to visiting diplomats?"

This, my friends, is exactly why the price tag has ballooned to $38 million; because of a bunch of ninnies wringing their hands and moaning that it may be pricey, "but can we dare to spare the expense when Canada's history and place in the world are at stake?"

The result is a perfect opportunity for construction gougery: A buyer with a bottomless treasury filled by other people's money? Check. Prestige property with strong emotional capital? Check. The nostalgia-filled childhood home of the current Prime Minister? Check. A residence claimed to shoulder the shared history of a great and mighty people (at least since 1950 or so)? Checkmate.

There are shrines at which contractors pray for this type of opportunity.

In the contracting world, it would be considered irresponsible to do anything but repeatedly press the National Capital Commission - which is responsible for the Sussex Drive property, among other national treasures - into needlessly expensive ideas.

[...]And, sure enough, $38 million is the LOWBALL figure. Some prior (pre-Justin Trudeau) estimates had the renovations as high as half a billion dollars. In that plan, the prime minister's residence was to be transformed into a glimmering compound with parking garage, "situation" rooms, offices and full facilities for state dinners. Presumably, it also would have included a secret underground storage facility for the prime ministerial batplane.

Why would anything so grandiose even be considered unless planners suspected they were dealing with a client gullible enough to go for it?

Post: Of course Ottawa is being gouged for 24 Sussex renovations. What respectable contractor wouldn't? [25 November 2016]

Thursday, November 24, 2016

'Uninformed' NCC Board decides on hospital, flats

The NCC brain trust, such as it is, had one of their occasional 'historic' meetings to decide on matters of grave import, including the future location for the Civic hospital, and what the dickens to do about those Flats. The Citizen's David Reevely gamely sat through the entire thing apparently. From the Citizen:

Too many of the National Capital Commission walked into a major meeting Thursday morning too uninformed to vote on the future of LeBreton Flats or what federal land would be best to offer for a new Ottawa hospital.

[...]Let's take LeBreton Flats first. The commissioners voted to keep negotiating with RendezVous LeBreton Group, led by the Ottawa Senators and their owner Eugene Melnyk, after a 22-meeting summer convinced the NCC's senior staff that a deal to build a new arena and a bunch of other things is reachable.

Commissioner Victor Brunette, whose expertise is in forestry, said he didn't know enough about the negotiations with the Senators group to make an informed decision, so he'd abstain. Kristmanson observed that the commission had had a closed session the previous day where members could ask plenty of questions, including about commercially sensitive parts of the talks so far.

Whatever. Brunette abstained.

Commissioner Aditya Jha, a technology entrepreneur who lives in Toronto, voted to carry on but cautiously. He said he'd never seen a job description for an NCC board member, but he assumes he's there for his business expertise.

"Our land is gold," that expertise tells him. "We've waited for over 50 years. I think that now, with the light rail coming and everything happening in the city, if we have to wait for another 10 years, we are not going to lose anything much."

The land next to downtown Ottawa won't become any less valuable, this is true. But the commission ended up with this giant asset because of its own caprice. It once belonged to families and business owners the commission expropriated and evicted for a government complex it never got around to building. Every day that goes by, the shame the NCC wears deepens a tiny but perceptible amount. LeBreton Flats is not to be hoarded.

[...]On to the hospital vote. The board voted to tell the federal cabinet that Tunney's Pasture is the best piece of land for a new Civic campus for The Ottawa Hospital, overturning a decree by now-departed Conservative minister John Baird that it should go on the Central Experimental Farm. This has been a controversy for more than two years.

[...]"I would abstain, myself, because I don't have the knowledge enough of the city, environment, the players, to say, 'It's right' or 'It's wrong'," [Commissioner Denys] Rivard said.

This prompted a miniature debate among the board members about whether abstaining from a vote because you don’t know what you're doing is a legitimate option. Isn't that just for when you have a conflict of interest or something? asked commissioner Basil Stewart, the former mayor of Summerside, P.E.I., who also pointed out there's a 55-page report and a detailed briefing to go on.

Eventually, Stewart was convinced that cluelessness was a legitimate reason for Rivard to not vote. Though not, apparently, to resign.

Bob Plamondon, who lives in Ottawa and is one of the NCC board's brighter lights, complained he only saw the report recommending Tunney's Pasture on Monday, three days before the meeting, and hadn't had time to digest it or talk to people about it (not that anyone else got to see it until Thursday morning, just as the board took it up in public). He voted against the recommendation because he doesn't know enough to support it.

