Comments on the Core Area Plan

Comments on "Canada's Capital Core Area Plan - January 2005 Draft."

We first provide some comments on the consultation process - the 2000 round and the current one. We then offer some comments on the current draft Plan.

The Greenspace Alliance provided comments in the second round of development of plans for the core area of the Capital, when the Core Area Concept Plan was up for discussion. (Our comments were delivered a week past the deadline, with assurance that they would still be considered.) We have now examined the subsequent "Public Consultation Report, 2001" (40 pages, excluding Appendices A-K, which are not part of the published report). An inordinate amount of attention in this "what we heard" report is devoted to numbers and themes (which do not reveal what the comments actually said) but one section does review actual comments. We were distressed to find that several of our comments do not appear to have been acknowledged. For example, both the Greenspace Alliance and the Federation of Citizens' Associations suggested that the Victoria and Chaudière Islands be made car-free; this was nowhere to be found in the 2001 report. As another example, the Greenspace Alliance offered some comments on pesticide use; this comment as well appears to have been ignored.

We and others made numerous specific comments and we have not checked on the fate of each of them. But these two examples, and given that volunteers' time is extremely precious, have made us decide not to provide any detailed comment in the present round. Instead, we limit our comments to some fundamental matters.

One is that this latest round of consultation on the Core Area Plan is again very deficient and will likely see a repeat of the poor response rate of the previous round, when just 60 written communications were received. That number includes 22 responses to a questionnaire. Twenty-two responses to a general population questionnaire offer no basis for valid analysis. In the current round, a questionnaire is again one of the main tools employed and again no attempt is made to draw any kind of random sample. The responses can therefore, at best, again be considered a convenience sample. As for the nature of the questions, they consist mostly of motherhood statements; expressions of preferences or priorities among such statements are not attractive and have little informative value.

The other document that received some degree of distribution (black & white versions were available for the sparse crowd attending the public meeting on March 29) is "Public Programming & Activities Vision for the Core Area of Canada's Capital - Reflecting a Nation - Creating a Capital Experience for All Canadians" (46 pages, March 2005). This document is indeed on a "vision" plane, where all is beautiful and exemplary. Despite the apparent detail, artists' sketches and all, it has minimal informative value if one seeks to understand what the planners actually have in mind to do.

Also available at the public meetings was the Executive Summary of the Plan (12 pages & 4 maps). This text can also be found in the actual "Canada's Capital Core Area Plan" (213 pp. & 17 maps, Draft for discussion, January 2005). Of the latter, only two reference copies were available at the public meeting and other copies were deposited only at the NCC's library and at the main branches of the Ottawa and Gatineau libraries. The text of the Report is also on the NCC web site (as a 3MB pdf file), as are the 17 maps and the Executive Summary, but the page numbers on the web site version of the full report and in the printed report are not the same so it is not quite the same version.

The published January 2005 draft of the Plan (the full report) is marred by a lack of correspondence between page numbers in the Table of Contents and the actual text, and by Map references which do not correspond with the map numbers in the back. In numerous other ways this is clearly still a rough draft. Yet it has a January 2005 date and it is the best that is available during this April consultation period. Again this reflects poorly on the consultation standards that are attained here.

The Executive Summary is at such a high level of abstraction and generality that no issues arise.

One map, however, included with the Executive Summary (Map No. 9), is indicative: it identifies 19 Building Opportunities, 7 Place Opportunities and 6 Landscape Opportunities. Among the Building Opportunities, four are for a new "Cultural Institution." Excluding re-use (such as the Portrait Gallery), extensions (to three existing buildings) and the Canadian War Museum which is about to open, the list identifies twelve new buildings. There is no analysis of need in the Report for so many buildings within the next twenty years (the horizon for this Plan). If space needs to be preserved for future generations (a reasonable objective) then it would be better to label these as such, not as "Current and recommended" building sites.

It is striking that the Plan offers no rationale for the Core Area boundary that is employed throughout. Ditto for the slightly larger Area of Influence. The areas are described (pp. 19-21 in the printed version), no more. This absence of a rationale for the Core Area as defined strikes to the heart of the weakness of this Plan. It homes in so sharply on this small "core area" that the real, breathing city that surrounds it becomes invisible - it is relegated to a "Civic Realm." That is not how a city works, its core area included. What is more, even in the sense of the Capital and its amenities that make it so, the Core Area as defined excludes such major locations as the National Aviation Museum, the Museum of Science & Technology, the Museum of Nature, the Experimental Farm, Laurier House and Beechwood Cemetery. Far better it would be to conceive planning for the areas within this Plan's red line as integrated with the whole capital region and as a key component of planning for the actual real cities where residents sustain a livelihood.

That, of course, would require full integration of planning at all levels of government. This report states in the predictable places (e.g. on page 147) that this is indeed the objective but there is no evidence of such actual joint effort. In contrast, the parallel effort commissioned by the City of Ottawa, "The Downtown Design Strategy 2020," fully recognizes six "NCC projects" and summarizes them. The city report was prepared using effective public consultations through workshops, etc. and was approved by City Council a year ago. Consequential Official Plan Amendments are just now rising to Council. The NCC made a few comments on the draft Amendments and received and obtained some changes. The city's approach is probably as good as "coordination" can be expected to be (even though the City's definition of the Downtown does not agree with the Ottawa side of the NCC's Core Area) but there is no concrete evidence in this NCC Core Area report that, from its end, planning coordination amounts to anything.

One specific example of lost opportunity - if all attention goes to supporting projects in the Core - is the opportunity to erect a marker near the St-Patrick's Bridge that would point to Beechwood Avenue and the Cemetery, and to the pathway along the Rideau River, both components of the Poets' Pathway which the Greenspace Alliance has been proposing for the last several years. As the NCC knows through another communication, it is likely that a "Poet's Hill" will be inaugurated at the Cemetery this fall. This will be the first manifestation of the Pathway in commemoration of Canada's literary heritage. But the St-Patrick's Bridge is outside the cherished red line. So is much of Lower Town and even Centre Town, where so much of the history of Ottawa - including Ottawa the Capital - is written.

In short, the inordinate attention devoted to planning just this Core Area is misplaced. From Vision (1998) to Concept (2000), now a Sector Plan (2005), and thirteen Area Plans still to come, this is a lot of planning using a planning framework that in significant measure ignores its context. As well, by concentrating all programming attention to this Core Area the visitor is shortchanged.

Only in the policy sections (13 sections of overall policies, followed by 15 sections for each "character area") does the reader obtain a glimpse of what the Plan concretely puts forward. Much of that, as stated in 2000, is laudable, and the Metcalfe proposal (Full or Lite) appears scrapped for good. For several of the proposals, as expressed already in comment by many on the Concept phase, one is often inclined to think: Get on with it already! In other instances, options are put forward without solid justification. One such is the suggestion for "new cultural institutions and federal accommodations" on the open spaces east of Sussex Drive between Stanley Avenue and Alexander Street. It is an example of casual planning - there is no significant indication of need (except to elaborate the international theme now expressed by the somewhat forlorn Canada and the World Pavilion) and no apparent regard for the value this greenspace now delivers as an entrance to the residences of the Prime Minister and Governor General, as a corridor for wildlife and as a respite for the adjacent residential community. We therefore support the opposition to exploitation of this "Building Opportunity No. 14" as expressed by the New Edinburgh Community Alliance.

Finally, a disappointing aspect of this Plan is the scant attention it pays to monitoring and evaluation - a mere two pages at the end (and another page in Appendix 2), with only the vaguest and preliminary explication of indicators of progress. In best practice planning, the effort is not complete without firm measures, and a measuring plan, providing data on the success of the plan.

Bill Royds


Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital