Increasing Vibrancy in Ottawa: It Can Be Done
People generally move to downtown neighbourhoods because they are seeking an element of vitality, excitement, culture, vibrancy, and certain amenities. But, as I’ve discovered in speaking with dozens and dozens of people, many downtown Ottawa residents feel that Ottawa is lacking when it comes to such concepts. As a recent documentary entitled “Ottawa: The City that Fun Forgot?” (see trailer below) made clear, many downtown residents are pining for a more vibrant, lively downtown core that expands on what the city already offers.
The good news is that some changes are happening to accommodate this vision of a more livable and vibrant core – the downtown BIAs are more actively planning activities, and community groups like Centretown Movies and Friends of Dundonald Park are helping to create a more vibrant and active community. But, much more can be done. Although such a vision cannot be accomplished by any one stakeholder alone, there are roles that the City of Ottawa can play to accomplish this.
A few examples include:
• Introduce an “Open Streets” concept: Many cities throughout the world close down their main streets a few times in the summer months to allow for pedestrians, local businesses, and cyclists to “take over” the street. Why could we not close down Bank, Preston, Elgin, and other local streets a few weekends in the summer to allow people to come out and enjoy the streets, and allow local businesses the opportunity for greater promotion?
• Introduce free outdoor gyms: As a way of increasing physical activity, many cities have created free outdoor gyms, whereby gym equipment is located in parks or greenspaces throughout the city. These “adult playgrounds” offer an opportunity for people to access physical activity, and because they are often located beside children’s parks, they allow both parents and children a chance to be active.
• Increase street art: Ottawa has begun to more aggressively use street art as a means to beautify the city, and discourage graffiti. This is a welcome trend, and it should be expanded. Why could Ottawa not become a national leader in the adoption and use of street art, all the while providing a chance for local artists to showcase their talents to the world?
• Little Free Libraries: Another concept that other cities have introduced are “Little Free Libraries” which are essentially beautiful boxes located throughout the cities that allow people to take and leave behind books at their leisure. This is an excellent way to promote literacy and to recycle used books.
• Make better use of our beautiful public spaces: Ottawa is blessed with many natural and man made amenities, but we have not taken advantage of them as well as we should. Through the use of stronger partnerships with the city and private sector, we could bring greater levels of activity to places like Sparks Street. Furthermore, a plan needs to be developed to bring life to our underused Ottawa River and canal zone.
• Lobby movie chains to bring back theatres to downtown Ottawa: Residents of Somerset ward were extremely disappointed that the ward’s last remaining theatre closed down in December 2013. We need to lobby theatre head offices to reopen at least one movie theatre in the core – having at least one theatre within walking distance should be a minimum service amenity for downtown residents.
• Pressure building owners to revitalize their buildings, particular along Bank: As I’ve done with Somerset House and more recently Barrymores Music Hall, the city needs to pressure building owners along main commercial streets to take pride in their buildings, not only for their business interests, but for the interests of the community. Building owners should have a responsibility to ensure that their buildings should be a source of pride for us all.
• Expand Dog Parks: The downtown core is full of dog owners! Although there are a few off leash dog parks, let’s work to expand that number. The City of Chicago has small, fenced in urban dog parks the size of a building lot – similar mini-dog parks in Ottawa would provide more options to dog owners.
• Implement the concepts in the Downtown Moves report: The City’s Downtown Moves report outlines how downtown streets can be better utilized following the introduction of the LRT. It puts a great deal of emphasis on the Complete Streets concept, along with better social and pedestrian uses of streets like Queen and Slater.
This list is not exhaustive, nor is it meant to be – increasing vibrancy in our core is a function of multiple ideas, and there is no shortage of such ideas. What has often been in short supply is the drive and leadership necessary to make it happen. As a council candidate, I believe great cities are those that are vibrant, diverse, and offer a range of amenities and opportunities for neighbours to connect, which is why I’m committed to providing the leadership necessary to bring that vibrancy to Ottawa.