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It’s official: Ottawa loves/hates the new Lansdowne

By Alejandro Bustos on August 7, 2015

Earlier this week we asked Apartment613 readers to offer their thoughts on the new Lansdowne development in the Glebe.  After receiving a lot of feedback via Twitter, on our Facebook page, and in the comments section on our blog site, we can conclude that Ottawa residents are engaged in a vigorous debate about the merits of this new urban site.

For some, the renovated Lansdowne is wonderful.  “Love it, esp. the landscaping in the park,” says Destine Lord via Twitter.  “It looks great with a good variety of restaurants.  A great spot just to hang out.”

Keenan Wellar, who lives at the northwest corner of Lansdowne, also praised the site.

“[I]n my experience 9/10 people who have actually visited the site are amazed by the liveliness of the area and the huge public spaces which line the canal side of the property,” writes Wellar via Facebook.  “The green space is about the same size as the lawn of Parliament Hill, but in addition to that the walking, sitting, and gathering spaces are enormous. It’s an incredible transformation.”

This positive outlook was echoed by inhabitants from other parts of the city.  “I live in the west end, but I really like what they’ve done at Lansdowne,” writes Neil Gray via Facebook.  “I’m not down there a lot, but whenever I have been it’s been very enjoyable.”

In contrast, others gave the development two thumbs down.

“In comparison to Granville Island (Vancouver) and The Forks (Winnipeg), Lansdowne is an embarrassing and depressing lost opportunity to build a vibrant public-private city space,” argues Apartment613 theatre critic Barbara Popel in a comment on the blog site.  “I live in the neighbourhood, and I rarely see all generations enjoying the space.  Sure, the restaurants are full, but they are in a number of other areas of Ottawa, too – that’s not a sign of success.”

Reader Jess Lawson was also negative about the result.  “I miss the farmer’s market at Brewer’s Park by Carleton,” says Lawson via Facebook.  “Try to avoid this place as much as possible.  Seems pretty corporate.”

Ditto for a reader named Ray, who made the following comment on the blog: “Bust – for all the reasons already outlined . . . lack of parking, ugly boxes for buildings, chain stores & restaurants. Ottawa didn’t need more of those.  We used to go to the market every week.  We’ve been twice this summer.  Sad really – site had so much potential.”

Let’s take a closer look at Wayne’s three questions.

Better than a parking Lot

Photo of Winter Brewfest at Lansdowne - Feb. 2015 (image courtesy of Brew Brahs)

Photo of Winter Brewfest at Lansdowne – Feb. 2015 (image courtesy of Brew Brahs)

Before the recent development, Lansdowne was an ugly, mostly abandoned parking lot with a decaying stadium.  It’s thus safe to say that the vast majority of Ottawa residents would agree that the current site is better than the previous mess.

“Even with the big box resto/retail mix, it’s still way better than what was there before,” says James King via Twitter.  “Will evolve over time.”

Beating out a parking lot, however, is not exactly a high standard.

Did not live up to what was promised

When this project was first proposed, the City and developers said it would be a showcase for the city.  Unfortunately, this vision did not meet its original promise, as witnessed by the controversy with the recently opened water plaza that was scaled back.

The promise of boutique stores and original restaurants, meanwhile, also did not turn out as planned.

“A terrible waste of an opportunity,” notes a reader named Maggie in a comment on the blog site.  “Chain stores and chain restaurants surrounded by cheap paving tiles (barely an upgrade from asphalt).  I recall the early planning days and the dreams of something akin to Granville Island.  Not even close.  The only bright light is the beautiful Aberdeen Pavillion.”

While people can honestly disagree on whether the new Lansdowne is a good addition to the city, I think it’s safe to say that it did not meet all of the high expectations that were promised at the start of the project.

As good as it could have been?

This is the trickiest question because there is no clear answer.  Opponents of Lansdowne complain that the city blew a golden opportunity to have a special showcase by failing to have a true competitive bidding process.  Rather than open the door to a wide range of ideas, many argue that the city effectively gave this site away to a small group of private investors.

While there is some truth to this criticism, there is no guarantee that a different bidding process would have resulted in something better.  Yes, we should always dream big, but at the end of the day someone has to pay to build our urban dreams, and it is not clear that a different project would have obtained the necessary funding.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to prove or disprove a counterfactual, so we cannot say with certainty if another bid would have produced something better.  What is clear is that this site has had some successes, as well as the occasional snafu.

For as a reader named Josh writes on the blog site: “Lansdowne has been a moderate success, with some failures and plenty of room for improvement.”

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