Lansdowne's public spaces: Mixed reviews and room for improvement

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The Skating Court at Lansdowne Park. BRUCE DEACHMAN / OTTAWA CITIZEN

Bruce Deachman, Ottawa Citizen

Lansdowne Report Card: PUBLIC SPACES

Grade: B+

WHAT'S WORKING:

The Skating Court: With the lights of the Aberdeen Pavilion and the rest of Lansdowne as a backdrop, this is perhaps the most picturesque skating rink in Ottawa, at least among those measuring less than 7 km in length.

The Great Lawn: Whether you’re into solitary yoga or a concert with your 15,000 closest friends, this is a great outdoor space.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT:

Playground: For all of Lansdowne’s supposed grandeur and inclusiveness, youngsters got the short end of the planner’s stick.

Aberdeen Pavilion and Horticulture Building: Arguably the two most attractive buildings at Lansdowne, they require more, and better, usage.

The design competition for the urban park at Lansdowne came quite late in the years-long process to settle on a redevelopment plan, leading critics to charge that the public areas were simply an afterthought to appease those opposed to the boxy commercial buildings.

Still, the $42-million publicly funded project – which included moving and refurbishing the Horticulture Building – was a far cry from the original plan to split $5 million in landscaping costs with OSEG. The results are meeting with mixed reviews, although of the all elements at the new Lansdowne, the public spaces can be easily improved over time with more programming and additional components.

Here’s a look at the public spaces and how they have fared.

Aberdeen Pavilion and Horticulture Building

The interior of the Aberdeen Pavilion. BRUCE DEACHMAN / OTTAWA CITIZEN

It’s difficult to gauge how much the Aberdeen Pavilion and Horticulture Building were used by the public since re-opening in August and November 2014, respectively, as the City of Ottawa’s occupancy figures include set-up and tear-down days. Official figures indicate the Aberdeen Pavilion saw 124,000 visitors go through its doors over 129 days’ occupancy in 16 months (in other words, it was used only about a quarter of that time period). But if you discount the two months during which the Alstom Citadis Spirit light rail vehicle was on display, you’re left with one seriously underutilized building. The Horticulture Building, meanwhile, hosted 35,000 people in 200 days of occupancy in its first year.

The latter was used for such events as fundraisers, weddings and fashion shows, while Aberdeen hosted Hogmanay New Year’s celebrations, FIFA Women’s World Cup events, the Ottawa Farmers’ Market and company events. It will be used as the Brier Patch at the upcoming Canadian men’s curling championships in March. Horticulture bookings for 2016, meanwhile, include 40 weddings. Both venues were also used as indoor stages for last September’s CityFolk Festival, although neither structure brings much in the way of decent acoustics.

The city, meanwhile, offered 27 recreation programs at the Horticulture Building this past fall – watercolour painting, dog obedience, line dancing, card and board games and a girls’ skipping club, for example — with all but six being cancelled due to lack of interest. Seventy-six people took part in the six courses.

The interior of the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park. BRUCE DEACHMAN / OTTAWA CITIZEN

The Great Lawn

About 700 people came out for Full Moon Yoga on Lansdowne’s Great Lawn last September. JANA CHYTILOVA / OTTAWA CITIZEN

On most fair-weather days, the Great Lawn is typically used for Frisbee games, kite-flying and tobogganing, with plenty of room for all. But it can hold a lot more people, as witnessed when 700 showed up last September for a full-moon yoga session, and earlier in the month when 15,000 fans attended Van Morrison’s performance at the CityFolk Festival. There were complaints at the concert to be sure; it was difficult to hear from the back and there were huge lineups, but perhaps we can put those down to first-year lessons learned. The venue itself is excellent, especially when compared to the cracked parking lot it most recently was.

The playground at Lansdowne Park. BRUCE DEACHMAN / OTTAWA CITIZEN

Playground

At first glance, the playground at Lansdowne seems wonderful. There’s water in the summer, skateboarding, and a massive, green play structure with a softer-than-normal landing pad for overreaching youngsters who take a tumble. There are basketball hoops and an outdoor ice-skating “court” (what we once called a rink). What’s not to like?

But for all of Lansdowne’s ceremony and grandeur, many of the playground’s elements are small-time and likely to appeal to only a tiny demographic.

The skate park at Lansdowne Park is aimed at beginners and younger children. JULIE OLIVER / OTTAWA CITIZEN

Skateboarders with any experience will happily travel farther if necessary to get to Charlie Bowins Skate Park at McNabb Park. The three-element design at Lansdowne, they say, lacks flow, and is built too close to the play structure. “It’s dangerously close,” says skateboarder John Pie, 26. “Skateboards are prone to shooting out very quickly at random times, so if there are kids who aren’t paying attention or parents who don’t really understand, it’s definitely a danger.”

According to Dan Chenier, general manager of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department, Lansdowne’s skate park was intended to cater to 7-to-14-year-old beginners, not all users. Additional railings, he notes, were installed between the skateboard area and play structure in 2014 to prevent unfortunate incidents, although skateboarders maintain it doesn’t prevent curious or absent-minded youngsters from meandering into the line of fire.

The play structure, meanwhile, is deceptively limited. It is only a climbing structure, without swings, slides, sand or any of the other gewgaws and moving parts youngsters and parents might like. Again, the city notes that the adjacent Sylvia Holden Park, located behind the fire station on Fifth Avenue, already has all those things. Which then raises the question: why bother?

Kuzo Hendry, 3, plays at the Water Plaza at Lansdowne Park. BRUCE DEACHMAN / BRUCE DEACHMAN

Water Plaza

The Water Plaza, meanwhile, is about as tame as it gets, its “jets” shooting gentle streams of water only a metre or less off the ground. But you can’t deny the smiles on the younger toddlers playing there. Bored older children can presumably go to the wading pool at Sylvia Holden Park.

“The water park,” says Chenier, “was not designed to be used as a splash pad. The city’s goal is to provide a park that all can safely enjoy.” One might assume that “safely” is stressed a wee bit more than “enjoy,” although some hard, sharp edges have led to two reported “incidents” since the water park opened last summer. Remediation measures will be in place by next summer.

The skating court, however, is the gem here. With the lights of the Aberdeen Pavilion and surrounding decorated trees serving as a backdrop, along with the LEDs of the Moving Surfaces sculpture, this is one of the most picturesque skating rinks in Ottawa.

Governor General David Johnston (L) and others enjoy a bit of skating at Lansdowne Park in December. WAYNE CUDDINGTON / OTTAWA CITIZEN

Heirloom Orchard

There are 800 trees at Lansdowne, including an apple orchard that, according to Chenier, bore fruit last year. None of it comes close yet to resembling the verdant artistic renderings provided by the city nearly four years ago, but we’re willing to wait a few years on this one.

The Heirloom Orchard at Lansdowne Park. BRUCE DEACHMAN

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