NCC Watch

Working to consign the NCC to oblivion

Monday, May 30, 2022

Photo Essay: The Indonesian Embassy

Inspired by the NCC's plan for an "embassy precinct" by the river, fronting onto Sir John A MacDonald Parkway, NCC Watch presents a photo essay of the embassy that's already there. How bad is the NCC's plan? No need to imagine, just take a look.

Embassy Row sign

The NCC plans to drop five or six more of these by the river in Mechanicsville.

NCC Watch: The Indonesian Embassy
Ottawa Citizen: NCC's amended plan for 'embassy district' in Mechanicsville still rankles community association [28 July 2021]

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

NCC Amends Parking Lot Row Plan

The NCC has tweaked its plan for embassies by the river. From the Citizen:

In the revised development application dated May 5, the NCC's planning consultant said the changes to the concept plan were in response to feedback from residents and city staff. The number of embassies was reduced based on the sizes and layouts of other diplomatic missions in Ottawa, the application said. The first application called for six new embassies.

Other changes aim to establish building setbacks from property edges to provide a green buffer along the parkway and to allow a "street presence" similar to what exists in the neighbourhood. Vehicle entrances to the embassies would be from neighbourhood streets, not the parkway.

As though the density of embassies were somehow the problem. While claims from the Mechanicsville neighbourhood association about security and green space are risible, the plan remains a typically lame NCC waste of space. 70-odd years of sitting on riverfront land they expropriated to supposedly build a magnificent capital for all Canadians, and what we get is a few security compounds with ample free parking for foreign diplomats.

Ottawa Citizen: NCC's amended plan for 'embassy district' in Mechanicsville still rankles community association [28 July 2021]

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Parking Lot Row Petition

A Mechanicsville group has organized a petition to oppose the NCC's lazy plan for parking lots by the river here. Yes to Trees No to Embassies

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Parking Lot Row for Mechanicsville

"Every day, we work to build an inspiring capital that is a source of pride for all Canadians." - NCC Website

Embassy Row signStroll down Bayview towards the river, and hard by the roundabout you can see the sign for the NCC's proposal for its expropriated and long vacant river-view property. Let's take a closer look shall we?

Embassy Row sign detailA pleasant spot indeed for some surface parking facilities, with some minor structures attached.

Any notion that the NCC was somehow building a better capital vanished long ago, so this plan is in no way surprising. The city would be better off if the land was simply sold to Claridge or Ashcroft, who would build something no less banal or exclusive, but would at least put the parking underground so as to maximize their benefit from the pricey land, and the city would get some housing and contribution to the tax base. If our foreign friends need ample free parking, as would appear to be the case, they can buy a lot in a business park in the suburbs like everyone else, and more power to 'em.

Mechanicsville Community Association: Embassy Row

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Embassy Row for Mechanicsville

The NCC loves embassies. It loves to give them prime public land, and can trust them to be discreet, not to have wild parties, or otherwise embarrass them. And it loves the institutional architecture they embody, and that has gifted us such bland monstrosities as the Indonesian, Saudi, Japanese, and Korean embassies on prime downtown land. Having torn down a significant part of Lower Town for these unsightly and well-fenced visual nullities, the NCC actually celebrates the whole business as the 'International Sector' of Confederation Boulevard. So of course they want to build more of them on expropriated river-facing lots along John A Macdonald Parkway in Mechanicsville. From the CBC:

Some residents of a neighbourhood just west of downtown are opposed to a rezoning application that could lead to a half-dozen embassies being built on a patch of green space near the Ottawa River.

At issue is a 3.7-hectare parcel of land owned by the National Capital Commission (NCC) south of the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway between Slidell Street and Forward Avenue in Ottawa's Mechanicsville neighbourhood.

The NCC is asking Ottawa city council to rezone the land so that it can build six embassies and accompanying parking space.

But residents say the development will block off their access to both the river and the city's light rail network, and restrict a space people use every day.

"It is a recreational area in addition to a very important access area for pedestrians, for walkers and hikers over to the river," said Reg Evans, who has lived in Mechanicsville for two-and-a-half years.

"To see it go ... is an incredible tragedy."

Lorrie Marlow, president of the Mechanicsville Community Association, said the land is very important to the community, especially given how dense development has made the neighbourhood.

She said many people live in small apartments with no access to a backyard.

"The thought that the NCC would be giving this land to foreign embassies for their exclusive use is a bit of a shock," she said.

[...]The NCC said in a statement it welcomes public feedback and had done three rounds of consultation, starting in 2015, to develop that land for embassies.

The commission said it would continue to work with the community and elected officials as the application process continued.

Leiper acknowledged the fact both federal and municipal planners had anticipated embassies would be built on the land for several years.

NCC greenspace is not greenspace as one would ordinarily think of it. Rather, it is the future site of another offence against good taste.

CBC: Mechanicsville fights 'distasteful' plan to rezone green space for embassies [10 February 2021]

Friday, January 15, 2021

Cost of NCC Fountains Eye Watering

Upping the stakes on its pricey Rockcliffe Outhouse, the NCC has replaced water fountains in Commissioners Park. Kelly Egan writes in the Citizen:

There is water, water everywhere at scenic Dow's Lake, but it cost $205,000 to get a little drink.

According to newly-released documents, the National Capital Commission has spent that sum of public money to replace three drinking water fountains at Commissioners Park, the well-known tulip haven that rings the lake near Carling Avenue and Preston Street.

And the water is only available in season, about six months a year.

Access-to-information wizard Ken Rubin asked the Crown corporation for documents related to the work, mostly completed in the fall of 2020, and was handed 296 pages, including dozens of photographs and many scaled engineering drawings.

The paper trail also sheds light on why the NCC has such a hard time keeping the taps flowing at about 45 outdoor fountains along its extensive pathway system.

The short answer? The underground pipes fall apart - there are long stretches of them to reach municipal water service - and it cost the earth to replace them.

(Among the documents was an email from a thirsty jogger who wondered why fountains along a section of the Rideau Canal had not worked for SIX years, sitting there covered in a plywood box.)

According to invoices from two different fiscal years, the bulk of the cost ($160,000, mostly to BG Excavating Ltd.) was for excavating about 240 metres of trench, 1.2 metres deep and wide. The rest of the money was to different firms for design, engineering services, asphalt, signage and the like.

[...]It turns out a good deal of the park was built on a former landfill and a study in 2005 found all kinds of contaminants in the soil - glass, bricks, ash, nasty chemicals. But the samples taken were not exactly where the water pipes to the fountains were located.

[...]And perhaps nothing better illustrates the red-tape world the NCC lives in - not all of its own doing, we should add - than a discussion about whether the work could be done during bird-nesting season.

[...]The string of emails indicate NCC staff are alive to the problem of broken water fountains, a defect that frustrated residents frequently bring up.

"To finish off this thread on a worse note: our last 2 drinking fountain lines have failed this week," wrote senior lands manager Mike Muir in May 2018, of the state of things at Commissioners. "There are no functioning drinking fountains in the park until we conduct major repairs, hopefully later this year."

A check in the summer of 2018 found 11 of 23 fountains on the pathway system were not working, but an update in 2019 said nine of 12 were functional.

The NCC responded Thursday that the $205,000 work was not just to replace a couple of fountains, but was "the partial replacement of the park's water systems, including the potable water line and the water management control systems, along with three fountains.

"To note, the park has five seasonal drinking fountains, which are out of order because the water mains are at the end of their life cycle and are in need of significant repairs," replied strategic communications advisor Dominique Huras.

The work is to be completed in May. And won’t we all just drink to that?

