Byward Market in Ottawa

How to Create Vibrant Public Spaces: Reflections from Ottawa’s ByWard Market

Public Markets are vital to creating vibrant neighbourhoods that bring people together from all over. Ottawa’s downtown ByWard Market has been a number one spot for tourists who come from around the world to visit Canada’s capital city. To reimagine what the area could look like the City of Ottawa has planned and is currently working on their public realm plan to create a vision for the network of public spaces to provide direction and designs to beautify, organize and connect ByWard Market’s public spaces.

We just wrapped up our last Public Life Study of the market to better understand who visits ByWard; when, and what they do there.

Here are some reflections from what we saw and heard on what makes ByWard Markets public spaces great and areas for opportunity:

1. Inclusive Programming  

Activating public spaces that are affordable, all ages, and accessible is vital for successful public spaces, especially all year round.   

Include a variety of market vendors – Providing a wide variety of shopping options from fresh produce to handmade art adds to the charm and enhances visitors’ experiences to ByWard Market. Ensuring that there is room for retail that provides economic opportunities for underrepresented vendors can bring positive outcomes to allow those to participate who may not be able to do so.

Music and Performances add character – Buskers, street performers and arts add to the vibrancy of public spaces and activate open spaces. We saw thrilling performances on the street that enhanced how we experienced ByWard Market. Ensuring that barriers to participate as performers.

Inclusive programming that supports diversity and multiculturalism – Another key ingredient to inclusive programming is providing amenities for cultural activities that reflects the community who uses it. This would be a great opportunity for ByWard Market’s public realmIt is important to avoid one-size-fits-all urban design.  

2. Placemaking and Tactical Urbanism

Creating a sense of place and belonging is important for strong communities. Fast and easy solutions to community problems that is participatory and meaningfully involves all people to the table is vital for vibrant public spaces.

Support indigenous placemaking –   The Totem Pole of Canada stands tall in front of the Ottawa School of Art that has journeyed from British Columbia. Ensuring Indigenous peoples are contributing to the spaces they use through Indigenous placemaking is important.

Create and enhance pedestrian friendly spaces – New pedestrian-friendly spaces have opened up to create a pedestrian friendly environment William street has converted a street to a closed off plaza with green spaces, seating, activities for children, and space for entertainment. These pilot projects are a chance to try easy, innovative ways to get more people in the Market, before making long-term investments to renew the streets. Using tactical urbanist techniques, communities can improve their spaces that are human-centred and enjoyable.

Encourage picture worthy places  ByWard Market’s ‘Ottawa’ sign is extremely popular among tourists and has contributed to creating a new plaza with moveable seating and opportunities for small-scale events.


3. Community and Safety

Creating a safe and inviting public space requires political and community effort to ensure all users of the space are addressed.  

Facilitate safety and security through public design – In the wake of a series of deadly shootings in the ByWard Marketpoliticians and business owners announced their support for video surveillance cameras in the area.

4. Movement of People

Successful urban spaces facilitate the flow of people and goods in an organic way. Following ‘desire paths’ and knowing where people travel to and how is important in designing public spaces. Public spaces must be walkable, suitable for cycling, and has great access to public transit.  

Walkability – We’ve noticed that the maintenance of sidewalks and crossing needs to be improved for pedestrian users. Recently, the City created a new pedestrian plaza and increased the width of a sidewalk to accommodate the growing complaints from visitors. Ensuring that sidewalks are accessible to all users all year around is important.

Cycling – Providing bike racks and storage, building safe cycling infrastructure, and improving wayfinding is important to enhance and increase cyclists to visit and enjoy public spaces.

Transit  Ottawa’s light rail is on track to open to the public in September and will improve access to ByWard Market with the new Rideau station at one of the entry points to the district.

Notes: This month, the 8 80 Cities team wrapped up our last Public Life Study for Ottawa’s ByWard Public Realm Plan. Public Life Studies provide a snapshot of the daily rhythms and patterns of a public space. This will help us to understand who visits ByWard Market; when they go, and what they do there.   The most recent study provided a snapshot of ByWard Market’s usage in summer whereas the previous studies took place in late/summer early fall of last year and winter.  Here are some reflections upon studying the public life of ByWard Market and what some of the ingredients are for making successful neighbourhoods.  For more information please visit: 

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