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Originally published in Centretown Buzz and Spacing Ottawa
by Jeff Salmon

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Now that we are a couple months removed from the public presentations and consultation process for the redevelopment of Lebreton Flats I am anxious to see what recommendations will be made to the National Capital Commission (NCC) Board of Directors by the evaluation committee.

Their recommendation along with a summary of the public input that was compiled for the committee will be made public sometime this spring.

As we await their recommendation, I can’t help but wonder what influence our input will have on the committee’s decision, if any at all. I am optimistic that the more than 7,900 people who submitted comments will feel as if they were a valued part of the process through some correlation between the summary and the selected design. However, the public engagement process has left me with some reservations.

The magnitude of the Lebreton redevelopment demanded more than a few public presentations and two weeks to provide comments through an online questionnaire. While we likely won’t see another project of its size or prominence in the near future it does call into question whether the current public engagement strategies are adequate. I would argue that they aren’t.

To date Ottawa has championed the online questionnaire for gathering feedback from citizens. As mentioned, for the Lebreton redevelopment this tool was employed in conjunction with the question period of the public presentations.

Similarly, although it may be a distant memory to some now, the City undertook the Liveable Ottawa 2031 project two years ago which also consisted of an online questionnaire.  The perspective gained from this exercise was supposed to play a role in influencing public policy in Ottawa which would be reflected in the amendments to the Official Plan, Transportation Master Plan, Infrastructure Master Plan, Cycling Plan, and Pedestrian Plan.

Yet some of the Liveable Ottawa questions were too ambiguous and were left open to interpretation as previously noted by yowLAB and the Ottawa Citizen. Additionally, it is still unclear to me how the information gathered was put to use.

I think we all appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback but without an understanding of how it will be put to use, the incentive to continue participating diminishes.

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Originally published in Centretown Buzz and Spacing Ottawa
by Jeff Salmon

The days and weeks following the public presentations of the two proposals for LeBreton Flats have seen both schemes dissected, analyzed and compared and contrasted. The two proposals have certainly given us quite a lot to write and talk about.

Like many, I am still on the fence as to which one I would rather see built as there are compelling and discouraging aspects to both proposals. Truthfully I sympathize with the designers, the task of getting it right is such a tall order for a site of this magnitude and prominence.

On the other hand it is a dream project for urban planners and architects alike. The opportunity to participate in the design of a project that will have such a grand influence on a city is extremely rare, not just in Ottawa but across the world. The greatest projects can also be the most challenging.

The design teams were tasked with designing a community, not just one or a few buildings. To put this in perspective, it can take only a few buildings to redefine or rejuvenate a community or neighborhood, but in that scenario the designer has the existing context to respond to. In the case of the LeBreton Flats the design teams had to design the context as well.

Starting from scratch means there is unlimited potential, and as proven by the last time the National Capital Commission sought out proposals for the LeBreton area, there is the potential of it falling flat. The significance of this project to the entirety of the city was evident by the turn out to the public presentations.

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Originally posted in Centretown Buzz and Spacing Ottawa
by Jeff Salmon
16 October 2015

New Ottawa Convention Centre and landscaped connection to the Rideau Canal, Photo by Bruce Mcrae used under Creative Commons

Change is good.

Despite this most people, myself included, are hesitant about change because we are comfortable with what we have and where we are but like it or not change is all around us.  We learn and grow from change, and we change because we have grown and learned something. The daily changes in our lives, unless it is life altering may be so subtle they go unnoticed. This can carry on for years until, after reflection, you realize how significantly different things really are. I think this is true in life and it is true for cities as well.

With smart phones it is easy to get lost in our technology and forget about the environment around us. I doubt I’m the only one who has walked to my destination, only poking my head up periodically to look out for obstacles, while checking emails, texting, or glancing at the news. There is a reward in finding something new or different in the city; a sense of satisfaction knowing you’re in “the loop.” If I catch myself getting lost in technology while I’m out for a walk I will stop and challenge myself to take in my surroundings.

