'Stay off': Warning signs, guards loom over Lansdowne water park

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Children play in a water park near an art installation at Lansdowne Park Tuesday August 04, 2015. The city has recently put up signs setting out the boundaries where people can and cannot play . (Darren Brown/Ottawa Citizen)

Don Butler, Ottawa Citizen

First, people were unclear about where they could park their cars at Lansdowne Park. Now, it’s unclear where their kids can splash around.

Barely a week after a new water plaza opened in the urban park, signs posted by the City of Ottawa last Friday appear to place part of the plaza off-limits for play.

The four signs seem unambiguous. Using directional arrows for emphasis, they admonish visitors to steer clear of the portions of the water plaza near Uplift, artist Jill Anholt’s granite and brushed stainless steel sculpture.

“Jill Anholt artwork,” they read. “Please stay off.”

They also use words and arrows to indicate the area of the water plaza where play is permitted.

Based on the signs’ placement, that would seem to exclude eight of 55 water jets designed to encourage play by children and adults as well as a lower pool where “visitors can sit and cool their feet,” as the city stated in a July 25 press release announcing the new water plaza.

But according to a city spokesperson, the signs have more to do with “way-finding” than prohibiting anything.

“They’re just advising people to not play directly on that central art piece,” said a city media relations officer, who said her statements should be attributed to Léo Morissette, the city’s assistant general manager of parks, recreation and cultural services.

“They’re not demarking any kind of forbidden area where people aren’t allowed to go,” she said. “That area of the water plaza is still open to anyone who cares to go and enjoy it.”

Lansdowne letdown, a triumph of lowered expectations

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Susan Sherring, Ottawa Sun

At first blush, a first visit to Lansdowne Park can't be described in any way but disappointing.

The word ugly might actually cross your mind.

At second blush, the feeling is much the same.

There's a huge Sporting Life at the entrance and big signs on the Bank St. side advertising the bargains inside.

There's a Winner's. There's a Structube, which recently relocated from the ByWard Market.

The store, with lovely modern furniture, also has two other locations in Ottawa.

There's a Source, if for some reason your own neighbourhood doesn't have one close by.

And there's a whole bunch of restaurants.

But if you're searching for a store with fun and unique finds you can't get anywhere else, a boutique — as first suggested by the powers that be when the vision for transforming Lansdowne Park was just on paper — nary a one.

No Fun Allowed: Ottawa's new water feature a microcosm for bigger issues

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Jonathan McLeod, Ottawa Citizen

The Lansdowne water plaza opened to mixed reviews. The development seemed scaled down. The decision to move the orchard costs the space much-needed shade. Not everyone knew what to make of the centrepiece artwork Uplift. But that was all secondary. It still provided something very important, enjoyment. At the official opening, Bay Ward councillor Mark Taylor declared that the water plaza would make Lansdowne Park “as warm and inviting as possible.”

Apparently, part of it was a little too inviting.

Maybe there is a concern about dangerous hard edges. Maybe there is a concern that children will damage the granite and steel sculpture. Maybe there is a desire for decorum. Whatever the motivation, a week after opening, four signs have been placed around the water plaza, instructing kids that they may play near the sculpture, but not on it.

Make no mistake, there is no segregation between the official play area with its sprinklers and the rest of the water plaza. The two are a part of the same whole. The only means of separating them are by makeshift signs and a security guard or two.

(Yes, security guards.)

The signs at the Lansdowne water feature, reading in part: “Artwork, please stay off.” DAVID REEVELY

There’s a very good reason there is no segregation between the play area and the sculpture. The piece is intended to be interactive. The artist, Jill Anholt, stated that Uplift is designed so that people can “engage and touch and interact with water directly. So it’s not an artwork you just look at, but it’s one that you move onto, sit on, interact with directly.”

This form of public art offers a tactile, engaging experience. You can touch it, feel it, use it and be a part of it. It strikes at the notion that art is something to be stored in galleries or kept under glass. It shows that art and beauty should be a part of our daily lives, that art belongs to the people. Installing such a prominent piece of public art in a children’s water plaza further demonstrates that art is not merely the domain of adults. Children, too, deserve beauty and culture, even when they’re splashing through puddles.

