LANSDOWNE: Ottawa Is Building Yesterday

 

The City of Ottawa is in the process of pouring a half-billion dollars into yesterday.

Lansdowne is a stupid deal. This city deserves much, much better leadership. Lansdowne is just wrong on so many levels.

Just like light rail. It is the wrong technology, on the wrong route, with the wrong capacity and simply the wrong idea with the advent of work-at-home, the electric car, the self-driving car and, down the road, hydrogen. Too negative you say? Take a look at the OC Transpo budget deficit and the enormous bill for light rail. Light rail was the right idea in 1982 when Calgary built the most successful transit system in North America. Check the calendar. That was four decades ago. It’s 2023.

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The world has changed. Ottawa City Hall hasn’t. It would take a genius to get Ottawa out of this gruesome LRT mess and even then, it might be impossible. Furthermore, Laurier Avenue is a tad low on geniuses.

Light rail is a problem that might not have a solution given the gravity of the mess at OC Transpo and the quality of thinking at city hall. Four years and no root cause? Social and economic changes over which the city has no control? The city can’t make roads flat let alone fix this.


So now Lansdowne. It is the wrong retail concept, featuring the wrong sport, in the wrong location, with the wrong accessibility, the wrong marketing (alienating the neighbours … they’re the walk-up traffic) with the wrong stores in the wrong venue.

That’s why Lansdowne will never work. It’s a shopping mall downtown with bad parking, congestion and brutal transit. The parking at Bayshore Shopping Centre is free. Take it from there.

Lansdowne is yesterday’s shopping mall built around the wrong concept in a world where your customers and future customers shop at Amazon. And soon with artificial intelligence, according to Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Amazon is about to be usurped. If Amazon is yesterday’s technology, Lansdowne is in the stone age.

Lansdowne didn’t work, doesn’t work and doesn’t have a hope of working in the future. How the City of Ottawa could turn the most valuable publicly owned land in the city into a fiscal sinkhole reinforces the idea that Albert Einstein never set foot in our hallowed halls of municipal government. Other people did.

Kanata South Councillor Allan Hubley headed the transit commission. Nuff said.

Let’s take this further. What is the major feature of Lansdowne? Maybe 12 CFL games a season. The rest of the time, the stadium sits empty … in the winter, the spring and through much of the summer.

The CFL is yesterday’s news. It’s current for people in their 60s and 70s who sit around talking about the good old days and how many of their friends have died. That’s not the future. In fact, the CFL as a product that has diminished. Name 10 stars in the CFL. Five? One?

Canada has changed. Football in Canada is yesterday’s sport. Who saw the future of sports in Ottawa? The late Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. As Lansdowne was gestating, Melnyk had a Major League Soccer franchise in his pocket. He tried to sell soccer to the establishment at city hall. Soccer was the future. City hall, as per form, opted for the past. Soccer was fine dining. Lansdowne is heartburn.

In the 1990s, an MLS franchise could be purchased for about $5 million. The next franchise fee has been pegged at $350 million or about a third of the value of the Ottawa Senators. The nation’s capital won’t be getting an MLS franchise anytime soon, if ever. But it could have had one if city hall had looked at the future. Melnyk did. City hall didn’t.

So why soccer? Because Canada has become a country of immigrants. And usually, they don’t have much money. So soccer … a ball, t-shirt, shorts and $300 shoes. Then you kick the ball. So too basketball except you throw the ball. Furthermore new Canadians played soccer and basketball. It’s in their bones, like baseball in North America. You got a bat and ball and you played. Why do people go to baseball games? Excitement? Now and then. But it’s because they played it. It’s in their bones.

So new Canadians need cheap sports. That’s not hockey or football. And as for hockey, for immigrants from Ghana or Nigeria, ice was something that was in a glass.

Canada is changing … markedly. The future is people of colour and wildly different cultures. They like to play basketball and soccer. Canada of the 1950s was white and boring. Dinner was chicken, vegetables, potatoes … all boiled. Have a good time. In the future, WASPs will become a significant minority. And that’s good. We get new ideas from all over the world and keep the old solid ones in Canada. Canada is taking on the globe. This country is becoming an exciting place. The world is coming to Canada. Adjust.

Canada qualified for the World Cup of soccer. This country finished third in the World Cup of basketball. Canada defeated the U.S. in the bronze medal game. The world is changing.

Garbage Non-Plan Is Garbage: BENN

But Ottawa is not. Not only do we cling to the past, we can’t see the future. We build a bricks-and-mortar library in the age of the internet. The future should be municipal government because it creates real change, not the high-level machinations of the federal and provincial governments. Municipal governments should be practical, creative and provide the basic services that residents need for life. Flat roads, transit, electricity, social services, police, paramedics. Not shopping malls.

