Ottawa residents pissing on each other

There’s a new problem highlighted with the return of CFL football in Ottawa. Fans are turning the surrounding neighbourhood into a public toilet, urinating on walls and lawns, and in recycling bins and garbage cans. This isn’t just the typical late-night troublemaking; fans are doing this on their way to the game, as people are out enjoying their yards and community.

Before last month’s home opener, Bentley and his wife were in their kitchen when they saw four men peeing into his yard along his fence. When he went outside and confronted them, he said they laughed and one of them told him to relax.

“The part that’s really surprising is how unconcerned everybody is about it,” said Bentley, an engineer officer in the military.

“Try to imagine: you’re going out to sit and have supper in your backyard, and you’ve got dudes p—— on your fence and laughing at you because you’re upset about it. That’s pretty hard to take.”

This is clearly a problem. The stadium, blocks away, has washroom facilities, but people have decided that they want to drink (illegally, mind you) in the Beer Store parking lot and relieve themselves on nearby homes. The city has been pretty good about responding to other issues throughout the first half of the season, so hopefully they’ll be a little more mindful of people befouling residences.

Unfortunately, not only are fans pissing all over homes, Ottawa residents are pissing all over each other. If you read the comments on linked article, you should be astonished at the vitriol leveled at residents of the Glebe (similar to the abuse hurled at residents of Lakeside Avenue). You would think these people are a menace for moving into the RedBlacks’ greater latrine area.

Similarly, a story comes out of Kanata regarding noise complaints. Local bars and farms are disturbing the peace, and residents aren’t happy about it, as many of us wouldn’t be. We have noise bylaws, and we expect everyone to be able to live relatively peacefully without burdening neighbours too much.

But, again, commenters on the article can’t wait to hurl invectives at residents. For wanting to be able to sleep, they’re bad people. For not wanting to hear simulated gun shots every ten minutes, they’re entitled snobs. The hatred of others and their lives is truly disgusting.

This is not community. This is not how we should live. If you believe that people deserve scorn and abuse solely based on where they live, you’re a bad person.

And I kind of hope someone pisses on you.

Re-defining Living

Thinking about the upcoming election–and the various issues and proposals candidates bring up–has led me to thinking about where, in Ottawa, people live. Under current definitions, we would say that most Ottawans live in the suburbs, but this isn’t really correct. When we are saying that people live in the suburbs, we often mean that they reside in the suburbs…and by that we mean that they sleep there.

Most of our lives occur past our driveways. People travelling from their home in one area to work, play, worship, exercise or study in another area don’t really live in the area where their home is. And our current definition of “living” really perverts the concept, driving the banal soul-less life of North American stereotypes.

It would seem that this concept of living is an outgrowth of the cult of home ownership. The rise of the suburbs and the associated sprawl are driven by the desire to own some land. It is the suburbs where people look to find cheaper (but still nice!) homes and neighbourhoods. Although you can rent in the suburbs, the suburban lifestyle is built off of home ownership.

The cult of ownership has led to many desperate situations in North America in the past few years. The compulsion to buy rather than rent is insidious. It colours decisions and distorts perspectives. It also helps to obscure what life really is about.

The power and pitfalls of social media in Ottawa’s municipal campaign

What hell hath social media wrought, amirite?

Whether it is cats, hashtags or Trivago Guy, the online realm can often be a whirlpool of inanities trying to suck us under. But if you can escape the traps and pointless memes, you have a chance to connect with people. And for candidates in the upcoming municipal election, you can interact with more voters than ever before.

Social media has expanded our access to the campaigns. Candidates are giving residents a new perspective on campaigns. Would-be councillors like Martin Canning and Catherine McKenney regularly give inside looks at the campaign trail. Jeff Leiper uses his blog to flesh out local issues and introduce himself to residents. Marc Aubin has laid out his urban vision. Others spread conspiracy theories.

Our reigning mayor is probably also the reigning social media king at City Hall. Though his website may be tricky to navigate, Jim Watson is active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. He provides glimpses into his campaign, takes us through his daily life, offers to help to residents and tussles with voters for good or ill.

The mayor’s robust online presence is in stark contrast to that of his presumptive number one contender, Mike Maguire. Maguire plans to use “the power of social media” in his hopes to improve on his fifth place finish in the 2010 campaign. Unfortunately at the time of writing this, Maguire’s twitter account has only 131 tweets (compared to the mayor’s 43,300) and 159 followers. If that seems minimal, it is, and deliberately so:

Another mayoral candidate is doing a better job at interacting on social media. Darren Wood may only have 149 followers on Twitter, but he has made 786 tweets. He has engaged with residents and local journalists, and has used his blog to address comments and concerns about his campaign. But this level of engagement can come at a cost. He has entangled himself in unnecessary twitter battles, and has been known to insult some of the city’s residents:

And, again to his detriment, his inconsistencies have been laid bare:

[Full disclosure: I’ve had some online disagreements with Wood.]

