Jan Harder says something silly

(This is me being polite.)

There’s been a bit of crime happening in Half Moon Bay Park in Barrhaven. Two children were beaten up in the park last week, purportedly by a group of teenagers. I think we can all agree that if a park is conducive to consequence-free violence, it won’t be fulfilling its mandate.

In response to resident complaints, the local councillor, Jan Harder, said something rather…er…silly:

Well-lit areas create very dark areas elsewhere and actually contribute to more criminal activity.

Light, it would seem, nurtures violence.

I wish to commend the people who attempted to parse some sensibility into what Harder said, and if you squint hard enough, you might just see their point…but it requires completely ignoring the words Harder actually said.

Another in the twitter-verse was able to find the city policy that completely contradicts what Harder said:

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 1.07.29 PMThe city, you see, sees proper lighting as a safety measure, not necessarily a sufficient safety measure on its own, but a safety measure, nonetheless.

Harder and her defenders do, sort of, have a point…again if you squint really hard and ignore what Harder actually said. Criminal activity doesn’t want to be seen. It wants to recede into the shadows. It exists where there are no eyes to see. Lighting is a safety measure if and only if there are people around to see what’s going on.

This isn’t some new phenomenon or radical insight on my part, dear readers. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote about the street gangs in major American cities. Half a century ago, she noted that these weren’t really street gangs. Looking at some of the most notorious examples of gang violence, it all tended to happen in parks.

The streets were safe. The streets were lit. The streets were alive. People were about, there were buses and traffic. There were shoppers and residents. There were people coming and going from bars and restaurants. This kind of violence wouldn’t occur on streets because there was just too much going on. Someone would have seen it and someone would have called the cops.

But the parks were tucked away. There was little activity at night. There weren’t houses or apartments or bars or restaurants emptying into the parks. Light is only part of the solution. Without any eyes, the light is near useless.

So this isn’t an issue of night vision or light magically creating crime. This is the very nature of areas like Barrhaven. They are quiet. There is little activity on the streets. There are no eyes naturally trained on the park.

Maybe we need lights in Half Moon Bay Park, maybe we don’t. I see a bigger issue, though. We can’t keep building these communities that are so naturally conducive to this kind of crime.

There is another lesson in this little story, and that is the poor behaviour of councillor Harder. Here is how I would define her existence as a councillor:

  • Say something silly. Ignore evidence, data, reason, logic and research. Ignore the expertise of city staff.
  • When someone points out the silliness of a particular stance, get defensive and pissy. Lash out at the residents of the city. Eschew reflection and introspection, and just get hostile.
  • Cheap out on development. Starve the city budget and don’t properly develop parks and public space.
  • Defend Suburbia uber alles. Ignore any flaws. And demand, through wishful thinking, that everything be perfect.
  • When residents seek improvements, attack them for not paying proper respect to the suburban utopia you built. (Unless you’re asking for more roads.)

You never know what councillors are doing behind the scenes, so it can be hard to judge their effectiveness and abilities, but this is a basic pattern we’ve seen from Harder. She demonstrates no respect for the city. She seeks to actively damage other neighbourhoods for the benefit of her ward. And she is nasty and mean towards residents who don’t acquiesce to every dumb statement that comes tumbling out of her mouth.

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Signs of failure

slow down for usRecently, the city launched a new campaign to help make our streets safer. I’m not sure what you’d call it. It’s not really a safety campaign, and it’s not really an awareness campaign. Truly, it’s just an admission of guilt. The city has built horribly dangerous roads, but are willing to make nothing but the most facile gestures towards fixing them.

The project is called Slow down for us! It appears to consist of putting up lawn signs that read “Slow down for us!” and show kids playing. It’s a worthwhile message: let’s not kill children.

First, the good news; councillors are getting behind this project. Many councillors have been out putting up these signs, distributing them to residents and advertising the initiative. It’s good to see councillors getting on board with safety initiatives (however, any councillor who is willing to hand out these signs, but isn’t willing to do anything to actually curb traffic speed and volumes is a hypocrite).