So the signs and security guards instructing people how they may enjoy Uplift are not only an imposition on visitors to Lansdowne; they are an affront to the art, itself.

Disappointment is nothing new at Lansdowne. Trees have died. The Pavilion is regularly empty. The lovely pedestrian stonework has been sullied with white and yellow traffic lines, compromising the safety and enjoyment. OSEG and the city had a vision for an urban village, but so far they have been either unwilling or unable to implement that vision.

The water plaza is, sadly, a fitting microcosm for the entire development. The original design was lovely. The implementation was…not. The community was provided with an underwhelming splash pad that, in scale, is ill-suited for the water plaza installation. And yet, the public — the children — made the most of it. The community took this severely flawed public space and used it to its fullest extent.

They enjoyed the water. They enjoyed the benches. They enjoyed Uplift. And, apparently, this could not be tolerated. The sculpture will be protected from the children. This prominent piece of public art will be sullied by the hasty erection of signs and a circling security guard, defeating the very purpose of installing art in the first place.

Communities have a tendency of reclaiming their habitats, and we are already seeing that at Lansdowne. Children will play and Uplift will be enjoyed as intended, signs be damned. Sometimes, little bits of civil disobedience and guerrilla urbanism can make our public spaces so much better.

Jonathan McLeod is a general fellow with the Canadian Council for Democracy. He writes about local matters at stepsfromthecanal.wordpress.com.

Re: How the city cheaped out on Lansdowne’s ‘Water Plaza’, July 28.

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Letter to the Editor, Ottawa Citizen

I enjoyed David Reevely’s column about the Lansdowne Park water plaza and other shortcomings.

I have tried really hard to like Lansdowne. Restaurants like Joey and Local Public Eatery have good food, but the music is too loud for normal conversation, even out on the patios. The new cinema has opened, although there is no water fountain on the premises.

The trees along the main entrance have been cut down because the underground water system didn’t work properly. Now there are just stumps.

I was amused when the city installed yellow lines and metal poles to distinguish the sidewalks from the road. Pedestrians know where to walk.

Drivers aren’t used to European-style plazas. A fountain in front of the Aberdeen Pavilion might have helped to slow down the cars going too quickly around the corner.

What concerns me most about Lansdowne is the total contempt of city officials like Alain Gonthier, the city’s acting general manager of infrastructure. When asked about temporary shade at the playground for children, Gonthier said people could go inside the Aberdeen Pavilion, which isn’t close to the playground. Could the city not provide temporary structures for children to provide shade until something more permanent is created?

I have just returned from Spain, where water fountains, flower baskets, benches and shade trees are found everywhere in parks and on busy streets.

I know Lansdowne needs time to develop. However, what does an urban village mean to Gonthier?

Good infrastructure, if I am correct, is to benefit the people in a community.

Sandy Stone, Ottawa

How the city cheaped out on Lansdowne's 'Water Plaza'

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David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen

Lansdowne Park’s water plaza has been awaited by visiting families for weeks. We’re regulars, and we’ve watched the tall sculpture in the middle grow, the pavers go in, the fences come down. My boys have never seen a wading pool or a splash pad they’ve disliked.

Till now. “There’s not enough water,” my six-year-old says.

Lansdowne has a lot to like: Its patios are full, its teams are doing pretty well, it hosts the closest thing Ottawa has to a downtown mainstream movie theatre. I am, right now, wearing underwear I bought at its Winners. The disappointing thing is that most of its successes are elements brought by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, the city’s private partners.

As for us citizens, we’ve cheaped out on a lot.

The Rideau Canal footbridge and canal access that were part of the original park concept never made it beyond the blue-sky stage. The “heritage orchard” is in a traffic island, the grove honouring Algonquin history is tucked away by a fence. The Aberdeen Pavilion and Horticulture Building are sporadically used. Drivers got confused by the pedestrians-first design, so we painted yellow and white lines all over the cobbles and paving stones.

