NCC evening: of Post-It Notes and Tapestries

Canadians want Ottawa to be vibrant, representative and sustainable in 2067
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Canadians want Ottawa to be vibrant, representative and sustainable in 2067

Last night, the NCC organised its second of two public meetings on the vision of the capital region for 2067 after a similar one was held in Gatineau the night before. The NCC has had its own road show over the last four months and visited a number of Canadian cities to ask Canadians what they’d like their capital to be in 2067.

Marie LeMay, who revealed she will turn 105 in 2067, (do the math),  kicked off the evening with her trademark enthusiasm: one of the more interesting remarks was that Canadians appreciate their capital more than Brits like London or Americans like Washington. Pierre Dubé, who looked visibly tired after all those public meetings, explained the process of idea generating, capturing it and eventually put some of the ideas to the test.

The cynics among us could wonder why the NCC bothers as even though they manage land and buildings in and around the Capital region, there is no point to sit down and talk about all the wonderful things that are really in the realm of the Cities of Ottawa and Gatineau. Nevertheless, the exercise that followed was a real two and a half hour public participation idea generator. Sitting down with an NCC planner is always fun as you get the inside scope of the bureaucratic machinery in Ottawa. I never really realised for example the stamp that the province of Quebec can put (or not put) on progress in the Capital region. Gatineau is often willing to cooperate, but than the government of La Belle Provence takes its own time to formalise relationships and that can take a lot of time apprently. I also never really realised that universal access is so important. It is of course, but you don’t always realise that art underneath a bridge can not be promoted unless it is wheel chair accessible.

After the introductions, David Sherwood from PACE Consulting (Public Affairs and Community Engagement), sporting a mustache more fitting for long distance truck drivers, was leading the work shop. To be honest,  it takes a lot of time for me to warm up to work shops. I have stuck more post it notes on walls and posters in the last year than the 48 years before in my life. On large boards, thoughts and ideas had been collected from across the country and based on that input the 150 participants had to generate their great ideas (which is not easy at the end of a working day without time for dinner) on how to realise the three concepts that Canadians asked Ottawa to be. It is interesting to see people’s thought patterns: where some tables veered towards practical nature protection, others thought more conceptual. At the end of the exercise, one table rep had to present the two or three best ideas of that table. All the other ideas went into envelopes for Marie LeMay to sort out now the canal is closed.

About a hundred and fifty people worked together on ideas to make Ottawa the city that Canadians want it to be.

So what should Ottawa be in 2067 according to its citizens? Here are the comments:

Stewardship of green space, wild life corridors, conservation

Watercourse in historical context, connection with the land

Connection with the North

A place where people meet: develop Chaudière Falls, develop Victoria Island (very often cited) with a Circle of Nations, centre of conflict resolution

A ‘mind hub’ where public service, artists, citizens meet and create (applause)

Interagency cooperation

Strong public transit (often cited)

Centre for dialogue, city of peace

Small gestures like the red Adirondack chairs at Elgin

Work on Ottawa’s identity

Healthy city away from car based society: promote walking and cycling, develop networks and wide side walks

Connect with rural Ottawa, year round farmer’s market, promote locally grown foods in the green belt

Open up public space, create space for others to imagine (bottom up) new ideas

Capital of culture, develop a “museum mile” surrounded by artist villages

Develop the shores of the canal with social hubs, develop the city parks for winter use (chalets etc)

Artist Jennifer Shepherd created a living tapestry from the ideas in the room.

Obviously, many of the ideas do not belong in the NCC’s jurisdiction. But what appears from many of the comments is a desire to let the region develop by the people and less by the bureaucracy. To make Ottawa the city that Canadians want, Ottawans think Ottawa has to be a capital that is:

integrated (transportation and governing),

has much more public meeting places (walking, cycling, farmer’s markets, chairs),

allows for more bottom up creativity (mind hubs, artists),

embraces nature (green belt, wild life, accessible river shores, waterways, parks) and

cherish and build on culture and history (recognise First Nations, Centre of Peace and Dialogue).

Now the question is: how? Fortunately, I noticed Nelson Edwards in the room too, the City of Ottawa planner who is beloved by everyone and is in charge of ‘Ottawa Moves‘ and should take many ideas to Jim Watson’s office. Because really, this exercise was a signal to the cities’ governments. There were a lot of ideas he can work with.

Interesting, no one mentioned more roads and more parking…..

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