That’s it. There’s nothing else good about this project. The only reason we resort to asking residents to put up signs exhorting motorists to slow the fuck down and stop running over kids is because we over-build our roads, rely on car-centric neighbourhood design and do next to nothing to stop or punish dangerous drivers.

Above, you see a picture of Rideau-Rockliffe’s councillor Tobi Nussbaum helping launch this initiative. It so happens that I bike through his ward every day. On Queen Mary Street between Quill and Edith there are five Slow Down signs on one side of the street. The other side of the is a park, and there is another sign posted. Between Quill and Vera, there are twelve of these signs.

This isn’t an awareness campaign; it’s desperation. Queen Mary is a residential street. But it’s a wide residential street with, mostly, long sight lines. It is a street designed for speed at the expense of safety. The popularity of these signs on Queen Mary isn’t and indication of a successful safety campaign. It’s an indictment of a city that doesn’t care about safety.

Now, I believe that Nussbaum is a councillor who actually cares about street safety, but not every councillor does…not really. And so I would implore any councillor who has backed the Slow down for us! campaign to also back measures that will make our streets substantively safer.

Here’s what needs to be done: road diets, narrower lanes, wider sidewalks, raised crosswalks or intersections, bike lanes, speed bumps, bulb outs, tree cover, lower speed limits, traffic lights programmed to favour walking and bicycling…the list goes on.

However, if you value three minutes of commuting time over the safety children, handing out these signs is little more than a lie.

We Must Rejuvenate Albion-Heatherington

There’s a bit of a controversy brewing in Ottawa. The planning committee approved a Strategic Initiative to improve the Albio-Heatherington neighbourhood, but the initiative has hit a bit of snag as the chair of the planning committee, Jan Harder, has introduced a motion to nix the initiative.

There’s a lot wrapped up in this issue: politics, obstruction, leadership, but mostly a neighbourhood that needs some help. Before we get to all that, we have to take a trip to Atlanta.

East Lake

Atlanta’s East Lake neighbourhood has quite the history. At the previous turn of the century, it was a wealthy neighbourhood, known for its golf and its upper class residents. But wealth can flee and time can beat you down. East Lake slipped into socio-economic (and literal) disrepair. It became poor and violent. “Little Vietnam” they called it.

As with many blighted North American neighbourhoods of the late twentieth century, housing projects were built. “The Projects”. A disparaging title we all know too well. These developments were a way to try to cordon off poverty and crime while also appearing to do something about it. Everything that makes cities great and neighbourhoods livable is ignored in the construction of housing projects.

Public spaces are created, but they aren’t vibrant. They aren’t welcoming. Little draws people to them. Without the watchful eye of city life (or the means to defeat poverty), crime is allowed to flourish. And the more crime, the fewer people who will venture out. The cycle perpetuates.

So in the 1990s, it was time to do something. They tore down the projects that only served to ghettoize the neighbourhood and they embarked on a plan to address the poverty and crime. The plan was based on:

  • Break up pockets of poverty by mixing middle-class families with low-income ones.
  • Help pre-k children get ready to learn with programs to boost literacy and language skills.
  • Provide a web of support services for families, such as job training and reading programs.
  • Find a strong lead agency to coordinate assistance. Locally, that is the East Lake Foundation. Founded in 1995, the organization helped build more than 540 new apartments to replace the projects.

East Lake has been a tremendous success. No more Little Vietnam. No more shooting gallery. The deep poverty is being relieved, and the transformation is being used as a model to rehabilitate communities across America.

Albion-Heatherington

Albion-Heatherington is not East Lake. It has no disparaging nicknames, but it does have a poor reputation. It is known its poverty and its crime. In a city with one of the highest median incomes in the country, Albion-Heatherington has not been afforded the opportunity to share in that wealth.

Enter councillor Diane Deans.

