There’s a Better Choice

When thousands of women and men were walking in Ottawa to voice their dissent with the election of the Donald, I was attending a tiny protest at the Experimental Farm.  The purpose of which was resolutely local but was also about building a world which has more to it than the art of the ‘deal’.  It was about using the Central Experimental Farm for the replacement of the Civic hospital.  According to the NCC, there’s a better choice, Tunney’s Pasture.

In spite of its bucolic name, Tunney’s has been a government office campus for decades bringing in thousands of workers to and from the site each day.   It’s easy to understand why Tunney’s came up first.  There’s only one building that needs to come down and it’s on the new east/west rail line.  Plus the site has no significant historical or environmental concerns.

In contrast, it would be hard to find a more important historical or green site in Ottawa than the Central Experimental farm.  The fifty acres that will be chopped from the farm overlooks Dow’s Lake and provides the beautiful entranceway to the historic barns and gardens.  Much of Dow’s Lake iconic beauty comes from its charming, treed setting, with a General Hospital sized collection of buildings on the height of land above the lake and high rises sprouting all along Carling, the lake will look more like a puddle between buildings than a landscape.

2017 is the year we celebrate 150 years of the Canadian confederation, but it won’t be a good year for the capital.   Lansdowne Park is gone for a mall and condos; Mooney’s Bay gone for a reality T.V. show; Chaudiere Falls Islands gone for condos and stores; Lebreton Flats gone for another stadium, more condos and more shopping.  It’s as if the city’s public spaces all had a sign on them ‘for sale’ – cheap.  In spite of the relentless planning the city is constantly undergoing, it never translates into anything more, than more condos.

I have no idea whose behind this latest deal but you gotta love the way the folks behind it work the city.  Characterizing the farm takeover as the Sir Guy Carling site gives the illusion the hospital is simply replacing a recently demolished government building.  The reality is its about five acres out of the fifty, but giving it the  title Sir Guy Carling site makes it look like all that’s happening is transferring one urban site for another.

And then there’s that lovely word ‘compromise’.  Suddenly the Sir Guy Carling site is a compromise site because they’re not paving over soil used for agriculture experiments.  It’s just grass and trees and hedges, but since when was the compromise between two farm sites?   I thought it was Tunney’s or the farm? Apparently not.

A thousand pages from the NCC says Tunney’s is the better choice.  So what happened?  And who is in charge?  I thought the NCC was responsible for the character and look of the federal presence in Ottawa. Apparently not.

Do the doctors at the Civic prefer to move across the street and the view of Dow’s Lake versus going a few blocks north and the view of the Ottawa River?  Is there more money to be made at the Farm site?  And if so by whom?  I don’t know but I do know someone always makes a great deal of money on these public land transfers.  The other thing that is clear is the public is the loser.  Public spaces and especially public greenspaces distinguish all livable cities.

New York without central park is unimaginable. Chicago is graced by  Millennium Park and Ottawa will be poorer with another bite taken out of a local and national treasure.

Clive Doucet is a writer and former Ottawa City Councillor.  His last book about cities was ‘Urban Meltdown: Cities, Climate Change and Politics as Usual”


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