The Neighbourhood Fabric
In Layman’s Terms (A Non-Architect’s Point of View)
A Blog by Miranda Paquette
Flashback to my teen years – I lived briefly in Orléans, went to Catholic Secondary School Garneau and babysat kids all over town. I cashed my first cheque on St. Joseph Blvd, and with all that cash ($30 or so) took a bus to the Convent Glen Plaza and bought some Lise Watier makeup at the local Shoppers Drug Mart.
When I joined Dreessen Cardinal Architects two years ago, one of the first things I was tasked with was figuring out the records. As a firm with a long history, there were years of records to organize. Having lived most of my life in the Ottawa area, several of the projects had familiar-looking names. The Convent Glen Plaza was one of those projects.
A suburban strip mall – maybe not special – but it forms a part of the neighbourhood fabric. My family went there to do their grocery shopping, and in fact they still do. You can see a marketing site plan here. This is a mall people visit every day, and this kind of establishment is one of the reasons neighbourhoods thrive.
Local malls make it easier for people to age in. If you have kids, you can take a stroller and walk over to get food. If you’re not comfortable driving at night, you can walk to the local pharmacy. Many people idealize the downtown high-density urban experience, but the local, small suburban mall helps people get the best of both worlds: urban convenience within walking distance (AND a backyard).
People in Canada really love their backyards … for their kids, for their dogs, and for privacy. Housing stock is overflowing with condos that some people settle for because they can’t afford a house in town. Objectively I understand it may not be the best land use, but it’s what people want. So maybe we need to stop dismissing the suburban strip mall and embrace it for what it really is: the corner-stone of a walkable suburban community.
If we change our perspective about suburban strip malls maybe we can think about ways to improve access. My favourite part of the drawings we have is the picture of the tree. I know nothing about urban planning but I like thinking we planned to center the mall in the middle of a strip of park land. What if we emphasized the park-like walkability of these spaces? What if we, with the next renovation, made the park part and the sidewalks bigger – imagine the community we could build.