You can trace the decline of the water feature in the renderings the city and its private partners produced. Early on, it was to be a big boomerang-shaped pool, shimmering in imaginary sunlight in a video “flythrough.” Waist-deep waders cavorted in a still image in which the whole place was the pale blue that says “this is a swimming pool.”

Detail from a rendering of Lansdowne Park’s redevelopment, before plans were finalized.

A slightly later rendering shrank the pool but added fountains shooting water way up over grown-ups’ heads. That was in 2012.

In 2013, as construction was set to begin, they dialed the renderings back again, to something much more closely resembling what they actually built. The pool’s mostly been filled in, the sprays of water reduced to overpowered drinking fountains — though still with some oomph, and dozens of them. There’s the impression of concavity; not a pool, exactly, but enough water to splash in.

Alain Gonthier, the city’s acting general manager of infrastructure, said in emailed responses to questions on Monday that renderings aren’t promises. “A rendering is a depiction of the general essence of the space, and is developed before the actual design process. Details are confirmed through the design process,” he wrote.

Gonthier didn’t design or oversee Lansdowne and this isn’t his doing. But the unfortunate implication here is that when we see renderings, we mustn’t trust them.

Lansdowne’s ‘Water Plaza’ on the day it opened. JULIE OLIVER / OTTAWA CITIZEN

As built, the little spurters produce not much more than a steady trickle, which runs down into a stone trough near the central sculpture. It’s OK if you’re two, though lots of parents will fret about kids that small tripping in the trough part. If you’re a grown-up, you can rinse your feet. Some kids literally seem to have more fun with the actual drinking fountain nearby: it has one of those straight-down nozzles for filling water bottles, and if you put your hand in the flow it goes everywhere.

The benches around the “water plaza” were never modified to match the shrunken water feature: they’re as expansive as they were supposed to be when they surrounded a much bigger pool. By themselves, they’re pretty nifty — slats of wood arranged in wavy up-and-down patterns that turn them into playground equipment all by themselves, great for all kinds of groups to sit or climb around on. It’s just that most of them now face not water but a big expanse of sun-blasted pavers.

This is a problem throughout the kids’ area: there’s no shade. The playground is small but its funny tubular climber isn’t like anything else in Ottawa, as far as I know, offering different challenges for kids of different ages. That’s good, and on cooler days it’s crawling with kids. It’s built on a rubber mat, which is state-of-the-art for outdoor playgrounds, but in the sun it’s like a heating pad. Other dark surfaces — purple plastic benches, a black rubber slide thing — get too hot for bare skin. The saplings the city’s planted will offer respite — in 10 or 15 years.

Gonthier said Monday there are no plans for temporary shade at the playground. If people want shade, they can go inside the Aberdeen Pavilion, he said.

The crowds are at Sylvia Holden Park next door, with a deep wading pool, a playground on sand, and tall trees shading it all. The locals fought to keep the park carved out of the Lansdowne redevelopment; the city had promised to preserve all its elements, just rebuilt and mixed in with the rest of the urban park, but they weren’t buying it. I thought this was just obstructionism until I took kids to each place.

Hot parks with small trees are a first-world problem, of course, except that Lansdowne is supposed to be a showpiece, the best of what this first-world city can do. We know how to do this better: Toronto’s adding playgrounds to its lakefront redevelopments loaded with water features. Boston’s downtown greenway — where a now-buried highway used to be — is full of them. Even in regular suburbs, where we build most new parks, you’d get a better splash pad.

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Lansdowne water plaza opens to (mostly) enthusiastic reviews

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Bruce Deachman, Ottawa Citizen

Yet another piece of the Lansdowne Park puzzle was put in place Friday morning, as deputy mayor Mark Taylor officially opened the “water plaza” and accompanying public art installation, promising “another space in this modern urban park where families and friends can come together to celebrate our community.”

“They’re like lasers!” shouted five-year-old Nolan Gauthier in describing the 55 jets that send water in gentle arcs as high as perhaps a foot off the ground.

