So Many Cities

A few months ago, I wrote a post called about Ottawa becoming a Resilient City—the idea that cities must become better prepared for unforeseen issues. The concept of an <<Adjective>> City certainly isn’t new. Me, I’ve talked about Ottawa’s need to be a Transit City. I’ve written a Winter City manifesto for our town.

Others, more versed in this stuff than I have written about being a Walkable City or a Happy City or a Soft City. We talk about being a Livable City, a Sustainable City, a Bike City. (This is different than, for instance, calling Ottawa a government city—that’s an identity, but it’s a description, these identities are aspirational. No one, other than Greber, has made being a government town an actual goal.)

I was thinking about this the other day (or, more accurately, a couple of months back) when I thought of another type of Something City Ottawa should be. It seemed almost comical to write another one of those posts after writing about being a Resilient City. Continue reading

Lessons from a Mall

I love the mall. Yes, they’re horrible. They’re destructive. They’re a remnant of the car-centric, sprawl-centric, mid- to late-century city planning and I hate going to them, but whatever. In my hear, I love the mall. I’m a child of the ’80s. The opening scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High is nirvana.

Anyway, I had to go to the Rideau Centre the other day. I used to go there a lot. Maybe I was shopping or hanging out…mostly I was cutting through between the Market or Rideau Street and the Transitway. In the past few years, it’s changed a lot…and I haven’t really been going very much during or since those changes. I still have a general idea of where a bunch of stores are, but I really couldn’t say I know my way around.

This is a potential drawback of malls, especially ones like the Rideau Centre. With so many levels, hallways, entrances and access ways, it can be easy to get turned around in there.

The thing is, though, I didn’t get lost, at all, nor have I in a few other recent trips. In part, it’s because I still know my basic way around, but it’s more than that. The Rideau Centre has built in really good wayfinding. The maps and digital kiosks are easy to use and pretty clear as to how to get somewhere. The sightlines within the mall are getting better, so it’s easy to peer down one little branch to figure out if that’s where you’re headed. Perhaps the most important aspect, though, is the signage they put up.

After I running my errand, I decided to grab some lunch. At this point, I had basically no idea where to go. I’d been to the new food court before, but I wasn’t totally sure how to get there from the wing I was in (which was also fairly new, or at least a new layout). Having long ago abandoned any sense of shame about looking for directions, I decided to head for one of those kiosks.

However, before I got there, I noticed a sign overhead pointing me toward the “dining hall” or whatever they’ve re-branded the food court as. Obviously, signs are a really good, basic form of wayfinding, but there were a couple of things that I noticed. First of all, the signs fell clearly in my line of sight. I did not have to look for them…I wasn’t looking for them. There’s a lot going on in a mall and it’s easy to miss things, but these caught my eye.

But they also didn’t…in a good way. While they were very visible, clear and eye-catching, they also blended in with the mall. They’re tucked up high, with simple colours. They’re not adding to the visual clutter or cacophony of lights and pictures and movement swirling around the corridor. Though they didn’t sacrifice function for form, their form was just right.

I was reminded of a little project a friend did a few years ago. She started putting up her own little wayfinding signs, mostly along walking and biking routes (“Buy fresh croissants–only 200m that way”). She didn’t have permission and the mayor publicly scolded her, but it was a good and useful project. (Cities often have these hidden little things–an alleyway with cool shops, a pathway that’s a safe and convenient shortcut between neighbourds–that are great once you know about them but can be insanely hard to find otherwise.)

Wayfinding is incredibly important to good city-building. Signage–good, clear, uncluttered signage–is a big help, but better is when you’re just guided through an area. When you can see down streets. When there are landmarks to help you get and remain oriented. When you can remember which direction you’re going and which you came from. It seems the new Rideau Centre is doing a good job on wayfinding.

(Granted, it was one trip, so maybe I just go lucky.)

This led me to think more about the layout of the mall and how it reflects city-building (because everything has to come back to your job at some point, right?). The realization is that people who build malls have an innate understanding of city-building…though they clearly don’t know it.

The storefronts tend to small and tightly packed together. There’s a cadence to it. There are multiple attractions, bringing different people with different needs into one small area. They lend themselves to doing multiple errands at once, and give people a chance to make impulse decisions about shopping or dining or entertainment.

