The downtown core of our average Canadian city is often perceived as the most walkable neighbourhood, or in many cases the only one. Shops everywhere, diverse job opportunities, foot traffic that rivals motorized traffic in volume, and if you’re lucky, bustling nightlife which means vibrant, and often safer streets, 24/7.
Our downtown core is walkable in many respects, but it is not what we at Walkable Ottawa would describe as “delightfully” walkable.
If walkable is a relative term, downtown Ottawa fares better than your typical suburban neighbourhood. It’s got loads of employment, especially in our federal departments, agencies and the Privy Council, along with restaurants, cafés, boutiques, opticians, jewelers, hair salons, and fancy hotels.
However, much of this retail is concentrated along Sparks Street east of Bank Street, and along Bank Street south of Slater Street. Pedestrians enjoy wandering around a downtown that has endless strings of vibrant activity, of any kind, every step of the way. But in our downtown, this activity is limited, fragmented, and far between.
if downtown Ottawa is the image many of us associate with walkability, no wonder so many people are cynical about any attempts to make our outlying neighbourhoods walkable.
We also have a downtown where the rows of office towers are devoid of lights and people-filled activity at night, given that the majority of employees working there return home, in a different neighbourhood more often than not. This can lead the remaining residents and tourists walking around to feel lonely and unsafe. It can even create an environment that encourages illicit activity due to a lack of surveillance provided by crowds and clusters of bystanders. Moreover, with the nightly shutdown of activity in those tall and prominent office buildings, often comes the shutdown of Sparks Street which is surrounded and cornered by these towers, and large public spaces, which only serve us from 9AM to 5PM.
And I haven’t even mentioned the lack of trees and greenspace in our downtown.
Our downtown core is walkable in many respects, but it is not what we at Walkable Ottawa would describe as “delightfully” walkable. And if downtown Ottawa is the image many of us associate with walkability, no wonder so many people are cynical about any attempts to make our outlying neighbourhoods walkable.
So, how can we turn our downtown back into an example of what “walkable” should look like, both visually and functionally?
~ Xavier Bradbury-Jost is a blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa