Jake Dicks and Jorell Izaguirre play basketball after a rainy day at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa Friday May 26, 2017.
Jonathan McLeod, Ottawa Sun
Well, it happened again. Lansdowne Park has posted another annual loss.
The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group reported a $14.4-million net loss for the site in 2016.
Granted, things are looking up, and the Grey Cup win hurt the finances a bit, but no excuses or rationalizations can obscure the fact that Lansdowne is not performing as well as we’d hoped.
Yes, officials keep reminding us that it’s better than what was there before, but if that’s the best we can say...
If Lansdowne is to ever be the “urban village” we were promised, we need to identify the problems that exist, so we can find real solutions.
And the main problem is pretty obvious. Lansdowne — despite all intentions — is not a place for people. It doesn’t draw people in and through the site. It doesn’t invite people to linger. It isn’t home to enough different uses to maintain the level of activity — every day, all day — that is necessary for a thriving city district.
Such activity is known as urban diversity. A thriving urban area has enough different uses (residential, commercial, cultural, entertainment) happening all at once to ensure a rich variety of people using the same space consistently — that is, using the same streets and the same blocks at the same time.
By balancing the types of users at Lansdowne Park, there would be a more consistent flow of customers for businesses, and people for the public amenities.
Of course, to get more people moving through Lansdowne, the layout needs to be inviting to pedestrians, guiding them through the site, and encouraging them to take part in different activities.
But Lansdowne, as it is right now, is not built for people. The pedestrian-friendly areas are turned over to driving. The sidewalks are pinched by patios and parking. The bulk of the public spaces have no shade and nowhere comfortable to sit and chat.
This is due, in part to Lansdowne lacking residents. You may stand on Bank Street, look at the two towers and think of all the people who live at Lansdowne, but they don’t live in Lansdowne.
They live on Bank Street. They live on Holmwood. They never have to enter the park; they never have to walk its streets; and, thus, that key component for creating a diverse, people-friendly space — residents — is missing.
With a lack of residents and a half-empty office building, Lansdowne is relegated to having only one primary use, leisure. We talk about a live-work-play balance, but Lansdowne is all play: festivals, bars, restaurants, sporting events.
Areas with only one primary use grow stagnant, failing to live up to their potential, as noted by author, activist and professor Jane Jacobs.
This is predominantly by design. The city and OSEG are focused on bringing events to Lansdowne. They trumpet the fact that we had 177 special events at the park.
Yes, Lansdowne draws millions of visits, but too many of them are for a single purpose ...often a paid, private event that erects barriers to keep their guests out of the rest of the park.
Lansdowne needs more people conducting routine, mundane daily life stuff. It can thrive with fewer visitors if it gets better balance.
Forget about an urban village. Right now, Lansdowne is an urban amusement park, a wax museum where the elements of a vibrant city can be seen but can’t come to life.
If we want that urban life, we need to prioritize people. We need fewer cars. We need more seating, with tables and chairs. We need umbrellas and canopies to address the dearth of shade.
We need events like the farmers’ market; events that are integrated into the park, encouraging people to mingle, encouraging city life to naturally appear.
Or we can keep prioritizing cars, parking and paid events. And we can keep wondering why the best we can ever say is that it’s better than what was there before.