Ottawa: Lessons from great Canadian urbanism
Ottawa celebrates Canada’s cultural mosaic, its urbanism full of delight and engagement. As with most North American cities, its oldest neighbourhoods have the positive lessons for urban design today. This is because much of what makes Ottawa character delightful is illegal in the development bylaws that govern its more auto-centric outskirts. On a recent visit, I was inspired by Centretown, The Gleeb, Sandy Hill, Byward Market, Lower Town, New Edinburgh, Rock Cliff, and of course, Parliament Hill.
As the final in a series of three collections of insights from some great Canadian urbanism, I’m tempted to pull out images from other Canadian cities, and see what they have to say. But don’t worry, I’ll let my other fellow PlaceShakers have the Monday spots for awhile. Your insights welcome in the comments below, or if you missed them, on the Montreal and Mont-Tremblant segments.
The Byward Market
One of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets, the Byward Market is a short walk from Parliament Hill and the heart of Ottawa. Planned by the builder of the Rideau Canal, Lieutenant-Colenial John By, the market anchors a great neighbourhood.
The Rideau Canal connects Ottawa and Kingston with 202 kilometers of navigable waterway, and is a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the oldest operating canal in North America, it was originally designed as a defense in the case of war with the US. The biggest urban design lessons from both the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River aren’t defensive, though. Instead, they demonstrate the great value of keeping waterways as public property, providing a stellar parks and trails system that hosts active transportation and entertainment year round. Other places seeking to enable similar public space will find inspiration and enabling in the form-based development bylaw of Dan Bartman’s Canal Urbanism SmartCode Module (3 mb PDF).
The prodigious National Gallery of Canada significantly elevates the public art of the city, both on its grounds and throughout the city. The National Capital Commission furthers the dialogue with StreetSmART and Decoding Art aps.
We talk a lot on PlaceShakers about extracting the DNA of place and allowing it by right. Because much of what makes up the urban fabric of great places isn’t legal anymore. Here in Ottawa, much of that is the vertical mixed use, build-to-lines instead of suburban setbacks, streets that have gone on diets to make room for on-street parking and cyclists, and careful thought to how the buildings meet the street. Civic spaces take up centre stage with gracious architecture and ample urbanism.
Cottage Living Comes to the City
Last Monday we discussed Canadians and their affinity for the simple pleasures of cottage living. Ottawa has a great collection of cottages offering a more affordable option to smaller households.
Capital cities aren’t particularly known for their affordability, particularly in neighbourhoods easily walkable to downtown. Ottawa’s answer to that is an exemplary collection of duplexes and mews units along what you might otherwise think of as rear lanes.
While Ottawa has the second highest percentage of residents who cycle to work in Canada — almost 3 percent — the cycling infrasture is not quite up to Montreal standards. Fueled by the four universities, a network of serious curb-separated bike lanes, and popular bike rentals, Montreal has more of a cycling culture. However, unlike in Montreal, I could actually locate a bike to rent in Ottawa, and had a great time touring neighbourhoods and riding along the canal. The one time I felt the least safe cycling was on my way back into downtown, where the series of “Share the Road” billboards didn’t seem to help matters. Cities contemplating solutions to similar challenges will find helpful Mike Lydon’s Bicycling SmartCode Module (4 mb PDF).
Hazel Borys is principal and managing director of Placemakers, a planning, coding, marketing, and implementation firm. This article originally appeared on PlaceShakers and NewsMakers.
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