Ottawa Citizen: NCC spends $205K to replace three water fountains at Dow's Lake [15 January 2021]
Ken Rubin - Canada's Information Warrior

Thursday, January 7, 2021

NCC Not Much Use In a Pandemic Either

No surprise here. Kelly Egan writes in the Citizen:

The federal government, in all of its arms - principally the National Capital Commission - owns vast amounts of recreational land in the national capital region, tens of thousands of acres, including the Greenbelt and Gatineau Park. In the middle of a pandemic, when a city of a million is looking for a place to stretch its legs and clear its mind, what is the federal government's responsibility to nimbly refocus some assets for the public good?

I think it has a big one. The feds act like they have none.

You’ll recall the outcry last summer for the NCC to open a portion of its parkways for cyclists, as there was little traffic anyway and droves of pedallers on the bike paths.

Well, it took a high-profile advocacy campaign and a good deal of kicking and screaming, but the NCC eventually opened up "bikedays" on its more popular parkways and closed a section of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway for pedestrians and cyclists.

It's as though Ottawa, the capital, doesn't know what to do with Ottawa, the city, nor its cooped-up people, and it has been that way for decades.

For years and years, the NCC did nothing to encourage cross-country skiing on its multi-use path. It took a community-funded effort to get the path groomed by a man (Dave Adams) who worked endlessly for practically nothing on a section of the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway.

What of the other assets? Why isn't there a massive oval rink at LeBreton Flats, for instance? Why hasn't anything been done to bring people to the empty site with temporary attractions, to illuminate its longterm potential, summer or winter?

Why doesn't the NCC create pop-up toboggan hills on its lands to alleviate the pressure at places like Carlington Hill?

Why not corral 10 sidewalk plows and have the NCC clear every damn path in its inventory? What is it doing differently in the Greenbelt at a time of need?

The point is this: Is anyone at NCC headquarters or at the federal level thinking about how to quickly retool any of its properties to accommodate a pandemic-stressed population?

The issue is pressing today, more pressing tomorrow, as Quebec is headed toward a severe lockdown that will further limit access to Gatineau Park, if not make interprovincial travel near impossible.

Alternatively, if the feds are so convinced that outdoor crowding of any kind is a COVID-19 risk, then shut the whole business down. Have the courage of the conviction. Shut all the trails and parks and parking lots, cancel Winterlude, forget about the Rideau Canal skating season and tell everyone to just hide in their basements until spring.

Instead, we have this half-witted approach of a little here, a little there, take the bag of chips and go home, Ottawa.

Ottawa Citizen: GG shuts rink, grounds in latest drama from The Crown [7 January 2021]

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Anatomy of an Accident

Part of the NCC's own justification for its existence is its supposed design expertise - those small details that tie together disparate areas of the city into a identifiable Capital whole. Details like the small stone post that once regularly tripped pedestrians in the Market. From Ottawa Life Magazine:

La cour Jeanne-d’Arc Court is a charming place tucked away in the ByWard market. There are two entrance alleys off of York Street and one off Clarence. The site was renovated in 2006 according to a National Capital Commission call for tenders. A stone block the size of a shoebox was installed in the middle of the narrow alley, 6.5 feet in from the York Street sidewalk. I was feeling like a million bucks one sunny August morning in 2016 when I walked into the alley from the east.

Within 3 paces, 1.3 seconds, I tripped on the block and slammed onto the stone surface. The right side of my body from my shoulder to my foot was immobilized with pain. I yelled for help and struggled to access my cell. I called 911 while a passer-by stayed with me until a paramedic arrived by bike within 2 minutes and an ambulance pulled up moments later. The passer-by returned with the phone number of the property manager. He conveyed that the store where he retrieved the number reported that people tripped over the block all the time and that walking tours warn tourists about it.

[...]Regarding the stumbling block back in the Market, an investigation revealed that (at least) three people prior to me had also been injured. After one accident involving a woman carrying a box who crashed onto the stone floor, the top of the block was painted yellow. The block was replaced by something much more visible more than a year after notification of my accident.

