Archive for February, 2009

17
Feb
09

Weighing in on atheist bus ads

“There probably is no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Twelve words that have caused a lot of controversy, and not just in Ottawa. They’re the text of a series of ads placed on buses in a number of cities around the world, including London (UK) and Toronto. In Ottawa, meanwhile, the ads were flatly rejected by OC Transpo, citing an advertising policy that states: “Religious advertising which promotes a specific ideology, ethic, point of view, policy or action, which in the opinion of the City might be deemed prejudicial to other religious groups or offensive to users of the transit system is not permitted. Religious advertising will be permitted if the information is designed to promote a specific meeting, gathering or event and the location, date and time of said event.”

That’s all well and good, and I can understand that policy perfectly, if it weren’t for this, from another article: “In 2007, OC Transpo approved ads for Bus Stop Bible Studies, a campaign on panels inside buses quoting scripture and asking life’s big questions. Roughly 2,400 ads have run in Calgary, Burlington and Toronto, but the sponsor has not yet raised enough money to place the ads on Ottawa buses.”

Regardless of the fact that these ads have not yet run, they were approved in principle well over a year ago. Based on the description, they seem to promote a clear religious ideology, but without being overly pushy or blatent, much like the proposed atheist ads. Of course, the subtext here is that qualifer on the first part of the policy, where the officials can deem something offensive. By extension, then, OC Transpo has basically just gone ahead and called atheism offensive.

Now, I’m an atheist, so I have a clear bias here. I’ve always felt fairly lucky to live when and where I do, because I’ve never really felt discriminated against for my beliefs, but this is a slap in the face. Based on the precedent of approving the Bus Stop Bible Studies campaign, there is absolutely no reason why the atheist campaign should be rejected. Really, it just makes the city look very close-minded and conservative, which is certainly not the image we should be projecting as Canada’s fourth largest urban area and national capital. In short, the decision is ridiculous, discriminatory, and borderline offensive.

The larger question, of course, is whether or not religious ads should be allowed at all in the public realm, to which I would say no. Religious debate is a tricky thing, and by wading into it—as seen in this case—officials risk being seen as taking sides and causing conflict. In private publications and the like is one thing, but with government-owned organizations like OC Transpo, there probably is a line that should be drawn.

All of that aside, though, I will be following this debate and how it turns out very closely. With any luck, a solution that is equitable to all will be found soon.

15
Feb
09

Some links

A few interesting links\reads I’ve found over the past couple of days.

First, a discussion over on Spacing Toronto about the urbanization of Mississauga. We don’t have anything even close to this phenomenon going on in Ottawa right now due to the way the development patterns of this city currently stand, but there’s a chance it could be in our future if we begin setting serious targets about creating a denser city. After all, Westboro is already home to the third-tallest building in Ottawa-Gatineau.

Next, over at Greater Ottawa, David Reevely gives a rundown on how Scotiabank Place came to be built where it is. It’s interesting for me, as someone who was not in Ottawa at the time (nor was I old enough to pay attention to the news, if I was), and in a weird sort of way it almost makes sense. Of course, it’s now even more obvious that the overall plan for the area has been a failure, even though the Senators have managed to do well for themselves. As the debate over whether we should invest in an MLS stadium in Kanata or a revitalized CFL stadium at Lansdowne Park heats back up, it becomes even more important for us to look at what went into the decision to develop out in Kanata in the first place and critically analyze its impact on the city. I think anyone that reads this blog regularly has probably picked up on my opinion by now, and I’m glad that Ottawans seem to be coming out much more in favour of refurbished Frank Clair Stadium rather than a white elephant in the suburbs.

Finally, there’s a new blog over at the Ottawa Citizen called Designing Ottawa by Maria Cook. It looks to be all about urban design within the city, both building interiors and exteriors, as well as our streetscapes and landscapes. There are already a number of interesting posts up about the new Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat building on Sussex and the Sir John Carling Building at the Central Experimental Farm. The latter I find particularly interesting, as she creates a fairly impassioned argument for the building to be saved from demolition and given heritage status. A tough position to take, considering the building is not exactly beautifuly in the conventional sense, but it certainly has its merits.

