Friday, August 19, 2011

Being optimistic in a pessimistic Ottawa

Over the past few days the Ottawa Citizen has been running a thought provoking series on building a better Ottawa. As a result concerned residents, constructive critics and all-out untactful naysayers have joined the debate. What we can all agree on is that there are a number of issues holding this city back and that Ottawa can do much better than in its doing.

I sometimes have my frustrations with Ottawa like everyone else. The NCC needs a complete change of mentality when it comes to development, land use and building the capital. There's a need for more visionary, city-building leadership at City Hall and in the private sector. We need better architecural design. Our waterfront lands are extremely underused. We need to get rid of the mentality of mediocrity and we need to embrace the fact that Ottawa isn't a small town. We flat need a little pep in our step; it's takes too long to get things done if they get done at all. These are things that we've all heard repeatedly over the past week.

On the other side of the coin, I'm still optimistic about the future of Ottawa and there are a number of reasons why:
  • The revitalization of Lansdowne Park (including CFL football, NASL soccer, and retail brands new to Ottawa)
  • LRT/subway project (including underground retail near the Rideau Centre)
  • Ottawa Art Gallery/Arts Court expansion
  • Rideau Centre expansion
  • Ottawa's first five-star hotel -Re Hotel & Residences (Toronto just got their first one in 2007)
  • Public square at Rideau-Sussex intersection (Lord Stanley Plaza)
  • St. Laurent Centre expansion (will be the 10th largest mall in Canada)
  • Significant condo development downtown
  • The growth of mainstreets like Westboro
  • Ottawa Convention Centre and the CE Centre
  • Art Wall LED screen at OCC
  • Rink of Dreams at City Hall
  • New 500-room downtown hotel
  • World class attractions like Calypso Park
  • 2017 Sesquicentennial celebrations
  • Growing events like Bluesfest, Ottawa Fashion Week and OIFF
  • Streetscape work on Rideau Street from Sussex Drive to Charlotte Street
All of these projects are either done or will be done by 2018. Actually a lot of these projects are already approved by council and others already have support of the Mayor or Council. That's significant growth over the next seven years. I'm not suggesting that's good enough and we should sit back; there's still a need to hammer out a vision for the city. But there's reason to be optimistic despite the fact that the City hasn't got things done in the past

Ottawa has some very capable people working in different sectors; all we need is a little vision, ambition and excellence as we've heard over the past week.

As a former Torontonian that only moved to Ottawa two years ago I haven't had the opportunity to know in depth the mistakes that Ottawa has made in the past; I can only go on what I'm seeing today and we have great prospects for the future.

Having spent most of my life in Toronto, a city that does city-building extremely well, I can say that Ottawa needs a lot of help, but the potential is there and there are enough projects in the works to drastically change the city over the next seven years.

My wish is that this city-wide discussion will lead to meaningful change in our city, whether on the part of residents, the NCC, the City, developers, or planners. Ottawa deserves better.

Kevin Bourne

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