The magnitude of change that happens in a city each year isn’t always immediately obvious. Yet, when you stop to think about the changes that have occurred in the last 5 to 7 years, it is surprising what has been completed and the projects that have started and remain underway.

It seems like only yesterday that citizens were up in arms about the Lansdowne redevelopment but now it stands built and it has already integrated into the fabric of the city – albeit, not without some growing pains. It has become a node in the city drawing people to the venue and the surrounding area. It also added a considerable amount of new housing stock in areas (the Glebe and Ottawa South) that are defined by their established neighborhoods.

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Originally published in Centretown Buzz
by Jeff Salmon
June 13, 2014

The housing market is a moving target, influenced by social, economic, and political forces. Successful developers are able to understand the ebb and flow of the market and capitalize by offering timely projects that fulfill a social or economic need/desire. In the last ten years there has been enormous development and growth in Ottawa and at its periphery, and for the urban core in particular the last few years have been marked by condo fever.

Certain neighborhoods, like Westboro and Little Italy, have undergone significant transformations, becoming hubs for development. In fact, Little Italy had to put a freeze on the review of development proposals while the City tried to catch up and formulate a plan for the area.

Though the condo boom is not on the same scale as Toronto, condo towers now dot the map all over the city, with many more on the boards or in the presale phase. However, the fast-and-furious condo tower market in Ottawa seems to be showing signs of slowing, and I think it is safe to say both residents and developers alike are concerned that the condo tower market is becoming saturated, with very little distinguishing one project from another.

In the same way that condo towers have enjoyed success in recent years, so, too, have infill housing projects.

Unfortunately, with the exception of a few projects, the infill projects have become almost as predictable as the condo towers. This is not necessarily surprising: I believe the saying is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Developers have very little incentive to stray from what has proven to sell. This often means that they don’t tend to stray far from the herd, relying more on an established brand, marketing, or a unique location to sell units.

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Originally published in the Centretown Buzz
by Jeff Salmon
April 11, 2014

Cities aren’t born with an innate culture. Instead, this is something that evolves over time. It may emerge with the support of, or in opposition to, a number of social, economic, political conditions. It takes years for a cultural identity to form and even longer to break away from one that is already established.

The ideas of innovators and creatives usually develop outside the realm of public consciousness. Beneath the façade of a slow-moving, overly conservative government town, Ottawa has a budding creative undercurrent that has been gaining momentum in recent years.

There are a growing number of individuals and companies choosing to remain in Ottawa and invest in the city rather than migrating to Montreal, Toronto, or elsewhere. This has seen a rise in the number of initiatives and events that bring these like-minded groups together. Many of these local events also tie into international initiatives focused on social innovation and collaboration.

This is a great and exciting place for Ottawa to be in as a city, as it works to reshape its image into that of a prosperous hub for creative energy. This is reinforced by the City’s recent $15 million commitment (in addition to $15 million from the province) to the renovation of the industrial building at the Bayview Yards into an innovation centre.

It is important for the City to continue to support artists and entrepreneurs by providing an environment where they can thrive. These creative communities are already engaged in reshaping the identity of the city. Look no further than the theme of the recent TEDx Elgin St, which was “Rethink + Rebuild,” for proof of this. It is also worth noting that Artengine’s Electric Fields festival was “We Make the City.” It is clear that Ottawa is in transition, and with that in mind, these themes and ideas will likely continue to be explored as we look toward the future.

At the moment the creative communities are gaining support through local initiatives, festivals and events, and companies and businesses. The list below provides a cross section of the things driving Ottawa forward.

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Welcome to the yowLAB Film Festival discussion for our second film, Microtopia, directed by Jesper Wachtmeister. Our reviewer this month is yowLAB co-director Jeff Salmon. His review/synopsis is included below.

