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.

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 (cyclingwithoutage.org), 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.