I used to walk more or less the same loop during my lunch time hour and Sparks Street was mostly included. But since the Laurier bike Lane is in place, I have changed my route and abandoned Sparks. Laurier is livelier, and with the bike lane in place, there is not only more to see in terms of cyclists, there are also some nice restaurants. The Persian Express has become a hang out for meetings for me as they offer nice food for a relatively low price (all you can eat buffet) and they have a three season terrace. Presse Café opened a few weeks ago on Laurier and is another interesting spot for a coffee.
But back to Sparks. A lot has been written about it, but little happens. A few years ago, half of the horrible metal structures, blocking the view anyway, were taken out. If it was up to me, the rest -and the concrete foundations- could go too, they “just so don’t belong” there. The NCC has incorporated Sparks as one of the areas that needs revitilising before 2067. Hopefully, I can participate in the 200th birthday of Canada in 2067, when I am 104 years old. It is possible.
Last winter, I posted a picture from Sparks, taken days before Christmas. It wasn’t a great picture, but this year the picture was even bleaker. I took a few pics earlier in the season and it appears that there doesn’t seem to be much initiative anymore. The Jazz bar is now a gym, International Clothiers, not really the crown juwel though, is gone, but at least Bridgehead saw the potential in a nice building. It appears to be successful.
It is too bad that the CBC building is so terribly uninviting: it could have been such a nice open concept, particapatory, walk in, lunch time discuss open mike, open studio concept with a grand welcoming entrance on Sparks. Instead, you have to scramble on a three feet wide side walk on Queen St. to find the entrance; the Sparks St. exit is basically the emergency exit for Radio Canada smokers, huddling together near the east side of the building. I don’t want to see smokers: I want to see Lucy van Oldenbarneveldt live! (She has very historic roots by the way, as one of her great, great, great grand fathers was likely Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, the Dutch statesman who played an important role in the Dutch struggle for independence from Spain. He was beheaded in 1619: his last words were: “Make it short, make it short”, the exact same words that I am thinking when I am watching Ian Black explaining that it is is one degree colder in Barrhaven than Rockcliffe…).
So here are a few pics for those who don’t know what I am talking about.
This is a picture of Grote Markt Straat which I took in February 2011, when I visited The Hague: pedestrians and and cyclists are allowed, cars aren’t (see pic at the top of this post). Cyclists seem to adjust their speed as no one was racing, and pedestrians know to watch out for the cyclists. I didn’t see any angry reactions and it appeared that everyone knew their place on the road. Note the upright position, missing spandex and lack of helmets.
So here are seven points to think about:
Anchors: A good mall has anchors (stores that attract large numbers of people) on both ends, and that is what is missing;
Heritage: Ruined store fronts are terribly uninviting, set some restoration grants aside for improvements;
Eyes on the street: Forbid the horrible film on windows, you can’t look inside nor outside;
Cozier: Design a street that is visually narrower: design creative pavement in several colours with a strip for cyclists in the middle: no they won’t race; the street in Berkel was actually made narrower by allowing stores to build out into the street for a few extra meters;
Views: Unblock the view through the street by removing the metal structures;
Declutter: Remove the concrete foundations, or paint them purple with yellow dots, or zebra stripes, or giants slugs;
Unfence: Get rid of those crazy fences around terraces. Why bother with them? It prevents what exactly? Change the law.
A Christmas wreath on a street light is not going to change the street. As the Dutch expression goes: “Wimpy doctors, stinky wounds”. Bold changes are necessary. With all the condos in the westend of downtown, there is no reason that Sparks St. isn’t livelier. If the store rents are too high, I ‘d say lower them, but the store properties aren’t owned by the NCC. O, and would the Post Office on Sparks and Elgin not be a gorgeous Grand Café? Something like this:
But let’s start with a bike lane a pilot for a year or two. Just paint two lines. It might also attract Bixi bike tourists into Sparks, desparately searching for “I love the NCC” T-shirts.
All pictures by Urban Commuter, except the Google Screenshot and the Gerbeaud Café.
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