From public art to parking, 8 ideas to spruce up Sparks Street

The City of Ottawa is asking people for ideas on how Sparks Street can be better for people and businesses. Here's what some of the people said at a town hall on Saturday.

A sampling of what came up at this weekend's pedestrian mall town hall

The city wants people to tell it what's good and bad about Sparks Street, whether that happened at Saturday's town hall or online. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

The City of Ottawa is asking people for ideas on how Sparks Street can be better for people and businesses as it works on a comprehensive plan to revitalize the pedestrian mall.

Here's what some of the people who attended a town hall Saturday had to say.

Their comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Michele Menard-Foster, lives and works in Ottawa

I want to share some personal experiences visiting Detroit and a lot of their rejuvenated public space — and how inspiring it was.

I was there as a tourist but felt very much the spaces were adapted for the residents. That would be my vision for Sparks Street.

[In one main square, Detroit] had public beaches. You saw people in their business clothes with their feet in the sand at lunchtime. It was surrounded by a lot of delis and restaurants as well — but also people, daycares, children.

The full community experience was there, as well as tourists. 

In the presentations, sometimes I heard the focus would be on tourism, then residents. I would love to see this initiative be residents [first]. If it's that fantastic, tourists will equally benefit.


Sam Elsaadi, former chair of the Sparks Street Business Improvement Area, shares his thoughts at Saturday's town hall meeting. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Sam Elsaadi, former chair of Sparks Street BIA

We are losing business after business. The government never considered those businesses [and] how they could survive.

We're very happy to see the city have a new long-term plan, but we have to consider the existing businesses' future.

[Don't think of Sparks Street] as a park where people go to gather for events and leave. We work with businesses to bring people for the whole year and keep them there.

We have thousands of people [coming], but most businesses don't benefit.

Support existing businesses and try to bring more businesses in the future.

I would like to, as a business owner, see some parking or traffic [allowed] for a short amount of time between November and April. 


Peter Thorn, lives in downtown Ottawa

If the plan is to increase the residential component on Sparks Street, it has to be a mix of tenure uses: rental, condo, some component of affordable housing, and housing not just for singles and couples but for people with families.

I think once the diversity on that street returns then there will be more of a demand for businesses.

If you have to go out of your neighbourhood to buy a litre of milk, it really doesn't help Sparks Street. Once you get residential [uses] in there, the tourists will come.

Sparks Street, especially between Elgin and Bank streets, is pretty much a concrete desert.

It's not pleasant to walk on in the summer at noon when there's full sun, and certainly not in the winter when it's a wind tunnel.

I recognize the heritage buildings are important as a visual component but their facades need to be softened. It's an unpleasant walk.


People who attended a public forum on the future of Sparks Street on Jan. 13, 2018, could share their visions for the Ottawa pedestrian mall on these comment sheets. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Stephanie Appotive, Howard Fine Jewellers and True Bijoux

I hope we focus on shop owners and what it means to run a shop on the street. It's extremely difficult right now, which is why we have seen a decline.

We are fortunate that we're a destination, but it requires a tremendous amount of [work] to encourage people to visit us. I make more deliveries than I ever have before.

It's so easy to shop online. Shopping patterns absolutely have changed [and] if we don't make it accessible to vehicles, we really should have a completely different view of Sparks Street.

If we envision having dynamic shops we have to incorporate a shared street with accessible parking and driving.

There's a pilot project in Halifax on Argyle Street that's incorporating a one-way street with very slow driving during key times where it makes sense. Something like that, a shared street: that's my vision.

When it's cold out, it doesn't make sense to keep it pedestrian-focused. Nobody wants to be outside. And when they are outside on the mall they're just trying to get from point A to point B.


A sample of some of the written feedback. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Scott May, used to work on Sparks Street

When I was working on Sparks Street in the 1970s, it was in decline then.

Sparks Street should be a tourist-designated space. The ByWard Market is hugely successful in drawing a vast number of tourists. I think we're missing a very large opportunity with Sparks Street.

It needs to replicate successful areas such as the waterfront of Chicago, with its public art. Culture in Ottawa needs to be in the forefront of that space. I think if you build it, [tourists] will come and residents will follow. 

Sparks Street would benefit from having multiple music venues, the way New Orleans benefits from Frenchman Street, where there are 20 music venues within a three-block radius. 

If the [government] is offering two to three-year rental spaces, let's put temporary art spaces in there. There's a huge underground scene in Ottawa for music and art. Let's give people the opportunity to showcase their work in a short-term, low-cost way.


Linda Russell, co-chair of Doors Open Ottawa

I think you're doing a very good job with special events and festivals on Sparks Street, but the challenge is to make every day special.

That doesn't mean more festivals. It means ordinary, everyday people gathering.

We need more places to sit, greenery and a series of small public spaces. The idea of new public art all the time: they do that in The Beaches in Toronto, and it's fantastic.

I was looking at the fences around the restaurant patios and how tall they are, how they just cut up the space. Even if they were shorter, it would look nicer.

While we're waiting, while we do all this sitting and planning, why don't we buy 500 chairs and tables, put them on Sparks Street and see what people do with them? That will help us figure out more about where people want to be on that street.


A pedestrian approaches Darcy McGees Irish Pub on Sparks Street in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2018. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Jeff O'Reilly, general manager of D'Arcy McGees Irish Pub

I think something that's lost here is there are successes on Sparks Street. There are a lot of great things and businesses that thrive.

I'm glad after I've seen so much attention given to so many other areas of the city that [there's] discussion, thought and a commitment to realize the potential of Sparks Street.

The thing that makes us unique is our pedestrian [focus]. I want to see that remain.

Making it more accessible, nicer to look at and more comfortable is all fantastic. But remaining a pedestrian mall is first and foremost.


Ed Bernacki, just moved back to Ottawa from Australia

The presentations are great if we were in Australia. I love that seating, the greenery, trees, being able to sit — you know it's –20 C [outside] right now?

Is there a concept for a winter design we should start from and then pull it back in the summer?

Most of our weather is awful and cold. Could we cover part of [the street]? Is there something that could be done, or is this about designing a three-month-a-year street — and the rest of the year we [just] tolerate it?

I sometimes think we design too many things for the few months of summer when it's hot and sunny here.

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