Do you remember when 21 years was old?

There was a tragic death Saturday morning. Students from St. Patrick High School were celebrating their prom and, afterwards, had made their way to Les Suites on Besserer Street. It was here that one man—a boy, really—would lose his life.

The call came in to police around 3:30 am. There’d been a fight and people had been stabbed. Brandon Volpi was stabbed in the neck and heart. He wouldn’t survive.
There has been some conjecture about what happened, but most reports indicate that Volpi had stepped into a fight, involving about 20 people, to protect a fellow student. It’s a tragedy that Volpi’s family and friends will have to deal with for quite some time.

In the wake of the attack, police are looking for this man… or boy:

18-year-old Devontay Hackett is a suspect in the killing. He is “known to police”, and considered armed and dangerous. Looking at this picture, we might be looking at the face of a killer. Certainly we’re looking at the face of someone who has had interactions with the law.

We should also recognize the sheer sadness presented to us.

A teenager is dead, and another teenager is wanted by the police. If Hackett is guilty, he may have thrown his life away, as well. It’s a waste. Even though it would be by his own doing, it is sad to see someone waste their life in such a manner.

I cannot say what put Hackett in front of Les Suites last weekend (if, in fact, he was there). And I cannot say what would lead an 18-year-old to stick a knife into the neck and chest of another 18-year-old. Justice demands that the killer be held responsible for the crime, but I’m unwilling to believe that an 18-year-old just becomes a killer.

There’s more here than one dead boy, and even as we seek justice, we should live compassion.

Post Script: Vice interviews a former young offender, now filmmaker, asking the question, how does a child turn into a bank robber?

We Should Narrow Bank Street

The other day, Capital Ward Councilor David Chernushenko explained the city’s reasoning for not putting bike lanes on the Bank Street Bridge. Since I was in the process of writing this when I saw a link to that post, I refrained from looking at it, lest this post turn into nothing more than a fisking exercise. I will, however, read it later. 

Bank Street, as it runs through urban neighbourhoods, should be adopt the Complete Streets model. It should be two lanes with a segregated (preferably raised) bike lane and expanded sidewalks. Such a shift would manageable and would merely reflect the current realities of life on the street. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on the section of Bank from the Queensway south to Lansdowne Park, but will touch on the other sections.

There are a number of reasons to adopt this measure:

It’s mostly about pedestrians

When we debate implementing a Complete Streets model, the discussion tends to turn into a car vs. bike battle, but the pedestrians on Bank Street deserve better than the status. The Glebe (and Old Ottawa South) has the charm of an urban village. It is just that charm that the city is leveraging for the Lansdowne re-development (which they dub an “urban village). But this dynamic is predicated on the walkability of the neighbourhood. The Glebe has a significant walking culture. Sidewalks are regularly packed with shoppers, patrons and neighbours. And that’s the problem, they’re packed.

The sidewalks throughout the Glebe are ridiculously narrow. There is no space between the sidewalk and storefronts. The sidewalks are cluttered with bike racks, store signage, light posts, hydro poles, street signs and parking meters. We see families, couples, people with walkers or strollers, clusters of teens, and other random groups of people using the sidewalks. There often is not enough room for all people (especially when strollers, walkers or wheelchairs are introduced), and this problem is compounded when you include window shoppers. It becomes comically bad when you start adding in cyclists (yes, they should not be on the sidewalk—children aside—but they’re there because of the hazards of the street itself; city planners shouldn’t wish this away; they should understand what’s going on build infrastructure to reflect the actual needs of residents and users).

It’s quite wonderful that the Glebe has maintained this wonderful walking culture despite city infrastructure that actively discourages it. Continue reading

Alternate Headline: City No Longer Subsidizing Lifestyle Choices

Under the headline, Proposed bylaw would add thousands of dollars to cost of new homes, The Citizen’s Joanne Chianello notes that city looking at increasing development charges (DCs) for new home builds:

On Monday, the city released a draft of the updated bylaw under which the DC for a single detached home inside the Greenbelt jumps almost 25 per cent to $21,959. In the suburbs, where it’s generally considered more expensive to extend municipal infrastructure services, the DCs for a single detached will be $32,875 — a $7,500 increase.

The headline and text are correct. This move will add to the costs of new homes. However, as much as this can be framed as a burden placed on new development, it is more accurate to think of this as a correction to current policy. New developments in Ottawa contribute immensely to urban sprawl. Suburban and exurban development demands spending on new infrastructure and places demands on current infrastructure. Considering that habit of avoiding true mix-use development, we wind up making a bunch of bedroom communities which require people to hop in the car or on the bus in order to go many (most?) places. The reason for added development charges is to account for these added costs.

Further, the externalities created by these developments aren’t limited simply to added road costs. First of all, the roads use up public space, turning green space into asphalt. The vast majority of our public space is paved over for automobiles. This is an added demand created by development.

Increased transportation in the form of cars and buses (and, eventually, the LRT) results in added pollution. By living a commuter lifestyle, people are degrading a common resource. In addition, more traffic means more congestion (except for the LRT–though it will indirectly create more traffic). Increased congestion means greater delays–meaning that residents who aren’t living such a lifestyle still must deal with the added traffic burden.

When someone makes choices that have the potential to negatively affect others, it is only natural for policy-makers to try to make sure that those costs are internalized rather than socialized. One of the ways this can be done is by attempting to role those costs into the actual price of the good or service. That’s what the city is doing here. There are a bunch of costs that come with sprawl, and those costs should, first and foremost, fall upon those creating the demand for sprawl. (If it also happens to lower the demand for sprawl, well, that’s not a bad thing either.)

