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Photo by rickmacewen, from the Apt613 flickr pool.

Librarian In Residence: How to start an urban revolution

By Jessica Green on October 21, 2016

Jessica Green is a book addict and library card holder since the age of 3. She’s a librarian at the Ottawa Public Library and currently the Apartment613 Librarian-in-Residence, sharing a compendium of literary thoughts and tips.

After being asked for a list of books on community and civic engagement, I started researching to see if I could learn more about what exactly this means, especially in light of some of the big ongoing projects in Ottawa.

Civic engagement means: “working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.”

This can mean anything from improving your local park, to canvassing for the upcoming election, to even advocating for things to remain or go elsewhere in the city. It can also mean offering input into projects happening in the city, which we have seem with the new Central Library, the LRT and LeBreton Flats. The fact that Ottawans are very engaged with their communities should come as no surprise, as Statistics Canada found a higher level of civic engagement with those who have high levels of education, and Ottawa is a highly educated place.

Civic engagement is closely linked to “new urbanism” which “promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities”.

Jane Jacobs is one of the most famed proponents of new urbanism, where she argued for mixed use development, bottom –up development with buildings that had mixed uses and the abolishment of zoning in cities. When she wrote her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961, most of these terms were completely radical in comparison to planning trends of the time. Although we have integrated these ideas into contemporary city planning, there are always more improvements that can come from citizens and groups.

If you were wondering how you can get involved, here are some websites and organizations that can get you started in some local civic engagement:

  • Synapcity (formerly The Citizen’s Academy) They …”help citizens learn together, connect with each other and take action on issues important to community well-being.”
  • The Social Planning Council of Ottawa which offers “…a wholistic approach to community development by integrating research, planning, and community building.”
  • The Neighbourhood Connection Office at the City of Ottawa “…helps residents and community groups work together on small-scale projects that make their neighbourhoods more liveable, vibrant, healthy and beautiful.”
  • The Capital Urbanism Lab located at the NCC “is an innovative space where Canadians and leaders in urbanism, design, heritage and conservation, sustainability, and placemaking get together to inspire the future of Canada’s Capital Region” and holds a series of talks that anyone can attend.
  • Spacing is a magazine all about Canadian urbansim. Based in Toronto, it has a fabulous section dedicated to urban issues in Ottawa that is worth reading.

This barely scratches the surface on what groups exist here in Ottawa to make the city a better place. I know if you search for your interest here in town, you’ll find a group to work with. Here’s the list of books you can borrow from us for more ideas about civic engagement, new urbanism and where we can go as a city:

Quick picks:

  • How to Party with an Infant, by Kaui Hart Hemmings: Mele is a single parent trying to navigate the treacherous world of parenting in San Francisco, where successful parents have elite pre-schools, top-notch nannies, and specialists for every nuance of childhood. It’s a sweet and funny book.
  • Goatman – How I took a Holiday from Being Human, by Thomas Thwaites: a brilliant account of a design student’s wish to engineer himself into a goat. Thwaites speaks to a number of experts to see if his ambition to take a vacation from being human but it’s not as easy as he hopes. I also recommend his other book about building a toaster from scratch, the Toaster Project.
  • In Memory of Bread, by Paul Graham: a lovely memoir about Graham’s diagnosis at age 36 of Celiac disease. This came as a real blow as his hobbies and activities all involved gluten, like watching sports, or eating his wife’s homemade bread, or brewing beer at home. Graham eventually accepts his new life after much research and investigation into gluten, intolerance and what is available to eat for those with conditions like his.