Tunnel to Somewhere: the non-video

The three segments of new downtown Ottawa LRT tunnel are proceeding nicely, out of sight. Just a few days ago, the central section (accessed via the gantry and hole in the lot opposite the dying Holt Renfrew store) connected to the western section (dug out from LeBreton Flats eastward to the Queen/Lyon area).

The RTG and City provided a video of the breaking of the last segment of wall that separated the two sections. You can watch it here:

For what it’s worth, I didn’t notice our famous show-up-for-an-envelope-opening mayor in the video. Perhaps I missed him.

 

Addendum:  OOOPs, On my site, the video now has a Privacy message. It didn’t for the first bit when I posted it here. This is the original link: http://www.confederationline.ca/en/lrtv/tunnel-punch-through/         from the confederation line website …. HOWEVER, when I go there, Google says it cannot find the site.

Sorry folks, maybe it is Top Secret information, or maybe someone is pissed that they weren’t invited to the event.  I believe the contract with the tunnel constructors is that the City has a monopoly on all communications with the public. It just goes to show that you have to be quick to get here to WestSideAction before the mainstream media picks up the stories or someone censors what you coulda’ seen. 

Condos, no condos, design review

 

IMG_1774

Condos. No condos. Design review — is it real? Tall Towers are wonderful ! We have it all for you today.

The housing market continues to be unsettled on the West Side of downtown Ottawa. House For Sale signs seem to stay up forever. Even For Rent signs malinger in windows and on porch railings till they are weather-beaten to death.

After the outgoing Council’s orgy of rezoning on the West Side, Watson’s vaunted “new downtown” forest of high rises in Little Italy is looking rather forlorn. Latest to pack up shop is Nuovo, where i hear the sales office is closing (the sales centre, a pop-up building, may be available for events…) as it is too hard to get enough pre-sales to actually build Domicile’s 18 storey tower on Rochester overlooking Dows Lake. Nuovo has also disappeared from their web site (reminds me of Soviet Russia where out-of-favour people, or deaded ones, got air brushed out of photos).

Once sales stall, who wants to be last in putting their money into a building that might not be built….

(The story is different for smaller buildings, where the number of required pre-sales is less; residents of Little Italy wonder why we got stuck with all the high rises whereas Domicile is heading over to Main Street to build some four and six storey condos that developers and the city said couldn’t be done here. Mind, the City also said we couldn’t get the compleat street that Main is getting, either.  Domicile is also actively promoting low rise condos in Orleans. But not here on the west side).

And that is the main problem with the Little Italy location. Too many approved big towers, and a slow market, makes it difficult for anyone to commit to build.

Claridge is going ahead with their ICON tower, construction begins next month, for completion in 2018 or so. There aren’t enough pre-sales to justify construction, rather they are engaged in a big bet on which way the market will go, and when. By completion time they hope the current glut of unsold condos will have been taken up, and the market recovered, and people will be thrilled with their pied-a-terre on the fortieth floor.

(I confess to being a tich dismayed at the lengthy construction time line, given the never-ending hole digging and slow completion of the Tribecca project over by Place Bell, and the thought that there could be a dozen similar such slow build outs in Little Italy over the coming decades. Damn, I’m unlikely to live long enough to see Watson’s new downtown actually appear. Nor is he, come to think about it. And neither of us is likely to live to see the new Carling or Gladstone OTrain stations since they are to be included inside the sequoia condos).

It does amaze me how much people believe whatever happened before will continue indefinitely. Condos are a good investment? Then they always will be. Condos aren’t right now? Then they never will be again.  It’s a pause in the market folks, the bubble popped, the excess inventory needs to be mopped up, and since we all didn’t stop having babies 25 years ago there is a fresh crop of young buyers that need a place to live. And downsizing retirees. And single women who want to own … something.

And the slowdown on the West Side is compounded by a large-ish inventory of under construction and proposed projects. I hear thru the rumour mill that one nearly completed project in Hintonburg has had some buyers forfeit their down payments to get out of sales contracts.

The market is not universally dead, though. Minto has sold lots of units in two reasonably attractive towers at Lansdowne Park*; and has started construction on Beechwood and on Richmond Road at the far end of the Westboro main street. The SoBA neighbourhood continues to sprout new projects, too, although some of the units may be too micro to actually see.

IMG_1777

The ICON sales office is temporarily closed, and the skirting of the building has been removed. The whole building will be relocated a block south to the corner of Adeline, where a parking lot has been rented (bought?) to house the sales office while the tower is built.

