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Neighbourhood Planning

Wed Jun 20, 2007 Miss Vicky 

So last night's open house seemed to be a success. There were quite a few people there when we arrived around sevenish. We grabbed a hot dog (which seemed to be very popular with the kids from the local soccer league) and after some brief chats with friends in the lobby of the community centre, headed in to check out the displays. Because, predictably, the open house consisted of a bunch of diagrams and information on panels that one could browse at one's leisure, and a blank feedback form to fill out and hand in. Engineers, consultants and city staff were on hand for informal discussions, questions and explanations, but that was pretty much it. Not exactly what I would call public engagement.

However, the content of the panels was very encouraging. There are 3 processes going on under one banner. The Neighbourhood Planning Initiative focuses on Hintonburg and Mechanicsville and seeks to develop a broad plan for city services in the area. Its displays focused a number of vision statements, and was probably the most vague of the lot... it was pretty hard to disagree with what they'd come up with. So we didn't spend a lot of time in that area, and headed up to the Gym where the action was: the Wellington Street Community Design Plan and Road Reconstruction.

The Community Design Plan is supposed to develop guidelines for urban design and land use planning along the Mainstreet. They are fairly far along, from what I could tell, and have set out some fairly concrete principles and objectives - like protecting views and vistas, establishing a clear network of people spaces, building a pedestrian and transit-friendly environment, and so on. Their maps identified places along the mainsteet where opportunities exist for each of the objectives. There was some skepticism among the folks present that the ideals would not be achievable (especially in some of the areas most in need of revitalization), but this is a long-term plan, and the principles will require community action and vigilance if we are going to

make them happen.

The Road Reconstruction panels attracted the most interest, since they were able to put something concrete on the principles outlined in the other sections. Well, it wasn't all concrete, since part of their proposed functional designs include plans for a heck of a lot of trees. Planters too, and even a few benches. They had some examples of streetlight styles, and there is talk of a green roof project to help reduce the amount of storm water runoff from neighbouring buildings into the drains on the street.

The design proposes some substantial changes to the street - wider sidewalks in many paces, shortened crosswalk distances, bulb-outs and bus bulges and some changes to problematic intersections (like Rosemount and Wellington, for example). And here the controversy begins. Some folks love the bulb-outs. Some hate them. Some worry about the lack of on-street parking. Some want to see the parking gone. Cyclists are worried about negotiating shared lanes. Transit enthusiasts are concerned the buses may not be able to navigate the new streetscape. Pedestrians are keen to have the extra sidewalk space.

When Creative Neighbourhoods took the giant maps to community events over the past year or so, a common refrain was to bury the hydro lines. There was a whole panel devoted to this issue, basically letting us know that it is prohibitively expensive and encouraging us to focus on improving the look of the street by getting interesting lighting. I kind of figured this would be the case, and frankly, I'd rather spend the budget on street lighting and furniture anyway.

Now that plans are beginning to take shape, I hope the city will consider some different approaches to public engagement. This is a pretty passive way of getting feedback, and you practically need an urban planning degree to interpret some of the panels. I'd like to see something a bit more dynamic and interactive, and beyond just the usual suspects. When I talk to folks on the street or at the pool or at Bridgehead, I'm impressed by the interesting and creative ideas people have, and the their concern and care for the neighbourhood and its future. Surely the city could find a way to channel some of that. Or at least find someone who can (Creative Neighbourhoods, perhaps?).

Were you at the open house? I'd love to hear some thoughts!

Some people were moved to reply

Richgold Jun 20, 2007 07:20 PM said:

Slightly off topic, but about neighborhood rejuv, what 's happening at the Engine Room? Any ideas? Did they run out of steam? Pukka Gallery's site says to look for it at a new location this summer.

Miss Vicky Jun 20, 2007 10:12 PM said:

Pukka has decided to move to a new location, as I understand. There is a caterer that wants to use the space we had as a campaign office, but apparently they have been tangled in city of Ottawa red tape for a while.

QUADgirl Jun 21, 2007 01:54 PM said:

One of the proposals presented at the open house is to cut down 1/2 the height of the stone wall in Hintonburg Park for safety/visibility reasons. As far as I'm concerned, the problem had been remedied about 10 years ago when about a half dozen windows were cut out (as well as the entire SE corner of the wall). This wall has a historic connection to the church next door and its height and mass determine it's value as a heritage achitectural feature. This cut-out would also alter the appearance of the beautiful main portal into the park (with the iron-scrolled "Hintonburg" sign).

I don't like the fact that the Lofts On The Park developer is offering to fund the project. Perhaps this is considered a trade-off for their unpopular decision to tear down the tree-line on the northern edge of the park.

Miss Vicky Jun 21, 2007 03:02 PM said:

wow, I missed that portion - where was that?

If they want safety, I would suggest better lighting, not the removal of interesting heritage features

liss76 Jun 21, 2007 03:31 PM said:

Yeah, really. Geez.

QUADgirl Jun 22, 2007 12:25 PM said:

The presentation was set up in the main meeting room beside the exit. It included a photoshop picture of what the park would look like after alterations to the wall... and it wasn't a pretty sight. One bright note, the proposal included images of attractive lantern-style lighting along the park's pathway.

It made me think back to the time, one year ago, when I discovered a haiku poem delicately tacked to one of the park's trees. It was a simple social commentary about the wall as a feature of the community and it read:

"Ants on stone wall
Permanence in midst of change
Stone and mortar moves"

Who would have thought that one year later there would be a proposal to move this wall's stone and mortar... a proposal made by members of its own community!

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