Plan for the ByWard Market moves us in the right, green direction

Liz Bernstein, John Borsten The Ottawa Citizen

The ByWard Market Public Realm Plan, reimagines the market to include wide pedestrian promenades, focal points for outdoor festival spaces and comprehensive tree-planting.

OTTAWA -- Yet another design plan in the books for the ByWard Market

as finance committee considers the latest blueprint for the public areas. View of stores in the ByWard Market. Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020 -- . ERROL MCGIHON, Postmedia
View of stores in the ByWard Market: Time for a facelift? PHOTO BY ERROL MCGIHON /Errol McGihon

The ByWard Market is Canada’s oldest continuous outdoor market, a cultural and heritage space and a major tourist attraction. And as we have seen this past year, its streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas make the ByWard Market a people-gathering place, even during a pandemic.

The plan aims to revitalize outdoor spaces in the ByWard Market and has the support of business, health, community and environment leaders across Ottawa.

The ByWard Market Public Realm Plan reimagines the market to include wide pedestrian promenades, focal points for outdoor festival spaces and comprehensive tree-planting.

Although the ByWard Market Public Realm Plan had been in the works prior to COVID-19, the pandemic has underscored the importance of outdoor spaces and is adding a sense of urgency to approve and fully fund this plan. Access to public outdoor spaces is critical to securing public health, to ensuring safe access to businesses, retailers and restaurants and to providing residents, employees and visitors safe spaces to work and socialize.

Funding is now available for communities from both the federal and provincial governments for post-COVID-19 recovery plans and the ByWard Market is a critical candidate for this support. But the revitalization of the ByWard Market must also be a 2021 capital investment priority with the city budgeting at least $30 million of the total $129 million needed to implement the plan.

The plan’s vision is a green one and aims to move the ByWard Market from a car-based space to one that is pedestrian-friendly, where active transportation – walking and cycling – is prioritized. The plan also calls for the planting of hundreds more trees with the goal of having 30-per-cent tree cover in the ByWard Market. Although a 40-per-cent tree cover goal is what is needed across the city, rethinking how we build neighbourhoods to make them greener and accessible to all is what this plan does. The ByWard Market Public Realm Plan moves the city in the right green direction.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a serious blow to businesses and livelihoods. The ByWard Market Public Realm Plan focuses on all-year access to the ByWard Market and allows for outdoor stands and outdoor events. Growing and beautifying outdoor spaces will make the Byward Market more business-friendly and will help stimulate a much-needed post-COVID-19 recovery.

Yet another COVID-19 lesson has been the importance accessing secure, locally supplied food. A revitalized farmer’s market in the heart of the ByWard Market will ensure access to fresh, local products.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also causing untold stress and hardship in our community. Individuals, families, employees and employers are suffering. Taking care of mental and physical health during a pandemic is challenging. The pandemic, however, underscores the importance of access to public outdoor spaces so that people can safely engage in activities that can improve both their physical and mental health. But even beyond the pandemic, getting fresh air and being active contributes to wellness. This plan re-envisions the ByWard Market as an outdoor, year-round gathering space that encourages walking and cycling.

The plan must also take into consideration those who call the ByWard Market home. Although the plan has broad support from residents, its vision for Clarence Street should be one that pays more attention to pedestrians and to greening the street than to widening space for patios.

The Public Realm Plan seeks to balance the many interests of the people who use the ByWard Market, including residents, shoppers, business owners, tourists and employees while also reimagining it as a greener space. Passing and fully funding a plan to revitalize the ByWard Market was needed prior to COVID-19. It was the right thing to do then, and now it is all the more pressing to secure funding and implement a plan. Once passed, the ByWard Market Public Realm Plan will ensure that the ByWard Market remains a defining feature of our city. It’s a plan that will see Ottawa through a post-COVID-19 recovery and beyond.

Liz Bernstein is Vice-President of Lowertown Community Association. John Borsten is a business owner, of Zak’s Diner, The Grand and Metropolitan Brasserie.

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