Community Newspaper Columns

Enough predictions. What kind of future do we want?

February 2017

In a milestone year such as Canada's 150th anniversary, it's tempting to try to foresee what the future will bring.

But predictions are risky. After all, weren't we supposed to be jetting around in flying cars, eating hi-tech "food" served by domestic robots, and taking vacations in space by now? Or suffering under a permanent cloud of polluted air and oppression, our streets lined not with trees but with towering buildings and giant digital screens, and segregated into either protected ultra-rich enclaves or semi-lawless workers' slums?

Those are the utopian and dystopian views that come to mind when I consult my mental library of books and films set in the near- to mid-future. How wrong and yet how right they were.

With drones hovering overhead and autonomous cars being tested, can flying cars and servant-robots be that far off? How about unbreathable air, a privatized water supply, treeless cityscapes, and rich vs. poor enclaves? Maybe not so much in Ottawa, but look at some of the mega-cities of Asia, Africa and South America for signs of dystopia.

Before we get too high and mighty in North America, though, consider real estate prices in Vancouver or San Francisco, the current state of inner Detroit, and the cyber-surveillance to which we willingly submit. If not signs of dystopia, these are troubling trends.

Sorry to be a downer, but as a student of history and politics, I believe good future planning requires a solid grasp of our past and an honest assessment of our present.

With that in mind, instead of predicting the future, let's consider the kind of city and country we want to live in in 2067:

Mobility: Would we rather move people as efficiently as possible, or vehicles? Would autonomous cars improve safety and reduce the number of vehicles on the road, or do the opposite? Should we promote more active transportation choices through better levels of service and priority crossings, snow clearing, etc.?

Energy: Is the upfront, financial cost of energy more important than the quality of our energy sources, taking into account air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and generating electricity locally vs. procuring it from a great distance at considerable risk, subject to factors beyond our control?

Ecology: What place should species beyond our own be given within the urban environment? How much space is required to support biodiversity, and how can it be created/preserved?

Equality: How can we promote equality of opportunity (education, employment, health, recreation) for all citizens? Could a guaranteed annual income relieve the administrative burdens of managing existing support programs, and the stigma of applying for them?

Compassion/Inclusion: What constitutes a compassionate city, and what measures (policy, budgetary) might contribute to a truly inclusive Ottawa and Canada?

I predict that these questions will provoke some serious thought — and feedback!

Traffic calming

Back to the present day now: Each councillor was allocated a budget of $40,000 per year, beginning in fiscal 2015-2016, for "temporary traffic calming" measures within the ward.

As tempting as it was to spend all that money on the first and loudest requests for traffic calming, I chose not to act hastily, for two reasons. First, I try to base decisions on data, a demonstrated need, and the prospect of attaining a desired result. Second, what sounds like a lot of money does not actually go far when spread across the ward and when measures such as speed boards, flex stakes or road narrowing can cost thousands per location.

Instead, I took extra time to consult available area traffic studies, speed data and reports of collisions, then put together a plan.

As a result, Glebe residents will soon see more speed boards, road markings and flex stakes installed on local streets.

While reports of chronic speeding will need to be validated by actual monitoring, I nonetheless encourage you to report locations where you believe there is a recurring problem. This way, we can all work towards safer streets and neighbourhoods.

Defending the Traditional Mainstreet (again) and Arterial Mainstreet

A number of projects along Bank St. and Bronson Ave. — and thus affecting the Glebe, Glebe Annex and Dow's Lake areas — are coming forward for planning approval this winter and spring.

In terms of conformity with the Official Plan, existing zoning and infill design policies and by-laws, they range (in my opinion) from "reasonable" to "not bad" to "overreaching by a long shot".

I will continue working with the GCA, GACA and DLRA to formulate and voice a community opinion that defends the City of Ottawa's official policies and plans, and the community planning visions that have been developed.

Our main streets will change, but their character deserves protection.

Brantwood area street renewal

Streets surrounding Brantwood Park are due for a full renewal of underground pipes, roadbed and sidewalks in 2018. It will be messy, noisy and sometimes inconvenient, but over in one construction season. I will host a public meeting this spring, and fliers will be delivered to affected residents.