Heart of Orléans BIA

Economic development: An architect’s perspective

Byline: By Toon Dreessen of Architects DCA

Traditional main streets can be the live blood of a community, offering a place to meet all of one’s day-to-day needs in a compact, walkable community. Creating a place for people to do their shopping, visit the doctor or bank, have a bite to eat and connect with friends and neighbours helps forge community in a way that promotes an equitable, welcoming, inclusive community. 

Some of our more cherished neighbourhoods were based on these ideas. Historical precedents like the ByWard Market, Glebe or Stittsville were centred around these sorts of Traditional Main Streets. St-Joseph Boulevard is another and one that has huge potential.  

Once a thriving community, it’s become a thoroughfare for traffic. It currently doesn’t function as a road, nor as a street, sitting uncomfortably between the two as a stroad, a term coined by Strong Towns, a grassroots organization advocating for better built environments. 

We can change this if we believe that design matters. 

If we imagine that the value of a sense of place is the place itself, not just as a place to get through to get somewhere else, we can imagine that St-Joseph Boulevard can become a destination. Creating a place with slower traffic so that people can walk in greater comfort, with bike lanes to bring more economic activity, means that merchants will have more people coming to their stores. Creating places to sit, trees to provide shade, park space for kids to play and things to do or see creates an attraction that drives economic activity and a sense of community wellbeing

Initial steps require a change of mindset; we need to embrace change to create St-Joseph Boulevard as the Heart of Orleans, as a place where everyone is welcome. A place where people matter and community is forged. 

That includes building sustainable housing along the street that is sensitive to the established housing to the north. Moderately dense, with active frontage, street facing and with limited parking behind or below, housing can provide much needed walkable density. 

Key steps include reforming planning, incentivizing development and supporting existing businesses through a transition. As we recover from Covid-19 and its effects on our communities, we need to build the city we aspire to.