This is what a thriving street needs. We don’t need blocks that are one long storefront. That’s not walkable. It’s not engaging. It doesn’t serve street diversity.

Now, of course, in a mall and in a city, you do need larger institutions. You need grocery stores and department stores and schools and apartment buildings…but you can incorporate these things in smartly.

You can take something like H&M that basically has multiple store fronts, as well as multiple levels, giving it the cadence (the women’s and men’s departments almost look like different storefronts) and reducing it’s horizontal footprint by going vertical. It’s also tucked in an area where the storefronts are rounded, so they can open up to a bigger area once you go in.

And these bigger stores, these anchors, can be a draw. These components (like, say an arena) can draw larger groups, but they’re still fit within the general fabric of their environment. Nordstrom’s is a large store, but it hasn’t overwhelmed or cannibalized the mall.

Malls are inherently walkable (well, maybe not something like Tanger, but the older malls). The owners understand this, and do what they can to make you want to walk through the mall. It’s more than just diversity (though having stores and coffee shops and restaurants and all that is important); it’s simple things like benches.

Being able to just sit is important. Being able to take a rest, or wait for someone, or check your phone, or establish a meeting place for friends is important. Malls want you to linger. It’s not loitering (a terrible, classist, bullshit offence); you’re just hanging out.

Good city spaces get this. Public parks, parkettes, street furniture, public amenities…these all give people places to just be. These are what become people places (and people places are the places that strive). These days, we’re running out these spaces. Most “public” space is now commercial–coffee shops, bars, etc. These are useful, but we need public spaces that don’t charge admission.

Ironically, malls–so steeped in commercialism and consumerism–offered that. Why the hell do you think so many kids would spend their days hanging out at the mall?

Transportation within the mall was also enlightening. The Rideau Centre has a direct link to LRT and it still has buses running along the bridge and Rideau Street on either side. Most malls that I would go to had bus service, and the bus stops generally took right up near a door.

It’s ironic, again, that an institution that was so wedded to car-centric development actually prioritizes transit access. I was reminded of Barcelona’s super blocks (okay, yeah, I know, this is a bit of a stretch). The super blocks are made up of 9 smaller blocks have varying degrees of access (IIRC). Cars drive around the super blocks, and are maybe allowed to go in, but not through (basically just to drop off or pick up). Buses go through the super blocks, and then in the centre it’s pedestrians.

This is kind of like malls. Yes, there are parking garages attached (sometimes), but transit tends to get you closer to your actual door, and pedestrians get to walk in and through. (Obviously, malls with big parking lots don’t let pedestrians get there easily and the Rideau Centre fails for bike access…I told you this was a bit of a stretch).

It’s interesting. An institution that tends to be so destructive to city-life and the urban experience has actually internalized so many of the lessons of good urbanism. This doesn’t mean they’re good actors. It doesn’t mean they aren’t parasitic. And it certainly doesn’t mean that they aren’t the heartless capital class exploiting people’s insecurity through consumerism while destroying the communities in which those very same people live…it’s just another data point showing us what good, intentional city-building looks like.

It also means that if you’re looking, there are lessons to be learned even in the most unexpected places.

The Resilient City

I’m currently reading The Happy City. So far, it’s very good. It examines very aspects of city life that either improve the happiness of residents or detract from it. It’s a moniker every city should aspire to, clearly, being a Happy City. Similarly, we often talk about what it means to be a Livable City or a Walkable City. I’ve written about how Ottawa needs to embrace being a Winter City and a Transit City.

Obviously, one needn’t choose just one of these identities…nor could you. A Happy City is going to be a Walkable City. A Winter City must be a Transit City. There’s another identity to which cities should aspire, one that I haven’t heard spoken of, at least not as its own discrete category.

The Resilient City.

Resilience is an important contributor to being a Happy City or a Livable City, and this importance will be ever-increasing as time goes by. Cities that ignore this concept will suffer. Cities that embrace resilience will have a better chance at thriving. It is a necessary, if insufficient, factor in creating a successful city.

These days, it seems we hear most about resilience when we speak of climate change and climate emergencies. Weather patterns are becoming more extreme and less predictable. Heat waves, temperature fluctuations, flooding, tornadoes…all must be factored into smart city planning.