Commissioner Kay Stanley said she opposes the Tunney’s Pasture location. She was on The Ottawa Hospital board when it asked for the Experimental Farm site, which gives her expert knowledge and is not, repeat not, a conflict of interest. But rather than get in the way, she abstained from voting.

So one board member doesn't know enough to make a decision and votes against. Another is convinced it's the wrong move and abstains.

And so the decision to open these once-private board meetings to the public continues to prove its value, both in enhancing public governance and, more importantly, providing comedy gold. As Reevely wryly concludes, "The capital is in such good hands."

Citizen: 'Historic' meeting for the NCC didn't prompt commissioners to do their homework [24 November 2016]

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Turning lemons back into lemonade

Full points to the NCC for recovering from their self-inflicted PR disaster. The scofflaw girls have been generously granted a permit to sell lemonade. So what does "victory" look like? From the Post:

The National Capital Commission has issued a special permit to allow two young girls to sell lemonade on Colonel By Drive throughout the summer, beginning this Sunday, as long as they donate the proceeds to charity.

Kurtis Andrews says his two young daughters, Eliza and Adela, were thrilled to learn they have been granted a permit, which came with several conditions they must abide by while they operate their lemonade stand on Sundays from July 10 to Sept. 4.

  • Andrews has to carry a copy of the permit at all times while on NCC property;
  • The girls' father is responsible for the security of the "equipment, infrastructure and material;"
  • The NCC is not responsible for any legal action brought against them as a result of the lemonade stand;
  • They must comply with all federal, provincial and municipal bylaws and regulations;
  • They must clean and clear the site after selling lemonade;
  • They must create signs for the lemonade stand in both official languages;
  • They can only sell lemonade;
  • They must ensure that customers park their bikes on the grass to avoid accidents with participants of Sunday bike days on Colonel By Drive;
  • All revenue from July 10 is donated to Camp Quality, which is a summer camp for children with cancer, and a portion of the money from the rest of the summer is donated to a charity.

Andrews said the stand was shut down last Sunday for not having the permit, costing up to $1,520 per day, to operate on NCC-owned property. The NCC eventually waived the fee before they issued the permit.

While no doubt grating to the NCC that they had to forego the one large for the permit, the NCC effectively gets the girls to work for them on behalf of charity, while the kids bear all the risk, and the NCC can say they haven't been mean to anybody today. Well played, sirs!

Kids, do yourselves a favour - tell the NCC to go shove their permit and its absurd provisions, flout the law on city property instead, and keep that undeclared income for yourselves.

Post: Serious business: Ottawa kids get permit for lemonade stand, but they must follow language and safety rules [7 July 2016]
CBC: Lemon aid: NCC permit in hand, lemonade stand sisters raise money for kids' camp [10 July 2016]
Citizen: Sweet! Lemonade girls re-open stand after NCC fight [10 July 2016]

Monday, July 4, 2016

Turning lemonade into lemons

Ah, summertime. Cottages, the beach, sunburn, mosquitoes, and, somewhere, some officious boob is shutting down a lemonade stand. Yes, every year, in a time-honoured tradition, somewhere in North America, a municipal official wields the awesome power of the state to close down a fledgling and very temporary business to the collective derision of all. Thus, from the CBC:

It seemed like the perfect way to help those biking along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa cool off on a hot, sunny day, but two little girls were told to pack up their lemonade stand for failing to have a permit.

"I felt sad because I like selling lemonade. It was really fun and there were lots of customers," seven-year-old Eliza Andrews told CBC News.

Eliza and her five-year-old sister Adela set up a lemonade stand on a grassy median between Echo Drive and Colonel By Drive to raise money to go to summer camp, their father told CBC News.

[...]Their father Kurtis Andrews was not immediately convinced to leave - until an NCC officer came over to confirm the median was NCC property and that a permit was required for any sales. He said the officer was polite, though a little intimidating in his flak jacket.

"He later sent me a map that appears to show that the property, all of that grassy median, belongs to the NCC and therefore we're not allowed to be there without a permit," he said, adding that he was willing to pay for a permit on the spot but was not given the opportunity.

"I think that they need to relax a bit. I understand that they have to manage their properties but at the same time we're talking about a five and seven-year-old raising money for camp."

NCC spokesperson Cédric Pelletier could not confirm Sunday afternoon if the median is NCC property, as it's between NCC-owned Colonel By Drive and city-owned Echo Drive.

