Egan: We 'settled' on the new Civic; no wonder the long faces

Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital | Photo: Ashley Fraser, Postmedia

Saturday, October 2, 2021


There was a lot of talk Friday about the loss of trees and greenspace to make way for the new Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital.

It was an all-day meeting at a committee of city councillors — with some 50 speakers — so there was time enough to touch on the shrinking polar ice cap, the birds in the trees, the fish in Dow’s Lake, the tulip beds and tour buses, transit and traffic,

The new Civic, apparently, must wreak havoc before it makes anyone well.

“For four hours this morning, I found it quite depressing,” said former Civic board member Jamie McCracken, who noted the “new hospital” discussion has been going on for 14 years.

“We’re not building a big box store here.” Absolutely, we’re not. And, if the day lacked anything, it was someone to champion why this 50-acre end of the Central Experimental Farm is, indeed, a wonderful place to put a $2.8-billion hospital complex that will, as they say, be visible from outer space.

It’s almost as though even the hospital itself thinks the site is a compromise, not really the best — as a city — we could have done.

We’d heard a lot of the criticisms before: the loss of 500 trees, the 2,400-car parking garage, the concrete stomp onto the edge of Dow’s Lake, the failure to be good guardians of healthy spaces for our grandchildren.

But something did strike me as new and unexamined: the effect of all the other development on the hospital’s new doorstep.

I thought Paul Saurette of the Dow’s Lake Residents Association made this point well. The hospital is anticipating 20,000 daily visits when it opens in 2028, the equivalent of dropping the city of Whitehorse into an urban neighbourhood every day.

“We don’t want to become an overflow parking lot for the new hospital,” he told the committee. “We’re doing this from scratch. Let’s do it smart.”

Speaker Diane McIntyre pointed to all the new projects being planned along Carling Avenue — traffic that is not being accounted for in current studies.

“A lot of future developments have been left, conveniently, out of the (traffic) study,” McIntyre told councillors, estimating the number at about a dozen.

Claridge’s new Icon building — at 45 floors — towers over the site, the tallest in the area, but possibly not for long. There is a 55-storey building planned across the street, right by the 30-storey Soho Italia’s 250 units, now under construction.

Only blocks away, at Gladstone and Loretta avenues, there are plans for three towers — 41, 35 and 30 storeys — to be near the LRT station. Towards LeBreton Flats, you will recall the Trinity plans for triple towers (65, 56, 27 storeys) near Bayview Station, not to mention Claridge highrises pencilled on the Flats themselves.

But, sticking with Carling, the Booth complex just east of Preston is headed for a major transformation with talk of towers in the 25-storey range. The Katasa Group, meanwhile, is pitching a 26-storey building at the corner of Bronson and Carling avenues, just as it is finishing a 16-storey building across the street.

No doubt I’m forgetting a bunch (the redevelopment of the parking lot beside the Prescott, for instance.) The point is this: There is going to be a vast increase in traffic volumes in the area, all aside from where the hospital goes.

So, what is the impact on existing residential neighbourhoods of mixed, low-rise housing? Nobody really knows, but intuition suggests it will be terrible. It was amusing, too — but not in a funny way — to hear of “traffic calming” studies in an area where the city is actively encouraging “traffic anxiety” with its love-affair with intensification.

(Curiously, the strongest defender of continued, long-term car use is the hospital itself, which is making massive provisions for parking while arguing — correctly, probably — that Grandma is not taking the No. 61 to emerg in the middle of a stroke.)

All in all, I agree with the wise, lilting McCracken. This is a project the city should be proud of, and, Lord knows, we’ll need a mountain of goodwill to raise the community’s fundraising share, a shocking $700 million or so.

Instead, we’re in this “settled for second” mood, like a regretful bride looking at Mr. Stupid coming up the aisle, and sagging at the long-haul prospects.

Something just seems off with the whole thing, like no one’s really happy or in charge. And Friday, even with all that chatter, didn’t change much.