No more can we keep building in flood planes, ignoring the risk of twice-in-a-century floods that occur two out of three years. We must make plans to provide proper air conditioning during heat waves that pose an acute threat to the elderly, or provide warmth during cold snaps that threaten those who are housing insecure or sleep rough. We must protect our trees, as they clean our air and fight the heat island effect in urban areas.

But The Resilient City is more than just an environmentally-conscience entity. It touches on every aspect of city-building.

Our built form must be varied and malleable, allowing a variety of uses, accommodating growth and supporting residents and businesses alike, regardless of economic climate.

Our housing stock needs to be flexible, supporting varied and changing households. Zoning and regulations must foster sufficient excess in housing supply to accommodate shocks and push back against scarcity-induced bubbles. We need low-rise and missing middle development to bring that development. We need to foster gentle density to quickly accommodate spikes in demand, as well as general intensification to help everyone get a home that is affordable to them and the city.

As more and more social services get downloaded onto cities throughout North America, we need prepare to support each other during hard times and economic downturns. We need the social infrastructure required to support all residents. We need public amenities to provide resources and services to residents of lesser means. Sometimes, we need community centres and city programming to help parents during a teacher’s strike.

We need resilience in our transportation system. We need to support active, sustainable transportation. We need to facilitate multi-modal transportation. We need to structure our city to minimize the number of residents who rely on inefficient, expensive and damaging transportation. We need reliability, excess capacity and affordability for the most efficient forms of transportation. When one aspect of our transportation system is down for a day or a week, we need a system that can provide reasonable alternatives, with minimal hardship.

If we want this–if you want this–it’s time to get to work.

To create a Resilient City, you need to identify, plan for and mitigate risks. You need to be able to quickly respond to unexpected occurrences. You need to expect that those situations will occur. You need a robust municipal infrastructure. You need to do your best to make sure no one is left standing on the platform as the city rolls away.

If you want a Happy City, a Livable City, a Sustainable City…you need to have a Resilient City.

I hope your city will become a Resilient City.

The language of raised and lowered crosswalks, and raised and lowered classes of street users

Every now and then, I think about the language that we use when discussing municipal issues and citybuilding. There are a few words or terms that I’ve abandoned, adopting new language that’s more appropriate. I don’t say “car accident”; it’s “crash” or “collision”. And a pedestrian doesn’t get hit by a car; they get hit by a driver (we’d never say someone was stabbed by a knife). More recently, I’ve dropped “multi-unit building”, choosing to say “multi-home building”, instead.

It can all seem like semantics, but the words we use carry deeper meaning. There are underlying assumptions, value judgements and general baggage.

Recently, I’ve been involved in various discussions about raised crosswalks. When this comes up, the framing is always “raised crosswalks” versus “at-grade crosswalks”. Whenever I hear someone speak of an at-grade crosswalk, it always takes a moment to register what they mean. “At-grade” is used to mean at roadway level, but I reject that, and I think I’m going to stop saying it.

A real “at-grade” crosswalk would be one where the sidewalk doesn’t drop to meet the road. Basically, we say “raised” when we mean “at-grade” and “at-grade” really means a lowered crosswalk.

Now, I’m sure people can point to city documents with specific definitions, and this is probably the standard lexicon of engineers, but that doesn’t mean they’re right.

Of course, when we look at the terms “crosswalk” or, worse, “crossing”, we can see the problem. The pedestrian’s path is deemed to be crossing the driver’s path, not the other way around. The underlying assumption is that the driver has the right to the road, and the pedestrian is the foreign species getting in its way.

And that’s why we say “at-grade” when we mean the crosswalk lowers. It is a car-centric term for car-centric design. This sort of language is hardly neutral or impartial. It has layers of status and prioritization baked in. Worse, it inherently prioritizes drivers, the one class of road user the regularly, and often with impunity, kills people.

The mindset behind the language that raises car drivers over all other street users contradicts everything the city says about Complete Streets or “Towards Zero” or street safety, in general (even though there are still significant flaws in this rhetoric, too).

What if we didn’t call them crosswalks? What if we didn’t have crosswalks? What if the sidewalks just continued, unencumbered, when they intersected roadways? What if we said the drivers are crossing pedestrian space when they go through an intersection, rather than the other way around? How would simple shifts in language and infrastructure shift our whole paradigm when it comes to street safety and street life?

