Ottawa: No One Stands On Guard For Thee

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I had two topics I wanted to discuss today and decided that maybe they could come together.

Now as I start to write this post, we’ll find out if I can bring these two disparate ideas into one. It’s a tricky exercise.

In the end, you’ll be the judge.

Your agent was pretty tough on Claridge Wednesday in The Bulldog. Perhaps it was unfair to centre that company out when there is plenty of blame for the disappointing results in our built history to be shared among developers, politicians, architects, the public and city staff.

In the Claridge example on LeBreton Flats, all of those themes came together that have bothered many about the built city of Ottawa. Fifty-five, 35 and 25 storeys rather than the zoned 10. Asking the city to build a park on the site when the builder, if the project is approved, will reap windfall profits from this plan with its hideous heights. Essentially the builder is asking the taxpayers of Ottawa to subsidize its landscaping. If Ottawans go for that, they’ll be the biggest patsies since the buyers of Florida swampland. Good grief.

I look out at all those kilometres of development in the south urban community and shake my head that taxpayers in Ottawa will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars for overpasses to serve those neighbourhoods beyond the dangerous Via Rail line. The developers of that community wanted to build that far out from the core? Now taxpayers are covering the infrastructure that should have been constructed years ago but weren’t because of avarice. Why do we allow them to get away with it?

Ottawa pays billions for a tunnel through downtown because businesses in the core didn’t want to lose a few parking spots. Billions. Those businesses and developers call on affected residents to compromise on having a 16-storey buildings next door to their single-family residence so the community can progress … if they ask at all. Well those residents have compromised already in paying for services that developers will piggy-back off and then they are asked to lose the joy of their small properties that they toiled a lifetime to buy for the sake of a tower and profits. It’s not fair.

Me. Me. Me. Me. Developers want this and they hold token public consultations, go through the motions and build what they want … damn the consequences. When developers build their towers, they take their huge profits and leave the community upon completion and with the good and the bad that they have wrought.

Take away the selfish grab for height and the park payment by Claridge at LeBreton and it’s a pretty good project. At least it doesn’t contribute to the destruction of our downtown neighbourhoods. It adds to the community by taking poor land and finding it a use.

As an aside, one’s mind wobbles when the promoters of the project see these towers as a tight, neighbourhood community. How can they say that? Mountains of condos are incredibly impersonal, but then we will have condos.

The officials in this community who should stand up against bad development are not only silent, but work very hard to facilitate this kind of construction. I hate to think why the members of the planning department are such milquetoasts. The politicians are easier to explain … money from developers for campaigns and acceptance into the old-boy networks are part of the reason. Laziness contributes to it as well. It takes time to go through development documents with a critical eye. And so many of our councillors do not do that or would not understand a problem if it bit them. If the mayor says it’s good, then the councillors are behind it. But then the mayor rarely has the faintest idea of what is good in the built community.

So the planners and the politicians don’t stand up to the abuses of development and there are real reasons for that. But the apathy of the public is astounding. The citizens of this community won’t stand up for what’s right unless it lands next door. Maybe they’re discouraged by fraudulent consultations. More likely, they just don’t care.

The media can’t do its watchdog job anymore because of fewer bodies in a failing business. Look beyond the Citizen’s David Reevely (who over the past few years has developed into a journalist that your agent never expected. He’s bringing hard work and intelligence to the craft in a realm of forced mediocrity) and who is left? CBC locally has beefed up its troops but as for comment, there’s Reevely (who splits his time provincially, municipally and in other fields) and the abyss. Comment? There’s Randy Denley with his biases explained at the bottom of every column and The Bulldog.

Some intellectuals have said we are entering a world of media chaos where traditional professionals are disappearing and being replaced by the truthy Internet. But realistically that’s no replacement at all.

This is not chaos but journalism dying with a whimper until there is none at all.

So here is how Ottawa is unfolding. Developers not building communities but pocketbooks; politicians beholden to developers and business people; city staff refusing to stand up for their own zoning; and a public that doesn’t care.

Without journalism (and one thoughtful councillor told me recently that staff and politicians are becoming emboldened because no one is holding them to account), the public interest is compromised.

The developers, politicians and city staff are very good at defending their interests though one would hope for more.

Unless the public stands up, this city will continue to be run by elites for themselves in a way that has not been seen since the Family Compact of pre-Confederation days.

It’s all for them and none for Ottawa.

 


 

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5 thoughts on “Ottawa: No One Stands On Guard For Thee

  1. Well said Ken but the one item the developers and city have which the public does not hold is this. Enormous financial resources that can pay for an appeal to the dreaded Ontario Municipal Board.

    Few community associations can pay the piper. The city with your bottomless pockets and developers with high-priced law firms on retainer will almost always win. The city changed the game with the concierge program and not to the betterment of the communities nor the taxpayer.

    One has to wonder how this aberration of democracy came about. My question is who will make a change to even the playing field.

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  2. At the centre of this is not only voter apathy but voter ignorance.

    Until the crane arrives in their backyard, most residents pay little or no heed to what’s being done across the city. As long as people are looking the other way, there will be those who take full advantage of it.

    I’ve been around a few summers and I don’t think this has changed much over the years. Yes, the Watson years have allowed it to flourish but I would suggest that it’s not a new phenomenon. What’s happening now is that the checks and balances are gone or seriously diminished including, of course, the press which once bore the role of watchdog proudly.

    We mock Americans who know little or nothing of the world beyond their borders. Are we all that different? How many people could you approach randomly on the street across the city that would be able to tell you where LeBreton Flats is or what its history is? Who of them would know why there’s a wide swath of land that’s been sitting empty all these years? How many could identify the Soeurs de la Visitation convent, its location and significance? I could go on …
    The bottom line is that one is left with what one has allowed to happen.

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  3. You are all discussing the angst that is being felt and reacted to on a global scale. It is not just local developers, local governments nor a local newspaper issue.

    Demonetization in India, Brexit, the list goes on and on and it is all connected. In the U.S., they chose a billionaire who got rich from scamming the system to now fix that system.

    Where is it going? Who can predict? The predicted outcomes are varied and there are more soothsayers predicting the future than you can shake a stick at.

    There is only one thing for sure. The status quo will not hold. And oh yeah, buy silver bars now.

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  4. I am certainly not an expert in journalism (I’ll leave that to you), but I am a big fan of Reevely, Joanne Chianello, Jon Willing, and Jonathan McLeod.

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