By Francis Moran
It was freezing cold, often quite dark, and always utterly decrepit at the Bayview Yards a couple of weeks ago, but it didn’t take an imagination any more potent than the woeful propane heaters that were bravely trying to heat up the chilly space to share the city’s vision that this broken-down and vividly graffiti-tagged former works garage will soon be transformed into a funky, design-rich, entrepreneur-friendly, sunshiny bright and — most critically — welcoming space for Ottawa’s startup and technology communities.
We’ve had a few posts on this blog about the city’s plans to turn the old Bayview Yards into an innovation complex for Ottawa’s startup communities, but earlier this month saw the first chance many people had to eyeball the actual space, as well as the enticing draft conceptual design plan developed by local design firm protoypeD.
I thought the space was promising, and the concept design even more so. By my count, there are to be three, and maybe four or even five, large areas that will be open and accessible to the public — my personal standard for any innovation space that aims to foster the kind of spontaneous, unpredictable interactions between and among all the layers of the entrepreneurship ecosystem that are absolutely essential if such a project is to succeed.
There will be a cafe, not such a novel idea, but a necessary component. More imaginatively, there is a space called “the well” that is described by protoypeD as a “techno-lounge (that) is open 24 hours to the public, the place for presentations, live musicians, and all things cool.” I’m not sure about the “all things cool” bit; that strikes me as trying too hard. I do, however, really like the “open 24 hours to the public” bit. Above and overlooking the well is something called “the headspace,” which I assume will also be open public space.
Although not explicitly designated as open, a space called “the concourse” provides the only access to the well and the cafe, so I assume it will also be public space. PrototypeD’s concept says it will “connect all the spaces in an open, artistic, and engaging way” and will be a spot where tenants and visitors can “see the latest work from your peers.”
Most exciting is the possibility that one of the largest and most dynamic spaces might well be open and accessible. A large part of the main floor will be given over to the “incubator hall” that will be, according to the draft design, “open concept, transforming, modern and bright” and holding “the future of Ottawa’s innovation.” This bold ambition will either drown in the noise and confusion of dozens of companies banging away at their ideas or, like the similarly open-concept and high-energy Garage at the University of Waterloo’s Velocity, it will become a cauldron for the cross-pollination of ideas, resources and creativity. Companies that progress, or, as the design concept puts it, “when it is time to get serious,” will graduate to a presumably locked-down space — “the accelerator” on the level above the innovation hall.
Many of the objections I’ve heard about this proposed site evaporate in the face of the plain evidence that can be seen with the naked eye. Look out the north-facing windows and a nearby exit from the Ottawa River Parkway is plainly visible. Look out an east-facing window and the Bayview Station can be seen little more than a stone’s throw away. It’s where the transitway already intersects with the northern terminus of the O-Train, making the station a critical transportation link that will only grow as light rail comes on line.
Carleton University is exactly two stops down the O-Train line, demolishing the myth that this location is too far from that university to be of any interest to students there. Ottawa University is a little further but will also be within train’s reach once the light rail line is up and running.
The space has been creatively divided with a clear emphasis on the needs of entrepreneurs and of the entire ecosystem that supports them. Offices for the city’s economic development boffins, including Invest Ottawa, are well taken care of with talk of gorgeous presentation and meeting space in which foreign delegations and the like can be entertained. And there is ample space for the lawyers, accountants, marketers and assorted other hangers-on who have, until now, been largely left out in the cold in existing city-sponsored startup spaces. Some will pay to be resident in the space, while every indication is that everyone else will have ready and welcoming access. Even some of the centre’s more vocal skeptics have been won over thanks to the inclusion of a large “maker space” that will include 3D printers and other fast-prototyping machinery.
All in all, the more I see of the centre, the more I like it. I especially like the apparent willingness of its promoters to actually listen to, and act on, the input they’re getting from all the stakeholders in Ottawa’s commercialization ecosystem. You can continue to weigh in by adding your comment below or by reaching the designers directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.