Instructions: 

  • If you have not yet watched the film, it is available for online rental through vimeo.
  • To contribute to the discussion, please feel free to use the comment section following the review.
  • You are also welcome to post links to your own reviews if you prefer to publish on your blog or website. Please make sure to link to this page on your end.
  • We also welcome guest contributions. Please contact us at info.yowlab@gmail.com if you would like to submit a review to be posted to the yowLAB blog.
  • Or tweet your comments @yow_LAB #yowLABFilmFest

We hope you enjoy the film and the discussion. Without further ado. . .

Microtopia

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Microtopia provides an interesting look at individuals, primarily artists and architects, who have decided to downsize their life. I say this because for the people in the film it is clear that micro-living is a lifestyle decision. As each person describes their personal reasons for exploring or living a micro-lifestyle some reoccurring ideas start to emerge, the strongest of which is an escape from imposed social and economic pressures.

In this quest for freedom, most of the people featured are exploring nomadic shelters. One of the characteristics of that seems inherent to these nomadic shelters is a sense of connected isolation. This seems to be a reflection of the people, as most admit to liking people but at a distance. John Wells, for example, lives in almost total isolation however enjoys his online connection to others through is webcam and blog. This sentiment is echoed throughout the film as many of the people describe a hope for technology and a reliance on it for connectivity. If we distill this down to its essence we need two things in life: shelter and an internet connection.

This freedom is certainly attractive to the people in the film however what is does really touch on is the reality of increasing populations in urban centres with limited housing. What the film presents is a more utopian and nomadic vision of micro-shelters which is hard to relate to. In cities like New York where the cost of housing is extremely high people have adapted to micro-living more so out of necessity. It would have also been interesting to see a couple or family who are living micro.

Whether you are looking at nomadic micro-shelters or urban micro-apartments the question at the core of the film is relevant: how much do you need? How much do you need to feel connected to others? How much comfort do you need? What will it take for you to be happy? This will be different for everyone.

This is probably best articulated by Jay Shafer in the film when he is discussing his kitchen (his very very small kitchen) when he describes the design process as prioritizing function. He does not cook a lot, therefore he does not need a big kitchen, however if he did, perhaps he would consider making his entire home the kitchen. To this end Jennifer Siegal, the first person shown in the film, provides an excellent idiom about the living micro – “it is less about bigger is better and more about smaller is smarter.”

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Below I have summarized a few sections to show the variety of characters and ideas presented in the film.

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The Commons McGregor Community Centre Lounge by Bortolotto, one of the firms included by BlogTO. [Image credit: Bortolotto website]

A few days ago BlogTO posted their list of the Toronto’s Top 15 Architects which you can check out here. The list is comprised of a broad spectrum of firms that vary in size as well as the types of projects they do. Of course this list is easily debated – something already underway in the comments section – however, it serves as a great starting point. It is also nice to see people taking interest the architects behind the buildings in their city.

Ottawa is not Toronto. We are not as large and there are less firms to choose from but that doesn’t mean that we lack local talent. So I’m posing the question: Who do you think are Ottawa’s Top 5 Architects? Let us know in the comments.

Do you think Barry Hobin, perhaps one of the best known local architects, should be included on the list? What about BBB Architects, the architecture firm behind the new Ottawa Convention Centre? Would you include Colizza Bruni Architects or Linebox; two firms responsible for some of the interesting infill projects being built around the city. How about Christopher SimmondsBarry Padolsky, or Paul Kariouk?

 

James Bartleman Archives & Library Materials Centre, Barry J. Hobin & Associates Architects Inc. [Image credit: Barry J. Hobin & Associates Architects Inc. website]

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The Hintonburg Six, Colizza Bruni Architecture [Image Credit: Colizza Bruni Architecture website]

Moulin Wakefield Mill, Christopher Simmonds Architect Inc. [Image credit: Christopher Simmonds Architect Inc. website]