Victims of Communism and Victims of Poor Planning

Note: I’ve had this 90%-finished draft sitting around for a week or two, so it may seem a little out-dated. Oh well.

As time goes on, the new memorial for the Victims of Communism is getting more and more bad press. Recently, Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar decried the monument and its placement. Now, The Toronto Star has jumped on the bandwagon, joining the Citizen, many architects, as well as a member of the board that actually approved the monument. Even the NCC doesn’t seem particularly thrilled about.

Personally, I’m not as horrified by it as some, but it’s definitely a bad idea. Here’s a grab-bag of thoughts:

  • This monument is wretchedly political. It’s not a monument to the victims of totalitarianism or dictatorship. It’s not a monument to the victims of fascism. It’s not a monument to the victims of colonialism, imperialism, aristocracies or monarchies. It’s focused solely on communism. It’s a valid target for approbrium, but it’s weird to single it out at this time. We’re 25 years removed from the Cold War. Yes, there’s still communism in this world and it’s still doing horrible things to people, but as a nation, our primary confrontation with communism ended with the fall of the Iron Curtain.This government has no problems pushing through politically-stained history and commemorations, and they’ve been a staunch supporter of this monument (pushing this site). It’s unseemly; it degrades all of our national monuments.
  • Speaking of politics, the Liberals are starting to make some noise about the issue. Good for them.
  • This is prime public land being used for a (private) monument. And, by all accounts, for an ugly monument. This is an absolute waste of a public resource. The government is stealing this land* from the public to thrust a controversial (and rather unwanted) monument on us.
  • As it turns out, this land might be worth closer to $16M, rather than the million or so the government said it was worth. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a $16M giveaway to this organization (the government wasn’t about to sell the land for that amount, nor does it seem it will buy other land for $16M to replace this plot), but it makes it an all-the-more questionable use of public resources.
  • It’s been noted that the land was supposed to be used to build some Justice-related buildings. It is certainly worthwhile to consider other potential uses of the land, but this is hardly a valid argument, in and of itself. Consider: the land the Supreme Court is on was donated for the purpose of building a hospital. If we’re really worried about what the land was supposed to be used for, we’d be planning a new hospital, not another courthouse. And if we really worried about original purposes of the land…well…colonialism, c’mon.
  • None of the renderings of this monument look particularly good. It looks kind of ugly, and it doesn’t seem to open this public land to the public very well. That stretch of Wellington has nice wide sidewalks. There are interesting buildings and monuments nearby. If you’re going to put a new monument there (even an ill-advised, politically-motivated one), try to do better. Yes, I know that it will look different in real life than it does in the pictures, but it would be odd to release images that make the monument look significantly worse than it actually will (though, I guess we will see).
  • Honestly, I don’t get all the hand-wringing over the now-never-to-be-built Pierre Trudeau building. Does Wellington really need buildings more than it does greenspace?
  • Apparently, the people behind the monument are now talking about scaling back the whole thing. Something a little more modest that makes better use of the space (and allows others to make better use of the space) might be a nice addition to the street.

*Yes, this is a rather ironic phrase considering Canada’s history of colonialism. It’s also an odd phrase in this context. The land currently belongs to the government, so you may wonder how I can argue that it is stealing the land (colonialism aside). Well, there are a few ways to look at this. First, the public’s actual and potential use of this land will end once the monument is built. Second, the monument is for a narrow group of citizens and not the public as a whole. Sure, we don’t usually call this stealing (we might say appropriation), but the rest of us are being robbed of something.

New Bridge, Old Cynicism

Yesterday, I rode the new bike/pedestrian bridge at Coventry Road. It opened this week to much fanfare, and it certainly seems well-done (the ramps were a little more snow- and muck-covered than I’d like, but I imagine that, in future years, regular traffic will help keep that down).

I’ll admit, I don’t totally get why so many people would need to get from an often-empty ball park to the train station, but I’m told by people who know the area better that it will be quite useful…and there were a few other people using it as I crossed, so maybe it’ll be quite popular. It connects to a MUP on the train station side, and it’s close to some bike routes on the ball park side, so those are pluses, but here’s where my cynicism arises.

A day after the bridge opened, much of the bike and pedestrian infrastructure in the area was suddenly cleared of snow (not all of it, mind you; the aforementioned MUP is only partially cleared, which is a bit of an…oversight). The ride to, over and from the bridge was much more pleasant than commuting in the area had been all winter.

