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The strength of neighbourhoods

By Apartment613 on September 6, 2011

hintonburg neighbourhoods ottawa

Graphic courtesy tcp909 on Flickr

This week, Apartment613 and OpenFile have partnered to present a series of stories—apologies for Ottawa—that show off what makes Ottawa a great place to live. We drew inspiration from ideas readers submitted to both websites. Today, Jonathan Migneault writes about the strength of neighbourhoods.
This past March, Apartment613 ran one of the most popular series in the blog’s history, and it was all about the neighbourhood. Dubbed Neighbourhood Wars!, the posts pitted Ottawa’s diverse neighbourhoods against each other until only one, Hintonburg, stood victorious.
“There are a lot of people with neighbourhood-based loyalties in Ottawa,” says Katrina Marsh, the Apartment613 editor who came up with the idea for the series just as the March Madness college basketball tournament was in full swing in the U.S.
Marsh says that from a cultural standpoint, Ottawa’s neighbourhoods have often picked up the city’s slack through informal local institutions and events such as the Raw Sugar Café on Somerset, and the popular annual Cupcake Camp.
In an Ottawa Citizen op-ed, headlined “The trouble with Ottawa is Ottawans,” Andrew Cohen, a Carleton University journalism professor, argued that Ottawa suffers from a great lack of vision.
“Ottawa wouldn’t know a new idea—let alone a big idea—if it was accosted by one,” Cohen wrote. “That’s how it made a lost opportunity of Lansdowne Park, where it could have done something dazzling. Instead, characteristically, the city will create a conventional enterprise and then declare, oh, it’s better than the parking lot.”
Pat O’Brien, the president of the Hintonburg Community Association, says Ottawa’s municipal government is finally beginning to show some vision and shed its reliance on the federal government and the National Capital Commission.
“I do believe the city, previously, has let the government and NCC carry the ball, although they seem to be stepping out now with the light rail and the investments they’re making in that,” O’Brien says.
Hintonburg is often cited as an example of a community that took matters into its own hands to transform itself into a liveable neighbourhood, and a cultural hub within the city.
“Hintonburg has come a long way because of the interest, commitment and dedication of the residents who live here, who 20 years ago looked at the drugs and the prostitution and said, ‘This isn’t the community we want to live in,’” O’Brien says.
With the financial assistance of the Minto Group, the community helped develop the building that now houses the Great Canadian Theatre Company. It’s become a cultural institution that attracts visitors from all parts of the city.
Doug Ward, a member of the Friends of Lansdowne citizens’ coalition, says Ottawa needs to apply that kind of community activism more broadly.
“I think there’s a very important role for local groups to play, but I think if you want to transform this city you’re going to have to have a transformational movement of people who get together and work very hard to get good decisions at the electoral level,” Ward says.
Ward says that his organization, which wants Lansdowne Park to be revitalized as a public space, is often associated with the Glebe, where the park is located, but that the issues affect the entire city.
Kitchissippi councillor Katherine Hobbs says Ottawa needs to look at the small steps that have already worked to improve the city. “I think sometimes we need to really recognize what we do have and think about what we want,” she says.