There are two ways to fix the stark segregation of residential from retail that characterizes almost all of the post-1945 built environment. You can bring retail into the residential neighbourhoods. Or you can build residences in the retail space.
Does adding residential buildings in a parking lot automatically give us a walkable paradise?
In theory anyway. Urban Planner Jeff Speck claims that, in practice, the former never happens. Many suburban dwellers would like to be near a corner store, but virtually no one wants to be next to the comer store. So the store never gets built, and everyone continues to drive for the proverbial litre of milk.
In the meantime, we have the other possibility to work on – residences in the retail space. Shopping centres like Train Yards and South Keys are provisioned with massive parking lots that sit empty most of the day. Situated as they are along major transit routes and relatively close to downtown, they represent huge potential for new development.
As new applications for buildings come in for these spaces, shoppers and surrounding residents should demand the highest standards of walkability and good public spaces.
The consultation process for Ottawa’s Official Plan heard repeatedly about the need for affordable housing, improved tree cover and better public spaces. Oversized parking lots are where some of this could go. The Jedi mind trick is to picture the new trees, residences and parks not instead of the retail, but instead of the parking. If the retail stays, and residents and services arrive, there’d be less need for parking, as many people could walk for day-to-day errands.
Would a redeveloped shopping centre be entirely car-free? Probably not. The fire trucks, ambulances, delivery trucks, taxis and paratranspo would all still need access. As for those individuals who would still occasionally need a car, this is exactly the type of community where car-sharing like Communauto would be viable. The mix of retail and residential would also mean that any remaining parking would be better used., for example by shoppers in the day, and by residents overnight. The current reality of having South Keys and Train Yards completely empty from 8 PM to 8 AM is wasteful, dangerous, and not a good use of urban space.
The Jedi mind trick is to picture the new trees, residences and parks not instead of the retail, but instead of the parking.
Does adding residential buildings in a parking lot automatically give us a walkable paradise? No, it does not. The paradise part comes in when foot relationships form between residences and retail. Every application for new development needs to be examined with this in mind:
Do all of the proposed new buildings have interesting, active ground floors?
Are the proposed new streets narrow enough to carry on a conversation with someone on the other side?
Are all streets and plaza fully lined with trees?
Would all of the new residents be mere minutes from a park?
Can seniors and toddlers safely cross from one side to another?
Would people in wheelchairs be able to freely access daily services?
Is there a centre to the community for public gatherings and performances?
Developers can’t do this on their own. Check out Better South Keys. As new applications for buildings come in for these spaces, shoppers and surrounding residents should demand the highest standards of walkability and good public spaces.
We can plant a paradise and pull up those parking lots.
~JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa