Jane Jacobs and Lansdowne Park | Unpublished

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Unpublished Opinions

Clive Doucet's picture
Grand Etang, Nova Scotia
About the author

Clive Doucet is a distinguished Canadian writer and city politician. He was elected for four consecutive terms to city council in Ottawa from 1997 to 2010 when he retired to run for Mayor.

As a city politician he was awarded the Gallon Prize as the 2005 Canadian eco-councillor of the year. He was defeated twice by Jim Watson in 2010 and 2018 when he ran for the Mayor’s chair. He presently lives in Grand Etang, Inverness Co., Nova Scotia.

Mr. Doucet has agreed to write a series of nine essays about his Ottawa municipal career which
Unpublished Media will begin publishing in January 2023.

The story and opinions are his own.

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Jane Jacobs and Lansdowne Park

May 8, 2024
Jane Jacobs

I have mixed feelings about the annual celebration of my old mentor, Jane Jacobs and the spring walks in her memory. On the one hand, it’s great to see her and her books remembered.  On the other hand, it helps to mask the reality of Ottawa today. 

We lost the battle that’s the reality. Take a look around Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa - car sprawl as far as the eye can see.

The axial issue in Ottawa was always and still is Lansdowne Park.  When the city handed the park over to three developers without any competition for a mall and condo project, it was the green light to every other developer that it was business as usual at City Hall.

If just three developers could get their hands on the oldest, most important legacy park the city had without any competition, plus  a ‘waterfall’ financial model that guaranteed the city would lose if any liabilities arose, it was like manna from heaven.   It affected everything important the city would do thereafter including blowing up the city’s urban growth line.

Before we built the O-train pilot project I took a trip west to look at Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver’s transit systems.  I learned a great deal and came back with much information.  One piece was: Don’t invest in an expensive stub underground tunnel like Edmonton did, go for street level, diverse transit which has the widest footprint possible and thus serves as many people as possible where they live, work and play.

What happened in Ottawa?  The city’s new mayor built an underground stub line in the city centre.  Then compounded the error by connecting it to the scenic western parkway as the developers wanted.  It’s great for river condos but amazingly ugly and dysfunctional because the city has to bring riders to the system instead of the system going to where the riders are.  Council couldn’t have made a worse decision for the users of Ottawa transit; guaranteed a decline in transit use because it serves less people, less conveniently and costs more.

The new hospital is another descendent of the Lansdowne fiasco.  To please developers, the city walked away from the NCC recommended urban site at Tunney’s Pasture for the new hospital and instead chose to pave over fifty acres of precious heritage green space next to Dow’s Lake with more parking lots, condos and access routes.

To please developers the Mayor and City council went against the recommendation of its own planners and blew up the Official Plan for a massive suburban development in Walmart territory so far away most people have no idea where it is.

I can write this from Cape Breton because nothing has changed at City Hall.  Council has circled back to the start of this multi-billion dollar mess and coined a new, non competitive agreement for Lansdowne to protect the pocket books of the original developers of Lansdowne One.

I used to think like Jane.  If you could just prepare lucid, compelling arguments about the city’s livability and financing, you could win the political battle for a better city.  It doesn’t work this way.

The desolation I have always felt at this failure of City Hall to stand up and protect Lansdowne and the city with greener, cheaper, more sustainable decisions has never dissipated.  To be an elected steward of your city is wonderful honour and I failed, that’s the thought that dogs me, even though I know this is not rational but feelings are not always rational.

Jane was and still is a great hero of mine. Do take one of her walks in her memory, but also take the time to think about why it is so hard for City Hall to think beyond the developer’s horizon.  Until that changes, nothing else will.

Clive Doucet represented Capital Ward for four terms and is the author of “Urban Meltdown, Cities, Climate Change and Politics as Usual”, “My Grandfather’s Cape Breton” and other books.