And how would this effect our prosperity, health and environment, know how destructive driving-obsessed culture is to all of these? We have a default mindset that is inherently destructive. We need a shift in thinking along with a shift in culture.

And we need better language, so that we stop reinforcing our inherited biases.

(So, no, I will no longer speak of “at-grade” crossings.)

The Transit Rider Ballet

I’ve been following the woes of Barrhaven transit users for the past few days. Issues have been cropping up for a while (like they have for everywhere else *cough*Vanier*cough*), and it seems like the city has some solutions in store (advisable or not)…but it also seems like no matter what happens, nothing can ever be solved. Every new solution seems to bring new unforeseen (but predictable) issues.

If you want to get a handle on the complaints, you can check out Jan Harder’s Twitter feed; it seems to be a clearing house for such issues.

One tweet stuck out to me. I’m going to quote the text here, rather than linking to it, because I’m not trying to critique the person who tweeted it or put them on blast or anything. I just want to examine what they’ve said:

OMG thank you. The route I need to get home is full of asshats trying to get off at Baseline, H.C., and Nepean Sportsplex. I don’t mind Fallowfield but if I can’t board a bus BECAUSE IT IS FULL to get me to my neighbourhood because you were too lazy to wait for yours, I get mad.

(I’m assuming “H.C.” stands for Hunt Club.)

There is an overwhelming sense of entitlement here. The bus this user wants belongs to them and not to the other transit users because the other transit riders aren’t going to ride it all the way to the end. It’s the only bus that goes to this neighbourhood (it would seem), so they feel it should be reserved for them.

I cannot fathom feeling so very entitled to public transportation and to excluding others from public transportation.

I don’t take the bus all that much, but I do take it occasionally. Routes 6 and 7 go by my house. If I’m taking them I’m generally going no further than the Rideau Centre, going north, or Billings Bridge, going south. So, aside from taking the 7 to Carleton, I’m never taking a bus all the way to the end of the line, nor am I starting at the beginning of the route. Hell, in the mornings, sometimes I’ll grab the 6 or 7 at Fifth and take it to First (to then transfer to the 56 in order to transfer to the 85).

I don’t feel bad or guilty about this at all. I’m a transit user just like everyone else. I’ve paid my fare (and if I’m going a short distance, I’ve paid disproportionately more) and I have just as much right to the bus as you do (and, conversely, you have just as much right to it as I do).

The other day, my daughter and I were coming home from Billings Bridge. We were waiting for the 6, and we’d be taking it to Fifth Avenue. When we got on, there were already people on the bus (though there were others getting off at the mall). As the bus chugged along Bank, people got on and off. Some of the people who were on when we boarded surely got off before our stop.

It can be quite interesting, watching this sort of route if you travel far enough. You can get on and it’ll be almost empty. You’ll watch it fill up. You’ll watch it empty and fill up again. You’ll watch a handful of people get off at a stop, while a handful get on. It’ll ebb and flow, and it’ll (almost) completely turnover its ridership, sometimes multiple times.

No one in their right mind thinks they are more entitled to such a bus as anyone else. No one in their right mind thinks only people who are riding all the way to the end should allow themselves a spot on that bus.

So why can’t those routes to Barrhaven be the same?

If you’ve been reading my posts or my columns with any regularity, you’ve probably encountered me talking about Jane Jacobs’s idea of the street ballet. I lively street has a multitude of uses and sees a multitude of users. Workers heading to their jobs in the morning, school children off to school, workers coming into the area…later, stay-at-home parents run errands or take small kids to the park…business men empty into the streets at lunch hour…school kids come home, workers leave, residents return from work. Later, people are out to restaurants and bars or hitting the theatre. There’s always comings-and-goings.

That’s what life is like on routes like the 6 or the 7. People coming from St. Laurent need to get to the Rideau Centre. People from Lowertown are going to Centretown. Students from the Golden Triangle are busing to classes. People in the Glebe are going to Billings Bridge.

On these buses, there’s a rotation. Each seat may be occupied by five or six different people. The routes take you through places, not just destinations. There are things to do all along the route and people all along the route looking to something somewhere else. It is akin to the street ballet. It is the transit rider ballet.

But on those long commuter routes, you don’t have that. There are spots where a bunch of people will want to get on, and there will be people getting off along the way, at times, but it’s mainly just clumps of commuters hopping from hub to hub (or from hub, leapfroging hubs, to a final hub).