IMG_1775

The ICON is so big, and once its out of the big deep basement garage (9 stories deep, or so I hear) it will be only option here for buyers, sucking up the sales and keeping the competing towers continually delayed.

Another neighbourhood with a bit of glut is just west of Bay. The much delayed Bowery project now seems underway, although construction can be dragged out for a lengthy period while sales (hopefully) accumulate. The City is also on course to approve the 192 Bronson project by Brad Lamb, where the Ottawa Construction Assoc. building (and parking lot) now is.

I went to the vaunted Design Review Panel open-to-the-unwashed session last week to see them handle the latest version of the Lamb condos. The developer walked the panel through the previous versions of the project, showing how it was revised according to their recommendations.

The project originally had three blocks forming one large building: one part facing Bronson, a lower one facing Cambridge, and the tallest block in the centre. The building morphed into different shapes, by stacking and restacking sections, since the golden rule seemed to be that the number of square feet of development couldn’t be varied, just its configuration.

At the end of the presentation, there were some uncomfortable moments, as it seemed several panel members were struck by the success of the developer in following their recommendations had resulted in a single large tower block reminiscent of the large 1970’s slab towers. Which retro-shape they are somewhat obliged to not like.

After considerable hemming and hawing, and polite euphemisms, and planner-ese,  the developer seemed (one cannot be sure exactly what the un-miked panel members said) to be directed to revise his slab tower by … reintroducing some more significant “built elements” at the Bronson frontage, etc, etc. and to chop off the top of his ever-taller tower.

And I thought the great unwashed general public had conflicting and unaware-of-the-consequences comments about projects. Seems we aren’t so _________ after all.

After the session was over, one of the design review panel returned to CIty Hall that evening for Urban Forum, on Tall Towers in Toronto.  His introduction as to why we have forests of tall towers seemed to me to be embarrassingly weak. His review of the gaudy errors of others (eg Doha) seemed a bit too much like a listing of what the outgoing Council would like our condos to look like. Maybe the newbies will have different tastes.

Alas, his feature presentation of what a great job Toronto was doing in shaping livable spaces at the foot of tall towers seemed to be a indictment of all the things Ottawa planners refuse to do. Since a few were at that meeting, I hope they were taking notes.

Naah.

Sigh.

 

 

_______________________________

*Yes I do like the completed Minto tower at the corner of Bank and whatever street it is on the north side of the park. It looks remarkably similar to the Beaver Barracks “affordable housing” built by CCOC on Catherine by the Y. Congratulations to CCOC in having buildings that look like the ones the rich want to live in, and those richer Ottawans who want to live in buildings that look like public affordable housing.

Local Heros

 

 larryrobillard

No 15 Elm Street, near Booth, was the home Joseph Guillaume Laurent “Larry” Robillard and his brother(s) grew up in.

On Nov 8, 1941, 73 years ago, Sgt. Robillard of the Royal Canadian Air Force was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. He downed two enemy aircraft while protecting a descending parachutist. Then just 20 years old, the resident of 15 Elm Street had already shot down a Messerschmitt 109 on 22 June .

During a patrol over Lille, France, on 2 July 1941, then a novice pilot with less than a month’s flying under his belt, he saw a descending parachutist and moved down to protect him. Nine Nazi fighters moved in to kill them both. In the following firefight, Larry Robillard shot down two German fighters and drove off the others (the parachutist lived).

Unfortunately, he was shot down in the process. Would he become the 404th RCAF casualty of the war?

Within a few minutes of his crashing in occupied France, peasants came rushing up with civilian clothes. They removed his uniform and hid it. Dressed as a peasant, he was employed by the Germans to head up the search for himself.

With the assistance of the Resistance, aided by his fluent French,  he walked across France, snuck through the Spanish border, and travelled at nights across Fascist Spain, and snuck across the border into British Gibraltar on 12 August 1941. He had travelled through 1724 km of enemy territory.  By October, he was back in the UK where he got his DFM medal. He wasn’t promoted, however, until March 1942.

The New York Times reported on June 6, 1942 that a civic reception was held on Parliament Hill in honour of Larry Robillard and Paul Emile Morin. Over 10,000 people showed up on the lawn of Parliament Hill.

By November of ’42, Robillard had eight enemy planes to credit.

In Nov ’43, Larry’s little brother RJ, aged 19, who had been serving in the Wildcat Squadron patrolling over Alaska, flew cross country and then over the Atlantic to join the RCAF in Europe.