"It could be NCC, it could be city property," he said, adding that he was looking into the matter.

Pelletier confirmed that anyone conducting business on NCC lands must "go through our proper internal process" to acquire a permit first.

Good of the NCC to take one for the team this year. And what NCC story could be complete without some confusion over just what bits of the median belong to the NCC, and which bits belong to the city. ("Grass, nothing there, it's probably ours, right?") The NCC has been trying to "animate" the canal for some years now, but, as we all know, animation requires careful study and the collective brainpower of the NCC board, without which, nothing is clearly better than something, as has been soundly proven by the past 70 years of careful NCC planning and landscaping.

Well, whatever. A few hours of withering criticism was predictably followed by some hemming and hawing about how it was all for the girls' own safety, waffling about the actions of a 'junior officer', then the requisite grovelling apology, and finally a promise to get the necessary permits for the sketchy stand printed up double time.

The enterprising girls, meanwhile, learned a valuable lesson about the dead hand of the state and how much easier a career in the civil service is likely to be.

CBC: Do you have a permit for that? NCC shuts down kids' lemonade stand [3 July 2016]
Post: Ottawa's NCC apologizes 'for the inconvenience' after shutting down sisters' lemonade stand [4 July 2016]
CTV: Girls squeezed out of lemonade stand [4 July 2016]
CBC: Archive: In 1988, NCC tries to shut down teen's summer business [5 July 2016]
Citizen: Archive: The NCC: Permit sticklers since 1988 [5 July 2016]

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A return to the Flats

In a three-part series in the Citizen, Bruce Deachman visits with locals who remember the LeBreton Flats before it was expropriated and demolished by the NCC:

Two years earlier, in April 1962, the federal government announced it was expropriating the Flats to make way for a new Department of National Defence headquarters - the Pentagon of the North, it was dubbed. The announcement, Judy believes, was a contributing factor in her father, Frank's death of a heart attack in 1963.

But by the summer of '64, any misgivings they might have harboured about the expropriation had largely dissipated on piles of debris and clouds of dust.

"The houses would come down as people left," recalls Laura Cosenzo (now Andrusek), the eldest of John and Margaret's five children and nine years old when her family left the Flats. "I can remember walking to school. The industry was behind us as I walked south, and it was like ... empty.

"But after all the houses being torn down, anywhere would have been better than that, because there were no kids to play with anymore."

And so began the 50-year NCC gong show that has yet to run its course.

Citizen: A return to the Flats [26 March 2016]
Citizen: We were just the Flats boys [26 March 2016]
Citizen: Your friends were friends forever [26 March 2016]
Citizen: There were no kids to play with anymore [26 March 2016]
NCC Watch: Blunders: LeBreton Flats
LeBreton Flats Remembered [Facebook]

Thursday, January 3, 2016

A look back at Ottawa's future

First interviewed last summer, Bruce Deachman provides an update on Alain Miguelez's book on the Gréber plan. From the Citizen:

But beyond simply offering photographic evidence of the city's growth, Transforming Ottawa explains the hows and whys behind the shaping and reshaping of Ottawa, particularly from 1950 to the mid-1980s. Subtitled Canada's Capital in the eyes of Jacques Gréber, it explains how an urban planner from Paris came to have such an influence on Ottawa's post-Second World War growth, what he intended and how it was implemented. For, unlike earlier city plans - major ones were undertaken in 1903, 1915 and 1922 - Gréber's 1950 blueprint is the one today's capital most resembles: The trains and industrial effluence have largely left the city core for the outskirts, while at the same time the verdancy we now hold so dear as beautifying also separates our neighbourhoods and makes Ottawa difficult to navigate without an automobile.

In other words, the Gréber Report's implementation changed Ottawa greatly, sometimes for the better, but often not.

The historic photos were commissioned by Gréber, who was hired by then-prime minister Mackenzie King to create a city plan worthy of a national capital, on the sort of scale of a Washington or London. The feeling at the time was that, almost 100 years after becoming Canada's capital, Ottawa was still very much a provincial town, and a growing sense loomed that it was time to make it more majestic.

Among Gréber's chief concerns were the numerous railroad tracks running through town and the concentration of heavy industry in Ottawa's core. His plan saw Union Station closed and a new one built on Tremblay Road, allowing Colonel By Drive to be built along the canal. But, Miguelez notes, the hope that those industries forced out of the downtown core and off the Ottawa River would relocate in the same direction as the station didn't pan out. Many of them simply chose to relocate or consolidate elsewhere, largely eliminating the city's blue-collar sector.

