September 7, 2012

Column | Korky Koroluk

Citizen-led revitalization key for redevelopment

The federal government’s announced intention to redevelop one of its Ottawa campuses, promises to change the face of one of the city’s hottest development districts by creating a mixed-use area in a space that has been the exclusive preserve of government workers for the last 60 years or so.

Tunney’s Pasture is the rather idyllic name for an area that is presently home for 19 federal office buildings and many parking lots on a 49-hectare site four kilometres west of Parliament Hill.

A master plan for redevelopment of the area is being unveiled in a few months, John Baird said in an announcement. He’s Canada’s foreign affairs minister and member of Parliament for Ottawa West-Nepean. The plan will contain details of a series of projects that will greatly increase population density in the area over the span of 25 years.

It will do this by allowing a mix of government, housing, retail and offices. There will be several new office towers to accommodate about 20,000 federal workers, twice the numbers who work at Tunney’s Pasture now. It will be the first time a mix of government and non-government occupancy will have been allowed on the site.

As many as 30 new buildings will be built and some of the old buildings refurbished. Surface parking will be replaced with underground parking.

Korky Koroluk

Construction Corner

Korky Koroluk

There’s no price tag attached yet, of course, and there might not be one for quite a while, since each of the new buildings will require separate approval, and construction costs are likely to increase over time.

The government brought in HOK Canada, an architecture and planning firm, as the main consultant for the plan, and the first of two public information sessions will be held within the next couple of weeks to unveil two possible development options.

The master plan is to be ready sometime early next year.

Now all of this is good news. That area of Ottawa’s near west end is already popular with developers, and redevelopment on the scale proposed by the government inevitably produces spin-off development.

It’s time. The present structures on Tunney’s Pasture, except for the one high-rise, look for all the world like relics from an earlier time — which is just what they are.

What bothers me is the public consultations: Two sessions, apparently, unless there is a change of mind. That’s not much.

I’ve been to quite a few such consultations, and they usually take one of two forms. One has architectural renderings on posters scattered around a hall, with a few “information officers” circulating in the crowd, offering explanations, should anyone ask. You look at the posters, fill out a survey, and go home.

The other has people seated with someone on stage giving a Power Point presentation, after which there are questions from the floor.

Often as not, those sessions are hijacked by a couple of loud-mouths, determined to push their own agendas.

Also, the folks at Public Works have put up a website where there is a some information about the project, and a feed-back form the public can use to comment. It’s at http://tinyurl.com/czo3ogo

In an era of instant communication, with more and people conversant with social media, and with a wide array of so-called “crowd technologies” being launched in the last three or four years, we should be doing much better.

On city-changing projects like Tunney’s Pasture, people don’t need pronouncements from on high. They need to have a voice in a citizen-led revitalization. Thanks to the social and crowd media now available, it’s a growing trend.

This is something I’ll be coming back to in future columns, as I discuss a new book by Storm Cunningham, one of North America’s leading thinkers on the broad subject of revitalization.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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