On June 29th, 1944 (just three weeks after the D Day Normandy invasion) Larry Robillard was part of a group of RCAF fighters than engaged 34 enemy aircraft in Normandy and shot down 26 of them in one day. Robillard was credited with one kill.

He retired as a Lt.Commander in 1955.

He was born in Ottawa on 17 November 1920, residing with his parents and brothers at 15 Elm Street. He learned to fly at the Ottawa Flying Club.  Robillard died at his home in Montreal, Canada on 8th March 2006.

Thank you, Larry.

larryrobillard

On Elgin street: Doing better, still room for improvement

So I whine a lot about planning in Ottawa. That other cities do better. Such cherry picking is easy. It’s time to acknowledge some things done right. Let’s go down to Elgin Street.

The new office building on Elgin Street, opposite City Hall and the Courthouse, may forever be referred to by oldies like me as the “Friday’s Roast Beef building”. Being sans expense account, I won’t gain familiarity with the new occupant of the historic old house, Beckta’s. Others may refer to it as the place where the concert hall isn’t. While I was there just yesterday, damn if I can remember its name. Must have been catchy.

The new office tower with the NZHC, Shopify, and  KPMG, does have some interesting features. There is a seventh floor terrace, open to the public, accessible from an elevator at the Elgin Street entrance. It offers some nifty views:

nov 2014 005

 

It is really nice to have a building with real physical stepbacks, not just the “drawn on” stepbacks Ottawa planners are too inclined to approve. The stepbacks, like on the new Flaherty building just up the street, reduce crowding on the street facade and let in light and air. Too bad the City isn’t inclined to think they are good ideas elsewhere. Our new “unified” TMS zoning will codify that all traditional mainstreets should have six storey buildings along the sidewalks, ensuring dimness on both sides of the street.

It is also a useful contrast to compare the new building with its seventh floor stepback to the adjacent Place Bell with no building stepback but a much larger street level setback / plaza in the NYC style. Hmm. Place Bell, however, is forever condemned in my mind for its multi storey parking garage occupying the west end of its block.

The terrace includes an artsy garden terrace and seasonal display like this, repeated elsewhere around the complex:

nov 2014 004

Kudos to Ottawa building managers who are putting out nice displays of plants and other citizen-friendly features in the downtown. It partly makes up for the niggardliness of the City’s non-landscaping efforts in the heart of the downtown.

Down at street level, there are a number of trees set in the sidewalks, including some long linear beds that offer a much better chance for trees to grow and thrive. Long time readers of WSA will have seen many examples of these plant strips, but always from elsewhere. Now we have a few in Ottawa.

nov 2014 006

As much as I like the planting strips, the sidewalk did not feel generous when walking along the street. The Bell building sidewalk across the street looked much more inviting, with mature trees and abundant sidewalk space.

Typically for small-town thinking, we decided that short term storage of automobiles was the most important use of the public space along this building. The space would have been waaaaay more attractive and vital feeling with the planter pushed out eight feet into the parking lane. The Scone Witch could then have offered a three season patio. Sidewalk life in Ottawa? Perish the thought.

Perhaps we can yet encourage the city to remove parking space in the summer to make room for patios, as is done in Big Cities like Montreal:

1226

The north side of the building, set back from Laurier, snuck in an entrance via the parking lot of the adjacent church. I really like the sidewalk-in-a-parking lot execution, it’s a sort of  naked street design that might actually work since automobiles don’t drastically outnumber pedestrians.

IMG_1763

A bit further north, occupying the former Lorne Building site (are old folks like me forever doomed to remember everything but what they used to be?) is the new Flaherty Building. The building shape is a bunch of varied cubes stacked up. While rigid, it is somewhat pleasing.

IMG_1754

The south side has a street-level bike garage (tenants only) which is a first for Ottawa. Much as I like it, as a symbol of active transportation and progressive thought, I also wonder if it isn’t just a variation on a ground floor parking garage for cars — maybe a retail use would have been a better use.

IMG_1756

 

The Flaherty building is distinctive at night. It’s top floors glow brightly, like a beacon. The lighting is not Blue. While other Ottawa buildings have had nighttime lighting plans (eg World Exchange Plaza) there isn’t the distinctive night time environment that lighting creates in other cities. Ottawa planners specifically ruled out having a lighting plan for the cluster of tall towers planned for Preston/Carling, Ottawa’s “new downtown gateway”. Too ambitious, maybe?

Inside, the Flaherty lobby is a series of vacuously large but not grand enough to say WOW lobbies that interconnect on several levels across the split-level site (the Laurier side being a story lower than the Slater side, and Elgin being on the slope.

