Mixed blessings as an old retail friend vanishes


The Grand and Toy stationery and copy shop chain has retired from the retail storefront market. I have spent many a dollar there over the decades, and its demise means the disappearance of yet another [formerly] Canadian business. Storefront copy shops are now big-chain US brands. Ottawa will look increasingly like a generic North American downtown.

One thing I won’t miss are the large window wraps that turned the glass into seldom-changed advertising bland-assity. Maybe, just maybe, we will get tenants in the spaces vacated by Grand and Toy that have windows and something interesting to see as one goes by.

Naaah. We’ll probably get just another ground floor cubicle farm. Going downtown is getting less and less exciting, and more and more a mono-use of sterile offices. Have you noticed how many buildings now have ground floors with nothing of interest?

Who knows what was on the last set of big window wraps at Grand and Toy? If no one knows, maybe they weren’t effective.

Seeing Seattle — downtown bike track

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I checked out this bi-directional bike track in downtown Seattle.  It is separated from other vehicles by a poured curb, which in turn was interrupted by breaks to allow for water drainage and driveway access.

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|(above)  the pavement was painted green at private driveways to businesses, not just at intersections, like the Laurier bike track here.


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above:  a whole block painted green, with car parking on the outside edge of the track, with a painted spacer to reduce dooring and motor car passengers stepping out in front of cyclists. I don’t know why the launching point on the far side of the crosswalk is black asphalt. I find the lack of standardization in cycle and road markings somewhat frustrating. I realize we are evolving, through trial and error, to a comprehensive set of cycling signals, \i just hope I’m one of the survivors to the new world order.

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in the above picture, the bidirectional track runs left-right across this side street. I am used to seeing a “launching pad” for cyclists positioning themselves for a two-stage turn, but this double entry launching pad took me by surprise.  Cyclists approaching from the right, wishing to make a right turn across the intersection using a two stage turn, have to cross the opposing track and then position themselves on the pad.  Obvious room for an accident… but I didn’t see any close calls, mostly because the cyclists swung directly from their bike track over the intersection to their right, while on their green, ie a typical single-stage right turn but made from the track position (near the curb) NOT from the centre lane. Looked dangerous to me.

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Bike signal, mounted high up, with typical watch for crazies, err, cyclists … signage.

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Public transit patrons  utilizing the shelter shown above, step out from the curb  onto and island occupying what is elsewhere the parking lane. Crossing at a controlled point, shown with zebra stripes, is encouraged by the presence of discrete fencing to demark the island and cycling track. Transit users also accessed the crosswalk from the end of island as the fence at the far end of the island was short, simply to prevent people from stepping out onto the track at an angle. Peds had to step onto the crosswalk, turn 90 degrees, then cross the road or track at true right angles, not a diagonal. Useful.

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the pedestrian access to the island is level with the  sidewalk and island, and forms a raised  intersection point for cyclists. The crossing is concrete, a further distinction from the asphalt track.

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Simple curb-edge signage reminds pedestrians to  Look both ways.

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Further up the block, in front of the attractive  mid-rise infill project of the type Ottawa tries so hard to prevent/avoid, the parking lane was separated from the track with sculptural elements.

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When set between marked parking spaces, they do not impede car doors. But the spacing seemed random, and some did block passenger doors from opening. Perhaps people move them around – they were made of hollow plastic, like kids toys, with a fill lid on top for water or sand to weight them down.  Hitting them with a vehicle or door wouldn’t be fatal either:

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Personally, I think downtown Ottawa would be improved by the employment of artistic turds like those in Seattle, but I guess  we would have to have them in Liberal red and knee dipper orange too. And just one in green.

Gardening in cracks — err, narrow urban spaces


In east-side Montreal a few weeks back, I noticed a number of merchants or building owners (because these were not residential properties) were squeezing plants into the cracks between the sidewalk and building facade. I’m not sure why such narrow spaces  were “left over” unpaved, but they were put to good use.




the Hakone grass (yellow green stuff above) isn’t cheap either, about $12 per plant.

