Remaking Sparks: Fresh ideas for pedestrian mall get test run

Parts of Sparks Street in downtown Ottawa are upping the fun factor this morning as officials try out some new ideas to revitalize the pedestrian mall.

Picnic tables, games, outdoor library sprang from public consultations

Parts of Sparks Street in downtown Ottawa are upping the fun factor as officials try out some new ideas to revitalize the pedestrian mall. 0:51

Parts of Sparks Street in downtown Ottawa are upping the fun factor this morning as officials try out some new ideas to revitalize the pedestrian mall.

The City of Ottawa launched a campaign to bring more people to the pedestrian mall with a public meeting in January, asking the public for ideas. Winners will form a revitalization plan that will eventually go to council for a vote.

Change is already afoot: in an effort to keep vehicles off the street, removable bollards were installed earlier this month.

Starting Wednesday, three new ideas are being tested out between Lyon and Elgin streets.

At 79 Sparks Street, between Elgin and Metcalfe streets, people can learn more about the project and share their thoughts.

Kevin McHale, executive director of the Sparks Street Business Improvement Area, told the CBC's Hallie Cotnam about the BIA's efforts.

The BIA has a few fresh ideas, for the summer. 6:24

Benches out, picnic tables in

People want more spots where they can sit down and share a meal, so some of the benches near Metcalfe Street have been replaced with picnic tables.

"[We heard] there's nowhere really comfortable to sit down with a family and eat, or eat lunch with friends, instead of sitting on a bench with leftovers on your lap," McHale said.

Harshan Anton kicks back in one the newly installed hammocks on Sparks Street during his lunch break. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

Blocks on blocks

Red and black stackable boxes, rocking chairs and hammocks now occupy the two blocks between Kent and O'Connor streets, along with jumbo-sized versions of games such as Jenga and Connect 4.

"I have no doubt kids will do creative things with [the blocks]," McHale said. "Adults are going to use them as coffee tables, but how are kids going to play with it — or are they going to play with it?"

Ingrid Hollander, right, plays a game of Jenga with her children Lottie, left, and Johnny, centre, at one of the new play areas set up on the Sparks Street mall. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

Ingrid Hollander lives just a five-minute walk away from Sparks Street. She said so far, the new installations are a hit with her two children.

"The kids just keep stopping at all the stations. It's totally a great way to spend the day," she said.

"Whatever we can do to get more people here, make it more lively, it would be nice to see — during the day, night, weekends as well."

Borrow a book

Near the Bank of Canada headquarters at the corner of Bank Street, you can now flip through books for free.

"We're creating a library nook. We've bought a bunch of Canadian books so people can sit there, hang out for 10 to 15 minutes and peruse the books," he said.

Hammocks and blocks were also installed by the Bank of Canada building near Kent Street, where people can borrow Canadian books from a kiosk. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he's become "somewhat obsessed" with revitalizing Sparks Street.

"Last year we celebrated the mall's 50th anniversary, and we want it to go back to the time when it was so bustling and so exciting that it was was a real destination point," he said.

Watson said the city is also focused on bringing "retail that people want" to Sparks Street.

Residents and tourists alike can share their ideas on how to revitalize the mall at 79 Sparks St. on the following dates:

  • Wednesday, July 18 from noon to 3 p.m.
  • Thursday, July 19 from 9 a.m. to noon
  • Saturday, July 21 from noon to 3 p.m.
  • Thursday, July 26 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

With files from Hallie Cotnam and Marc-André Cossette