There is a “green wall” in the lobby (add to the ones at Minto Place, U of O, and Algonquin College). While these walls are supposed to purify air, I don’t see much benefit in them being in lobbies where people just pass through, since the revolving exterior doors let in wafts of outside air. Greenwall greenwashing? Conspicuous environmentalism?

IMG_1757

The Flaherty building landscaping on the Elgin side is somewhat brutal, I was left wondering why there was a wide field of rough cobbles around the trees — they don’t expand the sidewalk, they aren’t for walking on, they’re just some sort of barrier. Why isn’t this space a lush planting bed?

IMG_1760

and minimal on the side streets too… Sort of like politics, flashy upfront but something else off to the side…

IMG_1761

The KPMG building has better side treatments, and the best handling of a heritage building incorporated into a new development that I have seen in Ottawa, and definitely world class. They have a welcoming pedestrian entrance on the Elgin side:

IMG_1766

 

The new buildings along Elgin demonstrate the planning ideas percolating into Ottawa. They have some better features and spaces than the buildings we had before these. Although Place Bell and Place de Ville have space around them that can be relandscaped according to need fashion, which these built-to-the-lot-line ones don’t.

Both the buildings overlook Elgin Street, which north of Laurier is a sad traffic sewer. One has to go to heritage photos to see when there used to be a landscaped centre boulevard like Greber planned, but which we sacrificed to getting car commuters out of the core promptly at five       four thirty        four       three thirty     three oclock.

I remain hopeful  we can continue on a track to even better buildings tomorrow. There’s just gotta be a pony in here somewhere.

Goodbye to big old warehouse

nov 2014 010

Public Works has a huge old warehouse that runs from 1010 Somerset (just west of the Plant Rec Centre) all the way south to Gladstone Avenue, along the east side of the OTrain corridor. Cycling along the OTrain pathway offers a closeup view of the brick and concrete building, most well known amongst locals for the “stone graveyard” at the Somerset end.

It is quite difficult to see the east side of the warehouse, as it backs up against the numerous dead end streets of Little Italy. The neighbours abutting the warehouse itself have formed their own micro-association called BLISS – Believe in Livable Sidestreets – to protect themselves against the predations of evil city planners. They’ve had some successes, but the city has managed to designate all the family housing for possible conversion to apartments. Compleat neighbourhoods don’t necessarily include families with children.

Before the warehouse was built, probably in the 1940’s, it was a field along the railway tracks. In the 30’s, the circus trains used to stop alongside the site. Locals can still tell you of elephants being “walked” around the block from Somerset to Preston to Gladstone …

oct 2013 058

But the expanding need of the federal government for warehouse space to store pencils and red ribbon, eventually dwarfed the needs of the circus, and the really big shew moved to Parliament Hill…

oct 2013 060

The building has been vacant for a number of years, except for “dead storage”, rendered unsafe to work in due to structural deterioration. Near the north end, one entire middle bay of the building was removed a decade ago, leaving a big hole.

The City has been conducting a Gladstone Community Design Plan (CDP) that includes the site. Public Works showed an amazing alacrity in cooperating with the city on the plan. They have agreed that the Feds will keep the north (Somerset) section of the site; and the south section, accessed from Gladstone, will be sold off.

There are three guesses as to what the City plan designated the site for.

Yup, high rises.

In the snap below, from a draft CDP, the Tory- blue buildings indicate potential PWGSC building sites; the brown and red ones on the “far side” of the OTrain track ( with a bookend set of buildings shown on the nearer western side too) would be built by developers. Development charges would pay for the Gladstone OTrain Station in 2023 … unless that gets delayed.

option 1, full plan but mostly north,

 

 

The PWGSC buildings have about the same likelihood of being built out, in my opinion, as the two office towers the Feds planned at the corner of Booth and the JAM parkway, to put the “mixed” into the mixed use plan for the Flats. Instead they remain debris-ridden pits, enhancing the view from the Claridge condos there, until such time as the NCC drops $3million of our dollars into a “bold driveby experience”. Which will be temporary, of course.

So don’t expect the stoneyard at the Somerset end of this warehouse site to disappear any time soon.

At the last minute, the City withdrew the CDP from its schedule for “fine tuning” with stakeholders. Since they haven’t been talking to the community, I presume that means developers and PWGSC. The site is on bedrock, and one proposal, I gather, is for the proposed buildings to not have underground parking, but rather the first floors of the buildings would be above ground garages. But we don’t know for sure yet, the City ain’t saying.