Ottawa Life: Anatomy of an accident [18 February 2020]

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

LeBreton plan is no plan at all

After the most recent failed attempt to develop the Flats, the NCC chucked the entire 'RendezVous' proposal and set the clock back to zero. In the Citizen, John Bourke argues that the RendezVous LeBreton initiative should not have been abandoned simply because one partner pulled out, considering the arena portion was the least interesting thing about it:

The National Capital Commission’s recent plan for LeBreton Flats holds some optimism. A clean slate always does.

Based on the new architectural renderings, the plan contemplates the integration of seven distinct districts, which could one day create something meaningful along the Ottawa River, right next to the Parliament Buildings. Arguably, if the soil can be cleaned up so the land is safe to build on, LeBreton Flats could very well be the best real estate in the country - one day anyway.

But local members of the Ottawa Building and Constructions Trades - some 37,000 of us - wonder why the NCC insists on this clean slate. With the former RendezVous LeBreton plan, headed by John Ruddy of Trinity Development Group Inc. and Eugene Melnyk of the Ottawa Senators, it had already acquired a universally sanctioned, financially viable, and contemporary urban proposal that would restore LeBreton Flats to a powerful expression of community and national identity.

After all, there was nothing about this plan that fell apart; it was just one partner in the winning proponent who seemed to change his mind - about being a partner - at the last minute. When Melnyk refused to collaborate, the major event centre could have been left in as a place holder or replaced with something else of national interest. This plan was much more about a restored community than it ever was about hockey.

The winning plan endorsed and respected the site's heritage which brought together the Algonquin Anishinabek, and later settlers, as a cultural, political and economic force. The plan connected and expanded the park space to create a four-season public realm from the Nepean Bay Inlet, through the Aqueduct, and along the Ottawa River shoreline.

LeBreton Flats would have been one of the most sustainable communities in North America. Under this plan, forty per cent of the development would have had dedicated green space.

Here was a development plan that would immediately stop the contaminated discharge into the Ottawa River and clean up the 1.2 million cubic metres of soil, all paid for by the private sector partner.

Here was a detailed plan that optimizes LeBreton Flats as the hub of the $5-billion LRT system, with the train tracks covered at the site for pedestrian efficiency and safety, one of the several ingenious features that gave the plan the win in the first place. This is a transit-oriented plan that allowed for 65 per cent of visitors to arrive at LeBreton Flats by train, by cycling or on foot.

It is a colossal shame how much was lost the second the NCC cancelled the last procurement process: there were well-formed partnerships with the City of Ottawa, the local education and training institutions, the labour and retail sector, and the talent bank of over 35 local and international companies. There were signed agreements with the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation offering affordable housing on 25 per cent of the site; with the Western Quebec and Eastern Ontario Building and Construction Trades offering community benefits, training programs and employment, including Indigenous people, women and new Canadians; with the Abilities Centre Ottawa who were set to build a new community centre for people with disabilities, and had provisional funding to do so - at LeBreton Flats.

The plan had committed investors and a viable funding model that financially sustained the entire development as one cohesive community with five distinct neighbourhoods. The funding model ensured that the complex infrastructure for the pipes, sewers and energy below ground would be implemented as a whole, not in a fractured, piecemeal approach.

When the NCC cancelled the entire winning plan last February, the potential for 22,000 jobs immediately disappeared for planners, designers, engineers and trades specialists. Another 12,000 indirect jobs were lost that same day along with billions in tax revenue for all levels of government that would have been generated by this grand solution to a 60-year old wasteland.

We urge the NCC to keep this winning plan intact, to realize the benefit of all the time and money spent by so many trying to create a signature destination in the Nation’s Capital and a point of civic pride for our residents.

The NCC is conducting a survey on the LeBreton Flats until December 6 here.