It is absolutely a failure of city design.

These buses may be packed, but that doesn’t mean they carry more people, more “fares”, if you will. A half empty bus that rotates through riders multiple times will end up carrying more people than the same type of bus that takes, primarily, one group of passengers from downtown to a suburban hub. Throw in the fact that these buses are “deadheads” (they don’t do a return trip because there isn’t sufficient ridership to warrant that amount of bus service going the other way), and it’s incredibly expensive to run these routes.

But the aforementioned tweet does highlight something that, I think, too few of our civic leaders think about. We basically need to types of transit service. No, not two separate transit systems, but we need to understand that the suburban commuter model functions inherently differently than an urban commuter system. We can’t try to cram the two together into the same service delivery model and think we’ll be able to serve everyone properly.

This is, in part, what LRT should help address. It is a suburban commuter system. It’s not really going to help people get around downtown that much. But what we can’t do (and what we have done) is assume that LRT solves all our problems, and can replace our urban transit service.

The city is on the verge of ghettoizing bus service, and if they do, they’ll be doing substantial harm to transit, including LRT (not to mention our economy, our environment, our health…). Hopefully, as more and more suburban and exurban communities get fed up with the substandard transit system we’ve been running, there will be serious political will at city hall to make the necessary changes. Hopefully, we won’t simply switch a couple of trips to express routes and consider the problem solved.

Everyone has a right to get on a bus. We need a city council that recognizes that.

Saturday Morning in Stittsville

A couple of weeks ago, my daughters were invited to a birthday party in Kanata. I was tempted to take them, come home, then go back and pick them up, but some issues with the car share made us a bit late and made such driving back and forth untenable (it wasn’t really an ideal solution, regardless). So, being on the west end of Kanata, I decided to pop over to Stittsville, hole up in Quitters and get some work done.

Now, I’ll tell you straight, as I was driving from Kanata to Stittsville (which was basically across the street), I may have vocalized a disapproving “ugh” or two. I was going a past unfinished and just-finished developments, and it was just streaks of blank, carbon-copy homes stretching on indeterminately. This wasn’t a value judgement. It was a reaction to both the aesthetic of bleakness painted across the landscape, as well as a recognition of the sheer unsustainability of so much of our suburban development.

I don’t say all this to rag on sprawl (I do have some other, more nuanced thoughts that I may or may not share in a later post), but to set the scene and give you an idea of where my mind was as I came into Stittsville.

The route I took into The ‘Ville, as they call it, took me past the Goulbourn Rec Centre. Man, that is an impressive looking rec centre. I’ve since learned a bit more about all the issues necessitating its recent rehabilitation, but it seems like it should be a worthwhile community amenity.

I approached Stittsville Main Street from the east along Abbott Street (it’s Abbott Street there, right?). I wasn’t in much of a rush, so I figured I’d just park wherever I could and then take a stroll towards my destination. As I approached, I could see there was much going on. There were cops in the distance at the intersection. I was going to pull over and park right there, but there were no stopping signs everywhere. Curiously, there were also a bunch of cars parked in these no stopping areas. Oh well, I’d keep going.

As I approached Stittsville Main Street (which I’ll just be calling Main Street from here on), I remembered hearing that it was 9runrun that day–a marathon/10k/5k/Something-k. Volunteers and spectators were all over the place. I wondered if I’d get stuck in a massive traffic jam or re-routed away from where I was going. Oh well, whatever, I’d deal.

I was struck with the role-reversal. Regularly, there are major events going on in the Glebe, sometimes (but not often enough) with street closures, leading to much gnashing of teeth and rending of Garmins. I certainly wasn’t inclined to be one of those interlopers, cursing out a community for doing community things.

As it turned out, I was able to easily turn left onto Main Street, and then quickly found a (free) public lot. Super easy. Teeth un-gnashed.

I started walking north up Main. I had a lot of time, so I figured I’d check the place out. It’d been decades since I’d been to this part of Stittsville. And, you know, it’s lovely. The people fighting to keep The ‘Ville in Stittsville are really trying to maintain something worthwhile. Don’t get me wrong, Stittsvile will eventually get completely swallowed up in ex- and suburban sprawl, but hopefully the personality of the place won’t get completely chewed up in the process.