But with the election over, maybe lips will loosen.

I must say I am very surprised at the speed PWGSC has been working here. From agreeing to reassess their need for the site, to participating in the planning process, to issuing a demolition contract, it has been “warp speed” compared to their usual drift. I gather that PWGSC will be selling the site themselves, not through Canada Lands Co, which makes the sale even faster and perhaps includes an “incentive” or commission back to PWGSC by cutting out CLC. I wonder if there is a push to “book” the sale in time to turn the revenue into a pre-election tax refund, given the balanced budget etc etc.

Let the record show I accept cash, cheques, and money transfers.

Finally, for your amusement, look at this picture and notice the large block of concrete hanging down by a string, waiting to bop someone on the head. We could start a contest as to who we want to walk there …

nov 2014 013

Placemaking, facadism, ignoring opportunities, etc.

In Ottawa, in this era, placemaking is something for planners to talk about, but Must Not Be Implemented, lest anyone think we have big thoughts. Nice Enough is almost going too far.

Have you noticed how often newish strip malls and big box plazas are trying to look like they are a real place? Some, like Mashapee Common (featured here last year) are quite successful in trying to create a new townscape. More often, though, “architects” and developers simply graft on the appearance of something cute and villagey onto a regular strip mall.

We previously looked at the horrid “downtown” of Minto’s Tradition in Florida, and I note with interest this more sophisticated gussied-up-ification of big box stores in Nowheresville, USA:

IMG_1633

 

It meets ‘progressive’ town planning ideals in getting rid of signs on big posts and freestanding letters (remember early K-Marts that had individual neon lit letters standing above the roof? )  Instead, the building facade jumps up and down to elevate the signs to where they can be seen from the road and parking lots stretching off to infinity and beyond. Isn’t that so much better? The materials used on the facades vary, trying to give the illusion of separate buildings. There are even hints of a (false) second storey (see, for an Ottawa example, the Laurentian High School site at Baseline and Clyde for our own Potemkin village).

Note the too-rigid line of awnings; the cutesy village lamp posts. I do appreciate that the end units of each block were dressed in real stone. The Panera, even more so than a Starbucks, fulfills the role of a community gathering spot, a coffee shop and snack establishment where people meet and greet. I saw students studying from books (ie, therefore high school seniors), moms meeting; a sales rep interviewing someone about insurance careers; high school kids on the way home, the self employed “hanging out” in a public spot to overcome the isolation of the home office. And the out-of-sync tourist eating a salad lunch at 3.30pm.

Between the blocks, the developer installed a landscaped plaza, with fountain, decorative pavers, some plants … and Panera had a nice outdoor seating area, albeit of a modest size compared to their outlets elsewhere. Did the developer direct a patio-friendly tenant to the end site, or did the store seek it out?

I have long regretted in Ottawa that we don’t steer appropriate users to the patio spaces. Look at Ashcroft Canyon on Richmond Road. The west end of the first building has a loverly outdoor space perfect for a cafe or patio seating. But the tenant is a bank. The patio remains desolate. The coffee and pastry shops on the Richmond strip generally got less expensive inside units, without exterior patios.

Does Ashcroft have any sense of how to make a public space, and how that would enhance the value of their development?

When I worked downtown  (err, when I worked at all…) a series of banks and patio-hostile establishments occupied storefronts adjacent a downtown-rare large patio, leaving it to gather cigarette butts. The Cantor’s resto was at the the other end of the building, by the garbage room doors.

During the nice planning  & discussion phase of Downtown Moves, the high paid consultants were full of stuff about frequency of doors, seeing into spaces, etc but by time the project got to completion, any sense of the city measuring,  directing, or encouraging  an exciting place were erased, replaced by passive phrases and bland hopes that new buildings would somehow magically fill in the gaps. Other cities are much bolder, establishing a benchline numeric measure of accessibility and vitality (sort of like a walk score) and targeting a specific improvement goal.

But not Ottawa.

This is a pattern I see all the time. Downtown Moves, Rideau Street makeover, or the architectural input into the LRT Stations, all demonstrated that planners and the consultants and the public understand what constitutes placemaking.

And what appeared on Rideau Street ? Am I the only one disappointed? And what will come from Downtown Moves? I suspect more blandness and missed opportunities. And most of these only to be implemented once the 2017 sesquicentennial is over and the peak load of tourists gone home, with 1970’s-planned Ottawa calcified in their minds. Talk about putting your light under a basket.

