This week I participated in two meetings. The first one was our community association’s AGM, and we talked about a kids stuff sale (proceeds $342.20), extra park benches (from an in lieu) and the basketball court that needs to be turned 45 degrees ($25,000) for a reason that I didn’t quite understand. Important decisions for a community though as people can get worked up about it. Although there are thousands of people living in our community, the AGM rarely attracts more than 30 people, a third of them being the board themselves.
The next day, I attended an afternoon organized by the NCC (National Capital Commission), “Horizon2067”, where the NCC presented visions for the nation’s capital for 2067 (when the city will be 200 years old). It couldn’t be more different than the evening before. The NCC had invited Dr. Richard Florida, senior editor, The Atlantic, professor, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Dr. George Hazel, chairman, MRC McLean Hazel Ltd (the company behind the Laurier bike lane designs I believe), Florence K, artist, singer-songwriter (absolutely no idea why she was there) and Stephen Lewis, distinguished professor, Ryerson University and former ambassador to the UN. I estimated about 300 people in the room at the new Convention Centre.
George Hazel brought forward the idea of different spaces: first the exchange space, the physical meeting space as in the Medieval market square or a terrace in the Byward market, and second the movement space, the space required to move people around as in Bronson Ave. His theory is that you have to maximize the productivity of the exchange place and minimize the movement space, as it useless space where not much happens, other than people moving without doing anything else.
Somewhere in history, North American cities gave the exchange space away to movement space, explained Hazel. He thinks that we should be really careful with taking exchange space away and adding movement space (think Bronson Ave); we should actually claim this space back for exchange space. Then came the European examples of Amsterdam, Glasgow, London and Copenhagen, where street are made narrower, roads become pedestrian malls again and squares are given back to terraces and fountains and bicycles so people can interact again.
Dr. Hazel also believes that mobility shouldn’t be organized along an operational model, seen through an organization, but along a retail model, catering to customers, like retailers do. He sees a future for cities where you get points for certain behavior, similar to an air miles system or to smart meters, where you get rewarded with a lower price if you use electricity at night instead of during the day. Some would call it social engineering. He also sees a much bigger role for the private sector in developing apps for transport systems that are closely linked together, so that time tables match, bikes are waiting at the end of public transport systems. Examples are Park and Ride or bike rental schemes at train stations.
Talking about trains: Dr Hazel pointed out that the old railway station opposite the Chateau Laurier, now an uninspiring government conference centre along the Rideau, is in a magnificent place for…..a railway station, with the hustle and bustle of people. (Note: that would come with railway tracks along the canal, as they used to be, which is not a gain either).
Stephen Lewis, a passionate speaker, mentioned that he sees Ottawa as a place where NGO’s should settle. He referred to Canada’s past of peace keeping, the initiator of the anti land mine convention etc. Lewis envisioned Ottawa as the city of conferences and a centre for dialogue on world affairs. Lewis also passionately believes in grass roots participation. Ideas should come from the population. After his talk, I walked up to Stephen Lewis and told him that it is hard to find people who want to get involved, who’d like to volunteer for a better world. He kind of looked to me, said: “O really”, turned around and walked away as if I had some infectious disease. Half an hour earlier, he ranted about the current government. Very much a social democrat, he thinks the current government is absolutely terrible and attacked Richard Florida verbally on the environment. Florida claimed that Canada has a good environmental record (“pretty well”, in his words), something Lewis completely disagreed with. Just when the discussion became a lot livelier, much to the delight of the public, the moderator cut Lewis off (We are talking about visions here).
Richard Florida sees Ottawa as part of a mega city, stretching from Detroit, through Windsor via Toronto and Buffalo, up to Ottawa and Montreal. (Indeed Quebec City wasn’t mentioned). He pointed out that when he was young and living in New York, Washington was really far away, and Boston was really far away. Not anymore, as it has virtually morphed into one big megacity. Florida, a landed immigrant in Toronto from the US, believes Canada has a great future. He envisions Ottawa as a clean and creative capital with clean and creative companies in a clean and creative capitalist system.
Halfway the moderator, Rebecca Makkonen, a Quebec TV personality I had never heard of, interviewed a certain Florence K in a fire side setting, but Florence K. was going on and on and on and I quickly lost my interest in the conversation and went for a coffee instead. Not sure what brought the NCC to bring Florence K in the mix, I couldn’t even see her from half way the room.
All three appeared to agree on one thing: Ottawa is not using its nature to its advantage. Florida told the audience that he (with Gallup) has polled “tens and tens and tens of thousands of people” in different cities, rich and poor, and the one thing that floats to the top over and over again as the main concern is the nature and environment in and around the city, even before health concerns and access to water. Dr. Hazel mentioned the city turned its back to the rivers and should embrace it instead. It is hard to believe, but Ottawa is North America’s most creative city according to Richard Florida’s own research. He does include software engineers though, people we do not consider creative, but actually are as they are making new creative things (like building towers from empty pop cans I guess).
Afterwards, there was time to ask questions, but not so much to the panel, but rather individually in the back of the room. I suspect the NCC wanted to avoid NCC bashing by the public. There were some info panels on the future of the capital. I didn’t see the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau, but spotted city councillors David C and Marianne Wilkinson. There was a place with an NCC video team, where people could say a few lines on what their Ottawa should look like. Unfortunately I knew Lisa of the video team, so she dragged me to the camera to give my vision. So I am standing on the little white line and could really only come up with: “Ottawa should be Canada’s cycling capital”. I thought that was easy to remember. Lisa was very happy (it took one take only).
I briefly talked to Mme LeMay, who’se Fall Rapsody hairdo looks better every time I see her. She told me that the Bixi bikes are profitable, that Ottawa and Gatineau should really participate (we all agree) and that the professional bike rental places have not lost much business. I was very pleased to hear that, as I have expressed concerns about that before on my blog. (See the Bixi bike blog in the right column, for some reason I can’t get the hyperlinks to work in WordPress most of the time).
I started with our local community AGM and I will finish with it because the one million dollar question always remains after those visionary exercises: how to translate a vision to the communities as Dr. Lewis painted them for us (and had no answer either)? And how do you explain a vision to people who’d like more park benches and worry about diapers smell if the green bins will be picked up every second week only? When I come to think about it, they are both environmental and nature issues, which is at the top of Florida/Gallup list of tens and tens and tens of thousands of people. Bottom line: a vision boils down to diaper changing facilities in a community park. The NCC took care of it in Vincent Massey Park already.
Share your ideas on http://www.horizon2067.ca and follow the Urban Commuter on Facebook’s ottawa.bycycle.culture