The fruits of voter apathy

Kind of makes you nostalgic for the crack now, doesn’t it Toronto?” So asked Stephen Colbert of the popular satirical news program The Colbert Show about what was the latest embarrassing statement by Rob Ford. Much of the world is laughing at Toronto’s mayor and, by extension, they’re laughing at Toronto. For many of us, this is all well and good. The Centre of the Universe deserves it, we might say. To borrow the words of documentarians Albert Nerenberg and Robert Spence, let’s all hate Toronto.

Things aren’t so funny in Toronto. No one wants there mayor to be a Saturday Night Live punchline, regardless of how well-deserved. The scorn is bleeding onto the city as a whole, and it is understandable that the citizenry wants it to stop. How long must Canada’s largest city be a victim of the Ford follies?

But there’s the rub. Toronto isn’t a victim in this. The people of Toronto are co-conspirators, having voted for a man who was clearly unfit for the job. It is easy to point out all the gaffes Ford has made during his time as mayor; there have been so many, it may be hard to remember a time that he wasn’t Toronto’s intoxicated, antagonistic, profanity-spewing mayor. But there was such a time, and before he was mayor, he was dropping racial epithets during council meetings and getting arrested for drunk driving. Yet, still, Torontonians decided this was their guy. Continue reading

Taking their puck and sulking

Two weeks ago, city council decided that the location for a new casino would be at Rideau Carleton Raceways, denying Senators owner Eugene Melnyk his request to have a casino out in Kanata by the hockey arena. I have few strong opinions about the casino, and I’ll probably never write about the issue in depth (short version: I thought Kanata was probably a better location, though I have no real insight into this; I don’t like casinos as corporate welfare; I’m glad they didn’t shoehorn it downtown), but there are some new developments that indicate the city may have made a very wise choice.

As The Citizen‘s David Reevely reports, the Senators only appear to care about Ottawa as long as they can leverage certain rents from the city:

Less than two weeks after city council snubbed the Ottawa Senators in their pursuit of a west-end casino, the hockey team’s president has quit the city’s task force planning a celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

He’s also quit the board of the Ottawa Convention Centre and committees he served on with Ottawa Tourism and the National Arts Centre.

There’s nothing immoral about a bunch of wealthy men sulking when they don’t get the shiny new toy they want (though it is rather unseemly); the Ottawa Senators are, after all, a business, first and foremost. They are not here to ameliorate the city or make life better for us citizens. They exist to bring pride, prestige and money to the Toronto-born, Barbados-residing owner, Eugene Melnyk.

Melnyk will, no doubt, continue to run the Senators as a business, and it is for this reason that the city cannot afford to give him any favours. Sure, today he’s “just” asking for a casino, but there’s no telling what his next demand will be. He has shown his true self, and we cannot trust him to refrain from blackmailing the city in the future.

Ottawa is blessed to have a sports franchise owner who actually cares about the community. Jeff Hunt, owner of 67s and our yet-to-be-re-born CFL franchise, the RedBlacks, is truly a part of our community. But not every owner is going to be like Jeff Hunt, and we can’t expect them to be.

Eugene Melnyk is a business man, and business ventures are inherently self-interested. We have to remember this and treat all businesses, even The Senators, as just that, businesses.

Karaoke and Cheap Quarts, a Part of our Heritage

I was walking down Bank St. recently, and I was struck (once again) by the state of Somerset House – the former home of the Duke of Somerset and the Lockmaster Tavern. Back in the day, it was a good place to grab a beer, sing some karaoke or maybe catch some Pay-Per-View sports on TV. Today, it’s a shell. The facade remains, somewhat, but it’s hardly a building; it’s not even a construction site. It’s an eyesore and a potential danger. It cuts into the sidewalk with its ugly wooden barricade. At such a prominent intersection, Bank and Somerset, it’s quite the embarrassment. But still it stands.

You see, it is a Heritage Building.

I don’t really know why – though I’m sure I could look it up – but it’s a part of our heritage, just like burnt toast and illiterate school councilmen. This heritage status has prevented anyone from razing the damned thing, so it just sits there, in all its decrepit glory.

There have been disputes between the city and owners. There have been illegal renovations. There has been a collapse that trapped a worker and closed down this major street. Nonetheless, it’s a heritage building, so there it sits.

There was talk of development. That was in December, and no timeline was ever given. So we can believe it when it happens. In the meantime, there it sits.

There is value in preserving many of our heritage buildings. With the current rate of development, many of these buildings could be lost to condos or commercial centres before we could realize what they meant to us. But urban decay should be offered no such protection.

The city should do something with Somerset House, even if it means tearing it down.

Let the NCC pay

The city is locked in a bit of a battle with the National Capital Commission. The city is finalizing (for now) plans for the new light rail transit system. In the west end, the LRT is scheduled to cut through some NCC land near the Parkway. The city plans to build a trench to hide it, but that isn’t good enough for the NCC. They want it buried.

The city is resistant – and optimisitic – since burying the line would increase the cost by $300 or $400 million. Currently pegged at $980M, city council voted to approve the plans as they are without NCC approval. Continue reading

Same old news for Ottawa’s taxi market

The Ottawa Sun‘s Susan Sherring notes that a new proposal regarding Ottawa’s taxi system has appeared at City Hall. If adopted, every time a taxi plate was sold, the new owner would have to provide an accessible cab. The proposal is hung up, as Councillor Mark Taylor, who chairs the city’s community and protective services committee, wants it to be given more study.

Annoyed by the typical (and typically annoying) political hang ups, Ms. Sherring is a big fan of the new proposal, arguing that it is a good fit with the evolving demographics of the city. I am less inclined to believe this is such a happy development. Continue reading