This is, of course, the danger of social media. Every quick quip and defensive comment can give voters a glimpse behind the facade. Much of politics is about appearances, and social media can scuttle the most carefully planned-out campaign.

It is for this reason that many candidates will be much more careful about online engagement, perhaps even scrubbing their virtual history. Troy Dubé, a candidate in Cumberland Ward, is no newbie to Twitter, but you would not know that from his account, which only has four tweets, none before July 21. But the internet does not forget, even if tweets or accounts are deleted. Thus we know, for instance, that Dubé had an extended exchange with local feminist activist Julie S. Lalonde back in May:

dube capture (1)

We may not be happy that every little inane thing we have ever written can still be found online (I certainly am not!), but it is useful to voters to have a tool that breaks down the artificial persona so many politicians present.

Of course, no trek into Ottawa’s online political happenings is complete without a nod to Brendan Mertens, whom we may never have heard about had it not been for his… innovativeYouTube channel:

So as we approach election day, if you think you are not finding enough interesting tidbits on our campaign, you might just need to hop onto Twitter, Facebook or YouTube and get the latest down-low.

#ottvote

The city planners have claws

Mastercraft Starwood* had made a proposal for a landmark building downtown. By going the landmark route, they would have the opportunity to build up to 27 storeys. For that privilege, they would have to present something extraordinary. City planners say they failed… extraordinarily:

“In effect, the proposed development with two residential towers of 27 storeys extending to the street edges and adjacent property to the east will draw attention to itself not as a striking piece of architecture that in itself might be considered a piece or art, but rather as an anomaly within the central character area,” planner Douglas James writes in the review.

Meow.

(Okay, maybe that’s not really worthy of a “meow”, but what do you really expect from planners?)

That the design failed is not much of a surprise. From the picture it’s a nice-enough looking building, but it really isn’t special (the massive branding doesn’t help either, I’d say). Part of the fault lies with the whole landmark policy which should entice extraordinary designs by giving developers much freer rein.

Somerset Ward candidate Thomas McVeigh articulates the problem with the current policy, in relation to this proposal:

The proposal doesn’t even meet the requirements set out by the watered down proposal. The required open space is 2% short of what is required. It’s a quibble, but really, when we’re asking for extraordinary design, for the developer not to even bother meeting that requirement shows that they don’t really see this as an opportunity to excel, instead it’s just a loophole to half-heartedly get the checklist crossed off.

So what does McVeigh propose:

If we are going to ask for our development community to come up with extraordinary designs, for them to give up 40% of the property to the city, and for them to really impress us, we’re going to have to give them an opportunity to make enough money on the deal to make it worthwhile. I’d like to let them make enough money that I can further shake them down for some community owned housing so that these building aren’t just vertical gated communities.

Letting developers build even higher (27 storeys isn’t really that high for downtown Ottawa) would be the way to entice innovative design and more public space. I think McVeigh is right that we need to re-visit the policy, loosen the height restrictions and actually get some extraordinary buildings downtown.

*That really sounds like a made-up name.

Commuting and schools

So, a union representing elementary teachers wants teachers to get snow days–whenever school buses are cancelled, the argument is that the school should close and teachers should stay home.

This is a pretty merit-less request, as the Citizen‘s David Reevely points out. There are, as I see it, three basic arguments against this proposal:

1. Other people have to go to work, so they should too (this would be a rather flimsy and petty reason).

2. There’s other work that teachers can do, even if kids aren’t there.

3. Not all kids ride school buses.

It’s this third point that deserves a little closer inspection. Obviously, we all know that some kids don’t ride school buses. Lots of kids take public transportation, walk, bike or get rides from their parents, however the implicit underpinning of the union’s request is that busing–and by extension, commuting–is rightfully the status quo. There’s no wiggle room for non-bus riders in the proposed policy.

This is what it means to live in a commuter culture, having our infrastructure and our public institutions constructed to primarily serve those who commute. This proposal goes even further, as it would structure a public institution to primarily and solely serve one particular commuting class.

Thankfully, there is no real chance of this being implemented.

Ottawa candidate goes full crazy

So if you thought the municipal campaign wasn’t fun already, there’s a new treat to persuade you. Meladul Haq Ahmadzai, candidate in Gloucester-Southgate, has released his “blacklist”, a proclamation declaring which city councillors “stole millions from Ottawa taxpayers”, and he’s tweeting it out like mad.

