Toward a Centretown revival
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.