OPINION – Old Ottawa East’s Test For ‘vibrant public spaces’

Jamie Brougham

The editorial comment in the Globe and Mail (July 15/2023) entitled ‘Vibrant Public Spaces Make for a Great City’ referenced the increasing number of people congregating in high-priced downtown condominiums and apartments. The editorial goes on to note that, from a quality of life standpoint, these expensive inner-city living spaces must serve as “a launch pad” into vibrant local communities full of people.

Within the densified inner city, there is a key role for public spaces which, according to the Globe and Mail, should offer places for “residents to clear their head, get exercise, meet friends, or relax in the sun.” Absent investment in social amenities for urban public spaces, densely packed downtown condos and apartments are reduced to ‘human resources storage units’ providing mere proximity to office-buildings or shops, facilitating little more than economic survival for the residents.

The principal point of the editorial is that communities of all types must take into consideration the quality of life of its residents, with a goal of improving it when possible. While the high-density development model does not represent the only economic, social, and environmentally sustainable way for city-dwellers to enjoy good quality of life, contemporary wisdom has embraced densification, and for better or worse, it is upon us.

In order for this urban model to succeed, society must define what facilitates ‘good quality of life’ within very densely populated communities. For those of us with gardens and backyards, we have what those in dense high rises don’t – a private space that affords quality of life benefits. For the rest of us, access to a “public space” with “good quality of life” is about having a place to meet our family, neighbours and friends, where we can enjoy a managed natural environment that’s good for one’s health.

Boat storage and a bistro at Brantwood

In Old Ottawa East, our parks provide green public spaces, to be sure. However, they can also benefit from new, creative thinking to enhance our community’s quality of life. For example, a ‘good public space’, as per the Globe and Mail editorial, could be satisfied by the placement of a field house at Springhurst Park and some kind of meaningful waterfront for the thousands of near-by residents in the neighbouring high rise buildings. At Brantwood Park, a deck added to the back of the field house could double as an ideal spot for a small canteen or mini bistro. Boat storage under the deck could house our new, community-owned canoes, and offer area residents water access without the need to drive to a cottage or resort.

A good place to begin defining a vision that supports quality of life in Old Ottawa East would be an examination of plans for the new Forecourt Park in the heart of our much-densified Greystone community. It is no understatement that the Forecourt Park will constitute the front lawn and garden of the many high rise dwellers living in this potentially vibrant centre of our community.

By rights, the Forecourt Park should feature a statue, a gazebo, a water feature, Muskoka chairs, and spaces for activities for people of all ages. Instead, sadly, the ‘vision’ for the Forecourt Park that we’ve seen published by the French-Catholic School Board consists of a road for buses (because routing them behind the new elementary school would scuttle plans for even more housing yet to be built). The urban plan that the City has approved contains a transportation design flaw since it provides nowhere for buses to drop off and pick up other than in the heart of the new public park. And the rest of this important new public space seems to offer nothing more than flat fields, presumably for school kids’ sports activities.

Needed: A well-planned Forecourt Park

In an ideal world, all affected stakeholders should be rallying together to ensure the new Forecourt Park becomes a public space that maximizes the quality of life for all of us, and especially for those living in the densified urban environment that Greystone has become. Sadly, that hasn’t happened thus far. Our City planners are told that budgets are too limited and that amenities are frills that can’t be afforded. Condo boards continue to view an exercise room, a reservation based social-room, and a spacious lobby as appropriate and sufficient quality-of-life amenities for their residents. With most of the building projects now completed, the building developers’ relationship with residents has, for all intents and purposes, run its course, and they cannot be looked upon to engage in meaningful “community-building ” or to inject new quality of life amenities at this stage of the game.

Someone needs to step up and lead our community in advocating for enhanced quality of life through a well planned Forecourt Park. If the community wants vibrancy in that important public space, we must be stepping up with creativity and vision and telling the City and the school board what it is that our nearby residents want and need.

It would be idyllic to sit in the Forecourt Park, or for that matter, by Brantwood Beach or in Springhurst Park, and enjoy a coffee with neighbours and friends, but the City seems to think smaller initiatives of this kind harbour too much risk and potential liability, entail too much work, or are too expensive. If the City is afraid of its own shadow, or just can’t do the work, then we need someone with courage to take charge – our elected officials, for example, spurred on by our community association.

Our elected representatives are our leaders, but they get handed so many ‘more important’ construction megaprojects like Lansdowne 2.0, that smaller, quality-of-life initiatives all too often become afterthoughts, and ‘good enough’ will do. This has to change.

Filed in: Front Page, Opinion

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