Miguelez is planning a second edition of the book for this spring.

Citizen: Transforming Ottawa: A look back to Ottawa's future [3 January 2016]

Thursday, November 5, 2015

NCC returns to heritage

Responsibility for the NCC is returning to Canadian Heritage, where it was back in the days of the previous Liberal government, which means some minister from Montreal is running the show. But local ministerial MP Catherine McKenna says she'll be "working with Mélanie Joly to reform the NCC." From the CBC:

The only Ottawa-area MP in cabinet will not directly oversee the National Capital Commission, but says the agency is in need of reform and that she plans on working toward it with the minister of Canadian Heritage.

It doesn't satisfy Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, of Nepean-Carleton in Ottawa, who announced on Twitter Thursday morning that it's "unacceptable" for a minister outside of Ottawa-Gatineau to be handling the NCC file.

[...]McKenna said the controversial Canadian Memorial to the Victims of Communism, planned to sit at an already approved site between the Supreme Court of Canada and Library and Archives Canada in downtown Ottawa, was something she heard a lot of frustration about during the campaign.

The final design of the memorial has not yet been voted on. It has undergone significant revision.

"I think it demonstrated greater problems," McKenna said of the memorial. "We're in 2015; we need to be doing better in terms of transparency and consultation, and also the appointments process ... being selected based on merit."

She said she'd like to see the NCC reach gender equity and include people with different backgrounds.

Equity and diversity - well it sure will feel good to check those suckers off on our NCC reform wish list.

CBC: Catherine McKenna, Ottawa MP, says National Capital Commission needs reform [5 November 2015]

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The NCC's culture of secrecy

In the Citizen, Longstanding access to information researcher Ken Rubin provides a timely reminder that the NCC has never been a friend to transparency in government:

Even though in November, 2007, the NCC was finally forced to open up parts of their meetings to the public, key matters are still reviewed in in-camera sessions, with sanitized summaries being released months late ­­- and only because I file requests.

Sanitized as their records are, the value of uncovering matters of local interest can be found in the following items that resulted in Citizen stories:

  • 1988 consultant plans proposed for the parliamentary and judicial precinct were released after months of delays and an Information Commissioner complaint
  • secret 1989 discussions about introducing user fees at Gatineau Park
  • 1990 documents on delays and cost overruns associated with building a museum of photography next to the Chateau Laurier
  • 1992 records on the NCC's opposition to a popular idea of a park at the site of the former Daly building (the space now houses a luxury condominium, from which the NCC receives revenues)
  • 1988 to 1994 data that revealed the NCC was selling off chunks of its public greenbelt space to private developers
  • 1991 data on spending $10,000 for the installation of condom dispensing machines at NCC public washrooms
  • 2002 records that revealed that the NCC had spent $250,000 renovating an outdoor bathroom in Rockcliffe Park
  • a 1995 report by one Ottawa experienced appraisal firm that said the used sales value of furniture, furnishing, built-in closets and wallpaper left behind after the Mulroneys departing 24 Sussex Drive and Harrington Lake was only worth $39,050 despite the NCC having paid the Mulroneys $150,000 for these items in 1993
  • a 2003 investigation that mapped the incredibly vast capital area financial land holdings of NCC Chairman Marcel Beaudry and family and friends
  • 2004 NCC data that showed the NCC's "competition" for developing phase one of the publicly owned LeBreton Flats space ended with Claridge Homes getting the project, even though they "qualified" in last place in the ratings.

These are examples of finding out what the NCC was none too keen to have made public. Yet the NCC still likes to decide key community matters behind closed doors, exempt matters it would prefer to keep hidden and delay others from early public input.

The continuation of its secrecy practices is once again demonstrated in its provision of minimal information about the four consortiums' January 2015 proposals for a large scale redevelopment anchor project at LeBreton Flats. My access request on this and other queries made by the Citizen remain unanswered.

Rubin also memorably obtained transcripts of some NCC board meetings via access to information and published an article in the Citizen about the contents. The NCC's response? They promptly stopped recording their meetings.

