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.

 

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