- Downtown Ottawa is dominated by government buildings, including Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court. Most prominent buildings are situated along Wellington, Sparks and Elgin streets. Most of the buildings are office towers containing the various government departments. While most of Ottawa’s high tech industry is based elsewhere it also has a significant presence in the downtown core. The downtown also contains a number of apartments, hotels, and condominiums as well as the older single family homes and townhouses along its edges.
- From Wellington to Laurier, Elgin Street is the site of several landmarks, the Chateau Laurier, the National Arts Centre, Lord Elgin Hotel, Place Bell Canada, the Ottawa Courthouse, and Ottawa City Hall. Other prominent buildings include World Exchange Plaza office and retail complex, encompassing a whole city block on the south-west corner of Queen and Metcalfe, featuring the ‘clock ball’ on top, and Place de Ville, a complex incorporating four office buildings and two large hotels on two city blocks, with all buildings interconnected through an underground retail concourse. There are also many prominent heritage buildings along Sparks Street.
- The towers of downtown Ottawa are not as tall as those in other cities, as legislation prevented buildings being built taller than 150 feet until the 1960s, so as not to overshadow the Parliament Buildings and the Peace Tower (similar to Washington, D.C.’s Heights of Buildings Act). Today, several buildings are taller than the Peace Tower, with the tallest being the 29-storey Place de Ville (Tower C) at 112 metres (367 ft), which was built above the height limit, and several hotels being slightly shorter but with 30-35 stories.
- The downtown employs about 100,000 people and currently holds around 20 million square feet of office space.
- Downtown Ottawa has a grid pattern of streets, aligned either east-west or north-south with a number of the streets being one way.
- From east to west, the prominent streets are Elgin Street, Metcalfe Street, O’Connor Street, Bank Street, Kent Street and Bronson Avenue.
Starting from the east:
- Elgin Street, a ceremonial route for the daily Changing of the Guard and site of many prominent buildings and landmarks, and a restaurant district south of Laurier Avenue, Metcalfe and O’Connor, both of which are busy multi-lane one-way streets, Bank Street runs through the heart of downtown and is a prominent retail centre, Kent Street, another busy multi-lane one way with high traffic volumes, Lyon, the edge of the central business district, with a wall of towering office buildings and hotels to the east and shorter buildings and parking lots to the west, Bay and Percy, are one way local residential streets, and, Bronson Avenue is a major avenue that forms the western edge of downtown.
- The northernmost east-west street that crosses downtown is Wellington Street, site of the parliamentary precinct, National Library and Archives, and Supreme Court. It is a major four-lane thoroughfare. To the east, it connects to Rideau Street, and to the west, the Ottawa River Parkway.
- South of Wellington is Sparks Street, most of which is a pedestrian mall closed to vehicles. The heritage district runs from Bank to Elgin, with CBC broadcast studios at Metcalfe and Sparks.
- The streets to the south are dominated by office and hotel towers: Queen Street, Albert Street, Slater Street, Laurier Avenue and Gloucester Street.
- The City of Ottawa zoning restricts and regulates development to allow high-rises north of Gloucester St. and affords heritage designation to some areas and buildings.
- Albert and Slater carry the Transitway through downtown. A new 12.5 kilometer light rail line, called the Confederation Line, is currently under construction. Part of it will tunnel under downtown’s Queen street and travel east to Rideau Street and turn south under Nicholas Street to eventually resurface south of Laurier Avenue East. Construction of the 2.1 billion dollar line, including the 2,5 kilometer subway tunnel should end in time for the 2017 celebration of Confederation’s 150th anniversary. The line should be operational by 2018. It will include 3 subway stations; one between Lyon and Kent Streets, integrated with Place de Ville, the next station will be built between O’Connor Street and Metcalfe Street and one under Rideau Street with multiple entrances in the Rideau Centre.
- East of the canal, but west of King Edward Avenue, including the Rideau Centre and the Byward Market, is also normally considered downtown, and is referred to locally as ‘Lowertown’ or Lower Town. The residential neighbourhoods around the central business district are also generally referred to as being downtown. These include Centretown to the south and Sandy Hill and Lower Town to the east. North of the Ottawa River the centre of Gatineau, Quebec can be considered an extension of Ottawa’s downtown.