Do You Want To Live Here? BENN

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Are people just a shapeless set of moving pieces to city hall?

People, as in those who live, work, go to school, play, and otherwise move around within the city. People who have wants and needs. People, as in the public. Some of whom are affected by decisions made by anonymous city bureaucrats. The city’s equivalent of public servants. As in there to serve the public.


Think of this in the context of public transit. There’s that word again – public. Does anyone at OC Transpo know, as contrasted with assume they know, where people go within the city? If for no other reason than to design evidence based bus routes.

Think of intensification, in particular around major transit hubs. The transit hubs through which public transit moves. Has anyone at city hall ever asked themselves whether people actually want to live in these proposed high rises? Has anyone at city hall asked anyone outside of their ivory tower whether they want to live in one of the proposed high rises?  Have they asked the people who say they want to live near a major transit hub what features and amenities they want in their residence? Have they asked anyone why they want to live near a major transit hub? Have they ever asked anyone why they don’t want to live near a major transit hub? Or are staff content moving icons on a computer screen. Move one here. Increase the height and density of that one. Just a variant of the old computer game The Sims. Because everyone knows how well simulations and models imitate real life.

Link these two pieces together. The Official Plan (and overriding provincial rules) do not necessarily reflect what the people want. What these plans do reflect are what city and provincial urban planners want. The powers that be want people to live near major transit hubs. What the powers that be don’t realize is that a lot of people have no need to live near a major transit hub. Some people don’t use public transit because public transit doesn’t connect them from where they are to where they want to go.

Developers know what their customers want. Customers as in people who need places to live. They know what preferred price points, size, features, configuration, location for a very readily analyzed demographic of purchasers and tenants. Why? Because it is the business of the developers to build what they know can sell or rent. Know, not assume. Know.

Successful property developers play the long game. They assemble plots of land and hold them for years. Where? Wherever the developer knows, based on market intelligence, their customers might want to live. Knows, not assumes. Knows.

Let’s link these pieces together. There is a frequent lament that developers exercise too much influence over decisions at city hall. How is this possible? Is it because the developers understand what the people want, whilst planners and councillors merely assume that they know, or worse, don’t care what the people want? It will remain that way until such time as the people who report to work at city hall, including the elected officials, shift their sight lines from computer screens to the people of the city. To look at the people that city hall is tasked with serving. Serving, as in public service. To ask useful questions, as contrasted with self-serving questions. To listen to the responses. To ask follow-up questions. All of which requires inquisitive minds.

The only way that anyone can be effective at their job as a server is to pay attention to the customer. To the person on the other side of the equation. To understand what the customer wants, and why. And the only way the employees and councillors of the city will know that is if they stop playing with their models and interact with the people.

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.

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2 Responses

  1. Doug says:

    Ah, but city hall personnel will claim they do get out of their ivory tower and converse with the people/residents/voters, a.k.a. members of the great unwashed that they serve; i.e., they call it Public Consultation. If one attends such gatherings, one will notice city hall personnel, and maybe their councillor, taking copious notes which, they promptly file in their circular file upon returning to their offices. Staff will then prepare a report for the councillors wherein they will report what they wanted/had hoped members of the great unwashed had said at Public Consultation. Therefore, yes, Ottawa residents are just shapeless moving pieces to city hall personnel. But, you already knew that if you have resided in Ottawa for a few years!

  2. Ron Benn says:

    Two points, Doug.

    First and foremost, staff does not file the input from the public in a circular file. It goes in the black box for recycling, every second week.

    Second, staff prepare what they choose to call a ‘What We Heard’ report. If staff, and the councillors who claim to read that material, had any interest in observing the truth in advertising laws of the land, it would be called ‘What We Chose to Listen To’.

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