12
Feb
09

*shakes head*

I try to be an advocate for this city as much as possible, but it’s difficult, sometimes.

City revises bus rider incentives (after canceling them altogether, at one point)

Council meeting spirals out of control

As far as the bus incentives are concered, their decision is basically the worst of both worlds. Discounted bus fars won’t be anywhere near as effective at luring people back onto buses, but at the same time the transit budget will still be way out of balance. On top of that, I’m that transit riders are probably going to end up confused by all the changes and back and forth.

On a positive note, at least the Lower Duck Island bridge proposal seems to have been quashed, and hopefully for good. Of course, the fact that they’ve left it open to reconsideration means that it will probably be put back on the table and then dropped again at least two or three more times.

In short, it’s a wonder that this Council gets anything done sometimes. Reading the Citizen’s coverage of the meeting makes it sound as if it routinely dissolved into petty squabling and sniping across the room. And you know what, guys? That isn’t the way to run a city. City Council should be all about working together, and finding solutions that work for everyone (or at least as many people as possible). It’s time for City Councilors to start taking a holistic view, and working out what’s best for the city as a whole, not just for the constituents of their ward. I realize that it’s a political balancing act, but something obviously needs to be done, as I think it’s fairly self-evident that the confidence most Ottawans have in their city’s government is starting to slip.

08
Feb
09

The Canal

I was out on the Rideau Canal yesterday, which has to be some of Ottawa’s best public space during the winter, and I snapped some pictures. I skated from the National Arts Centre to the Bank Street Bridge and back, so they only encompass that part of the canal, but I still managed some nice shots.

Corktown Bridge

Free Hugs!

St. Paul's University

Go here to see the rest of the set.

04
Feb
09

Ontario wants to help Ottawa curb sprawl

According to the Ottawa Citizen, Ontario is ready to help step in and grant Ottawa an exception to rules that force it to set aside land on the fringes of the city for suburban development. Some choice quotes:

As part of the land-use planning process, the city intends to set aside 850 hectares for new development. Construction on the land is expected to consist of a number of single-family homes in low-density subdivisions.

At the same time, the municipality is attempting to boost population density as a means of stemming sprawl and improving the efficiency of the public-transit system. Several provisions in the plan, and an associated transportation plan that emphasizes light rail, aim to promote intensification in areas that have already been developed. Some councillors, however, have said an 850-hectare expansion of the city’s growth boundaries will undermine that end.

But Councillor Peter Hume, the chair of the planning committee, said Monday that space for low-density projects is required by the “provincial policy statement,” a declaration under Ontario’s Planning Act that sets the ground rules for local land-use plans.

André Sorensen, a professor at the University of Toronto, says the city doesn’t have to banish suburban development to become more densely populated.

“You can’t entirely change the trajectory of how cities get developed,” Mr. Sorensen said in an interview. “What we want to do is shift to a higher and higher percentage of new housing units being built as intensification.”

This last quote is something I particularly wanted to point out. I’m obviously something of a booster when it comes to densifying cities and changing the way we develop urban areas, but at the same time I know that it’s not something we can change instantly. We’re fighting against about a hundred years of inertia, where the ideal life has always been seen as owning a house in the suburbs with a big yard and white picket fence. It’s not easy to tell people that everything they wanted is wrong and that they would, in fact, be much better off doing something completely different. Really, it’s not something that we can do.

So the trick will have to be to change attitudes slowly. We can’t just sit down and eliminate suburban development entirely, in fact, I don’t think we should. As Sorensen mentions, suburbs won’t just go away, and we’re going to have to work with them if we want to densify cities. They’re already built, what we need to look at when it comes to suburban areas is making them more like urban ones: for instance, how can we combine living spaces with working and shopping spaces better, rather than having them as separated clumps, like they are in so many existing suburbs? I don’t have the answer to that, but I think it’s questions like that that we’ll need to be answering in the future.

Going back to the original article, I’d like to see Ottawa have minimum density targets set, like municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area. Basically this requires existing developed areas to hit a certain target for population density, while new development is also held to higher-density standards. This forces developers to change their strategy for new proposals, and seems to be working so far in the GTA, albeit slowly. It would be at least worth looking into in Ottawa, if you ask me.




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