Nearby, a trio of nine-year-old boys paused briefly from their enthusiastic running of the aquatic gauntlet to offer the middling, too-cool-for-school “comme ci, comme ça” hand gesture to describe the water plaza, before returning to their definitely not-middling fun.

“It’s kids and water,” remarked Richard Clair as he kept watch over his three-year-old grandson Lucas Gemmell. “What’s not to like?”

Then he added exactly what’s not to like: the structure boasts a number of hard sharp edges that at the very least will provoke some tears over the summer months. And he joked, too, that he found the sculpture, titled Uplift and made by Vancouver artist Jill Anholt, almost as stark as something you might expect to find in, say, a monument to victims of communism.

Lansdowne’s TD Sign: Failed City and Corporate Governance

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The TD sign on Lansdowne's veil demonstrates  egregious municipal and corporate governance and is a violation of the the Rideau Canal as a UNESCO world heritage site

John Dance, The OSCAR

 The bad news is that OSEG is again illuminating the Lansdowne veil’s massive TD sign at night. The worse news is that the sign was approved as a result of city staff consulting inadequately, deviating from standard signage rules, and providing incomplete information to Councillors and others.

Last December, to the relief of many local residents, OSEG stopped illuminating the 20-foot-square green TD sign near the top of the stadium’s Canal-facing veil. But now that OSEG has the ability to program lighting throughout the stadium, the veil sign will stay on until 11:30 every night, says Bernie Ashe, OSEG’s CEO.

As noted in earlier articles of The OSCAR, the placement and size of the sign came as an unpleasant surprise to many. When asked about being consulted on the sign, Councillor David Chernushenko responded, “The possibility of there being a sign at all on the veil, let alone a very large one, was never highlighted to the Lansdowne Design Review Panel (LDRP).”

“Although it seems the verbiage is there in the documents, we were focusing on so many issues that something like this would only have merited our attention if it stood out in some way. I have confirmed that all five of the LDRP members, including Peter Hume [then chair of the city’s planning committee], were surprised and disappointed by the size and location of the sign when it was erected,” Councillor Chernushenko concluded.

Indeed, the summary of the Lansdowne signage plan provided to planning committee makes no mention of a proposed large sign on the veil. Staff requested approval to set aside all of the standard signage bylaw provisions for the Lansdowne site because, according to the plan, “Aesthetics and design considerations, which contribute to place-making and place identity, and more subjective considerations for ensuring signage and way-finding fit with the design and place-making objectives for Lansdowne, are not adequately addressed through the [city’s existing] two bylaws.”

The second sentence of the plan’s preface reads, “When poorly executed, signage can detract from the experience of the site by becoming an overwhelming eyesore.” So the TD sign – a huge “eyesore” for many residents of OOS, the Glebe and Old Ottawa East - is hardly what we could have expected from the Lansdowne signage plan.

When the Lansdowne signage plan was discussed at planning committee Bob Brocklebank of the Glebe Community Association and Councillor Chernushenko asked tough questions of John Smit who was representing the city.

Mr. Smit’s responses – all clearly available to anybody who wants to listen to the audio recording of the June 12, 2012 meeting – are vague and repeatedly couched in soothing phrasing such as holding Lansdowne signage to “a higher standard” and having “a much more stringent process.”

Mr. Brocklebank specifically asked if the proposed blanket exemption from the standard signage bylaws was because “the problem is that you [Mr. Smit and the city] are intending to install billboards within a restrictive zone along the Queen Elizabeth Driveway.”

To this Mr. Smit responded only in generalities. He had the clear opportunity to say “Yes, we will have the authority to install a large billboard-sized sign on the veil,” but, instead, he did not address Mr. Brocklebank’s question.

In fact, the details of the Lansdowne signage plan included one provision that was a significant variation from the standard signage bylaw to, it now seems, “allow” the huge sign on the veil. This was the provision that “No billboard sign will be installed that is within the urban park or within 50 metres of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway.”

