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While the National Capital Commission was pleased to announce the success of their public consultation with nearly 8,000 responses to the questionnaire on the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats, we are left asking to what end? How will the content of those questionnaires be compiled? Who will see the results? How will public feedback be used, if at all, and at what stage of the decision making process?

Following the close of the online feedback, the NCC chief executive Mark Kristmanson exclaimed:

The high level of civic engagement and serious debate on the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats will help guide this historic project to a successful conclusion.

Yet many, myself included, were disappointed because the public consultation lacked precisely that; opportunity for meaningful engagement and serious debate.

Despite a few leaks, no details were shared about either proposal until the public presentations on January 26 and 27 at the Canadian War Museum. Neither the formal presentations, that were more marketing than informative, or the Q&A session were sufficient for facilitating serious debate.

With only two weeks to participate in the only official form of public feedback, the extremely limited format of the online questionnaire contributed little more than a flood of knee-jerk reactions and poll of individual opinions. Engagement and debate require an opportunity to interact.

The number of questionnaire responses shows sincere public interest. The NCC should be excited. Sadly we have not been given a platform to actively engage in prioritizing goals or guiding principles to construct the groundwork for a responsible and meaningful development.

On the “ladder of citizen participation”—a tool devised in the 1960s by Sherry Arnstein for classifying participation—the LeBreton Flats process sadly falls at best in the “tokenism” category of placation, consultation, and informing. There is no partnership or citizen power.

Especially in the light of the history of the Flats as emblematic of the kind of authoritative control of the highly criticized and problematic mid-century approach to urban planning, we have to wonder whether our present day process is realistically any more sensitive or sensible.

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Originally published in Centretown Buzz and Spacing Ottawa
by Sarah Gelbard
15 January 2016

As buzz grows about our sesquicentennial in 2017, the National Capital Commission wants us to place our sites on the bicentennial. In December the NCC released a call to the public to submit seventeen ideas for the “major milestone projects” for 2067.

Ottawa Brutalism

It is a difficult task in the shadow of the monumental legend of 1967. The family trip to Expo 67 is one of my mother’s favourite childhood stories. Even as new immigrants to Canada, the Centennial infiltrated family lore on my father’s side as well. It seems the whole generation remembers and is attached to Expo and the Centennial projects that stretched across the country.

I planned to offer a full list of seventeen but just seven turned into an ordeal. I have tried to offer a mix of guiding principles and specific ideas. Many build on and continue to develop the strong vision the NCC has struggled to implement since the last centennial. They are a combination of architecture, infrastructure, landscapes, cultural, practical and ideological projects.

I cannot say that in fifty-one years I will believe in the following ideas. I hope they contribute to the discussion about what direction to move forward on over the next fifty-one years.

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We will discuss the architectural history of the new Noffke Heritage District, the Sullivan Bridge and the public washrooms at Patterson Creek, as well as future development along the Driveway between Fourth and Fifth Avenues.  We will also seek out some secret spots of the neighbourhood, especially the east end of Third Avenue, which has been documented by John Leaning in his book about the Glebe as a hotbed of eccentricity over the years.

Rideau Canal in the Glebe

Ah, Sunday morning walks through the Glebe! I spent much time in Central Park and along Patterson Creek during the years I lived in Ottawa. It was a little less pleasant having to bus from my friends’ home in Nepean in order to join up with my next Jane’s Walk—it took over a full hour. But it was nice to return to a familiar space and discover some unfamiliar stories about its past from our walk leader, John Walmsley.

The walk started on Clemow, east of Bank in front of these two lovely homes by Ottawa architect W.E. Noffke. I told you we would see his name again. He was also the architect of Ogilvy’s department store from Padolsky’s Market walk. It’s not surprising that Noffke appeared in two separate Jane’s Walks. According to this Urbsite post, over 200 buildings in Ottawa have been attributed to Noffke. In 2012, the Central Park area was designated as the Clemow Estate East Heritage Conservation District, including 10 Noffke homes overlooking the park.

We continued down Clemow as Walmsley continued to point out some of the other Noffke homes (shown in red on this map of the heritage conservation district). And then the shortest of stops to mention one home (marked in light pink “Categorie 4”). I don’t think many of the walk participants took much note of this home but it’s one of my favourites in Ottawa. This one is by yet another local architect, John Donkin. While looking it up for this post, I was surprised to learn it is a 2006 renovation. There’s something so beautifully mid-century modern about it that I guess I assumed it has been there for 40 years. But I guess that’s why I’d never noticed it until I moved back to the area in 2009. You can see a picture from before the renovation and some interior shots on Donkin’s website.

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Submitted to yowLAB
April 18, 2014
by Muktirajsinhji Chauhan

I write this to share my anguish at a mini urban design disaster happening right across my street and to defend an Ottawa development that has come to be derided quite a bit by many including a Federal minister calling it ‘not among NCC’s best work’ or some such words. Some may regard what is happening right now as insignificant, but I fear for the rest of the development in the neighbourhood and, many more such developments in future.

I am talking about the new condos at Le Breton Flats and the amusing situation of two sides of a street, Fleet Street, with buildings on either side of this rather well thought out street, which is part of a larger development of about 30 ha, being clad in two different coloured tiles.

Let me explain what is amiss here.

We all love traditional towns such as Quebec city, others few located on the east coast Canada and many in Europe. The reason we love them is because the public spaces of these towns are positively defined by buildings that are formed, or shaped, in response to the street and other public spaces and there is a harmony about the total built environment be it owing to the humane scale and heights of the buildings, harmonious street facades, materials, colours and texture of the building materials.

Simply put, the urban experience of a city gains when architecture lets go and individual buildings are less assertive, and instead they all add up to a harmonious whole. Anything else is like a box of assorted chocolates as a friend once put it, or worse with some gummies in there too competing for your attention.

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