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What should we do with Carling Avenue?

Architects Toon Dreessen, left, and Jay Lim, right, discuss the future of Carling Avenue and suggest ways to transform it from arterial thoroughfare to a stretch of livable neighbourhoods. (Mario Carlucci/CBC - image credit)
Architects Toon Dreessen, left, and Jay Lim, right, discuss the future of Carling Avenue and suggest ways to transform it from arterial thoroughfare to a stretch of livable neighbourhoods. (Mario Carlucci/CBC - image credit)

There's a lot to love about Carling Avenue: easy access to the Central Experimental Farm, Dow's Lake and Island Park Drive, a gigantic Canadian Tire and some popular established restaurants such as Pita Bell Kabab.

But there's no question the arterial roadway is very much designed for fast-flowing car traffic and doesn't exactly give off the main street vibes of nearby Wellington or Richmond roads, according to two architects who were guests on CBC Radio's All In A Day this week.

Carling is on their minds as city council embarks on revamping elements of the roadway. The city has also approved high rises at the Travelodge, which once housed the Talisman Motor Inn near Kirkwood Avenue.

Unfortunately, we're going to lose this iconic structure, but at the same time things are going to grow into the space and hopefully make the place a lot better. - Jay Lim, 25:8 Architects

Jay Lim of 25:8 Architects and Toon Dreessen of Architects DCA met us in the Travelodge parking lot, where demolition is already well underway. CBC asked them to brainstorm ways to reimagine that stretch of Carling, and beyond.

"I think as Ottawa matures and evolves to become a really great capital city, the architecture and the construction around here is also going to evolve," Lim observed. "Unfortunately, we're going to lose this iconic structure, but at the same time things are going to grow into the space and hopefully make the place a lot better."

The once popular destination for weddings and banquets also contained some original architectural features that have all but disappeared from this city: mid-century modern design, a tiki bar and a Japanese-inspired garden, to name a few.

With all the other activity in the works for Carling, Dreessen and Lim stressed the importance of taking risks and making bold decisions so nearby residents can inherit a neighbourhood they can be proud of.

How many people want to walk along Carling, especially this stretch? It's basically at an on-ramp. - Toon Dreessen, Architects DCA

"You know, we need a really robust investment in public transit. Carling is ripe for, at the very least, dedicated bus rapid transit linking Lincoln Fields to downtown, to the Glebe, to Billings Bridge. There's so much opportunity," Dreessen said.

"It could very easily be surface tram streetcars providing that kind of connection, and that would really go a long way to making Carling a complete street."

Better public transit would mean fewer cars and less parking, he said.

"You look at Carling now, how many people want to walk along Carling, especially this stretch? It's basically at an on-ramp. It's a tough street to want to walk on, a tough street to make welcoming to pedestrians and cyclists."

Obstacles and opportunities

Carling's expansive lanes and proximity to the Queensway pose some unique challenges for walkability, but all that space also presents opportunities for planners and designers, according to Lim.

"It's six lanes essentially, and you've got this highway that's bifurcating the entire street. But you have an opportunity," he said.

"Think about any big city you've gone to, whether it's San Francisco, New York, Toronto. The opportunity here is the higher buildings to create a skyline, to create something you can see from a distance, to create something iconic people come into. But at the same time on the street level we do need to make it a bit more friendly."

The key to enhancing it, according to Dreessen, is to create spaces in between the landmarks that people want to use, and can get to on foot.

The building that once housed the bustling Talisman Motor Inn on Carling is in the midst of demolition as developers sought and received approval for high rise construction on the site.
The building that once housed the bustling Talisman Motor Inn on Carling is in the midst of demolition as developers sought and received approval for high rise construction on the site.

The building that once housed the bustling Talisman Motor Inn on Carling is in the midst of demolition as developers sought and received approval for highrise construction on the site. (Mario Carlucci/CBC News)

"We need to think of how to make those experiences in those nodes ... into neighborhoods, if you will, in their own space. There's nothing that stops the city from ... putting Carling on a 'road diet' and filling it with street trees and bike lanes. You can do that tomorrow."

According to Lim, Ottawa could learn from a city like New York where urban "trials" make for bold experiments that aren't expensive and have the potential for big payoffs.

"I would love to see the city become a world class capital city. And you know, there's an opportunity here, and that's one of the reasons that I decided to stay in Ottawa because I think there's a great chance for the people here to define Ottawa as a really great place to go."

More YIMBY, less NIMBY

Dreessen said there are some examples of forward thinking-initiatives underway in the city, primarily thanks to the National Capital Commission, and this can encourage more creativity moving forward.

"The River House is really fantastic. The approach to making a people place on Queen Elizabeth Driveway. I see the potential of things like the [new] central library to be a significant icon in our city."

A rendering of RioCan's six-building development proposed for Carling Avenue.
A rendering of RioCan's six-building development proposed for Carling Avenue.

A rendering of RioCan's development proposed for Carling Avenue. It's pitching six buildings up to 40 storeys at the site of a former Canadian Tire building, but it's unclear exactly what the buildings will look like, (Hobin Architecture)

A reliable and convenient LRT is also key to fixing places like Carling, he said.

"There's a lot of really incredible talent both in the city and at the NCC, in terms of design potential, design ideas, design creativity. Where it struggles is in the actual implementation. And that's where we really need to see change. We need to see a more sophisticated design language, design culture, a better understanding so that we have more YIMBY [yes in my backyard], and less NIMBY [not in my backyard], more acceptance that cities evolve and change."