Everyone was rather disappointed when CFB Rockcliffe was cut off from all vehicle and pedestrian traffic on October 13, 2009. The former base had provided an excellent green space for people to bring their dogs and for recreationists to go for a walk or a jog. The Department of National Defence decided however to close off the former base area for safety reasons, due to construction work and building demolition. These preparations are paving the way to the next phase planned for the site. They raise an important question: what is the best way to develop this urban space?
Operations ceased on CFB Rockcliffe in 1994 after nearly a century of service -- the location has been used by the military since 1898. As part of the new Air Regulations Act adopted by Parliament in 1920, the site was chosen as one of the six original Canadian airfields. The fact that an airfield – precursor to an airport – was established at Rockcliffe distinguishes it as one of the first sites of the emerging aviation industry. Charles Lindbergh, the famous pilot of the Spirit of St. Louis and the first person to cross the Atlantic in an airplane, visited the Rockcliffe airfield in 1931. However, the legacy of this base does not end with what is written in history books; the development of this urban space will soon affect our present-day community.
Canada Lands Company (CLC) will play an important role in designing the redevelopment plans for CFB Rockcliffe. CLC held two public meetings in 2006, but then decided to slow down its redevelopment plans pending the transfer of the title from the Department of National Defence. As reported by a number of media outlets in the spring of 2007, the title transfer was challenged in light of outstanding Aboriginal land claims. I have been advised that those land claims have been resolved.
Any plans to redevelop the base must engage local communities and businesspeople, and all levels of government, in an inclusive and deliberative process. Urban planning is a political activity: building a community also means determining how it moves, how it works, how it comes to life, how it celebrates. Urban planning must reflect the values of the community that is being developed. That is why the community must be brought together and given the opportunity to share its ideas and plans. The redevelopment of the Rockcliffe airbase must respect those principles.
The redevelopment plan established in 2006 involves creating eight distinct neighbourhoods, each made up of stores and offices, and a total of approximately 4,500 housing units. I strongly believe that this redevelopment must be founded on something far more inspiring than the development of yet another residential project.
My vision for the redevelopment of CFB Rockcliffe is fuelled by factors such as equilibrium, viability and sustainability, and most importantly, economic development. One point that I will continue to emphasize is the importance of setting aside sufficient land on the site for non-residential use. For a development plan projecting between 10,000 and 15,000 residents to be sustainable – and not becoming just another bedroom community – there is a strong need for jobs on site. Creating jobs on site will reduce traffic on our roads and reduce pollution. It will encourage residence-workplace proximity, which is beneficial for families and health. It will forge community ties that promote participation and encourage people to help one another. It will also create markets for local artisans and merchants.
The proximity of the National Research Council complex – which boasts the largest concentration of scientists in the country – represents an important opportunity and unique strength for us all. We must be careful not to waste it. We would be wise to learn from the mistakes made in the development of the Melbourne Docklands, in Australia – an area that is a prized business centre, but has been criticized for the planning delays, lack of green space and for discouraging pedestrian traffic – and in Detroit, where many projects have led to a range of urban development experiences. They all have their flaws and achievements; it is up to us to learn from them.
The redevelopment of CFB Rockcliffe is one of my priorities. I will remain involved and I encourage you to share with me any concerns or ideas you may have to enrich our community through the development of this precious site.