Are we ready for the next natural disaster?

June 2017

Capital Ward got off lightly during a spring that had all the ingredients for a major flood. By the time the heavy rains of late April and early May hit the region, the “spring freshet”, or melting of accumulated winter snow and ice, had already passed in the Rideau River catchment area. While the waters of the Rideau lapped at many doorsteps, it caused no major damage to city infrastructure or property.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for many communities along the Ottawa River. Slow-moving weather systems brought sustained, heavy rain just when the river’s northern watershed was reaching the peak of its spring freshet. We all know what followed.

With the benefit of hindsight, there is much we can learn from this and other past floods.

First, never say, “It can’t happen here.” Major floods can happen anywhere — if not from the annual freshet, then from flash floods following intense rain. And in a changing climate where each degree of warming carries seven percent more humidity, we can expect more frequent, extreme local rainfalls, and a higher volume of water brought to specific areas. We are all exposed to a greater flood risk than has historically been the case.

While residents of the Glebe are not likely to be at significant risk from river flooding, there are low-lying areas and pockets of the community that have been affected in the past — and will be affected again — by isolated flash flooding, Many of us also have friends and loved ones in more flood-prone areas.

A report card on homelessness in Ottawa

May 2017

I recently attended an event hosted by the Alliance to End Homelessness, where they presented their 2016 Progress Report on Ending Homelessness in Ottawa. Having made affordable housing and homelessness a personal priority for this term of council, I took great interest in both the report and comments made at the event by leaders in this sector.

A simple message to share is that Ottawa (the city and the many organizations active in the Alliance) is making important progress on homelessness. But the needs are still great, and are even growing rather than shrinking in some areas.

Some specific findings include:

  • There were more than 7,170 “visible” homeless people in Ottawa in 2016, an increase of more than 5% from 6,815 in 2015. “Visible” refers to individuals using emergency shelters and does not include homeless people staying with friends, couch surfing, etc. The number also does not count the 40,000 households living in poverty and unable to pay rent.
  • More older individuals are relying on shelter services, particularly single women, with a 20% increase in women over the age of 50 and a 30% increase in women over 60 in 2016. For older women, safety is a primary concern and a factor in determining where they choose to stay. For example, if a woman has a long walk from a transit stop or the only options for housing are in an area where she feels threatened, she is more likely to choose a shelter.
  • The report highlighted the homeless population with dementia as well as new Canadians, including a large number of women and girls from Burundi, where women are being specifically targeted in a long-running civil war.

Room to move and play in a denser city

April 2017

With the City of Ottawa's intensification policies gradually translating into higher population density, it is essential that we invest in the kinds of infrastructure and institutions that residents expect in a livable city. Schools, libraries, health care and public transit come immediately to mind. Equally important, though, is an adequate and diverse supply of places to play and gather. These can be formal, such as community centres, pools, arenas and sports fields, or informal, such as greenspaces, play structures, multi-use pathways and riverside parkland.

There is a lot of movement in Capital Ward in response to this growing need. In fact, this is a time of considerable turnover, growth and long-term planning.

Brewer Park

Though Brewer Park is in Old Ottawa South, it is frequently use by Glebe residents, notably the rink, pool, fields and ball diamonds. Over the next five to 15 years, we can expect to see a lot of activity in some parts of the park, the result of a number of factors. These include changing demographics and shifts in the popularity of certain sports and activities; older facilities reaching the end of their viable life, meaning either major renovation expenses or taking a "clean slate" approach; and a strong community desire to reduce and consolidate the area currently used for driving through and parking on parkland.

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.

Ottawa's big year to celebrate

January 2017

Happy 2017!

We've been counting down the months for what feels like ages, and now it's here: Canada's 150th birthday year. And what a year it promises to be!

The formal schedule of events is packed, with big names, big ideas and big parties. But just as important are all the small ways that Canadians have thought of to celebrate this special year. Ottawa will see more than its share of special activities, and more than a normal number of visitors. We are all in for a treat.

I'll be participating in a lot of big, official activities, and plenty of smaller, local ones too. But my special project for Canada's 150th involves promoting Ottawa as a great place to cycle, whether for local residents exploring the region, for tourists getting beyond the main sightseeing attractions, or for people who choose to come here just for the biking.

The City of Ottawa has just produced a series of 15 suggested cycle routes, complete with maps and a host of helpful information. My "15 Capital Rides for Canada's 150th" project involves riding one of the routes each week, and telling everyone about it. Better yet, I'll be inviting guests and accepting suggestions for what to enjoy along the way — all the best eats, pubs, views, music and more in the Ottawa area.