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.

City worried about Lansdowne car 'culture'

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Parking is at a premium for the shops in Lansdowne Park. (Tony Caldwell/Ottawa Sun)

Jon Willing, Ottawa Sun

Lansdowne Park is becoming exactly what the local councillor wanted to avoid when the city was designing the urban park and shopping district.

"I think it's terrible," Capital Coun. David Chernushenko told the Sun Monday. "There's far more vehicle traffic on the whole site than what was envisioned."

Chernushenko said the city will need to do something before a car "culture" becomes prominent on the site.

The most glaring evidence is the pop-up parking lot that has occasionally taken over Aberdeen Square, an area between Aberdeen Pavilion and the Cineplex.

The city put up "no parking" signs but motorists still pull in. Chernushenko said, based on anecdotal evidence from security, motorists say they are just quickly visiting a store. More barriers or traffic control staff might be necessary, he said.

Lansdowne has a paid underground parking lot and some paid surface parking. The city and the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group anticipated that would be enough parking when combined with street parking in the Glebe.

Lansdowne was designed to be friendlier to other modes of transportation — cycling and walking — and to naturally discourage car traffic.

Hiding A Scorched Building When FIFA Comes To Town

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A fire on April 10 destroyed businesses on Bank St. near Fifth Ave. Photo by the Sun’s Tony Caldwell.

Jon Willing, Ottawa Sun

Fires, unfortunately, happen, so I don’t think FIFA is going to get too riled over the scorched building at Bank St. and Fifth Ave.

But it could be an annoyance, with less than a month until Women’s World Cup soccer games are played at Lansdowne Park.

One of the points in the host city agreement between FIFA, the City of Ottawa and the Canadian Soccer Association speaks to beautification.

The agreement says:

The Host City shall ensure it makes best efforts to render the Host City as attractive as possible to the members of the public and visiting football fans, by, for example, and without limitation, obstructing the view to major construction sites which are visible to the public and are close to the Host City’s major transport hubs, entertainment areas and the Stadium(s) in the Host City.

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko said the fire site has come up in discussions in the frame of the FIFA tournament. There’s nothing much the city can do at this point about the damaged building, so at the very least there might be some soccer-themed artwork on the hoarding around the building, Chernushenko said. Nothing has been determined yet.

“We have to accept it’s still going to be a burned-out site,” Chernushenko said.

Aberdeen Square isn't a pop-up parking lot, Watson says

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Jon Willing, Ottawa Sun

Lansdowne Park has been taking one step forward, but lately, falling two steps behind.

When vehicles streamed onto the site for the Def Leppard concert Monday night some people simply parked in a courtyard between the Aberdeen Pavilion and the Cineplex.

It wasn't just concertgoers. As people walked out of the theatre with their popcorn leftovers, they got into their parked cars at Aberdeen Square.

The same kind of pop-up parking was happening on Saturday as motorists ditched their cars in the big courtyard.

While tradespeople have been using the area to access construction sites, it's clear some regular visitors have grown accustomed to the free parking.

One of the bonuses of redeveloping Lansdowne was removing surface parking, although there are some paid parking spaces available on the interior streets. The majority of the parking is now underground.

"It is not a surface parking lot and I'll make sure that staff let people know and that people are ticketed because that area is the responsibility of the city, it's part of the public realm," Mayor Jim Watson said Tuesday.

Watson said there will still be tradespeople parked in the area as work winds down. There are residential and office buildings under construction and more retail stores are moving in.

There are signs explaining Aberdeen Square is for "authorized" parking only, but that might not be good enough. It could require city staff to protect the courtyard.

Lansdowne confusion could spur parking ban

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Joanne Chianello, Ottawa Citizen

On-street parking at Lansdowne Park continues to be so confusing that Mayor Jim Watson says the city may look at banning street parking on the site if the issue isn’t cleared up by next year.

In the meantime, the city must come up with a plan to stop illegal parking in front of the Cineplex, the mayor told reporters Tuesday.

Watson is not in favour of getting rid of the approximately 50 "legitimate" onstreet parking spots at the redeveloped retail and entertainment complex on Bank Street, which has been opening in stages since 2014. He said the on-street spots can be helpful to people with mobility issues.

“They just want to pop in to the bank for five minutes, and that option should be available,” said the mayor, adding there should probably be “a few more spots” for people with disabilities.

But Watson did concede that there continues to be confusion between cars, pedestrians and cyclists at Lansdowne, with each type of traveller not sure where he or she should go, or who has the right of way. And there have been ongoing issues with illegal parking in front of the recently opened Cineplex theatre complex.

Watson hopes that when the construction on the Lansdowne site is finally complete, it will be easier for everyone to get around. However, when asked if the city should consider banning surface parking, Watson didn’t rule it out. “If we still have the same problems in a year from now, we’re going to have to look at what we can do to make everyone safe,” he said. “Right now, it’s still in the midst of being a construction site.

“You’ve got all the office construction on the front, you’ve got fit-ups of some of the stores and restaurants on either side of the Cineplex.”

The area in front of the Cineplex is public space and controlled by the city. During Monday’s Def Leppard concert at the TD Place arena, dozens of people were parked in front of the theatre. While tradespeople are allowed to park there during construction — hence the “Authorized Parking Only” signs that are erected in the area — that space “is not a parking lot,” Watson said.

“That area around the Cineplex is too confusing right now and we have to do something about it,” he said.

Measures could include better signage, or city staff directing traffic during major events like concerts. And there’s always the option of levying fines as a deterrent.

“Parking tickets would do the trick, certainly in the short run,” Watson said.

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.