10 Reasons Why the NCC's Plans for Sparks Street Suck
Following the Metcalfe Grand Boulevard fiasco, the NCC came up with "Metcalfe Light", whereby only three or four blocks, from Wellington to Queen, would be demolished to create a "plaza" instead of a grand boulevard. To help them along, the NCC received a big wad from the Feds to buy buildings on the south side of Sparks Street. As usual, their plans were wrongheaded from every conceivable perspective:
- They are entirely inconsistent with the architectural and planning principles behind the form and placement of the Centre Block. The Peace Tower and the roofs were meant to be seen at an oblique angle, such as that offered from Confederation Square. The frontal view was meant to be a short view, such as currently offered from Wellington, and the proportions of the building reflect that.
- The south side of Wellington is meant to be a continuous backdrop for the main show of the Parliamentary square. We almost never agree with Jacques Greber, but he said it best in his preliminary plan of 1948: "The south side of Wellington Street should be dignified, and treated as a continuous monumental background to the north side." Bad enough that the old Supreme Court building at Wellington and Bank is long gone, and that the Rideau Club site has been vacant since it burned. A square at Metcalfe will only worsen the gap-tooth appearance of the Wellington-Rideau axis. They should be closing in and "cozifying" the built form around the Parliamentary precinct, NOT blowing it apart.
- The three-block plaza will be of little use as a ceremonial route. It is uphill on one of the steepest grades in the central city. Indeed, it suffers the same problem for use as public open space as does the Daly Site: it is too steep.
- It will still require the demolition of too many buildings, including several heritage buildings (including the NCC's own Infocentre). In addition, many other non-heritage workaday buildings would have to be removed from the square itself, and others on its perimeter would either have to be replaced or extensively refurbished to face the square in an appropriate fashion.
- The destruction of retail and office space will reduce the daytime population of the CBD. This will weaken Sparks Street even further, hurt the Elgin business district and the struggling Bank Street axis, and remove a portion of the municipal tax base.
- Wider is anything but better. For example, one block east lies the "Confederation Boulevard" portion of Elgin St., featuring six to eight lanes of traffic, blank facades, and unpopulated 'open space'. In short, lifeless and people unfriendly in the extreme. The NCC's energies would be better spent restoring the damage it inflicted on Elgin Street than repeating the mistakes on Metcalfe.
- The plan for underground parking encourages auto use. If the NCC is so concerned about the parking 'problem' - whatever that is - in downtown Ottawa, and if it has the money to blow (as it seems to think it has for dynamite and park benches) then it should work to strengthen public transit in the capital district so as to reduce parking demand. Of course, such a thought may never occur to Chairman Beaudry, who built his private career in encouraging hideous auto-dependent sprawl in the Outaouais.
- Damaging the central core will only encourage more sprawl and more auto dependency. These effects run contrary to both Ottawa's official plan and the federal government's own Green Plan.
- The budget required for Metcalfe Light in land acquisition, demolition, construction, and renovation, is an insult to taxpayers in Ottawa and across the country. Cities across this country are trying to solve urban planning problems; it is ludicrous that a federal crown corporation would even contemplate spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create more urban problems, when so many are fighting with so few financial resources, to create fewer.
- Metcalfe Light will encourage a future megalomaniac to extend the damage further south. We mustn't in this generation encourage the crackpots in the next.
The region already has countless splendid views of Parliament, whether from Wellington Street, the Cenotaph, the Supreme Court, the Market, Major's Hill, Nepean Point, Hull, Victoria Island, or any other point of the compass. The Hill and the Peace Tower already dominate and provide magnificent views. There is absolutely no excuse to spend millions of dollars to create a view of marginal additional value, at an unacceptably high cost to the urban fabric of a city that is trying, against the odds, and against the cross purposes of negligent bodies such as the NCC, to rejuvenate itself.
Wallace J McLean