Urban development and the terror of the suburbs

The city took a pretty significant step forward recently, eschewing (if only discretely) our car obsession for a bit of smart planning. By that I mean that council approved the development of two parking-free towers at Rideau and Besserer. There were some objections (mostly involving the assumption that the towers without parking would attract a lot of residents in need of parking), but this is eminently reasonable development plan. Proposed as student housing, this is a perfect develop to begin our break form car-centric design, everywhere.

As Jan Harder (Jan Harder!) said, “If you’re not going to do it here, where are you going to do (it)?”

The councilor is, of course, correct. This is a great spot for a parking-free high rise. It’s central, near the university, in an eminently walkable area and it’s close to a to-be-built LRT station. This was such a no-brainer that it passed through the Planning Committee almost unanimously…almost.

Rick Chiarelli didn’t like the plan*, and was the only committee member to vote abainst it. He expressed concern that a development bordering Sandy Hill, Lowertown and the Byward Market would have a negative impact on neighbourhoods in College Ward.

Seriously.

You see, College Ward has Algonquin Collee (hence the name), and Chiarelli doesn’t want parking-free development near Algonquin.

Please note: no one was proposing such a development, nor had city staff reviewed even the possibility of such a development.

Something good happening in Rideau-Vanier couldn’t be approved because some imaginary future development in College Ward might occur, and that imaginary development might (we don’t know) have some negative effects on the neighbourhood.

There are a few things to unpack here. Clearly, Chiarelli is a little too focused on drivers (and parkers). The idea that students living near Algonquin (and Baseline Station) might not need cars doesn’t seem to have entered into his calculus. It’s hard to blame him (completely). The city is car-obsessed. Our development is far too car-centric (though it is, clearly, changing). And his constituents seem to see non-car-centric planning as the apocalypse (and Chiarelli doesn’t seem to have dissuaded them of such a notion). So maybe the car-centric nature of his reaction isn’t totally his fault.

Maybe.

But his willingness to hurt other neighbourhoods and other wards in order to fight this imaginary threat is completely his fault. Because this is the other—and more pernicious—part of his objection.

He wasn’t voting for what was best for the neighbourhood, residents, the ward or the city. From his vote and his words, he was saying that Rideau-Vanier should be sacrificed for the sake of his ward…and not because the proposal hurts his ward, but because assuaging his irrational fears about possible future College Ward developments is more important than improving other parts of the city.

We’ve seen this before, back when the Main Street Complete Streets proposal was raging. From Kanata and Barrhaven, respectively, Allan Hubley and Jan Harder (Jan Harder 😦 ) fought this proposal because they didn’t want to see Complete Streets in their enclaves (never mind that both Kanata and Barrhaven are embarking on bike infrastructure now, and that Harder has requested that the efforts of city-building extend beyond our urban-ish neighbourhoods).

This wasn’t the selfish objection of Diane Deans (sure it’ll save lives and better the community, but it’ll tack three more minutes on to peoples commutes!). This was opposing Main Street developing because you objected to non-existent suburban development.

We can’t run a city this way. Yes, councillors are elected to represent their wards, but we can’t let them crap on the rest of the city because some Urban Planning Bogeyman is hiding under their bed. People want these developments. Planners want these developments. The local councillor wants these developments. At some point, we can’t accept (and should openly ridicule) these imaginary fears.

We shouldn’t let suburban paranoia destroy our central neighbourhoods.

*I reached out the Chiarelli for comment. He forwarded it to an assistant who responded right away asking who I wrote for. I said I was a freelance writer, that I’ve written for the Citizen and the Sun and that I keep this website. She also asked when I was planning to publish. I said in a few days, but that’d I could hold off if they needed a bit more time. That was about three weeks ago.

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