So here are the questions: is the city actually dedicating itself to better snow-clearing now that the bridge is open? Since a lot of people use the surrounding infrastructure, with or without the bridge, why did it take until February to give much of it a proper clearing? Will communities only get proper winter maintenance if they have a shiny infrastructure bobbles?

Or was this a one-time shot, so this week’s stories and photo-ops wouldn’t be ruined?

The Election’s Over, Guys

I think it’s fair to say that almost no one had as much fun with the last municipal election as I did. It was a good (and bad, and depressing, and cynical) time, but it’s over; the project of actually running the city should really be important.

Sadly, some just can’t leave the campaign behind.

For all its fun, the Bay Ward election was also nasty at times. Incumbent (and eventual winner) Mark Taylor and challenger (and former concillour) Alex Cullen really went after each other. You may remember* that as much as I wanted to support Cullen, his performance in the debate (and the campaign overall) was a massive turn-off.

He had a very combative tone, and was never able to rise above the muck, no matter what. I think this temperament cost him votes.

Well, months later, and the two are still going at it.**

It would behoove Mark Taylor to avoid these sorts of “debates”. A simple initial response was valid, but it would be much more becoming of a councillor to leave once things get nasty. Let your interlocutor scream into the void of Twitter; don’t engage.

As for Cullen, this type of discourse isn’t going to help him in any future political endeavours…not that he should be calibrating his every tweet with an eye to the next election (in fact, his obvious sincerity, despite the anger, is something to respect). However, if you fancy yourself a community leader (which I’m sure Cullen does, and which, arguably, he is), this exchange was not a display of leadership. It was, I’d say, a tad childish.

Hopefully, this is the last of this sort of thing.

…but I doubt it.

*Looking through the archives, apparently I never actually wrote about the Bay Ward debate. Huh.

*For some reason, I can’t get that to embed. Apologies.

More Cars!

Big news is coming out of City Hall…well, maybe not big news, but news. Let’s just go with “news”. City planners (and an unknown number of councillors) want to expand part of the Airport Parkway from two lanes to four lanes, which should, of course, bring a common refrain to everyone’s mind.

Induced demand. Induced demand. Induced demand.

It’s pretty well-established that road expansions don’t really do anything to combat traffic congestion. More space for more cars, unsurprisingly, leads to more cars, despite the Two Lanes Bad Four Lanes Good mantra. So from all we know about traffic, this measure will be counter-productive (yes, traffic congestion will actually increase).

Worse still, the city is now acting really serious about extending the LRT to the airport, so this new road project will work in direct competition with Ottawa’s biggest and most expensive project in a generation. It really seems like a bad idea all over.

That being said, I sometimes worry that some of us (myself included) can break out the Induced Demand chant a little too reflexively whenever road expansion is suggested. Don’t get me wrong; the phenomenon of induced demand is true, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be true for each and every road. Perhaps a little skepticism is in order here, and maybe there really is a good reason to expand the Airport Parkway, and that it won’t just cause even more traffic headaches.

However, if that’s the case, the city really needs to make its case, and, so far, they just aren’t doing that. The main argument seems to be that people and goods need to get to the airport and not all of them can go by LRT, which is true enough, I guess. Make no mistake, LRT isn’t going to suddenly reduce traffic congestion. Similar to road expansion, the cars that LRT takes off the road will just be replaced by other cars that have more space to re-congest the roads.

But so what? Delivery trucks need to get to the airport, and right now, there’s traffic. But if we expand the road, there’ll just be more traffic. Nothing is solved.

LRT does offer a bit of a solution for delivery traffic, though. Traffic is a cost. You pay for traffic with time (and gas, but mainly time). The point of LRT is to move a lot of people quickly. It’ll be cheaper in terms of time. Since delivery trucks can’t use LRT, delivery trucks don’t have another low-“cost” option. The cost (time) stays the same.

For non-delivery traffic, the relative cost of traffic will go up, because now there is a lower “cost” (time) option. So now driving is a higher cost activity. This means that the demand for the road will shift more towards the side of delivery vehicles rather than passenger vehicles. Restricting the road supply (if you will) is better for deliveries.

There’s a second argument that’s being thrown around in favour of expansion. This project has been on the books for a long time, so we might as well do it. Yes, that is the (horrible) argument. If an idea has been talked about for years, but never acted upon, that’s no reason to think it’s a good idea. If anything, the unwillingness of past councils to do it make it more likely to be a bad idea.

So bad ideas and traffic ignorance may be ruling the day at City Hall. It’s quite unfortunate.