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La Base Ville : Imbrogno asks Why Lowertown deserves more love , among those used by Jacques Gréber for his famous 1950 city plan

May 14th, 2018 | by Richard Paul
La Base Ville : Imbrogno asks Why Lowertown deserves more love , among those used by Jacques Gréber for his famous 1950 city plan
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Imbrogno: Why Lowertown deserves more love


Children playing on Papineau Street in Lowertown. The photo was among those used by Jacques Gréber for his famous 1950 city plan.LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA

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Ten months ago, I moved to Ottawa from Montreal to start a new career. When I was looking for a place to live, I gravitated towards the Glebe. But the price of rent there sent me packing further north, where I found an apartment near Bank and Laurier. Since that time, I’ve been scouting out the best neighbourhood in which to buy my permanent Ottawa home.

During these months, I received the same piece of advice more times than I can count: don’t move to Lowertown. Time and time again, people told me they used to live in the Lowertown/ByWard Market area, and every one of them said not to move there. Why, I’ve been asking myself, is Lowertown getting such a universally bad rap?

On the surface, it seems an ideal place to live. The list of things to do within easy walking distance could fill the rest of this page: Parliament Hill, the National Gallery, the canal and so on. How could such a place be remembered without any fondness?

Perhaps my own memories of Montreal’s Plateau borough were clouding my judgement. There, so many places and activities are close by: shopping on rue St Denis and avenue Mont Royal; in the summer, the festivals at Place des Arts and the pedestrian-friendly rue Ste Catherine’s are just a quick metro ride away. People love the Plateau. So naturally Lowertown should be loved too, no?

As I’ve looked at condos and houses in other neighbourhoods, I’ve repeatedly returned to Lowertown. Its vibrancy and dynamism are so similar to what I experienced in Montreal. It began to dawn on me that what Lowertown needs to do is fully embrace itself and come alive as a great example of modern, urban and sustainable living.

images for story about the Laff in Ottawa for travel section and jen bain Image Ottawa bartender: Laff bartender Jourdon Girard, who has poured beer during hundreds of Lucky Ron shows over the years, likens it to the Rocky Horror Picture Show with the audience calling out. Image Ottawa four handsome: Regular Handsome Johnny calls out “Number four” as Lucky Ron finishes  his third song of the Saturday afternoon set. image Ottawa four/Ottawa four crowd: Part of the fun on a Saturday afternoon is calling out “Number four” as Lucky Ron finishes his third song and pretends not to hear the crowd.  Ottawa LR” Lucky Ron has been playing the same set at the Laff, “nothing new or different,” since 1999. Ottawa laff john:  John Carroll (left in glasses and hat), takes a break from his regular Wednesday night set at the Laff. Ottawa ball team:  A local ball team warms up at the Laff before their game on a Wednesday night.  Uploaded external by: allford, jennifer

images for story about the Laff in Ottawa for travel section and jen bain
Image Ottawa bartender: Laff bartender Jourdon Girard, who has poured beer during hundreds of Lucky Ron shows over the years, likens it to the Rocky Horror Picture Show with the audience calling out.
Image Ottawa four handsome: Regular Handsome Johnny calls out “Number four” as Lucky Ron finishes his third song of the Saturday afternoon set.
image Ottawa four/Ottawa four crowd: Part of the fun on a Saturday afternoon is calling out “Number four” as Lucky Ron finishes his third song and pretends not to hear the crowd.
Ottawa LR” Lucky Ron has been playing the same set at the Laff, “nothing new or different,” since 1999.
Ottawa laff john: John Carroll (left in glasses and hat), takes a break from his regular Wednesday night set at the Laff.
Ottawa ball team: A local ball team warms up at the Laff before their game on a Wednesday night.
Uploaded external by: allford, jennifer

Now that I’m moving to the area (yes, I ignored everyone’s advice and bought a condo), I’d like to see the best qualities of Lowertown become a daily reality – and that involves making it pedestrian, not car, friendly.

The joy people experienced during last summer’s robot invasion happened not only because there were machines roaming the streets of Ottawa, but because the market truly came alive when it returned to its pre-automobile days, with people and families able to wander about carefree, not having to be on guard against traffic.

Byward-Market

I know businesses think they need cars to bring customers, but what businesses actually need is an attractive community atmosphere rather than a mere collection of shops, bars and institutions … and the occasional robot walking down the street.

Let’s face it, nobody wants to live in Lowertown for too long because its attractiveness is only temporary, especially around the ByWard Market. The constant battle between pedestrians and traffic, the noise, the pollution and the crowded sidewalks create an aggressive, almost hostile environment both day and night that wears thin pretty quickly.

Tourists come and go, as do Ottawans apparently, not to mention the many on both sides of the Ottawa river who decamp to Montreal on a regular basis to avoid this city’s negative je ne sais quoi. But now that city hall is getting serious with public investment in the area – the light rail system, better shelters and the reform of the ByWard Market Corporation –  it’s time Lowertown took its place proudly alongside Montreal’s Plateau borough rather than remain its overlooked cousin.

I’d even go so far as to wonder if the Plateau and Lowertown should be sister neighbourhoods. Just like Ottawa is twinned with Beijing, Cairo and Cantani, Italy, these two neighbourhoods should create deeper bonds in recognition of their central place in the cultural and economic life of their respective cities. With more investment in transit in both cities, the two boroughs are closer than ever before.

I miss living in Montreal and I’ve decided to embrace that feeling. The advice many Ottawans gave me was to look past Lowertown. The advice I’ve taken is my own: to see its potential and become a part of its evolution.

Anthony Imbrogno is from Calgary, taught politics at McGill University, and now lives in Ottawa.

 

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