Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen
Lansdowne Park's rebuild has demanded more from David Chernushenko than any other politician, perhaps more than the Capital councillor realized. He spoke to The Citizen's Matthew Pearson.
Q The first phase of Lansdowne Park officially opens in a few days. What does the culmination of this long process mean to you as the councillor?
A For me, it's not so much the end as the first end in four years of almost constant focus on Lansdowne. I guess there is part of me that says, "Phew, finally." Love it, hate it, anywhere in between, it's now open, we'll no longer be speculating about what it's going to be and whether it will or won't fail or meet expectations. We'll actually be watching it happen now. Of course, there's still years to go of seeing whether the retail works, whether the traffic drives traditional clientele away from the Glebe or attracts more new clientele, whether football succeeds this time.
Q The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) has gone to great lengths to publicize the transportation plan. How confident are you it will work?
A It's emphasizing all the right things — if people really accept that and do it with some enthusiasm, it could work fairly well from the outset. I have to say only "fairly well" because the fact is Lansdowne is not good for public transit. It is not on rapid transit and it's not going to be on rapid transit. So, here we are saying, please, please, please take buses, while at the same time needing to acknowledge that our capacity to run them smoothly is limited by this quite congested street.
Q What do you hear from residents these days? Would you say most of them are either on-side or have just grudgingly accepted what's happening in their community?
A There's a very small minority that will raise on every opportunity they can just how terrible the idea was and go to their deathbed doing that. Others have moved on and realized you can't spend your life being bitter all the time, even if they don't like it. And then there's that unknown 20, 30 per cent that didn't dare raise their head because they knew they were in the minority to say, "Hey, I actually kind of like that idea." It's not like everybody in the Glebe and Old Ottawa South hated it from the outset, but it was certainly a minority view.
Q The Lansdowne Park redevelopment project has taken up a lot of your time since you were elected in 2010 and it's no doubt caused a lot of stress and sleepless nights. What has kept you going?
A I suppose what's kept me going was trying to focus on the things that I might be able to do something about; tweaking things rather than really changing them. I've tried very hard to use Lansdowne redevelopment as the lever or maybe foot-in-the-door to make some changes, particularly in transportation, that have been needed for a long time and were going to benefit both the community and the city transportation network at large.
Q At a recent Lansdowne briefing, Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder saluted you and said the past four years couldn't have been easy. And yet you've registered to run again. Why do you still want this job?
A I'm sure that everybody who's ever held elected office has asked themselves on a regular basis, "Why do I do this?" For me, it's some combination of feeling like I am accomplishing something — something that's true to my own values and vision for the city, I'm getting enough wins even when I'm stuck with things that weren't my choice, and I am so pleased that enough people stop me in the street or make a point of writing an email to say, "Thanks for what you do. It's not easy. We recognize that."
Q What part of the Lansdowne redevelopment are you most excited about?
A The so-called urban park. The tragedy, of course, is that an existing little, but still valuable, Sylvia Holden Park had to be cut down and built over to make this plan work. I say "had to" in quotes. The end result will be much more green space and park space than was there. I just wish we could have had both. I think it will offer a lot of breathing space, lounging space, informal place for people to go and play and picnic.
Q Where will you be on opening night?
A I'm going to be out of the country. That's not some conscious decision by me to say, "I shall snub the opening game." My mother-in-law is having a 90th birthday and my family made plans to leave town way back in November when we could still find discount tickets. Actually, (I was) intentionally trying to be here for the opening games — they were supposed to be in early July, as it turns out, they're now in the second half of July. But it reaches a point where you spend two years constantly working on a transportation plan to try and make it work, I just have to say it's up to the professionals now.
This interview has been edited and condensed.