He has posted it to a blog, Ottawa Blacklist – List of City CouncillorsHere is the post, in full:

This is the blacklist of Ottawa city Councillors who are believed to be involved in corruption at Ottawa city hall and who are believed to have stole millions from taxpayers. The 2014 budget is unbalanced. Day by day the debt for Ottawa city is increasing.

The elections is on October 27, 2014.

Ottawa City Councillor Names:

1. Jim Watson (Mayor)
2. Rainer Bloess
3. Doug Thompson
4. Shad Qadri
4. Diane Deans
5. Peter Hume
6. Eli El-Chantiry
7. Diane Holmes

————

This list was developed by Meladul Haq Ahmadzai, a candidate in Gloucester-Southgate for the 2014 Ottawa Municipal Elections. He developed this list because he wanted to provide a crystal clear warning to the taxpayers about the corruption at City Hall and provide a brief list of names of persons who are believed to be involved in stealing millions.

If you’re wondering, he offers no substantiation, and there is no reason to actually believe him (other than a hyper-developed cynicism towards politicians).

As they say, Good Times.

Shuttle buses of hate

Returning to an over-discussed topic, the city has decided to reduce the number of shuttle buses going down Lakeside Avenue–a tiny little residential street that usually can’t be used as a shortcut between Bronson and the QED. I’ve read that the reduction will be between 50% and 70%; there won’t be any “dead head” buses using it (buses returning from the stadium to pick up more fans at the park-and-ride); and that there won’t be any buses post-game.

(Though different reports have different info, so who knows how much is true. Regardless of the specifics, there is a reduction.)

It seems like a decent compromise. It still won’t be fun for residents of Lakeside (and it might make more sense to re-route all shuttle buses), but it demonstrates that the city is trying to find the right balance. Personally, I always wondered if the Lakeside route was a short-term gambit to induce people to ride the shuttles–make it really quick at first, then give them slightly longer routes that people won’t really mind.

Of course, civic good will won’t reach everyone. Reading the comments on the Sun article is… enlightening. It’s quite pathetic how people have so little concern for their fellow residents*. The same goes for would-be mayor Darren Wood:

I’m not sure what is the defining aspect of Wood’s tweet: the blatant disdain for Ottawa residents, the Dada-esque use of the English language or his sheer ignorance regarding Ottawa’s geography.

Capture

*Yes, all of you who think this is a capitulation of Chamberlain proportions, I’m calling you pathetic. Because you are.

Ottawa should not be officially bilingual. It shouldn’t be officially unilingual, either.

There is a movement (again) to make Ottawa officially bilingual. The arguments are about the same as they always are: we need to ensure services for French-speaking citizens, we’re Canada’s capital, it’s an embarrassment, we need to encourage businesses to be bilingual, etc.

The mayor doesn’t support this, noting that we have relatively few concerns in terms of French-language service (on average, 50 complaints are made a year regarding language issues). However, there are complaints and it is likely that not all issues are officially lodged with city hall. City council candidate Marc Aubin notes that there are a number of translation issues for city signage and press releases.

Ensuring proper service for French-speaking residents is important. If a significant number of issues are occurring, Ottawa should address them (well, they should address all issues, but if there aren’t a lot of concerns, ad hoc solutions may suffice). But unless you can clearly explain how official bilingualism will solve these problems, this isn’t an argument in favour of such a policy.

The rest of the arguments are far sillier. There is no conceivable way that our language policy could be an international embarrassment. The rest of the world is not going to care if Ottawa is officially bilingual. Those travelling here might notice if we are functionally bilingual, but those are completely different things.

It is ridiculous to suggest that the city of Ottawa needs to be bilingual for the sake of the nation. The point of being a bilingual nation is to recognize the two*founding communities of Canada, not to force particular languages onto Canadian communities. I understand that a lot of people (even those who live here) view Ottawa as little more than the home of Parliament, but we are actually a much richer community than that. Defining Ottawa solely by the fact that elected and non-elected gas bags spend a lot of time here is to completely diminish what this city is.

As usual, we have provincial and federal politicians stepping into the issue. People who don’t live here consider it their business to pronounce on the municipal goings-on. It’s rather unseemly. Our politicians don’t see us citizens or members of a community, but as props for national or international public relations.

Thankfully, the Conservatives are actually pretty good on this matter:

The Citizen approached the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, Shelly Glover, on the issue. A spokesman for the minister, Mike Storeshaw, said that “it falls entirely within the jurisdiction of individual municipalities to decide whether to become officially bilingual.