Citizen: NNC's current plan for LeBreton Flats is no plan at all [4 December 2019]
NCC Watch: LeBreton Flats

Friday, June 21, 2019

Why have an NCC?

An obvious question to readers of this page, perhaps. But so seldom asked in a town with an innate, and, let it be said, self interested faith in bureaucracy. But the amusingly bad addition to the Chateau Laurier has prompted Kelly Egan to ask - why? From the Citizen:

If the National Capital Commission can't influence the design of the Chateau Laurier addition, can't better co-ordinate repair work on five interprovincial bridges, can't lead the overhaul of the Prince of Wales bridge to better integrate Ottawa-Gatineau transit, can't get LeBreton straight, what is the NCC for?

[...]The new CEO of the Crown corporation, Tobi Nussbaum, said Thursday the NCC couldn’t get involved in the unpopular proposal to expand the 1912 hotel because it was private property and beyond the reach of the National Capital Act, its enabling legislation.

Nussbaum is a Harvard man, so he doesn’t lack for smarts, but that answer was pretty rich.

[...]Let us look at what the NCC itself has said about the Château, the iconic hotel that is part of our postcard.

Under "policies" of the NCC's Capital Core Area Sector Plan, is this gem: "Preserve the historic character of the Chateau Laurier Hotel and the Government Conference Centre building (formerly Ottawa Union Station), key buildings in the Core Area."

The public are hardly architectural experts, but, when the mayor of Ottawa's reference to a "shipping container" is the most resonant to describe the addition, we can assume we've missed the mark on historic preservation of a grand hotel from the Titanic era.

[...]Does the addition not "affect" the NCC's Confederation Boulevard, which takes in a good chunk of Sussex Drive and Mackenzie Avenue, which runs right by the proposed add-on? How could it not?

And yet the NCC wants no part in the design approval process. But try to set up a lemonade stand along the Rideau Canal or pick up pine cones on the parkway and they're calling the cops.

So this is the point: The NCC sticks its nose into issues in the public realm whenever it feels sufficiently compelled. Today, it needs to summon the courage of its convictions. You either want Ottawa to be a better capital or you don’t. Hello, leadership?

[...]Instead, the NCC is fiddle-farting around with how the bigger hotel will integrate its landscaping with Major's Hill and the canal terraces. "Pedestrian vibrancy and connectivity through and around the hotel," is on the commission's job list, along with the "interface" with the new building.

Nussbaum, meanwhile, wouldn't even say if he liked the design, as though being super-careful was a virtue. (Jean Pigott, somewhere, just died a second death.)

Integrate paths and sidewalks. Is this, good God, all the NCC is there for?

To be fair, it's literally all they've ever really been capable of.

But although they're not saying, given their predilections, the NCC probably approves of the design, what with the crimes in concrete they've scattered around Ottawa like chickenfeed - the peacekeeping monument, the holocaust monument, the truly hilarious human rights monument, etc. Rather than pretend nothing is going on, why not grab the bull by the horns and declare the Chateau addition is itself a monument - to transport let's say, though it hardly matters what. The shipping container is an entirely suitable legacy for the NCC's design ideals.

Citizen: If the NCC can't improve the Château addition, why have an NCC? [21 June 2019]
First Things: Crimes in concrete [June 2019]

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

"I'm just not for it"

Now and then, a story confirming that the NCC is exactly the lumpenbureaucracy that Ottawa deserves. The CBC reports from Ground Zero in the City that Fun Forgot:

The digging has stopped and the construction machinery has been removed for now, but residents who live across the street from Patterson Creek are still angry they weren't consulted about the National Capital Commission's plans to install a pop-up bistro in their residential neighbourhood.

The NCC had planned to set up three temporary bistros housed in shipping containers this summer, one at Patterson Creek in the Glebe, another in Confederation Park and a third at Remic Rapids near Tunney's Pasture.

It's part of two-year pilot plan designed to "enhance the urban park experience" in the capital, according to the NCC.

