Everyone seems to think Sparks Street is just one new idea from greatness, like there’s some solution or concept that hasn’t been tried in the last 50 years that will suddenly transform the area into a bustling hub of activity.
But instead of trying to figure out what would make Sparks Street successful in its current configuration, we should be asking whether a pedestrian mall is viable in the modern retail environment and in a cold city. Many of Sparks Street’s proponents are so enamoured with the concept, they overlook some obvious facts. There aren’t very many successful pedestrian malls in the world, even fewer in climates like Ottawa’s.
The retail trends toward big malls and online shopping are hard to resist, especially in January and when there’s no parking. The role of the federal government as the main landlord on the street is almost impossible to overcome. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that when something doesn’t flourish after half a century of trying, it’s never going to work. Sparks Street’s best chance for success may be to turn it into just another downtown road.