And how are our flat roads, transit, electricity, social services, police and paramedics doing? How’s Lansdowne doing?

Our municipal government is turning Ottawa into yesterday’s city through a remarkable lack of foresight and incompetence.

Our residents are turning Ottawa into tomorrow’s city. It would be nice if city hall could catch up to a very smart community.

Ken Gray

All of the above came about oddly enough from a story in The Athletic … How do you fix the Toronto Argonauts?

 

Bulldog editor Ken Gray has been a journalist at five major Canadian newspapers over a career that has spanned four decades.

 

Digital illustration on front by AI generator Bing Image Creator.

 

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6 Responses

  1. John says:

    Could promoting a failing retail model for Lansdowne be an entry point for something like a casino to fill vacant retail space? A downtown casino – progress indeed.

  2. Ron Benn says:

    It is not just that the city is even considering becoming a retail plaza owner, it is that the members of council don’t even realize that that is the outcome that OSEG has maneuvered them into. Not with OSEG money. With taxpayer money. And precious few on council are aware of how easily they are being manipulated.

    On the topic of awareness, what have councillors demonstrated an actual awareness of? Aside from all things that can be “solved” with a virtue signal. Of matters involving tangible solutions to real life problems? Of matters of business? Of matters related to the long list of municipal responsibilities? Pitiful.

  3. Been There says:

    Want to be a Councillor or maybe even a Mayor, get elected. That’s all it takes, no other qualifications required. Ottawa is paying the price of voter apathy and poor candidates supported by wealthy interest groups.

  4. Robert Roberts says:

    Yesterday: city hall made deals with developers. Today: city hall must deal with organized neighbourhood groups. The transition requires new rules of engagement.

  5. Valerie Swinton says:

    Dear Ken, Oh dear Ken,
    Although I fully agree with most of this delicious rant, I have to correct your outdated “yesterday” impression of libraries. Libraries have transformed to keep pace with community needs. If you haven’t been in one recently I encourage you to do so. I was recently in the tiny reconfigured Rosemont branch where most of the main floor has been converted to banks of computers for public use. Today, public libraries offer all manner of services including free access to e-books and periodicals, research assistance, English conversation groups, and educational programming. Take a minute to look at the long list of events offered by the Ottawa Public library on their home page. Our library system is one of the greatest benefits the City gives to its citizens. And it needs brick and mortar to deliver these community services. Please don’t malign one of the few public benefits remaining to us these days!

  6. Ken Gray says:

    Valerie:

    I have been to a library, although sometimes it might not look it.

    In fact for better or worse, I thank the London, Ont. bookmobile in my very young days for what I’ve become today. Well, I don’t blame the worse on them.

    So I love libraries. The problem is that the library we’re building today is about architecture, not book-larnin’. The days of the iconic library are over. In fact, when the newspaper industry started to collapse, one of the first things they killed at the Citizen was the library.

    Instead, they installed this new-fangled Google on computers and digitized our morgue (newspaper term for stored back stories).

    I’m afraid most companies are doing something similar or have already done it.

    The programs you mentioned are wonderful but they don’t require and an Egyptian-pyramid-sized building to do it. The world is getting smaller and smarter.

    We’re about the internet now and the possibilities are endless. We are just mining a small part of the vein.

    The Rosemount library was my library. The computers were always occupied, usually by youngsters who were from visible minorities. Fantastic.

    What we need to ensure is that people of needs can get access to mountains of computers. Over time, they won’t be people of needs anymore. That’s what happened to me.

    The kids love computers. Let’s give them all access and make them real smart. I like the community branches of the OPL because you can walk to them … that gives the kids better access.

    But we don’t need a palace housing lots of luxurious offices for librarians. We need arena-sized spaces of desks, chairs and computers for the kids.

    They’re a lot cheaper than huge monuments to excess.

    We’re on the same page Valerie. Just different ways of getting there.

    cheers

    kgray

    ps When I was at Western, I had an office in the journalism school, another in the history department where I was teaching a tutorial for undergrads and one in the Weldon Library because I was a grad student. I didn’t need three offices. Two collected dust.

    See where I’m going with this?

    Western was so big and cumbersome that nobody noticed or couldn’t be bothered to change “policy.” Policy is for people who don’t think. I’d rather do than talk about it and I don’t like rules much either. Thus The Bulldog. Tell me I’m breaking the rules and the first thing I think about is how do I break the rule again … unless it makes sense. I don’t care much for or about rules. I do things on the fly. That gets things done.

    If what I do works, I keep doing it. If it doesn’t, I change it. Never change a winning game. Improve it. Fix a losing game.

    Every good journalist has a small bit of anarchism in them.

    Big is big. Small is beautiful.

    k

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