Area-Wide Strategies

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A Winter City

As a city dominated by winter for several months of the year, it is important to recognize the influence that this season has on the design and use of Ottawa's public realm.

Throughout the winter months, crisp, sunny days offer wonderful opportunities for planned outdoor activities, public gatherings and informal meetings. The early onset of winter nights creates opportunities to illuminate the city in creative and festive ways. Offering wonderful settings within which to stage appropriate programming is a critical component of creating a desirable winter destination.

The City and the NCC have undertaken many initiatives to capture the unique opportunities offered by the winter environment and to celebrate the many varied experiences of northern living. From a programming perspective, the City, the NCC and the local community embrace the challenges of winter conditions in Canada's Capital. Ottawa has successfully marketed itself as a winter destination through such events as the thriving Winterlude festival, the branding of the Rideau Canal as the "world's longest skating rink", and the city's' charming winter lights display. Clearly, the City should continue to build on these admirable successes.

To help reinforce the success of existing activities and provide an improved setting for future activities, the following winter-specific urban design recommendations are provided:

  • The City should explore and demonstrate the benefits of winter city designs as it furthers its objectives to encourage intensified mixed-use development.
  • To avoid excess shading over the street and sidewalk areas, accommodate taller structures on the north side of streets. The stepping down of structures reduces shading. Buildings massing should create minimum shade onto open spaces that are used in wintertime.
  • Where appropriate, overhangs should be used to provide additional shelter, and covered entrances should protect from both snow and wind.
  • Generous building setbacks allow for snow storage in the winter and planting in the summer.
  • Wide, clutter-free sidewalks make snow removal easier. Where possible, raised planters should be avoided and street trees planted at grade, with site furniture strategically placed.
  • Due to shorter winter days, providing suitable lighting at the pedestrian scale as part of public works and private developments is an essential component of a winterised public realm.
  • Seasonal feature lighting is one of the most effective ways of creating a special winter atmosphere. Ensure that public works projects allow for temporary or permanent specialty lighting.
  • Open space design needs to be adaptable for all four seasons. In major park spaces, design for winter uses with wind screens, durable landscaping and conifer planting.
  • Smaller urban parks should be sheltered by buildings and open to the south, where possible, for maximum sun exposure and to encourage year-round outdoor use.
  • To moderate the impacts of winter weather, connect pedestrian spaces with elements such as treed arcades or awnings. Where possible, parks and pedestrian pathways should be located on the sunny side of streets and buildings.
  • The public realm, open spaces, private development and parking areas should be designed to accommodate interim snow storage.
  • Paving materials, and site furniture should be durable enough to withstand the harsh impacts of winter snow management and the corrosive effect of salt, while being safe, slip proof, and easy to maintain.

Plant conifer trees to shelter pedestrian areas from prevailing winter winds and to provide visual screening at key locations. Trees reduce wind speeds, delineate spaces and provide safe separation between cars and pedestrians. Select salt resistant species for street tree planting.

Open Spaces and Urban Forest

The presence of green spaces and the quality of the urban forest contributes strongly to the lasting impression of a city. This is especially true in the most urban areas of a city. Parks and open spaces are important for helping to attract new investment, adding value to existing buildings and bringing new residents to an area. They function as vital neighbourhood amenities and support a diversity of formal and informal recreational uses. Parks provide the setting for community gatherings and offer users respite and opportunities for relaxation. Green spaces and a healthy urban forest help to soften the hard character of city spaces, add beauty to urban settings, and improve environmental quality. Providing a number of small formal and informal spaces across a downtown area enhances the quality of its public realm and diversifies the experience of any downtown.

Downtown Ottawa is embraced by a significant system of open spaces that follows the Ottawa River and Rideau Canal. Beyond the open space provided by the banks of Ottawa's canal and river system, there is a deficiency of smaller and more usable urban open spaces closer to the homes and workplaces of downtown residents and workers. Clearly there is a need to introduce more meaningful open spaces across the downtown and to improve the quality of the existing parks and open spaces.

To provide areas for respite in the core area, a network of small open spaces should be introduced. Where possible, new open spaces should be attached to priority streetscape improvement areas, including Laurier, Bank, Somerset, Metcalfe, George and York streets.

Opportunities to acquire new open spaces suitable for parks will continue to diminish as new projects are proposed for vacant lands, and as land values in the downtown continue to rise. It will become increasingly important that the City undertake a programme of land acquisition. The City should move quickly to secure a number of currently available vacant sites (identified throughout this Strategy), or work with developers to provide open space as part of the design proposal for site development. In some locations, such as the Retail, Arts & Theatre Precinct and the University Precinct, the provision of additional open space may be created as large areas of underutilized land currently locked into inefficient road systems is freed via road reconfiguration and normalization.