The significance of this – which was not highlighted in the summary to planning committee nor mentioned during staff testimony at planning committee – is that the standard signage bylaws require billboards to be a minimum of 500 metres from Queen Elizabeth Drive. So staff recommended a provision that was a tenth as onerous as the standard by-law yet failed to bring this to councillors’ attention.

Although the report to planning committee makes considerable reference to the Glebe and consultation with the Glebe BIA, there is no reference to Old Ottawa South and there never was any consultation with OSCA, GCA or any of the residents on Echo Drive or elsewhere. How could city staff consider it reasonable to erect and illuminate a large commercial sign that dominates the views from the Canal, Colonel By Drive and the eastern view from Bank Street bridge, without consulting those most likely to see it?

When recently asked about this, Mr. Smit, now the city’s manager of policy development and urban design, responded, “The TD logo is a simple place identifier that is located on the upper part of the veil with internal lighting. It was also noted [as part of the review for the logo on the veil] that extensive landscaping would be provided at the base of the veil, and that there exists extensive mature planting on the NCC lands adjacent to Queen Elizabeth Driveway. This vegetation provides a significant visual screen between the canal corridor and the stadium veil including the logo sign on the upper part of the veil.”

Perhaps Mr. Smit and his colleagues have never skated on the canal or travelled along Echo, Bank, Colonel By or Queen Elizabeth Drive. If they had, they’d know that the vegetation does not hide much of anything, let alone the TD sign near the top of the stadium.

Ottawa drivers running (make that parking) wild in our pedestrian zones

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By Kathryn Hunt, Metro

Recently, someone asked me if I thought motorists would drive through parks, over lawns and on sidewalks if there were no dedicated space for cars (as cyclists do, at times). At the time, I didn’t know what to say. Since cars need flat surfaces and a lot of room, it was hard to imagine. There just isn’t room on a sidewalk for a car.

But the recent concerns over parking at the new Lansdowne Park has brought that question back to mind.

The area was conceived as a pedestrian zone, where people could gather on large, cobblestone boulevards and squares flanked by shops. But almost immediately after opening, confusion set in about just where cars were allowed.

The cars might not be driving over lawns and through parks, but they are certainly parking pretty much anywhere that isn’t barricaded. And the city seems oddly reluctant to tell them to stop.

Although the whole of Lansdowne is meant to be a “pedestrian priority” zone, cars are allowed to drive on the two streets off Bank Street, and park for a limited time with metered parking. But the lack of signage for cars leads to some confusion, as drivers feel like they’re on a street, and pedestrians feel they’re on a sidewalk.

Ottawa, Lansdowne pass FIFA beauty test

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Jin Willing, Ottawa Sun

Ottawa and Lansdowne Park are beautiful enough for the organizers of the FIFA Women's World Cup.

The ongoing construction at Lansdowne, such as work on the condo and office building behind the west goal net, doesn't bother tournament CEO Peter Montopoli.

"I think we have some plans to make sure it looks ok but there are no issues from our perspective of what it looks like," Montopoli said Monday at City Hall, where event officials and Mayor Jim Watson raised the tournament flag. "For us, we're dressing it up like a stadium that you've never seen before. It's not like the RedBlacks, it's not like the Fury. It's a complete dress-up and makeover."

The host agreement between the city, Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA calls for Ottawa to be "as attractive as possible" to fans. The city is in the middle of a major construction period with LRT-related work spilling onto the roads.

"We've been very pleased with the city. Certainly the mayor has been a proponent of making sure that the city is prepared, that it looks great. All you need to look at is Lansdowne and the great project there," Montopoli said.

The 24-team soccer tournament starts June 6 with Ottawa hosting its first matches June 7. The first two matches in Ottawa are 80% sold out, organizers said. A quarterfinal game on June 26 is 95% sold out.

If you don’t find the information you need on these pages, please visit ottawa.ca/newlansdowne, or to contact the City directly by email at newlansdowne@ottawa.caor by calling 3-1-1 (press 1 for English, then 5 for the Lansdowne line). If necessary, you may also contact the project manager, Marco Manconi, at 613-580-2424 ext. 43229, or by email.