“It would not be appropriate for the federal government to intervene in those decisions,” he said.

Ottawa does not need to be officially bilingual. We don’t need to have an official language at all. We shouldn’t have an official language. The services that Ottawa provides its residents should reflect the needs of residents. We should provide services in whatever language they–we–need.

*Yes, this isn’t accurate, but let’s not go down that road right now.

Furyous Drivers

I have a few quick notes about Lansdowne transportation that I haven’t yet mentioned. I’m doing this bullet-style because it would just be too many words about this top, otherwise. Here you go:

  • After the second RedBlacks home game, Bank Street was a little more congested. It wasn’t really bad, and it didn’t last too long, but traffic did not flow as smoothly for this game. I don’t know if it had to do with the additional parking or what, but it’s interesting.
  • The first Fury game was pretty bad for congestion. A lot more people were driving and Bank didn’t seem to be able to handle to post-soccer traffic (as well as the normal traffic and parking). It cleared out fairly quickly, but, again, interesting.
  • Saturday’s Fury game seemed to have no such problem. I imagine attendance might be down a bit from the opener, and traffic might flow smoother on a Saturday night rather than a Sunday evening.

That’s it. I don’t know if I’ll ever write about this stuff again*.

*I probably will.

Adventures in voter outreach

I’m not trying to pick on mayoral candidate Darren Wood; I promise. But the mayoral campaign is pretty quiet and Wood is not, for good or ill. To his credit, he is very engaged with residents on social media, even if it doesn’t always work out so well.

For instance, on Twitter, he has been claiming to support bike safety and bike infrastructure, but this is a direct contradiction he’s written previously. As happens, people–voters–call him out, and when they do, he doesn’t respond so well:

Here’s what he wrote on his blog:

So how do we handle the debt. Tighten our belts, no new capital spending, cut back the LRT to finish the line we started and use existing tracks in the city and expand as we have the money in the future.

Bike safety does not come from a few cans of paint. Real cycling infrastructure requires capital spending. You can’t honestly claim to be for bike safety but also categorically rule out any new capital projects. Buy, you may wonder, what did Wood have to say specifically about bike infrastructure in that blog post:

Last, but not least by any means, is bikes in Ottawa. Surprisingly the views run the spectrum from let them fend for themselves to make more bike lanes to the need for bike lanes with concrete barriers separating the bikes from the cars. I am all for separate bike lanes and in new construction or total remodels, room permitting concrete separating the bikes and the cars. But we cannot do it over night. Bike lanes are easy, concrete separated bike lanes cost money. When asked of the people who wanted concrete if they were willing to pay for it with a slight tax increase the answer was 100% no from everyone asked without fail. You can’t have it both ways. But no matter how you dice it, bike safety has to be a priority in Ottawa. With more and more people riding due to health concerns, cost of fuel and/or it’s the environmentally friendly thing to do, there are a lot more bikes on Ottawa’s streets then ever before. Their safety is everyone’s concern. But to make any real change when it comes to bikes in our city, it will take an effort on the part of city hall and the bikers to come together and create “realistic” plans and goals.

It is, clearly, one giant hedge. He’s all for bike safety, but we need “realistic” goals. He supports putting in separated bike lanes “room permitting”. What does that mean? Does he value ample free parking over bike safety? Is all for bike safety as long as it doesn’t interfere with his commute down a four-lane road. His suggestion that bike safety would necessarily require a tax increase is facile and dishonest. Surely, a mayoral candidate understands that city funds can be re-allocated. Current spending on bike infrastructure is a pittance compared to the overall budget, as well as current spending on road work. We could spend a tiny bit less on cars and a tiny bit more on bikes.

However, Wood seems to be wedded to the status quo (which is odd for a self-styled maverick and outsider). The money for cars must remain for cars in perpetuity. It’s a simple-minded approach to city budgeting. A new budget is an opportunity to re-prioritize spending.

Further, since Wood is running on a platform of saving millions by eliminating the green bin program and cutting wasteful spending, why would we need a tax increase to pay for a few more cycle tracks? Is Wood admitting that his crusade to curb waste is doomed to failure? If you think Wood learned his lesson about going after residents over twitter, you’d be wrong. Here’s what happened yesterday evening:

Here’s the full quote, from the same blog post as above:

I have sampled almost every ward in Ottawa via Tim Horton’s and various grocery stores and without a doubt, the number one issue in Ottawa is garbage. People want their weekly garbage pick up restored now!

Well, I guess he has a point. He surveyed people at Tim Horton’s and grocery stores.

(And, yes, I’m sure he’ll just chalk it up to his sense of humour.)