Cogswell Notes – June 2018

Note: These are my speaking notes from the Council meeting where the 60% design was approved. I am posting them because I find it interesting how the Gehl report, available this week, pretty much lines up with the concerns that were being raised at Council a year and a half ago.

Resources: I put all the Cogswell Reports together in one place so they are available in this dropbox folder.

Very excited to see this project moving ahead.

I acknowledge the many thoughtful letters raising concerns about the proposal at this stage and thank you for your input. It is clear that people are passionate and care about this important project and the future of our municipality.

The 2014 Ekistics report creating a solid foundation that got us to where we are today. That report recognized that while the site is large, it is long and narrow, and Council endorsed the fine grain design has to accomodate the traffic volumes that are a part of the commerce and life of downtown BUT restored a street grid and block size that reflects what was there historically, before the interchange, and reflects the block pattern in the rest of downtown.

By removing the overpass and creating slower moving traffic and pedestrian and cycle facilities we shift the priority away from moving cars 600 meters down the road as fast as possible to opening up this land and creating an opportunity to heal the damage done all that time ago.

Before I address the concerns in the stakeholder letter – I want to briefly mention concerns that I have that I have brought to staff during the consultation phase, and one other concern that I think needs to be addressed as we move forward to 90%.

The pedestrian interface with the street needs to be strengthened. I have concerns about addressing pedestrian movements in the likely desire line will be between the northern area of Cogswell and Gottingen. As proposed for 350 meters between the roundabouts there is not a single crosswalk on Lower Water, and I think that there should be two, and a treed median to make the street more of a boulevard through that working industrial area. NACTO guidelines state it is critical to have a pedestrian island of no less than 6’, and ideally 8-10’, if you have more than three lanes of traffic for a pedestrian to cross, so that needs to be included in the 90%. All four sides of every signalized intersection need to have crosswalks. That is the level of change I hope to see between now and 90%.

I have concerns about Granville Square – It is hard to tell from looking down on a map how this park is intended to function. What is it’s programmatic purpose? Is it a live event space? Are we building Yonge/Dundas? Is it a Bryant Park? Is it a space for quietly reading a book? What do people want? If it is an event plaza as I have heard throughout the years, have we adequately consulted actual event people about how to make it work properly?

My newer concern is the transit hub. This is not sufficiently thought out. This will be one of our most transit facilities and it needs to be a gem of urban and transit design. I don’t see that yet, nor is it adequately thought out about how people will move through the adjacent park and into the old and new buildings. We need a lot more detail on this.

I want to note that all of these concerns can and should be able to be addressed betwen 60 and 90% and none of them are reasons to not move ahead today!

I support going forward with one amendment, which I will put on the floor now.

Now for the stakeholder letter:

First point – Council has not actually directed that this pay for itself out of sales, the 2014 motion requires the CAO bring back a financing plan sometime around 100% design. I’d ask staff to confirm when the financing report is coming back.

Second is on the road network – This is just a 60% plan that still has a long way to go – 40% of the way to go. I don’t see the need for major changes to where the roads are as desirable or necessary. I’ve not heard the kind of specific concerns and alternatives to what is proposed. That said, I’d like staff to confirm that the feedback on pedestrianization and public realm, especially crosswalks, pedestrian islands, and medians can and will be considered and that that level of change is still possible between 60 and 90%.

Third – My amendment The placemaking leading to refining the LUB, building height and mass, lot size, and the truly well designed parks will come from that. I will remind council – HRMxD was in large part based on this idea that “no height here here and here, but we will do significant height in Cogswell.” I think what is critical here is the LUB, get that right, design the parks right, make sure a complete pedestrian review of the road network occurs bringing it to NACTO standards is what gets us where we need to be.

I want to thank the CAO has already agreed to do a 90% check in rather than go straight to tender, as requested by the community.

So, what I am looking for from staff today is assurance that meaningful, significant and iterative engagement on the LUB and public realm will happen, that it won’t be boards and one stand and talk, that we are talking public library and HRM by Design level table work, iteration, listening and evolving. We have an opportunity to bring folks in and truly make this a placemaking exercise while also accommodating the constraints that have been acknowledged in the planning since the Ekistics report.

I look forward to hearing from my colleagues