Citizen: The NCC's culture of secrecy [26 August 2015]
Citizen: Behind Closed Doors [24 August 1998]
Citizen: What the NCC views as secret [3 February 2000]
NCC Watch Archive: Ken Rubin
Ken Rubin: Website

Thursday, July 6, 2015

Looking back at Gréber's plan

Bruce Deachman, writing in the Citizen, talks to writer and urban planner Alain Miguelez about the Gréber Plan, implemented by the NCC over several decades:

It's difficult to imagine what Ottawa would look like today had city planner Jacques Gréber never set foot here. We would most certainly not have the Greenbelt that rings the city, nor perhaps as many of the national museums, galleries and performance venues we now enjoy. Car traffic throughout downtown might have slowed to a crawl as scores of trains criss-crossed their way to and from Union Station on Rideau Street. The tall, gritty smokestacks of industry, meanwhile, might otherwise now be photo-bombing every tourist snapshot of the Peace Tower, chewing up our precious waterfront and blotting the skyline with their grey effluent clouds.

On the other hand, LeBreton Flats, left to its own devices, might well have evolved into an exciting and vibrant warehouse district similar to Toronto's Distillery Historical District or Vancouver's Yaletown, instead of being razed and left empty for 40 years, then handed over to developers to turn into mean towers of condominiums. Visitors arriving in the capital aboard VIA Rail cars might have debarked smack dab in the distinguished heart of the capital, rather than five kilometres away at an otherwise featureless site overlooking the Trans-Canada Highway. And itinerant ramblers mightn't have had to cross four lanes of quasi-highway simply to sit along the riverbank to contemplate where in hell you could get a drink around here.

Alain Miguelez, 46, an urban planner with the City of Ottawa and a weekend historian, has wondered these things; how The Gréber Plan of 1950 - Ottawa's official plan - fundamentally changed the face of Ottawa, and the lessons we can learn from its implementation. It fascinates him, and he's hoping it will intrigue enough other people to help support a book he's written on the subject.

[...]Much of Gréber's planning was done with the belief that the region's population - then 273,000 - would never exceed a half million, a mark it surpassed in just over 15 years.

As a result, Miguelez sees where the plan has not held. The trains coming downtown could have finished their journeys in underground tunnels, he says, and streetcar wires could have been put in the road, as other cities have done. Much of the green space that was created actually makes Ottawa less livable, he contends. "Look at all the green space in Confederation Heights (surrounding Heron Road and Riverside Drive). It's a lot of land with a lot of open space that nobody uses for anything. It's green, it looks good, but the only enjoyment you have of it is through your windshield as you speed by in your car at 80 km/h. So it extends the distance of the city and makes it impossible to walk. It introduces a barrier that forces you to use a car." The Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, meanwhile, makes it difficult for pedestrians to access the Ottawa River except for at a few sites.

And Gréber's design, very much geared to the nascent automobile age that followed the Second World War, compartmentalized and separated offices, industry and residential areas, leading to an unnatural city where these groups no longer mixed, says Miguelez.

See how Ottawa looked before Gréber in detail at Ottawa Past and Present.

Citizen: Transforming Ottawa: How Jacques Gréber's plan forever changed the capital, for better and worse [6 July 2015]

Monday, April 24, 2015

The NCC's a problem again

Again? Kate Heartfield argues that the NCC, having been pulled back from the brink in the early 2000s with the welcome albeit tepid reforms brought in by the current government, is once again stumbling toward irrelevance. From the Citizen:

The struggle to make the snooty, defensive NCC more transparent and accountable goes back decades. The argument, in the early 2000s, was that public board meetings would "politicize" the NCC's work.

Its board chair and CEO were combined in one powerful person. Its land speculation was difficult to fathom. It occupied itself with cockamamie schemes for improving Ottawa whether Ottawa liked it or not, the most notorious of which was the plan to move Metcalfe Street (bulldozing as needed) to create a nice view. Meanwhile, LeBreton Flats sat empty in the heart of the city, the result of an NCC razing decades before. The Flats encapsulated the sterile NCC view: Better to have nothing at all in downtown Ottawa than a neighbourhood with poor people living in it.

[...]In 2007, the government split the roles of chair and CEO. Later that year, the NCC announced that regular board meetings would be open to the public, with agendas posted online in advance. Revolution!

[...]The 2013 federal budget took responsibility for Winterlude and Canada Day away from the NCC, giving it to the Canadian Heritage department. That was one of the suggestions I'd made in my 2006 column, and indeed many in Ottawa saw it as a sign the NCC was on the way to oblivion. But the NCC refocused its mandate and found new life in 2014 under the creative and personable CEO, Mark Kristmanson.

