The shape of things to come

Ottawa has a full agenda of developments coming down the pike in the next few years.

With aims to bring the world to the capital in 2017, the city is hoping to show off exactly what Ottawa has to offer – and what is in store.

LeBreton Flats’ impending completion is the highlight of these offerings. A “world-class” LRT system sweetens the deal. A memorial to the victims of communism is no longer on the docket – but rest assured, something monumental will fill the central location next to the Supreme Court.

Where does a much-needed replacement for Ottawa’s aging civic hospital fit into these plans? The short answer: it doesn’t.

The post-2017 vision of Ottawa development is filled with projects designed to inspire both awe and tourist dollars. Less than a year out of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the capital is preparing to cast as wide a net as it can to catch the attention of an international audience. So we’ll just have to plop that hospital onto the Central Experimental Farm.

Economic benefit is high priority when it comes to local development. Preservation, heritage, and healthcare options are comparatively low. Prime land such as LeBreton Flats, therefore, has received a great deal of attention for the wondrous potential of its development. Empty canvasses are taken over by imaginative possibilities – the rigid practicality of a new civic hospital is not the product of such vision, or so we are meant to believe. Ottawa Hospital CEO Jack Kitts recently gave a speech to the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce whereby he imagined a hospital of the future in the city.

Kitts’ ambitions are within reach – but they are not in line with the city’s current priorities (or the province’s budget). Developers see the farm’s wide expanse as unproductive land, yet this ignores the heritage and the quiet productivity of the research it yields.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna recently spoke up in defence of the land and of practical development. Though some have accused the minister of playing politics with the site, the opportunity has been presented for sober second thought as the Ottawa Hospital has agreed to reconsider its plans.

Admittedly, suitable choices are already limited. It may well be too late to carve a slice of LeBreton Flats for a civic hospital. Considerations about the location’s accessibility via the LRT line have already been overlooked. Perhaps though, the vacant parkland next to the Supreme Court (if not already earmarked for something else) could serve a more vital purpose.

The centrality of the experimental farm makes it a prime candidate for the civic hospital. But at stake is not only one building, or a few acres of land. The question at hand is not where we set down a new hospital. The questions we ask now are about what our priorities are when we decide to develop a prime piece of land in the capital.

For whom are we developing Ottawa? Surely, we do not shape our city for the visitor. We shape our city for the citizens, for those who will continue to live here, well after the curtain has rung down on Ottawa 2017.