Key Open Space Strategies for Downtown Ottawa include:

  • To ensure that opportunities are identified, the City should undertake a well-planned and comprehensive programme of open space acquisition across the downtown, as soon as possible. Suggested locations for priority open space additions are identified throughout this Strategy.
  • For the sale of any suitable City owned land, a requirement for the provision of an open space should be included as a condition of purchase. On key sites controlled by private interests, the City should work closely with landowners and developers to encourage the inclusion of an open space and contributions to the urban forest.
  • New open spaces do not need to be large to have an impact. Explore a diversity of sizes and types including small urban plazas, squares, and neighbourhood pocket parks. Augment the open space network with more frequent smaller urban park spaces that help connect the larger spaces. Smaller well-defined spaces may be a better means to enhance the opportunity for meaningful, active and safe parks and open spaces than larger areas.
  • Link parks and open spaces together to create a system based on improved sidewalks and generous street tree plantings. Suggested priority linkages and streets are identified throughout this Strategy.
  • Existing pedestrian and cycle connections between open spaces should be safeguarded. Additional links will need to be developed to connect new open spaces to the existing network.
  • Where possible, new open spaces should be located on corners and along main streets.
  • The landscape design of all the City's public parks should be of the highest quality, attractive and durable for all seasons. Ensuring that new park spaces are of a high design quality and that their form is appropriate for their function is more important than the size of the green space.
  • Existing vacant lots in the downtown area could potentially be used as temporary park spaces. Although temporary car parking on vacant sites is generally not permitted, in those cases where it may be permitted by means of a zoning amendment approval, the provision of temporary open spaces should be a condition of approval for temporary car parking on vacant sites.
  • The animation of existing open spaces should be further promoted. Additional formal programming opportunities should be undertaken for all major open spaces. This should be undertaken in conjunction with the NCC and local community groups.
  • Additional landscaping and street tree planting is required along many of Ottawa's downtown streets. At one time, Ottawa supported lush urban streets with canopies of trees. However, over time, this valuable resource has diminished particularly in the downtown area. It should be the goal of the City to reintroduce greenery even in Ottawa's most urban settings.
  • Tree planting along streets should use species that are both cold and salt tolerant. Ensure there is sufficient space for viable street tree growth by coordinating the location of street trees, utilities, site furniture and street lighting, and by designing and constructing tree wells and trenches based on horticultural requirements and environmental stresses.
  • Street tree planting should be focused on those places where in-ground street trees have the best chance of becoming fully developed, including Metcalfe, Laurier, Somerset, the streets within the Market area and the streets of the proposed Interface District (Sparks, Queen and Wellington), as well as along residential streets throughout the downtown. Where possible, planting should also occur on traffic islands and medians.

To support this Area Wide Strategy, each precinct includes a general statement on Parks and Open Space. To augment these general strategies in those areas where the quality and/or provision of open space is particularly poor, Targeted Precinct Strategies have been developed.

Public Art

Public art is defined as the integration of permanent, site-specific works of art into buildings, natural places, public spaces and structures through a community design process that includes artists, architects, city planners and citizens. Public art can be found in the form of:

  • sculptures
  • monuments
  • murals
  • fountains
  • lighting schemes
  • specialized landscaping and streetscaping
  • amenities such as seating, lights and signage

Public art can play an interpretive or commemorative role. It can help identify a city by use of historic monuments. When done well, art automatically becomes an identifiable point in the urban environment, contributing to the creation of a stronger sense of place. This form of art can educate the public about these historically important events. The urban environment can become personalized with art by demonstrating a particular style, activity, or culture.

The best public art creates a unique place, a destination, a focal point for activity, a meeting place and a landmark. The Downtown Ottawa Urban Design Strategy fully supports bringing forward the strategies identified in the City's Arts Plan and new Official Plan to help develop Ottawa's Public Spaces as diverse, stimulating and attractive people-friendly places. A private levy and municipal levy should be established for public art within the city for public sector's existing capital improvements and be applicable to all new developments. Partnership working between the City, the NCC, Parks Canada and the private sector will be critical for realizing many of the objectives outlined in the Arts & Heritage plans.

Public art should be introduced across the downtown. Each precinct identified in the Urban Design Strategy should be part of the City's "Main Streets and Gathering Spaces" initiative. Local, national and international artists should be involved with the design and selection of public art.

