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.

And maybe it is comical, but, so what, all these descriptors, all these identities, all these calls to action are valid and desirable. Still, it made me think a little bigger, rather than just rattling off more Something City manifestos (which I will probably continue doing, nonetheless). We a need a Something that is bigger, more all-encompassing. I’ve been reading Happy City, and that concept comes close, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

What we need is to be a Complete City. We need all of this. We need to be resilient. We need robust transit. We need to support walkability and bikability. We need to be livable, sustainable and equitable. We need to be…Complete.

(Granted, I stole the term from the concept of Complete Streets—another Something Ottawa should actually adopt rather than just paying lip service.)

A valuable aspect of a Complete City mentality is the implication that city-building must be holistic. It’s not just about building bike lanes, it’s about 10-minute neighbourhoods. It’s not just about intensification, it’s about zoning and transportation that will support it. It’s not just about livability, its about fighting injustice that oppresses many and keeps them off the street, no matter how wide and beautiful the sidewalks are. It’s about the big picture. It’s about intersectionality.

So this is what I was thinking about, and this is what this post was intended to be about—the Complete City, but during the writing of this, that’s changed, a bit. We should be working towards being a Complete City. We should be working towards being a Resilient City, a Winter City, a Pick-Your-Something City. This is what we should want, and it’s what we should think we deserve.

Basically, we should become an Aspirational Ctiy.

Lets’ be frank; right now, Ottawa is decidedly not an aspirational city. We’re building an LRT, yes, but we’re twenty years late and still dithering. We’ve been talking about a new main library for a decade, and in that time, we’ve seen Calgary, Halifax and host of city’s come up with something innovative and incredible. To build the library we deserve, we decided we had to go in half-sies with Library and Archives Canada. Designs have now come out and, sure it’s a nice enough design, but it’s also kind of like the Museum of Civ had sex with Bayshore.

We’re stuck in a good-enough mindset. Developments are judged as improvements over the past rather achievements for the future. We’re proud of buying Chevies over Cadillacs, even if we wind up paying Cadillac prices.

We avoid invigorating, creative debates about our future, farming out decisions about the urban boundary to a development industry that keeps building the same beige subdivisions and faux-brick façade condos.

We never want more. We accept more of the same.

We won’t go for anything extraordinary. We are the extra-medium of cities.

But here’s the thing, there are people in the city that want more. There are planners who dream bigger and better. There are activists forcing our politicians to consider greater possibilities. There are community groups that don’t want to settle. There are architects and engineers and developers who are tired of their industrial stasis.

There are residents who think we all deserve a better city. There are residents who aspire to build a better Ottawa.

They are the ones who will make Ottawa an Aspirational City. We can be the ones to make Ottawa an Aspirational City.

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