Business owners and a leading community activist on the west side of Centretown are pointing to positive changes in the streetscape on the corner of Somerset and Preston streets as a boon for store owners and area residents alike.
A small garden spruces up the sidewalk outside Luciano Foods at the corner of Somerset and Preston streets in Little Italy. During recent reconstruction of Somerset sidewalks and roads, landscapers added the garden.
The Somerset public advisory committee lobbied to have some of the area landscaped as part of the Somerset reconstruction project.
“You got to jump on things when you see them, so if they’re already digging up the road and they’re already digging up the sidewalk, then you might be able to get them to do a little extra,” says Eric Darwin, vice-president of the Dalhousie Community Association and a community activist for planning, transportation, streetscaping, and cycling issues in Ottawa.
The little extra that Darwin is referring to is the added garden space that the advisory committee lobbied for.
Before the addition, the small area, located in the parking lot of the Luciano’s food market, looked rather drab with all of the concrete and plain, grey sidewalks surrounding it. Hidden behind a billboard and underneath a fire escape, it collected garbage and was generally an annoyance, according to Darwin.
“It was just this dumb little spot that collects coffee cups and McDonald’s wrappers, the sort of left over edge of a parking lot,” Darwin says. “It was just a nuisance and it was paved because it was less work for everybody involved.”
During the recent municipal reconstruction of Somerset sidewalks and roads, Darwin and the advisory committee asked that the landscapers add a little bit of green to the otherwise dull spot. After adding a curb, some planters, some topsoil, and some hostas plants, there is now a small garden space in what used to be a nondescript patch of asphalt.
“It has worked out better than we ever thought,” Darwin says. “The plants are thriving, so there’s a lot more light there than we thought coming in under the billboard and through the end. Nobody walks on it. It’s just sitting there all by itself thriving and it’s really nice when something like that happens.”
Other changes in the area are winning praise, too.
A bland stretch of sidewalk has been replaced with red bricks, illuminated by stylish street lamps.
The streetscaping of the Somerset and Preston sidewalks has improved the pedestrian environment so much that businesses say they are benefitting as a result of it.
Elton Xhetani, a manager at the Luciano’s food market, says it is a much more welcoming retail area today.
“It made the street a lot prettier and yeah, we needed more green space,” Xhetani says. “We have a lot of people around the area that come in when they’re walking so it makes a difference when you have more people walking down the street.”
Others agree that the streetscaping has made a big difference.
Christine Ha, translating for her father because he did not speak much English, says that his Pho Bac Oriental Cuisine restaurant benefitted in more ways than one.
“Before, we weren’t considered part of Chinatown,” Ha says. “When they decided to do the streetscaping, we had to be included as part of Chinatown’s BIA.”
According to the Ottawa Chinatown BIA website, the city approved the BIA boundary expansion from Rochester Street to Preston Street in 2008.
The streetscaping, which added the distinctive Chinatown red streetlights and sidewalk, helped in changing the area’s identity.
“It definitely makes a difference in our business because now people are seeing that this is part of Chinatown now,” Ha added. “It’s definitely more appealing. It definitely needed the facelift.”