Market plan

Dreessen: Byward Market plan needs a bolder vision of excellence

On Wednesday, Ottawa council will consider a $ 129 million plan to redevelop the Byward Market with new pedestrian plazas and a “destination building” that would replace the Clarence Street parking garage, among other recommendations.

The ByWard Market Public Realm Plan is the culmination of years of consultation and work to engage the public in the ongoing efforts to reinvent historic civic space.

But even if approved, the plan will still face challenges – as well as opportunities for one of Ottawa’s best-known destinations to continue to evolve and become a world-class destination worthy of the national capital.


The design vision presented is modest. Its focus continues the tradition of prioritizing cars. Renderings of the proposed development reflect consistency with the “tabletop parking” and flexible space used in the recent reconstruction of Elgin Street. The design relies on bollards to separate pedestrians from cars, making spaces less accessible in winter. This is consistent with the snow removal challenges on MacKenzie Avenue, preventing accessibility and use of public space year round.

The new plan is 3.5 meters wide for most streets in an attempt to slow vehicle traffic. Favoring slow speeds means narrowing the lanes, introducing elevated pedestrian crossings and making pedestrians the priority. This is successful if the streets are designed as woonerfs, a Dutch street style where driving is limited to walking speed.


The report probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is in line with the reports produced in 2004 and 2015, 2016 and 2017 on which no appreciable action has been taken. The 2020 approval contains no funding mechanism and a $ 129 million implementation plan.

The city hopes the design and construction funds will come from the federal or provincial government, and the report also recommends a public-private partnership as a funding mechanism. But we only have to look at other failed PPP models to see that PPP will privatize a public good, cost more and lead to poor results.

Public consultation

Comments from a pro bono report by my firm, Architects DCA, make it clear that people want pedestrian public space.

The city’s own report “As We Heard” includes 857 responses to the question “How do we achieve your vision? Half wanted the creation of areas reserved for pedestrians, the elimination of parking in the heart of the market and better cycling facilities.

The final report notes that it ensures that “pedestrian and cycling modes have been considered and prioritized, but in balance with public transport and car travel” and that the design “attempted to strike a balance between all of them. street users “but continues to make cars and parking a priority. The study area includes three kilometers of streets, of which 200 meters (two blocks separated by a street) are reserved exclusively for pedestrians. This does not suggest that a balance between cars and pedestrians has been achieved.

So what can we do differently?


The report calls for a design competition for the intersection of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive. Design competitions should become the norm. They can be used to stimulate broad public conversation and be the key to the success of public spaces. For example, the success of the new Halifax Public Library was directly linked to the design process, which began with a competition.

A design competition for destination buildings will be critical to success and public engagement.

Consider Toronto’s Historic Distillery District – a pedestrianized public space surrounded by heritage buildings that is considered one of Canada’s premier arts, culture and entertainment districts. People flock to the area year round, and it is a thriving place for business.

Modern residential development provides a critical mass of regular foot traffic and all parking is offsite or underground. The place is safe and inviting. Should we want less for the Byward Market?


The city can explore financing tools within its own mandate: vacant construction costs, expropriation of abandoned properties and progressive increases in the taxation of surface parking combined with incentives, such as deferral or exemption. development rights, which promote development.

Some areas could be the subject of design contests for sale to developers, such as the Edmonton Missing Middle contest. Rejecting the privatization of public goods is essential if we are to learn from our mistakes and ensure a positive and lasting legacy for future generations.

Public engagement:

A progressive, bolder design for the public domain is needed. We should link the implementation of the public domain plan to other city policy objectives, including our new official plan. Vision Zero, neighborhoods within 15 minutes, better urban planning and the use of sustainable transport are all possible in a #BetterByWard.

Located next to the Rideau LRT and within walking distance of most of downtown, the market could be an incubator to test how to support small businesses in a post-COVID economy, creating the pedestrian and sustainable community we aspire to. all.

The Byward Market holds a special place in the heart of Ottawa. Let’s set a bold vision for excellence and open the door to innovative and creative people-centric designs.

Toon Dreessen is president of Architects DCA of Ottawa and past president of the Association of Architects of Ontario.

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