I also noticed someone — city or merchants association — planted many of the openings around sidewalk trees:





In the Le Plateau district, I was astounded to see the City put planters out on city road boulevards, islands, and on residential streets (these tripod planters were everywhere):



Larger pots marked a temporary bulb out:




I do notice, however, that Ottawa had professionals plant some gardens at the corner of Merivale and Carling (they could have had 10x as much garden if volunteers had done it, and the buy in means passersby often will do the weeding). and some of the mixed plantings along King Edward and Bronson are actually surviving and a few thriving. It’s up to community busybodies us to remind adjacent residents to weed once a month, water occasionally, or do it for them.

Once neglect sets in, too many people who couldn’t find the time to care for the plantings find lots of time to tear them out and leave the planting zone untended. I am disappointed how many people I talk to resent the idea of doing anything themselves. “You mean I’m supposed to take care of it? Outrageous! The city planted it let them do it!”

To which my standard reply is: they also paved your driveway out to the street. Do you expect them to shovel it all winter? If they put in grass, would you refuse to mow it?  [yeah yeah, i know, the evidence is all around us that the answer to all those questions is FU].

Here’s to a greener city, by which I mean plants, not advertising campaigns.


Chinatown BIA sponsors another community garden spot

The Chinatown BIA has for years provided funding for the original Somerset community garden at Somerset/Empress. Funding replenishes mulch, buys a hose or some plants, etc. They also funded a whack of tulip planting in all the streetscaping planters near Booth.

When the City rebuilt Somerset a few years back, they provided a really nice planter near Booth, with two trees. Alas, almost all the tangly shrubby things on the bottom died the first winter. But, they are guaranteed ! So the landscapers returned last year and replanted. Only to see them all die another time last winter. The City only gives us two whacks, after that, the planter is left naked. The pic below shoes how few plants survived, between the dying back tulip stems:



Community Gardeners to the Rescue !  The Chinatown BIA generously paid for some bags of topsoil, bags of mulch, and 27 perennials  (that’s about $500 for those who like to count such things). First, we tore out the dead:





Then placed the new plants in a pleasing arrangement:



People planting things attracts all sorts of passers-by who stopped to stare, or talk. Someone brought us Tim Horton coffees. The customers of the adjacent hair salon crowded the window:


Mulch finished it off:





While the transformation of a city blight zone to a garden is satisfying, there is a bit more work to do. In periods of drought, it is advisable to water the plants. None of the adjacent buildings had an outside tap, so we’ve been driving up giant office-cooler-bottles of tap water to keep them watered. Once established, ie next year, they’ll have to be tough enough to survive alone, which is one of the factors we consider when choosing the plants.

The community garden on Arthur is near a church hall and it gets watered from there.

The Preston BIA also sponsors tulip planting and the community gardens in Little Italy. That BIA put out wooden planters of tulips in the spring; this week they are putting out planters of autumn chrysanthemums.

It is a real delight to see community partnerships like this: the city provides the space (or the community just takes it, in which case its more akin to Guerilla Gardening); the merchants, through their BIA, some money; and the resident volunteers do the labour.

Both Taggart and Fanto have allowed us to remove plants from their sites slated for redevelopment.

[astute readers may be wondering about the Somerset viaduct planters with all their weeds and dead plants, but that is a whole 'nother story for another time]

Community Gardens just keep on growing

The City kindly parked two round planters on Elm Street in front of the little park there, in advance of construction (someday) of a permanent bulb out — imagine, replacing parking with a park !

Councillor Holmes sponsored a buying-spree to get some plants for the planters. There isn’t much left in the big box stores, but we got the two planters filled. Next spring, some of the plants might get swapped out or traded with other community-maintained garden spots on the west side.

The planters arrived in all their naked glory, but actually filled with good dirt:


Some kids appeared the instant there was activity on the street, to see what was going on. They were THRILLED to help put the plants into the prepared holes. I learned all about their school garden veggie plot put in before summer break. They were keen to see how the plants were doing, but only in September, since going back to the school whilst on summer break just wasn’t in the cards.


They promised to supply the pot with worms. They gave huge EUWWW’s to the number of cigarette butts that had grown in the planters in just a few days. Guess maybe moms and dads pop out of the park for smoke while the tikes are drowning  playing in the pool.

If you get up really close to the planters, they look pretty lush:


But in fact, they are still a bit skimpy, but with some occasional rains, and maybe the odd watering by neighbours, the plants should grow.