Construction began at the Patterson Creek site Monday, but complaints from nearby residents to their city councillor prompted the NCC to suspend the operation. A public meeting has been scheduled for Monday evening.

David Sutherland lives on nearby Linden Terrace, and enjoys setting off on his kayak from the boat launch at Patterson Creek, which connects to the Rideau Canal under the picturesque Queen Elizabeth Driveway bridge.

[...]Sutherland said he's worried about the noise, garbage and traffic congestion a drinking establishment will bring to the quiet park.

"At the risk of sounding like a Glebe Nimby, I'm just not for it," Sutherland said.

Wendy Myers, another Linden Terrace resident, agrees.

"A bistro is inappropriate for this area," she said.

Myers is part of group collecting signatures for a petition to stop the bistro. She said it's not just people who live in the area who opposed the idea, but also others who enjoy the park as it is.

[...]Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard said the NCC approached his office about the Patterson Creek location in May. Menard said he wasn't opposed to the idea, but said the NCC made a big mistake by failing to consult nearby residents.

[...]Menard said he asked the NCC to halt construction after hearing from numerous irate homeowners.

Nic Dolcetti-Koros and James Moreira, university students who often bike through the leafy park, said they'd enjoy stopping for a drink alongside the inlet.

"It would definitely be nice to have a place like this to come to have a drink or something," Moreira said.

You're not from around here, are you James.

The NCC, having expropriated the waterfront, has spent the last 70 years assiduously keeping it as dull as possible, and the good burghers of the Glebe like it that way. Well, good men and women of the Glebe, unclutch those pearls and go back to sleep - these modern notions of, however tentatively, "animating" Ottawa's parks and waterfront, are doubtless just a passing fad. Under the guiding hand of the NCC, the City that Sleeps will sleep again.

CBC: Opposition from neighbours halts pop-up bistro in Glebe [18 June 2019]

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Decaying Canada

Now and then, it's good to get an outside perspective. Are we, at NCC Watch, being too harsh? Are things really so bad?

Thanks to Russian blogger Ilya Varlamov, we have an answer. Via Google Translate:

Usually abroad I try to look for positive examples of beautification and urban environment. I am interested in collecting positive practices, watching how to do it. Many of our problems are blamed on winter. And indeed, there are almost no countries in the world with such a harsh climate as ours. Where else is such a winter? Where is more snow? In Europe? No ... Scandinavia? Well, only if in the north of Finland and Norway, where there are no major cities. Canada! Similarly, Canada! That is how I argued when planning a route through Canadian cities: Ottawa - Montreal - Quebec. I wonder how they cope with the snowfall? How do they have public spaces in winter, are they good roads?

Now I stand in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, and I do not understand what is happening. I want to find at least something good, but I see that the city, even by the standards of the Russian province, is very average. And these people will teach us life?

What follows is a first rate walking tour of downtown Ottawa, taking in many of the NCC's greatest triumphs. Turns out Ottawa is hard pressed to compare favourably to Krasnodar. Ottawa, a piece of native Russia in decaying Canada [11 January 2019]
Google Translate: Ottawa, a piece of native Russia in decaying Canada [11 January 2019]

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Remembering the razing

The demolition of McConnell-Laramee in Hull was recently commemorated. From the CBC:

For Sylvie Bédard's mother, leaving her home in Gatineau's former McConnell-Laramée neighbourhood was "completely devastating."

"She had been born and raised in that parish," said Bédard, one of dozens who gathered Saturday to remember the hundreds of homes and businesses expropriated there in the 1970s to build Boulevard des Allumettières.

[...]In all, about 225 properties were torn down or relocated - but many more people were affected by the project, Bédard said, because a good number of those buildings were duplexes or triplexes.

While the expropriation started in 1972, construction on Boulevard des Allumettières didn't start until 2003 and didn't finish until 2008.

The time it took to open the busy east-west thoroughfare, Bédard said, was "probably the hardest thing to really live with."

"To actually look around and see .... nothing came out of it was really very problematic from that standpoint," she said.

[...]Bédard's husband, Jean-Marc Renaud, worked at a grocery store his father owned that shut down after the expropriation.

"That was his livelihood," Renaud said. "And then, all of that suddenly shut down."

[...]Michel Prévost, a local historian, said it was important to remember the history of the community.

"For these people, it was horrible because it was a very nice sector. A lot of activities. A nice park. It was really alive in this area, and unfortunately with all the expropriation, all that was [gone]," said Prévost, president of la Société d'Histoire de l'Outaouais.

"And even today, for these people, it was a horrible story."

Over the years, Hull was unlucky enough to be the focus of many of the NCC's most extravagant plans, all of them disastrous. The NCC razed McConnell-Laramee in the early 70s for a road that wouldn't be constructed until the early 2000s.

CBC: Remembering the razing of McConnell-Laramée [9 February 2019]
NCC Watch: Hull

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Wherefore the public

Writing for the CBC, Joanne Chianello wonders if the public will ever again get a look-in on the matter of the Flats:

When the board of the National Capital Commission gets together Thursday morning for its final meeting under the tenure of CEO Mark Kristmanson, one major issue will be glaringly absent from the agenda: LeBreton Flats.

That's not how it was supposed to happen.

[...]So, instead of deciding what to do next with the 21 hectares of prime property and providing a public update Thursday, the board of directors will instead be briefed on the file during a confidential meeting Friday.

That leads to a key question: while a bunch of billionaires discuss behind closed doors how they'd like to divvy up this unique property, when, exactly, will the public get a say on what happens next?

It was almost exactly three years ago that thousands of people streamed through the National War Museum's doors to look at the two visions for LeBreton put forward by the only two bidders who submitted proposals to the NCC to redevelop the land.

They both included NHL venues, although the arena played a much more central role in the RendezVous plan.

While the idea of a downtown arena is appealing to many, there isn't unanimous support for a professional sports venue at LeBreton. Even back in 2016, the public feedback - including among those who sided with the RendezVous vision - indicated that residents were critical of the arena being the focal point of the development.

[...]And yet, the businessmen struggling to hammer out a new plan remain focused on how to keep the Senators in the LeBreton game. Is this what we really want?

No one knows, because no one asked us.

The public was consulted largely after the bids were already fully formed plans. What about asking the people of Ottawa - and the rest of the country - what they'd like to see happen at LeBreton before the money men put their stamps on it?

The EKOS poll shows that most residents want to see something happening at LeBreton, but they tell CBC they want community input from the start, not at the end.

Their ideas range from more affordable housing and public amenities that both integrate and serve surrounding communities.

[...] we need to guard against the snowballing tendency of grandiose projects, where so much effort and expectation is lavished on years of planning that, after a while, the whole thing gathers so much momentum that it begins to feel unstoppable.

The whole LeBreton plan seemed designed from the outset to create that sort of excitement. Back in 2014, the NCC made one criteria for the redevelopment the inclusion of "an attraction of a regional, national or international significance" that also qualified Ottawa as a "world-class capital destination."

That sounds cool, but always meant different things to different people. There will never be consensus on exactly what to do at LeBreton, but one thing everyone should insist on - even if it isn't thrilling - is the plain satisfaction of knowing that regular people had real input into what ultimately gets built there.


CBC: When will the public get back in on LeBreton talks [24 January 2019]

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Ending Madcap Planning in Ottawa

Writing in the Hill Times, long-time access-to-information researcher and columnist Ken Rubin steps into the planning arena and calls for a real public debate and reboot for all the large-scale developments that have gone so typically awry:

Too many of the signature building projects in Ottawa amount to a poor use of valuable public space; Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the National Capital Commission haven't set the bar high enough when it comes to approving some of Ottawa's most important development projects.

