The media attention to the events of 9/11 and “where were you” stories took me back to where I was on September 11, 2001 preparing the inaugural meeting of the Rideau Street Redevelopment Working Group (RSRWG)
I had been closely involved with Action Sandy Hill (ASH) and had arranged the meeting to organize community action aimed at revitalizing Rideau Street between King Edward Avenue and Cummings Bridge. Some fifty people had agreed to attend, but late that afternoon there were a host of phone messages questioning its feasibility in view of the tragic news. I consulted with the president of ASH, and the decision was to carry on.
This meeting resulted from recommendations of the Rideau Street Design Charrette, held in February 2000. The Charrette was a brainstorming session on how to revitalize Rideau Street and return it to a vibrant main street instead of the rather tired strip of rundown stores and vacant lots that it was becoming. The Charrette participants discussed the ideas to improve Rideau Street presented by five design teams of architects and planners.
Acting on the ideas from the Charrette, ASH formed coalitions with local organizations to establish a group to work toward urban design solutions. So in spite of the unfortunate circumstances of 9/11/01, 28 brave souls attended the inaugural meeting that evening, including stakeholders, designers, developers, planners, architects, ASH representatives and members of the community. The news of the day made us cautious at first, but soon we were actively engaged with optimism for a new beginning for Rideau Street.
This initiative eventually resulted in the Uptown Rideau Community Design Plan, published in 2005, as a firm display of the community spirit, history and value associated with this part of the city. The Plan included a vision statement and design planning principles for Uptown Rideau.
In the years that followed, some aspects were modified due to external pressures and changing circumstances. The original plan for five to six storeys was increased after pressure from developers, and the proposal for light rail was de-emphasized. Nevertheless, many aspects of the plan did get incorporated into the current Uptown Rideau Street Secondary Plan 2016 (available on the City of Ottawa website).
Although the goals envisioned in the Charrette and the vision for Rideau Street have not come through quite as foreseen on the earlier plan, the vision is still alive and coming to fruition. Indeed, the street is under heavy construction as this article is written. We certainly hope that in the midst of all this change the character of the neighbourhood is preserved, as envisioned back in that memorable meeting of September 11, 2001.