Major public art initiatives should be closely integrated with the following proposed projects:

  • Escarpment Park
  • Cathedral Hill Park
  • Central Park on the Canal
  • Streets located within the Interface District
  • Redevelopment of the Byward Market's Public Realm

Public art is a crucial aspect of a city's planning and infrastructure and is common practice in most other metropolitan centres in North America and Europe. In many cities around the world, the arts have been employed to reinvigorate community cores and main streets with vitality and civic pride. To raise the profile of public art in Ottawa, the following actions are recommended:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive municipal public art policy that includes the integration of permanent, site-specific works of art into downtown municipal buildings, natural places, public spaces and structures and expands partnered efforts to integrate public art into all major, downtown new and redevelopment projects.
  • Work with partners to develop a public art master location plan in downtown Ottawa.
  • To develop a well-recognized, branded, arts area, attention should be focused on locating capital cultural facilities in the downtown area - with a particular emphasis within the Retail, Arts & Theatre Precinct.

Streetscape Infrastructure Programme

In successful cities, streets are much more than traffic arteries. They become important street addresses for real estate, locations for cafes and public art and the thoroughfares for walking and biking in the downtown area. Many of Ottawa's downtown streets are overly focused on the movement of cars to and through the core and require a better balance to make them remarkable urban places. Many important downtown streets lack the "friction" required to moderate traffic speeds that results in a more pleasant pedestrian environment. Where real estate development is looking for an address with urban curb appeal, these highly trafficked locations are often overlooked. This is especially true for residential projects.

Ottawa needs to recognize the importance of its downtown streets as urban places, linear open spaces and walking corridors as well as the traditional role of automobile movement. The recently completed Transportation Master Plan has a chapter devoted to the benefits to the city's transportation systems if more people are able to walk. However, one condition for encouraging walking that is overlooked within this chapter is that more people are willing to walk if it is perceived to be a pleasant experience. Streets are valuable resources in maintaining downtown as a vibrant and pleasant walking experience.

To help Ottawa understand more fully what street assets it has, how they function and what future role they could have, the Downtown Urban Design Strategy includes a Streetscape Matrix (Appendix A). This Matrix provides the City with an inventory of all of its downtown streets that categorizes each street and sets targets for their longer-term redevelopment. The Matrix also identifies where the Strategy's targeted projects relate to specific streets.

The Streetscape Matrix establishes a hierarchy of streets and provides the City with a preliminary tool to help discuss and direct streetscape improvements over the long-term by identifying the urban role and the character that each downtown street should support. It offers design guidelines for each street type and right-of-way width. The guidelines are intended to raise the standards of rebuilding the City and introduce a much greater degree of standardization across the downtown area. Once realised, this standardization will result in Downtown Ottawa supporting a much stronger and distinct urban street identity.

Key directions recommended for downtown streets include:

  • de-clutter all sidewalks.
  • recognize the importance of street fixtures as defining elements for the character of an area. Only a high quality, standardized portfolio of design treatments and fixtures should be used. Selection should be based on design excellence appropriate to the Nation's Capital, state-of-the-art illumination and durability standards and the creation of a pleasant urban experience for both day and night in all seasons.
  • the City should explore opportunities for the standardization of sidewalk repair and/or replacement.
  • the City should review how to best take control of their right-of-ways for the purpose of sidewalk widening, landscaping and tree planting. Surface parking and private garbage storage in this area should not be permitted. Existing on-street parking should be protected.
  • initiate studies required for conversion of one-way streets to two-way streets. Metcalfe Street should be a priority conversion followed by O'Connor, Cooper, Murray, St. Patrick and Lisgar east of Elgin Street. Secondary priority conversions are Kent and Lyon.

Street Sections

The following street sections and street types provide examples of high quality streetscapes that should become the design standards which Ottawa follows as it gradually rebuilds its streets. These design standards demonstrate that rights-of-way are about much more than just vehicular movement; they have the potential to be beautiful, comfortable and multi-functional urban places.

The Target Street Types illustrated represent a starting point from which to give direction for a more detailed design study (in a later phase) that should look at developing high quality, standardized streetscape treatments. These treatments should then become the "norm" when rebuilding streets. Appendix A provides a detailed street-by-street assessment of the use quality and type of Ottawa's downtown streets.

Type A Streets with intensive commercial uses at grade. Narrow sidewalk unable to accommodate street trees, but with high quality hard landscaping.    

Type B Streets with high profile commercial/leisure uses at grade. Generous sidewalk able to accommodate terraces, hard and soft landscaping and street trees.

Type C Streets with commercial use at grade. Sidewalk able to accommodate landscaping and street trees.

Type D Residential or mixed-use streets with landscaped setback. Able to accommodate landscaping between the sidewalk and the building face.

Type E Residential or mixed-use streets with a treed landscape strip between the road and sidewalk. Setback able to accommodate landscaping.

Type F Residential or mixed-use streets with sidewalk and narrow landscape strip. Can accommodate soft or hard landscaping between the sidewalk and the building face.

Type G Residential or mixed-use streets with a treed landscape strip between the roadway and the sidewalk with minimal building setback.