Future of Carling: How one of Ottawa’s main arteries is being reinvisioned

A photo of Carling avenue taken from a balcony. It is facing towards Carlingwood Shoppjng Centre from the Lincoln Fields area.
Carling Avenue with its many lanes of traffic seen from a balcony in the Britannia neighbourhood. Photo by Gabriel Rivett-Carnac.

By Charlie Senack

Imagine what it would be like to walk down a tree-lined Carling Avenue, with dozens of high density buildings and easy access to reliable transit. 

It’s a dream many architects and politicians are eyeing for the city as one of Ottawa’s main arteries is reinvisioned for the future. 

The streetscape, currently designed for cars, has already seen lots of development in the works. Highrises are about to be built on the site of the former Travelodge Hotel, Westgate Shopping Centre will eventually be torn down to make way for five towers, and single houses near Carlingwood could soon be demolished for low rise buildings. 

Yet despite the street’s modernization, there is no official plan. 

“I think Carling really suffers from some form of an identity crisis,” said Wellington-West based architect Toon Dreessen. “Carling is fractured politically. It runs through multiple wards. It has so many different purposes and identities so there is nothing cohesive for it to be put together.”

Dreessen of Architects DCA said he doesn’t view Carling under the same scope as Bank, Preston, or Somerset streets. Instead, his vision is for it to be a boulevard that would link the various communities it passes all the way from Bayshore in the west to Dows Lake in the east. 

“I think Carling should go on a road diet. It should be a narrower road with slower speeds and dedicated bus-only transit and cycle infrastructure,” Dreessen said. “It should be a mixture of mid-rise buildings — eight to 12 storeys — and then have higher buildings at key nodes in transit hubs. These key hubs should be pre-zoned and up-zoned for taller towers.”

Bay ward city councillor Theresa Kavanagh agrees. She said the community needs intensification to survive. 

A man walks down a sidewalk Carling. Cars can be seen on the left hand side.
Cars travel down Carling Avenue near Westgate Shopping Centre at rush hour. Photo by Charlie Senack.

“Carling Avenue used to be the main road to come into town. It was the highway before the Queensway was built,” she said. “Its character has changed over the years, but it’s now part of our urban landscape and we need to make it more liveable.”

The City of Ottawa has long talked about putting bus rapid transit down Carling, but it’s never happened. Kavanagh said that is because more safety studies need to occur.   

Parts of Carling will one day be benefit from light rail transit, with Stage 2 of the Confederation Line going through Lincoln Fields. From there, trains will travel south to Algonquin College at Baseline Station, west to Moodie Drive, and east all the way to Orléans. The whole system is not expected to be completed until 2026. 

Kavanagh hopes the bus routes will soon change to accommodate new travel patterns.

“My dream, and I’m pushing for it, is to have bus rapid transit and bike lanes keep going west past Bayshore,” she said. “Currently the number 85 goes down Carling and goes to Bayshore. Eventually it may even need to go beyond Bayshore to Crystal Beach. We do have DND (Department of National Defence) over there and so it’s another way of coming in.”

The Bay ward councillor who lives in Britannia, said she’d like to see Carling Avenue also become a more friendly place for cyclists and pedestrians. Kavanagh invisions murals painted onto buildings and trees lining the street to make it feel “less cold and awful.” 

Future of Carlingwood 

In summer 2023, Carlingwood Shopping Centre was put on the market, a move which many retail experts said could signal future development. 

The 632,700-square-foot retail complex sits on a 30-acre site with lots of parking lots surrounding the shopping mall. Kavanagh said the front of Carlingwood is already rezoned for highrises. 

“That very much looks like the future,” she said. “Is that better than a pile of asphalt? Probably. We need more people living in these urban areas.”

A planning sign sits outside of a small two-storey housing complex.
1995 Carling could be torn down to make way for a 27-storey apartment building, but plans have been stalled. Photo by Charlie Senack.

A few blocks down from Carlingwood, a development sign outside of 1995 Carling said the city has received a site plan application to build a 27-storey apartment dwelling with 210 residential units and six levels of underground parking. 

The concept was initially brought forward in 2020 and hasn’t seen any movement since. The community has expressed concerns over the proposed developments closeness to single story homes nearby. Kavanagh said it’s a “less than ideal” location. 

Next door to the east at 1993 Carling, a five-storey residential building with 27 units and a rooftop terrace is proposed. It would replace an existing three-storey structure. 

Near Clyde, the former Canadian Tire building could be torn down to make way for condos or a gym. The hardware store closed in fall 2022 to move into its new location in Carlingwood.

Property owner RioCan proposed to build six mixed-use buildings on the site, one that could be 40-storeys tall. If it’s developed, 1,700 people could call the site home, with a new retirement home and public park also part of the plans. 

But weeks after announcing their plans, Altea Active, a fitness and lifestyle company, said they planned to repurpose the existing building into a 129,000 square-foot gym, which would include nine fitness studios, a 25-metre swimming pool, pickleball courts and a meditation lounge.  

The exterior of the former Canadian Tire on Carling.
The former Canadian Tire on Carling near Clyde could be converted into a gym or torn down to make way for condos. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Almost a year later, the building still sits vacant. 

River ward councilor Riley Brockington said between Merivale and Clyde alone, roughly two dozen towers have been proposed, creating a massive transformation to the community. 

“Long term, Carling will be a mixed residential and office corridor. You’re talking over 20 towers. That could be over 10,000 people on just two blocks,” he said. “When homes (and buildings) come to the end of their lifecycle, they aren’t going to be replaced with the same size and shape.”

Westgate to potentially be torn down sooner 

Further east on Carling, Westgate Shopping Centre is in the midst of a 20-year revitalization process. 

A few years ago, Monkey Joe’s restaurant was torn down to make way for a 24-storey mixed-use building with retail on the ground floor. Over three phases, 1,146 rental units will be built at the site, alongside 8,230 square meters of commercial space, and a park in the middle of it all. 

Under Phase 2, which is set to begin soon, the Shoppers Drug Mart in the mall was supposed to move into the ground floor retail space of the apartment building, with that section then being torn down to make room for a second apartment complex. 

But developers are running into a problem. 

Brockington said the pharmacy is refusing to move, stating there isn’t enough space available. That could see the back two-storey part of Westgate come down to build the next tower there instead. 

“We intend to host a meeting in June with RioCan, the mall’s owner. I believe the second tower will (now) be located to the north of the current tower,” said Brockington. “At the June meeting, we will know if the mall is coming down much sooner, which could be as early as this year.”

Shoppers drug mart seen on the left with an apartment building to the right.
The Shopper’s Drug Mart in Westgate Shopping Centre is refusing to move into the ground floor retail space next door. Photo by Charlie Senack.

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