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Plamondon: A little creativity could bring Wellington Street back to life now

We don’t need to wait for a permanent plan for the Parliamentary Precinct to bring Wellington back to life, closed since the truckers’ protest for safety reasons.

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24 Sussex Drive is the usual metaphor for the inability to get things done in our capital region.

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Recently, columnist Kelly Egan spoke about another potential open wound with no immediate solution in mind. Following the occupation of truckers and the subsequent closure of Wellington Street to traffic, he rightly denounces the massively inhospitable barriers that encircle much of the Parliamentary Precinct. Egan notes that while pedestrians and cyclists have access, the concrete and fluorescent obstacles suggest this is a no-go zone.

It is inevitable that Wellington Street, and probably Sparks Street, will be transferred from municipal to federal jurisdiction. Although public safety is a new driving force, there has always been a nation-building reason to make better use of the land at the foot of our most important national institution than five lanes of truck, bus and car traffic. But how long will this transformation into a reimagined Wellington Street and Sparks Street take?

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While this work is underway, all it takes is a little creativity and courage to animate the base of Parliament Hill at very little cost. I’m not talking in a few years but in time for the next summer tourist season.

Here are some ideas:

• Replace warning signs with a more user-friendly message such as “Welcome to Canada’s Parliamentary Precinct”;

• Remove barriers designed for highway construction and replace them with prefabricated planters. Give them a coat of paint or, better yet, adorn them with red Canadian maple leaves;

• Make Wellington Street a gathering place with a series of pop-up restaurants. Add tables and chairs where families can bring a packed lunch or order food for delivery from a local restaurant;

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• Organize a few musical events with temporary seats and a stage;

• Organize a ball hockey or lacrosse tournament;

• Fill in the blanks with the imagination of our community leaders and entrepreneurs.

Downtown Ottawa has been dormant for over two years. He needs all the help he can get to be brought back to life and not left to linger under a banner that says “Under Construction” or “Lack of Imagination”.

We have done great things with Wellington Street beyond what happens on Canada Day. Think back to “Canada’s Table” in 2017 when 20 local chefs and guests, led by community leaders Stephen Beckta and Sheila Whyte, showed us what Wellington Street can be. It was then that 1,000 guests enjoyed a four-course meal, in front of Parliament Hill, during an evening that will be remembered for a long time.

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The NCC has had some success with Tavern on the Hill and other pop-ups along the Ottawa River and elsewhere. From cross-country ski trails to pop-up sites downtown, the city and the NCC had to allow others to bring these spaces to life.

We need to show that Ottawa is not the bureaucratic city where the fun is not forgotten but where it happens… in 2022.

Bob Plamondon is a former board member of the National Capital Commission and co-chair of Supporters of the Loop. He is the author of The Shawinigan Fox: How Jean Chrétien Defied the Elites and Remodeled Canada.

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