The issue of crime, public safety and urban renewal was an issue during the last election for Gloucester-Southgate (as well as neighbouring Alta Vista). Albion-Heatherington had issues with violence last year. It is clear that something needs to be done.

The city’s Strategic Initiatives proposal specified $250,000 for neighbourhood revitalization, and this proposal went to the planning committee for approval. There was nothing in this proposal that specified Albion-Heatherington, it was just for revitalizing some neighbourhood(s). It was Deans who stepped forward and moved that the Initiative specifically name Albion-Heatherington. The committee agreed.

Leadership

Many times in the past year, I have thought that city council lacked leadership. Councillors rarely stepped out of line, generally supporting the mayor’s agenda. Consensus is nice, but few seemed to have a vision or the gumption to chase that vision.

Some deferred to planners, others the mayor. Many, the mayor included, would claim that no one was talking about an issue, so there was no need to address it. This is a leadership deficit.

Deans is stepping up. She has identified an issue in her ward and she has found a way to address it.

The Plan

Deans wants to model the rejuvenation of Albion-Heatherington after the East Lake project. This makes perfect sense. Clustering poverty intensifies it. Mixed-income residential areas afford a means of economic rejuvenation, offering more hope to those who would otherwise be sequestered in poverty. But the appropriateness of this idea rests on more than just Albion-Heatherington’s need for rejuvenation.

The neighbourhood is located along Walkley Road, officially designated an arterial main street (an oxy-moronic designation, but we’ll put that aside for now). This designation means that Walkley doesn’t have to be life-suppressing thoroughfare it currently is.

Walkley is primed for more development, intensification and residential/mix-use builds. The Albion-Heatherington project would leverage this designation, and help Walkley realize its potential.

Further, the city already owns vacant land along Walkley, and Ottawa Hydro will be looking to sell land in the near future. We have resources we can actually use, right now, to implement the rejuvenation project (though it obviously can’t happen right now).

The Process

Mayor Jim Watson likes his processes. He has a lot of control over the budget process and Strategic Initiatives, and he clearly likes it that way (as many would). Luckily for us, he’s generally a competent manager. We may not always get the grand vision from Watson, but he’s a crafty steward.

He’s also a politician, and he doesn’t like to be upstaged.

Watson did not put the Albion-Heatherington proposal into the Strategic Initiatives. This is outside his plan and his process…sort of. The mayor likes to have committees address issues, and he likes to adhere to decisions of committees. Well, the committee decided to tap Albion-Heatherington as the neighbourhood in need of rejuvenation. According to Watson’s history, we should stick with that.

And according to Watson’s rhetoric, we should plow ahead. The mayor likes to note that the recent election was the time for people to vet ideas and choose a course for the city. Since he heard no one talking about re-drawing ward boundaries (because it is time to do so), he doesn’t think the city needs to be bothered with it before 2018.

Issues of crime and poverty were issues during the election for Albion-Heatherington, and they’ve been issues for years. If elections are the time to set our priorities, then fixing Albion-Heatherington should be just such a priority.

The Politics

Jan Harder doesn’t like this. She chairs the planning committee, and the planning committee didn’t do what she wanted, so she has decided to do an end-run around the committee process. She is moving to gut the Strategic Initiative, removing any reference to Albion-Heatherington and reducing it to nothing more than an exercise in deciding how to decide on a neighbourhood deserving of rejuvenation.

(As if Albion-Heatherington isn’t just as–if not more–deserving than any other neighbourhood in Ottawa.)

As planning chair, it seems she might wield an inordinate amount of influence. She’s been around a long time and certainly knows how to work council to help her constituents. Deans does not have the profile that Harder has, even if she demonstrates more vision, empathy and leadership than Harder.

This is the politics of progress vs. the politics of no. There’s no way to ignore that.

The Pettiness

Mayor Watson opposes the plan, in part at least, because he does not want to see one neighbourhood jumping ahead of other neighbourhoods to receive this help. The audacity is stunning.