No longer reviled and mistrusted, the NCC has done a great job lately at seeking ideas and input. The few political fights in recent years have been a symptom of the still-unresolved contradiction at the heart of the very idea of the NCC. It's supposed to be a check on politicians (and the people who elect them). But there is a limit, or should be, to what an unelected body can do with any legitimacy.

That contradiction might have evolved into a healthy tension, steering the NCC into a role of wise, independent counsel.

Instead, as with another chamber of sober second thought, the Conservative government chose to manipulate the NCC into doing the government's bidding. So we have the worst of both worlds: an unelected body doing the bidding of (certain) politicians.

An email from chairman Russell Mills to Kristmanson (released under access to information) shows the NCC felt it didn't have a say in the new location of the memorial to the victims of communism, because two Tory ministers had already announced it. "There was really no choice but to approve what had already been announced," Mills wrote.

[...]This news led my colleague, Kelly Egan, to wonder, "isn't it wonderful to know we fly in these esteemed thinkers from across Canada so they can rubber-stamp stupid ideas, cooked up in a partisan kitchen?"

In the Board's defence, we can only point out that they have always been flown in to rubber-stamp stupid ideas.

Citizen: And just like that, the NCC's a problem again [24 August 2015]

Thursday, July 23, 2015

NCC begins work on lighting plan

The NCC is once again about to "transform the Capital" with a $170 000 lighting study. From the Citizen:

The NCC awarded a $168,765 contract to an international consortium of experts June 30. The members of the consortium are now in the capital to start sketching out initial concepts for a lighting master plan.

The team includes Ottawa building services firm MMM Group, Quebec City-based Lumipraxis, which has worked on the illumination of the Quebec capital, and Alain Guilhot, an internationally renowned lighting designer from Lyon, France.

"He has lit Quebec City, Lyon, Constantinople, Beijing and Madrid," Kristmanson said. "At one point, he lit the Eiffel Tower. He's a great expert in this field, so we'll be listening to him."

Over the next two-and-a-half days, team members and the NCC will begin to map out the project, lay out the NCC's expectations and learn from the consultants' experience illuminating other capitals, Kristmanson said.

"We've got to familiarize this team with our capital and our needs. And we’ve got to understand from them what potential they see and what they can bring that we may not have thought of."

While here, the team will make site visits to five viewpoints on both sides of the Ottawa River. The areas include the Rideau Canal, Wellington and Sparks streets, the ByWard Market, Dow's Lake and major bridges.

The group will first visit the areas in daylight, then return at night "to see it in its nocturnal state," Kristmanson said. "This will start developing the thinking."

Though it will take a decade to fully implement the lighting plan, the NCC plans to share initial concepts with the public this fall.

"What I would expect to see is some further developed maps and viewlines and more detail on under-lit assets, and maybe some that are over-lit," Kristmanson said. There should also be suggestions on how the illumination balance and hierarchy would work.

"We want the capital to be very distinctive at night, and we want to bring out the best in our architecture," Kristmanson said. The NCC also expects the plan to reduce electricity use, perhaps quite substantially, and curb light pollution.

Ah yes, those troublesome 'over-lit' buildings and, even worse, the ones that shouldn't be lit at all. Forget about bringing out the best in our architecture, how to hide the more common worst in our architecture, like Place du Portage? For the next 170 grand in their consultation budget, maybe the NCC should hire David Copperfield to advise them on how to make that sucker disappear altogether.

Citizen: NCC begins work on lighting plan that will 'transform' capital at night [23 July 2015]

Saturday, April 11, 2015

LeBreton Flats renewal 1965-2014

Via LeBreton Flats Remembered, here's a video by Jean Ouellette showing the NCC's progress on the Flats. As a bonus, you can also see downtown Hull's transformation into a parking lot.

He has also created a website showing the results of urban renewal on Lowertown East.

YouTube: 1965 vs 2014 LeBreton Flats [11 April 2015]
Lowertown East 1965 vs 2014 [11 April 2015]

Monday, April 6, 2015

NCC reveals plans for THE FUTURE

Well, not reveal exactly. But the NCC has big ideas, apparently. 17, in fact. One of them is to refit the War Memorial by the year 2039. So that's something for us all to look forward to. But what will they actually be doing? Possibly finishing a plan with those 17 ideas - a plan they have been working on for more than four years - by fall. The Citizen has the "scoop":

The National War Memorial will celebrate its centennial in 2039. And Kristmanson, chief executive of the National Capital Commission, thinks that provides a splendid opportunity to "redo" Confederation Square to give it the amenities and sight lines to accommodate as many as 30,000 people during national ceremonies.