Ottawa seems to be prone to selecting poor locations for important projects or at giving away prime locations for private and less important projects. The latter is true for LeBreton Flats, and the former the case for the location sites chosen for a joint federal-local library and for a new Civic Hospital.

LeBreton Flats

The Melnyk-Ruddy Rendez Vous partners' claim-and-counter claim shootout and last-minute "mediation" for LeBreton Flats highlights one more giant misstep in plans for the capital area.

Who else but the National Capital Commission would succumb to placing as a central and unneeded and uninspiring arena complex in Ottawa's last remaining downtown public space.

We have to think beyond the LeBreton competition meltdown in how we plan and want our future downtown to look like.

But putting multi-billionaires and a discredited NCC in continued charge of LeBreton's future creates a frenzy-shovel-in-the-ground scheme that could be costly to taxpayers and fall flat. It hardly lives up to expectations and dreams of bringing LeBreton to life.

Central Library

The City of Ottawa and federal authorities also want to go ahead and place a central library in the wrong location in a small space next to LeBreton Flats.

That's instead of making the library an information meeting place which is central and accessible on LeBreton Flats.

Rushing ahead now with public consultations for a key downtown library project put in a wrong and inaccessible place and with federal archive areas in it restricted to public access is a disaster in the making.

New Civic Hospital

Yet another wrongly placed but needed facility - a new downtown area hospital - is planned to be located in a sensitive environmental piece of land at the Experimental Farm adjacent to the Arboretum.

But that area is more suited to remain largely a green space with possibly a new botanical gardens.

A new Civic Hospital, despite the rushed backroom decision of area authorities, should be across the street from the old Civic Hospital on Carling Avenue.

For those who see that part of the Experimental Farm as pristine heritage farm land, it is a pesticide-ridden field that's been a chemical dumping ground, and is not a sacred site like Chaudiere Falls.

Zibi Windmill Development

Yet even when we get a more plausible and better-designed project downtown, near the Chaudiere Falls, authorities and developers go too far in forgetting about what were sacred, unceded sites that should never simply become predominantly private condo development projects.

That is the case when the NCC and federal government, ignoring indigenous and public concerns, helped ensure that the Zibi Windmill project to buy and develop the downtown Albert and Chaudiere Islands went ahead.

Instead of leaving any solid green space, especially by the Chaudiere Falls, they allowed Windmill to overbuild and just put a concrete sidewalk and only a small park next to the spectacular falls. At least they stopped short of permitting Ottawa's most expensive condo/restaurant being built above the Chaudiere Falls.

Granted, the Zibi complex and design is several notches above the throw ups at Lansdowne Park, at Claridge's LeBreton site, or the towers of inferno to be built by Trinity Development at 900 Albert Street. It is over-sized for the location and lacks a solid Indigenous presence.

Time to Pause

What we need is a pause to such ill-thought-out plans and a reboot.

We do not need that reboot being directed by a failed and conflicted National Capital Commission or put solely in the hands of a most unimaginative mayor if what's wanted is a more world class, sustainable city centre.

Nor do we need it to be put in the hands of private developers who want to convert prime public spaces into cash-playing fields. LeBreton, a central library or a new downtown hospital are not just procurement process restart projects devoid of real public input and first-class planning and design.

We have to end madcap and secret planning deals. No more planning messes or misusing downtown prime lands or backroom deals that make little sense.


Hill Times: Ending Madcap Planning in Ottawa [21 January 2019]
Ken Rubin: Canada's Information Warrior

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]

Monday, July 25, 2016

Demolishing Ottawa: Toronto-Dominion Bank, Sparks Street

History Nerd looks at the history of the TD Bank that was demolished as part of the NCC's banal Canlands development, part of a broader 70 year plan to destroy retail on Sparks St.

History Nerd: Demolished Ottawa: Toronto-Dominion Bank, Sparks Street [25 July 2016]
NCC Watch: Canlands

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]