Ottawa Citizen

To­ward a Cen­tre­town re­vival

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When the light-rail sta­tions fi­nally open, they’ll change the char­ac­ter of Cen­tre­town, and al­most cer­tainly for the bet­ter. The city should let that be a cat­a­lyst for re­ju­ve­na­tion of Ot­tawa’s down­town.

Cen­tre­town’s es­thetic is sym­bolic of Ot­tawa’s rep­u­ta­tion as a but­toned-up government town: It bus­tles at rush hour and is mori­bund at night. Parts of it are un­der-devel­oped, while other parts are un­friendly canyons. Many of its streets have been turned into com­muter cor­ri­dors, pri­or­i­tiz­ing one-way car traf­fic over ev­ery­thing else.

There are al­ready bright spots in Cen­tre­town, and signs of shift­ing pri­or­i­ties, such as the Lau­rier bike lanes. The devel­op­ment of the neigh­bour­ing LeBre­ton Flats area is grad­u­ally giv­ing peo­ple more rea­sons to spend time in the area. And a new Mid-Cen­tre­town Com­mu­nity De­sign Plan, on coun­cil’s agenda for ap­proval in the new year, has some ideas for turn­ing the area into a more balanced and liv­able place.

One idea is to con­vert some one-way streets into two-ways. As the report points out, the one-ways don’t make sense at any time other than rush hour. They make the streets less ac­ces­si­ble to pedes­tri­ans, cy­clists and to any­one try­ing to find their way. All that is true, but Ot­tawa’s traf­fic isn’t go­ing to sim­ply dis­ap­pear once the light-rail line gets up and run­ning. If we can man­age the traf­fic and ac­cess to the Queensway us­ing more ap­peal­ing, two-way streets, that would be great. Right now, that’s an open ques­tion.

It’s un­de­ni­able, though, that Cen­tre­town could do with more ac­ces­si­ble side­walk and build­ing de­sign. More benches, safer cross­ings and more green­ery would make the blocks south of Par­lia­ment Hill feel more like a place to stroll and chat, and less like a war­ren of tun­nels peo­ple stride through to get to Star­bucks or the of­fice, scarfs up against the wind, dodg­ing traf­fic, smart­phones in hand.

Parts of Cen­tre­town al­ready boast great stores and restau­rants, and new res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment. But the north­ern edge could still do with a lit­tle more in the way of fun. This New Year’s Eve, the justly ma­ligned Sparks Street Mall will be host to a party billing it­self the Times Square Ex­pe­ri­ence. It’ll take more than a party to turn Sparks Street into any­thing close to an Ot­tawa ver­sion of Times Square, but it’s a start.

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