"That would seem to me to be a major idea that could happen on a major anniversary in the future," Kristmanson said in an interview.

The Confederation Square makeover is one of 17 "big ideas" the NCC expects to include in its long-term Plan for Canada's Capital - the document that will chart the future of the capital region between 2017 and Canada's 200th birthday in 2067.

The plan has been in the works for four years, but has "evolved" since the NCC's programming role migrated to the Department of Canadian Heritage in 2013, Kristmanson said.

It's now focused on the lands for which the NCC is responsible. Kristmanson hopes the 17 big ideas - the number is a reference to 2017, when Canada will celebrate its 150th birthday - will "complete the transformation of the capital into an international-level G7 capital."

The NCC already has a list of about 25 ideas, Kristmanson said, many from the public during nationwide consultations on the Plan for Canada's Capital.

He won't talk about the others yet, but said NCC staff will take the plan to the board of directors in June, looking for authorization to conduct public consultations. If all goes well, the plan could be finalized by the fall.

So, having failed to build to build an international-level G7 capital in the last 50 years, the NCC will finish the job by 2067.

The "nationwide consultations" refer to the NCC Roadshow, which crossed the nation back in 2011.

Citizen: Confederation Square makeover one of 17 'big ideas' in NCC's 50-year capital plan [6 April 2015]
NCC Watch Archive: NCC Roadshow

Monday, March 23, 2015

NCC too secretive on LeBreton plans

Long time NCC critic and columnist Ken Rubin had some pointed criticism of the NCC's typically secretive approach to its latest LeBreton plans. From the Hill Times:

The federal National Capital Commission always has been its own worst enemy when it acts as a developer with private partners. Nor has it ever been a great or responsive capital planner inspiring imaginative world-class projects.

Now the arrogant and uninspiring style the NCC possesses faces its biggest ever challenge: how will it finally facilitate developing one of the last large chunks of capital prime real estate at LeBreton Flats near Parliament Hill?

Its recent announcement does not bode well. The NCC provided little information on its short list of four developers for the anchor project at LeBreton Flats. The announcement did not bother to publicly or fully identify each consortium's business partners and only vaguely in one-liners referred to each short-listed developer's plan proposals.

One thing the NCC did reveal was that it's using $300,000 of federal taxpayers' money for the consortiums over the next several months to more fully put together their plans. But in accepting the monies, this meant that candidates were expected to keep quiet about their developing plans. While this secretive approach may change, given some media and public outrage, the NCC explicitly forbade developer proponents from publicly talking or consulting with the community or public partners. No monies have been allocated for public debate on the four proponents' plans.

[...]In the past, the NCC has allowed some LeBreton Flats planning and design guidelines to be publicly known in its redevelopment plans. But this time around, the NCC wants little or no sharing with the public of the rules for design and the criteria for judging developers. They have set up little in the way of an independent transparent process to verify the accuracy, cost, and effectiveness of the four developers’ plans for LeBreton Flats, let alone any reassurances that the plans will not be uninspiring and mediocre.

Last time, in 2004, the NCC held a secretive "competition" for developing another part of the publicly-owned LeBreton Flats space, the sole private sector company that qualified, Claridge Homes, built some of the most ugly buildings in Ottawa.

Access records obtained show that construction of the LeBreton Flats residential building was delayed over concerns the NCC had with a number of design changes to the project proposed by Claridge. Yet, Claridge is now one of the four bidders for the phase two anchor pivotal premier LeBreton project.

[...]Access records note that by 2012 the NCC had already spent more than $70-million of public funds on partly cleaning up the LeBreton Flats area (albeit with lax environmental screening and monitoring in place). More publicly paid for infrastructure funds will be needed too to service any further developments at LeBreton Flats and more funds spent for further cleanup.

Its confidential "competition" process for an anchor project at LeBreton Flats cannot be left in place any longer.

We need a better process and a transparent agency where the public gets an in-depth chance to see the details of plans presented, see the lobbying efforts of developers to date, and add their voice to help decide on what's built.

The NCC's unsuitability for such a developer mandate has a long past that includes bungled developments at the Daly, the Rideau Centre and Chambers sites. Selling off or leasing under favourable terms prime public lands to large developers for so-so unimaginative development seems to be one of its specialities.

[...]Parliament must come up with a less secretive and accountable arm's-length agency with the appropriate amendments to the National Capital Act. Too much past secrecy and too many private pitches have not made for a desirable capital, nor will blatant political interference.

Fresh CEO Kristmansson replied that, no, no, it's all good, the public will get a look in - in the fullness of time:

Early in 2016, the public will be invited to view the detailed proposals and their comments will inform the selection committee's recommendation to the NCC's Board of Directors.

An external fairness monitor is overseeing this process at every step to ensure it is conducted with visible integrity. It is important to note that the fairness monitor approves the public release of all information regarding the competition.

I am encouraged by the progress to date in this important capital building initiative, and we look forward to receiving the final proposals from the qualified proponents and sharing these with the public early next year.

Rubin replied in the Times:

The NCC refuses to divulge to the public what initial proposals the four contending private sector consortiums submitted to qualify as candidates.

The four consortium teams are not fully identified with their backers nor are their financial assets revealed. But each will get $75,000 to develop their plans over the next few months in total secrecy, including which public sector partners they may consult or look to for funds. So the four - Claridge Homes, Devcore Group, Focus Equities, and Rendez Vous LeBreton Group - have the go-ahead from the NCC not to talk to the media or the public, but to hold secret talks with governments and institutions about their prospective plans.

As for the "public" involvement, what Mr. Kristmanson wants the public to do is wait several months to then "view" the detailed plans so that they can merely offer "comments" that may help "inform" the unaccountable "selection committee's" recommendation to the unelected NCC board of directors. In turn, that limited public involvement invitation process could well be superseded by the government of the day making key project decisions, as has been done in the cases of the War Museum and Victims of Communism memorial projects.

Moreover, the NCC is telling the public to blindly trust the "process" because some "fairness monitor" will be watching the integrity of process.

But here we are dealing with a key national capital community development where the NCC's immediate past flawed process for phase one "competition" at LeBreton Flats development left the public with uninspiring buildings on prime land.

[...]Why can’t the NCC or the government share the information it already has about LeBreton Flats redevelopment? Why wait to release bits and parts of what will be known in the spring and late fall when the process is well advanced? And why doesn’t the NCC disclose its expected revenues from such a valuable redevelopment at the Flats? Let the public in on the ground floor and allow us to have more than token input.

Hill Times: Hush-hush about LeBreton Flats anchor project plans [9 March 2015]
Hill Times: LeBreton redevelopment competition: rules are public, process supervised [16 March 2015]
Hill Times: NCC still too secretive on LeBreton Flats anchor project [23 March 2015]

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

NCC gets five proposals for the Flats

Last September, the NCC, embarrassed by the ordinariness of the current development, once again asked for proposals to develop what remains to be developed of the LeBreton Flats. And now it appears they have five. If memory serves, that's two more than last time (well, before two proponents ran away leaving Claridge with the prize). From the Citizen:

The National Capital Commission has received five proposals for the development of LeBreton Flats, by far the largest and most significant development site in Ottawa's core.

The number of proposals received by Wednesday's deadline was surprisingly modest. The NCC raised expectations when it extended the original deadline for submissions by one month due to "greater expression of interest than expected."

The NCC, whose officials weren't talking Wednesday, revealed the number in a news release, but declined to provide any details about the proposals or identify the proponents.

[...]Last September, the NCC invited the private sector to submit proposals to develop a 9.3-hectare section of the Flats. Another 12.1-hectare parcel farther west could potentially be made available, as well.

[...]A committee, composed of three NCC executive staff members, architect A.J. Diamond and Mark Conway, a planner and land economist, will evaluate the five submissions for completeness and compliance with the evaluation criteria.

The NCC said the solicitation process is intended to pre-qualify two to five proponents, whose names will be revealed in March following ratification by the NCC board.

The pre-qualified proponents will then have until August 2015 to submit detailed design and financial proposals, which will be displayed publicly to get feedback.

The current timetable calls for the recommended proposal to go to the NCC's board for approval in November, with cabinet sign-off in early 2016.

Late last year the Ottawa Senators revealed that they are one of the proponents, and have submitted a proposal for an arena, which is second only to a casino as the planning equivalent of having no ideas at all.

Citizen: NCC gets five proposals to develop LeBreton Flats [7 January 2015]