I had DMed a few people I knew in Stittsville…well, two people. As I was about a block down Main, I got a message from soon-to-be councillor-elect Glen Gower. I’ve known Glen on Twitter for a few years now, but we’d never actually met. He was heading towards the finish line, a little further west along Abbott.

I quickly turned around and quick-stepped it back to the intersection. I got there just in time to intercept Glen, and we chatted for a block or two, as we wandered down the street.

Abbott is a lovely street, and clearly still holding dearly to the small-town pedigree of Stittsville that is slowly being eroded away. Maybe that’s for the best. If a community isn’t evolving, it’s probably dying. But, still, I feel there has to be a way to maintain the small towns at the edges of greater Ottawa, while we build up within the old city and suburban enclaves. I’m confident we could build a city that preserves the small-town/rural areas while ramping up development just about everywhere else.

Clearly, Abbott Street isn’t about intensification. Large and small houses reside on large, wide lots. At least one sits on a double-lot. There’s tons of room for density here (if desired), and, in a sense, we should probably be seeking some intensification. We do want better transit going to Stittsville, and for that, we need people. But there are ways to do it and ways not to do it.

There’s been some infill, and some of it’s been rather clunky. This seems to be the first stage of infill development. You do it wrong until you figure out how to do it right.

But there’s definitely opportunities to get it right. Nothing (yet) completely sticks out. Some of the houses could have been done better, but nothing’s a monstrosity. Hell, there’s even a triplex (don’t tell some Kitchissippi residents). This sort of thing, and maybe splitting up double lots, is really the way to go. It’s about incremental changes in density, gentle density.

The very nature of The ‘Ville doesn’t have to be trampled on in the name of progress. “Neighbourhood character” is a term regularly deployed by NIMBYs attempting to halt all development and, maybe, keep certain types out of their community. But our neighbourhoods should have character. Our city should have personality…it should be a conglomeration of personalities.

There’s no reason to make sure every different area slowly morphes into the vacuity of sameness. Citybuilding isn’t the borg. There’s no need for assimilation of die. We can be different; we can have different communities with different characteristics, while still ensuring that the city is open for all residents. It’s a tough balancing act, sure, and no one’s going to be 100% satisfied, but that doesn’t mean we just give up.

As the city progresses, we should get better at this. We should be able to find balance no longer elevating neighbourhood character over every other concern, but not elevating every neighbourhood 65 storeys high.

Glen went on to meet with people finishing up the 9runrun race. I turned back and headed towards Main Street. I popped into Quitters, which has quickly  become an important community amenity. I grabbed a coffee and sat down. I pulled out my laptop and got to work on that week’s column for the Sun.

Maybe all our communities aren’t actually that different.


Looking ahead to the 2022 municipal election

With the 2018 election behind us, and a number of interesting developments (seven new councillors, four new women on council), it’s about time to start looking into what the next election has in store for us. Will Jim Watson run for a fourth term? Which councillors will be angling for their own mayoral runs? Which councillors might be in trouble? Which candidates might come back strong next time.

It’s time to take a look at these questions. Continue reading

Predictions, Endorsements and our Best Possible Council

A few weeks ago, a friend asked on Twitter about the best candidate who had a chance to win their ward. This would be a slight deviation from pure endorsements (his example was that we know Jan Harder is winning in Barrhaven), but definitely with some overlap.

It’s a neat idea, but I kind of put it on the back burner while I took care of other stuff…but now with a bit of time, let’s give it a whirl. For fun, I’ve combined it with my predictions (which are, again, different), and I’ve included my endorsements for references. I’ve called the best candidate with a chance to win “Best Hope”. Also, I decided to be generous in terms of what constitutes having a chance.

Also, I’ve got a small bet on with a City Hall insider on predictions…so I better friggin’ be right. (Also, I hate doing predictions,) Continue reading

The #OttVote Dream Team

In my College Ward endorsement, I noted that Emilie Coyle was one of the best candidates across the city. This led to a couple of people wondering about who would be my Top Ten candidates.

Well, I’m not going to do that, exactly–a Top Ten feels restrictive, but since council has 24 members, how about the ideal council, ignoring wards and including all mayoral candidates. This list is in no particular order, but if a candidate is near the top of the list, they’re more likely to be one of my top candidates than someone listed at the bottom of my list. I’ll include their ward, just for reference.

