20
Dec
08

What kind of Ottawa do you want?

The subject of this post is the challenge raised by the Ottawa Citizen‘s Ken Gray in his column today. Others have already posted their remarks on the subject, such as here and here (and, please, let me know if you know of any others) and I decided that I should chime in with my own thoughts.

First of all, I think that the biggest thing I want Ottawa to become is a city that Ottawans are proud of, not one we are merely content with. I want Ottawans to be able to love their city the way Torontonians, Montrealers, New Yorkers and Londoners do. People will say things like, “Sure Ottawa isn’t exciting like Toronto or Montreal, but there’s so much green space and housing is cheap”, but why can’t we be exciting, too?

Let’s create a city that can finally shed that label of being a sleepy government town. Let’s rejuvanate the CBD by building more condos and apartments to replace parking lots,  and encouraging the creation of bigger and better shopping and entertainment districts.  Maybe that way the streets of downtown won’t be virtually abandoned by 7 p.m. every evening.  Let’s make a city where people can live, work and play.

But we can’t end there. We have to dream big, and embrace the fact that we are Canada’s capital and the fourth largest city in the country and that our city should reflect that. Let’s build infrastructure that stands out because of how well it’s made: proposals like Lansdowne Live! and the DOTT are steps in that direction. Both show that we aren’t afraid to dream big, so all we need to do is start making those dreams a reality.

And while we’re at it (and I know this is a tall order) let’s try and cut down on the petty squabling. I’m sick of City Council fighting over the budget every year because they haven’t managed funds properly and threatening to cut programs that are important to the city’s health. Let’s get some real leadership at City Hall, people who aren’t afraid to get things done and know how to respond to the needs of the city.

Lastly, there’s one thing I don’t want to change. I want Ottawans to care about what goes on, like they did when arts funding was threatened during the budget deliberations. A city is meaningless without its citizens, and the more engaged we are in what goes around us, the city will be better for it. We won’t always agree, and some issues may even bitterly divide people between different opinions, but that, too, will just make Ottawa a better place. We have the potential to be—and really should be—a great world city. But unless we work together, it will never happen. And that would be a tragic waste.

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