I Failed To Save Lansdowne: DOUCET

By Clive Doucet

I have mixed feelings about the annual celebration of my old mentor, urbanist 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 Larry O’Brien 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 National Capital Commission recommended urban site at Tunney’s Pasture for the new hospital and instead chose to pave over 50 acres of precious heritage green space next to Dow’s Lake with more parking lots, condos and access routes.

I can write this from Cape Breton because nothing has changed at Ottawa 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 1.0.

I used to think like Jacobs.  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.

Jacobs 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.


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3 Responses

  1. Ron Benn says:

    Clive, you did not fail to save Lansdowne. You did your utmost, but were not successful. That is not failure. Failure is when you chose not to do your utmost. But as you say, your assessment of the outcome is more emotional than rational. Enjoy your walks.

  2. Ken Gray says:


    I agree with Ron. You did your best and the forces against you were too big.

    There are such things as noble defeats and noble is how I would describe you and your effort.

    Sounds to me like your rural living now is the best revenge. Enjoy every minute of it.



  3. Peter Karwacki says:

    I voted for Clive, even worked tpwards his election but this being a democracy…Watson won. That is where Clive failed to inspire, the boters did not want him which is to say they wanted Landsdowne and stub transit which”guaranteed a decline in transit use because it serves less people, less conveniently and costs more.”

    As a would be councillor I am not defeated, I consider myself educated.

    You have to do your best, and if people still don’t get it…move to Cape Breton.

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