Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Canada’s Capital lacking international symbols

I recently read the latest issue of Ottawa Technology magazine and am excited about the growth potential of our city.  Some people lament the departure of Nortel, especially former employees and their families, but I’m a firm believer in all things working out for good.  So what’s the silver lining in the Nortel situation?

We lost a Canadian company with operations around the world, but we gained more of an international scope with Swedish and American multi-nationals coming to the city- Ericsson, Ciena, Avaya and Genband.  Chinese telecom giant, Huawei, has also set up shop in Ottawa with its first R&D centre in Canada. 

Today I learned that French culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu, has their exclusive Canadian campus in Ottawa, putting it in the company of cities like Paris, London, Bankok, Madrid, Amsterdam, and Tokyo.  

As a capital city with many embassies and high commissions, Ottawa already has somewhat of an international feel.  We’re growing as a tourism, culinary, cultural and convention destination.  We’re a bilingual city with British inspired architecture.  We’re fairly multicultural and have ethnic communities like Chinatown and Little Italy.  We’re a G8 capital and we have a world heritage site in the Rideau Canal (not sure how valuable these two designations are).  We have the traits to become a great international city and I believe the world will love our city once they get a chance to see it.  

I don’t know about you, but I would like to see our leaders explore Ottawa’s international identity more in depth.

There are quite a few public places downtown that communicate the national scope of our city.  The Canadian flag can be seen everywhere.  The Garden of the Provinces and Territories, Confederation Square, and the Government Conference Centre all have the flags of the provinces and territories communicating Ottawa as a national gathering place.  When people come to Ottawa from another province and see their flag it communicates, “You’re welcome here.  You’re at home here.”  

What about our international role?

I would love to see a public place in Ottawa, especially along Confederation Boulevard, that communicates our city as an international centre- Commonwealth Plaza with the flags of the members of the Commonwealth; or the Peace Square with the flags of all the countries with an embassy or high commission in Ottawa; or United Nations Park with the flags of all the countries in the United Nations.  Similar to nationalism, there are expressions of internationalism that Ottawa can pull off as the Capital that other cities in Canada can’t and they should be exploited.

It would be amazing to have such a destination and international meeting place in the heart of our city.  Similar to public places with provincial flags, this would communicate Ottawa as an international gathering place.  It would let our international visitors know, “You’re welcome here.  You’re at home here.”  

There are many national symbols in our city, but a lack of international symbols.  It shouldn’t just be assumed that Ottawa is an international city, or at least a budding one; it has to be actively and strategically communicated.

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