For the LRT Stations, very early in the planning process view opportunities and place making opportunities were identified, at considerable expense in consultant’s and staff time.  But subsequently, all such benefits were ruled out, even when they were “free”, by city rail implementation staff that insisted that aesthetic judgements and placemaking had no part in constructing a “purely transportation” infrastructure.

I don’t think these guys / engineers are specially dumb or oblivious; I suspect they were operating on orders from the top of city hall. Placemaking can be free or very low cost; it is not making stations into mini taj mahals on the tundra.

There is a standard set of criteria used for stations, including such gems as more glazing on the south side than the windy north. While this is a truism in general, it should be varied in specific circumstances. But instead, the city is boasting about a Celebration of Indigenousness at Pimisi Station, with a plaza etc on the north side of the station, but the dominant glazing will be to the south side (to eventually look upslope at a parking garage or another building).

Bayview station, built on a highest point west of the core, has potential views north to the River, and east to Parliament. But the glazing will face the blah roadscape of Albert to the south; the dominant views will be west to Big Beautiful Scott Street and the general purpose building at Tunney’s;  no view planes to the north; and city staff insisted they could not even consider downtown views even though they were free. Meanwhile, of course, motorists have one of the few protected viewplanes in the city courtesy the NCC’s traffic-JAM-commuter expressway.

In Ottawa, in this era, placemaking is something for planners to talk about, but Must Not Be Implemented, lest anyone think we have big thoughts. Nice Enough is almost going too far. Instead, the pinnacle of our collective placemaking ideal will be big box plazas like the Trainyards, which is so close to but definitely not accessible to Watson’s signature transit system. That is the  joy of low aspirations.

IMG_1632

 

 

On separating cars from cars

City streets with centre boulevards can be found in many places. Usually they exist primarily for traffic planning purposes – to allow space for and to direct cars to turning queues; sometimes just to separate opposing directions of traffic.

Most, like Carling Avenue in Ottawa, have minimal landscaping: some grass, mostly weeds, and occasionally a few trees struggling to grow in the gravel road base since top soil is rarely employed in tree planting. As city traffic and planners said when planning the reconstruction of Carling near Dow’s Lake: if you want pretty, talk to the NCC.

This is gradually changing though. Or formerly poor cousins on the “other side of the river” have two gorgeously landscaped centre boulevards (Allumettieres and Maisonneuve are two cinderella streets transformed by care and attention to design). They make Ottawa roads into signposts of hicksville. The reconstructed Albert Street through LeBreton Flats will, by dint of community pressure, have some landscaped centre boulevards in a few spots. It will also be laid out as a complete street, with separate cycling facilities. (remember, this is the 2018 layout, not the “temporary 2014-2017″ layout going in now).

I cannot recall seeing raised centre boulevard planters anywhere in Ottawa. I first saw them in Chicago a decade and half ago, which surely has as severe a climate as Ottawa. I see them often in the motor-centric US of A. And a few weeks ago I came across some on the south side of the Jacques Cartier bridge in Montreal.

IMG_1606

The yellow line is your clue that what is shown is the left side of the traffic lanes, ie, the centre boulevard. The planters have rows of hardy shrubs planted therein. They certainly seemed alive and growing to me. Possibly they are irrigated (Ottawa got its first irrigated side-boulevard planters on Somerset viaduct (west of Preston) just last year, and believe me, it was a huge ordeal on behalf of community activists to get this implemented).

IMG_1605

This shot shows typical decorative grasses planted in the raised environment. I suspect the winter is every bit as rough on the south shore of Montreal as Ottawa. And the suburban “arterial” / traffic sewer shown here was busy and wide and no doubt heavily salted in the winter. Whoever planned this planter didn’t get dissuaded by the (false) notion that the boulevard is needed as a snow repository in winter — look at Carling Avenue this winter and I challenge you to find any stretch where the city regularly plows snow to the centre boulevard, it is exclusively plowed to the outside of the road.

Instead of planters and trees, Ottawa’s boulevards are characterised by semi-dead weedland, and enhanced by five foot chain link fences to prevent road crossings by unauthorized users, ie pedestrians. Most specifically students, since the fences tend to co-locate in proximity to high schools (see Carling at Broadview; Carling at Lincoln Fields). These fences are ugly as hell. Why haven’t guerrilla gardeners yet gone out to put virginia creeper vines in a few spots to turn these into green walls?

If any readers know of a centre boulevard raised planter in Ottawa, let me know, and I’ll google it.