It takes gall to suggest that Albion-Heatherington is seeking special treatment from the city.

In recent decisions, the city has expressed a desire to extend LRT further south to the Airport, and to accelerate the expansion of LRT to Kanata. We are looking at extending the transitway to Moodie, and recently councillor Qaqish has declared his desire to have a transit link between Riverside South and Barrhaven.

In recent years, we have continued to expand the Queensway out in the suburbs. We built Vimy Bridge. We have constructed new interchanges along Hunt Club. Brian Coburn Drive may be expanded.

These expensive projects have all gone ahead with council’s blessing, but spending a far more modest sum on helping out a poor inner-greenbelt neighbourhood is just unfathomable, apparently.

The Cynicism

I truly believe this is a ploy to do nothing. Diane Deans wants to get on with a plan to help a neighbourhood. Jim Watson and Jan Harder want to spend the money not on helping a neighbourhood and not even on deciding on a neighbourhood to help, but on setting up a framework on how to decide on a neighbourhood to help.

There is a faction on city council that opposes urban renewal. They reject pedestrian safety, healthy transportation, mixed-use development and intensification. They reject libraries and safe injection sites. And now one of them, at least, is rejecting the most basic measures to help those beset with crime and poverty.

This is obstructionism, and it will severely hurt our city.

The Conclusion

Council needs to approve the Albion-Heatherington plan. It needn’t be a Strategic Iniative (though it’s nice when an initiative is actually doing something, rather than setting up the framework to decide on a neighbourhood to then decide on possibly doing something). Find the money. Stop expanding roads. Don’t accelerate the LRT. Raise parking rates. Raise taxes. Raise development charges. Stop subsidizing the suburbs.

Jan Harder’s ward is getting rich off the backs of people like those living in Albion-Heatherington. It is imperative that council fix this imbalance.

Narrowing Woodroffe, or, Urban Wisdom Comes to the Suburbs

An interesting thing is happening in Ottawa South/Outer Barrhaven. Development and expansion continues, but Woodroffe Avenue, a major road for the developed and developing areas, is being reduced. The Citizen‘s David Reevely has the details:

I treated this in a brief story on a busy day but Greater Ottawa reader won’t want to miss the impending closure of the south end of Woodroffe Avenue at Prince of Wales, in Barrhaven. Not only that, but a couple of hundred metres of Woodroffe are to be narrowed. A lane, pretty much, just closed. Grassed over or something. Sold to Minto.

It’s the second time this has happened in Hearts Desire, which has apparently had a sort of provisional road network, reworked and adjusted as bigger roads have been built.

Now, it’s not like people are driving less. If you’re a critic of roads, the reason Woodroffe is being trimmed is that we’ve built a beast of a road in Strandherd Drive and now it’s a bigger traffic sewer and so on. But at a minimum, the city is acknowledging that drivers accustomed to using that stretch of Woodroffe are just going to have to drive farther. It’ll eliminate a sometimes tricky intersection with Prince of Wales, make the remaining part of Woodroffe less busy, and make Hearts Desire more pleasant, so it’s worth it.

The city’s obligated to effect this closure thanks to an old Nepean plan and an agreement with Minto dating back a decade. I wonder what it would take to make something similar happen on, say, Bronson Avenue or Montreal Road.

(I stole his entire blog post to quote here, so be a dear and click on his links so that he doesn’t get mad at me.)

This reminds me of the Complete Streets debate in regards to the re-development of Main St. (which I have written about). The argument against the initiative for Main St. was that such a reduction in car-privileged road design would hurt the commuters from farther out (by prolonging their commute by three minutes). The argument in defence of commuters boiled down to treating the neighbourhood around Main St. as a mere corridor for suburban residents trekking into work. But, now, we can see that such an argument doesn’t hold much water. The residents of Hearts Desire will benefit significantly from the narrowing of Woodroffe Ave., and it will not put much of a burden upon those travelling from parts afar. Continue reading