This is kind of a dumb post, so I’m going to do this quickly, and it may not be 100% accurate and it may not be exactly 24 people. Let’s ride! Continue reading

Mayoral Endorsement

Yesterday, a friend asked when I was going to publish my endorsement for mayor. I told her that I intended to do it last night. But last night, I fell asleep before I could write anything. If that’s not a good synopsis of this mayoral campaign…

Fine, enough with the meaningless preamble.

They key point about this mayoral election is that it is time for Jim Watson to go. He’s been an underwhelming mayor, and his rhetoric no longer matches his performance. His “steady hand” has led to deficits, crumbling infrastructure, surprise LRT delays and a city that continuously fails to live up to its potential.

He has show a general disdain for issues relating to gender, as well as to the well-being of vulnerable residents. From his tight grip on an intentionally opaque and inscrutable budget process, to blocking residents on twitter when they disagree with him, to ducking important debates during this campaign, his contempt for democracy is clear.

So this election is about finding someone else. Despite the large field of challengers, the pickings, sadly, are rather slim.

Sure, Moises Schachtler has the best twitter handle Ottawa politics. And, yes, candidates like Bruce McConville and Ryan Lythall are earnest in their devotion to building a better, more welcoming city, most of the challengers just aren’t up to the job.

So I’m left with two candidates from who to choose: Clive Doucet and Joey Drouin.

Clive Doucet joined the race on the last day of registration. He said he wanted to bring fun back to City Hall, and many observers thought he’d present a decent challenge to Watson (not necessarily in terms of winning, but at least in terms of pressing him on the issues)…of course, when Watson ducks so many debates, it’s hard to press him on much of anything.

Unfortunately, Doucet’s campaign did not go as most of us hoped. His Big Idea is a regional rail plan. I mean, maybe that’s okay, but it’s certainly not the most pressing issue in the city or for city transit. Added to that he spoke of delaying LRT Phase II and cancelling Baseline BRT (I don’t think he’d actually get to do that…the mayor is only one vote at council, after all). He had other decent ideas in his platform, but, sadly, they got overshadowed by the regional rail plan.

Well, that and his sudden pivot to weekly garbage pick-up. I don’t really even want to talk about that. It’s not happening, and it was disappointing that Doucet, of all candidates, was resurrecting that zombie issue.

Unfortunately, Joey Drouin isn’t much better. He doesn’t have a background in local politics, and it showed. He doesn’t have what I’d consider a full and well-rounded platform, though he does have some good ideas, and seems generally thoughtful. I don’t think his lack of experience counts against him so much as he doesn’t have a track record to bolster his campaign.

But worse than all that is his Bid Idea: merging Ottawa and Gatineau. So, like, this is never going to happen, and I really don’t see why anyone would think it should happen. Amalgamation didn’t work out so well for Ottawa; I really can’t get on board with this super amalgamation gambit.

Endorsement: Clive Doucet

Here’s where we’re at: for all his faults and unfortunate top-of-mind ideas, Doucet still has a better overall platform than Drouin. Further, we know what we’d be getting in Doucet, considering his history as city councillor. Finally, Doucet’s Big Idea (regional rail) actually has some merit to it, whereas Drouin’s is more just sloganeering.

I believe when we’re making these decisions, we need to take a holistic look at the candidates. It means we need to consider what they’ve done (if they have that experience), what they say they’re going to do and what kind of mayor they’ll actually be. (This isn’t totally satisfying; at the best of times, we have candidates with solid platforms and admirable visions, but sometimes, we don’t, sadly.)

If you sit down and talk to Doucet, you get an understanding that he understands how the city works and how to make the city work. He’s got a history of having a sound urban vision. Doucet the Former Councillor is different from Doucet the Candidate, and we’re likely to see more of the former and less of the latter as mayor. It is very unfortunate that his campaign went off the rails (haha), and it’s even more unfortunate that he wasn’t able to take Watson on in a battle of ideas–had that happened, his candidacy would be looking a whole lot better, I believe.

The things you hate about Doucet’s campaing–the focus on regional rail, weekly garbage pick-up–these probably aren’t going to happen. I don’t believe council would get behind him on these (and he won’t have the head-bobbing get-along gang that Watson has), but he would be able to switch the focus of city governance from Watson’s unimaginative pandering to something approaching a vision this city desperately needs and definitely deserves.