Passing our mid-terms at City Hall

December 2016

Excuse me, will there be a mid-term exam? How many of us remember asking or hearing that question in school? I know I did, and though my school days may be over, mid-terms remain part of my life.
We're halfway through the current term of City Council, and with that milestone comes a standard "Mid-term Governance Review." It's a way to take stock of how we do things at City Hall, and a chance for us to consider how our processes or approaches might be improved.

Among the dozens of elements reviewed recently, I proposed changes in a couple of areas related to the mandates of the City's standing committees. First, I was able to add to the Environment Committee's mandate responsibility for "preserving/promoting biodiversity and protecting/coexisting with urban wildlife, particularly with respect to matters that are not specifically within the mandates of other Standing Committees."

What this comes down to is that preserving and promoting biodiversity as a policy goal is not specifically named as part of any committee's mandate. Some committees, such as Planning or Transportation, deal with some specific, related issues, but not as an overarching objective. That loophole has now been closed.

Helping seniors feel the wind in their hair

November 2016

For the many seniors who live in some form of retirement home or assisted living residence, getting outside is a special and yet rare and limited event: A stroll in the garden, a walk or wheel around the block, sitting on a bench in the sun, perhaps a drive. All are welcome distractions, I'm sure, but they can't compare to the mobility and social engagement that many seniors once enjoyed.

In Denmark, where almost every senior remembers what it feels like to ride a bike, the loss of that ability is more than a loss of exercise; it also removes one's ability to experience and enjoy the world beyond a very limited local environment.

This explains the extraordinary success of Cycling Without Age (, a social movement that enlists volunteer "pilots" to take older adults for a free ride in a three-wheeled bicycle-rickshaw hybrid, or "trishaw".
Cycling Without Age was founded in Copenhagen in 2012 to help residents of a local nursing home get back a bicycle and feel the wind rush through their hair.

Canal crossing signals major shift in active transportation

October 2016

I took a great deal of pleasure in the recent federal government funding announcement that chose to highlight and use as its backdrop the site of a new pedestrian/cycling bridge over the Rideau Canal. Pleasure in knowing this bridge will be of enormous value to Glebe residents and visitors, and in realizing it represents an important shift in priorities from three levels of government supporting it.

The Fifth-Clegg Bridge is proof that the importance of "active transportation" is finally being widely recognized. More and more people are telling us they would walk, cycle and roll more for work, fun or exercise if governments built infrastructure that makes it appealing to do so: safer, convenient and more pleasant. Providing viable alternatives to driving encourages more of us to get around by other means. When large numbers of people do that, society benefits from improved public health, increased public security, reduced pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and more vibrant streets.

The federal government making a big deal out of emphasizing active transportation and public transit as cornerstones of its infrastructure projects is in itself a big deal.

Ottawa feeling the heat, must seize the moment

September 2016

Cities around the world are feeling the heat. Temperature records and extreme weather events continue to increase, and the window of opportunity to act is closing fast. Without decisive action and fundamental changes, the planet will be in a state of ecological collapse in less than a generation — maybe within the decade, if the latest indicators (that you have likely not heard) continue their trend. California has 66 million trees dead or dying from prolonged heat and drought. Global fish stocks are approaching complete collapse. Water supplies for hundreds of millions of people in East Asia are close to depletion. It is truly now or never.

It's hard to make such a statement without being accused of fear mongering, and harder still to acknowledge the truth in it, and commit to doing something about it before it is too late. And it is nearly too late. So I will take that risk, once again, and try to be a leader in the very serious quest to make a transition to 100% renewable energy by or before 2050. The real risk lies not in pushing for such a transition, but in not doing so.

Best way to tackle crime is to invest in prevention

July 2016

Though I no longer sit on the board of Crime Prevention Ottawa — I had to let some responsibilities go when I took on the chairmanship of the city's Environment Committee — I continue to take an interest in the valuable work done by CPO. There is no more effective and cost-efficient way to tackle crime and the trauma that results than by investing in prevention. It won't stop all crime, but it does make a real difference in building a safer city.

CPO regularly organizes workshops, hosts public speakers and publishes short articles, often linked to more in-depth resources. Here are two recent ones on timely issues, and I encourage you to visit for more.

Understanding the dark side of social media:

Social media can play a tragic and life-changing role in sexual violence. Whether it involves teenagers sharing nude photos of a classmate, or posting sexual accusations or gossip online, texting threats to an ex-girlfriend, or recording sexual assault incidents and distributing them electronically, there are very serious consequences to the misuse of social media.