Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lansdowne Live - Long Live the Beige!

So, it's been nearly two years since any of us posted on this blog. I guess you'd say it's been dormant. Time to bring a sleeping dog to life, and it's all thanks to a project that seems bent on encouraging the beigeness of Ottawa for years to come. I'm talking, of course, about the Lansdowne Live proposal. It's a drive to ensure the continuing blandness of Lansdowne Park, a 10 hectare site at the southern tip of the Glebe, one of the central neighbourhoods in Ottawa. It's currently too poorly served by transit and too inaccessible to vehicles to be a reasonable site for a 28,000 seat stadium. That hasn't stopped them before from doing it, but that was in the 1960's, and I'd like to think we're much smarter today about urban planning.

I have therefore sent the following letter through the Let's Get it Right campaign. I urge you to do the same.

By the way, any suggestions on the letter? How would you improve on it? Did I get some things wrong?

Dear Councillors,

I strongly urge you to reject the Lansdowne Live project as it is currently constituted. I encourage you to redesign the process so that the whole site, and not just the lawn, is open to an international design competition, which will bring the best ideas to Ottawa for the redesign of this unique site. As well, this would enable joint funding of the site from other levels of government, which is a much fairer deal for Ottawa taxpayers.

I encourage you to reconsider the need for a sporting venue on the site, particularly for football, unless a transportation and site access plan has been developed. I would suggest that Ottawans are not guaranteed to embrace yet another football team (given the lack of success of the Renegades and the Roughriders, there is no guarantee of success at this site or for Canadian football in Ottawa). I would suggest that, if you feel there is an absolute necessity for a major outdoor sporting venue in the city, that you consider locating the facility along a major transit corridor (Lebreton Flats/Bayview would be a more logical location, as it is central and along a major public transit corridor).

The 2008 Transportation Master Plan shows Bank St. as a Transit Priority; however, there appears to be no plan other than a bus lane to ensure ease of access to the site. This will likely be an insufficient measure to move the number of people that would attend a match at the site in a time efficient, effective manner. I have travelled recently through Europe and witnessed cities smaller and less prosperous than Ottawa with far superior transit systems that are able to handle similar numbers of people with little difficulty.

I would suggest that there are other, better potential uses for the site. The ideas of making Lansdowne a pedestrian area save for the parking garage is attractive; I would encourage using this to create a pedestrian plaza that is rare in North America and currently non-existent in Ottawa (Sparks St. doesn't attract sufficient traffic and is quiet outside of normal business hours, and Byward Market isn't the model that it could be, though the potential to turn it into a pedestrian area exists); something that could be another highlight and attraction for a trip to Ottawa. However, I would again suggest that the design be opened to an international design competition. Ottawa doesn't need the same old; it needs fresh ideas that can allow it to grow into the world class city and world class capital it should rightfully be.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Nothing to do with the beige, everything to do with the Ottawa hockey team...

The creator of this blog, Jon, is no doubt very happy with the developments of the past week. First, Wade Redden moved out of town, though it would've been nice if he'd waived his no-trade clause so that the Sens could get something for him. Secondly, Ray Emery is off to Moscow for next year, after being wisely bought out by the Senators. Both of these are cases of addition by subtraction.

The Rangers are more than welcome to pay $6.5 million per year for Redden. Same goes for Atlant Mytischy and their $2 million for Emery. The Sens made the right choices there. Now if only they could get someone to overpay for Spezza...

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Green Shift

It appears that the beige is turning a little bit greener. The Liberals released quite possibly the most significant, wide-ranging political policy piece in years yesterday when they released their Green Shift plan yesterday.

As a long-time supporter of carbon taxes and ecological fiscal reform, I look at this and say... it's not perfect. But it's good. And as I was told often last year as I entered the policy world, perfection is the enemy of good. I see some room for improvement here, but not much. Congratulations to the Liberals. I support this plan.

I had recently moved towards the NDP and voted for them for the first time in the last provincial election, but I am dismayed at the NDP for disagreeing with this (though I understand why). I think that the Liberals plan does as well as can be expected to mitigate the impacts of a carbon tax on the poor, and on Northern communities that have fewer options and colder weather.

It should be noted that there is NO increase in gasoline taxes through this plan. I disagree with that, because taxation is a good way to minimize gasoline consumption and drive other energy efficiency policies. But raising gasoline taxes is a losing proposition for a political party, so I understand their choice.

Taxation is also fairly low cost for the government to administer; cap-and-trade has significant administrative costs.

I have made personal choices to prepare myself for a carbon tax. I believe that I should not be able to use the atmosphere as a free dumping ground. I believe that our taxation system should be designed to promote good things (the three I's mentioned by Stéphane Dion: income, investment and innovation), and should discourage things that cause harm (sin taxes on pollution and wasteful overconsumption). Unless the other parties get this, I will be (holding my nose for other reasons but will be) voting Liberal next election.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Good bye...

...Wade, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

It would've been nice to, you know, 'get something' for him, but he refused to waive his no trade clause twice, once last off-season, once at the trading deadline last season.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Roy "Fritz" Koerner

At times, it's easy to underestimate the impact that some of the people who walk the same halls as you do have had.

On May 26, Fritz Koerner passed away. I had the pleasure of seeing Fritz give a presentation back in October. He was engaging, friendly, lighthearted and illuminating. Few people could make glaciology as interesting as Fritz did. I didn't realize that he came up with ice core sampling, a crucial measurement strategy in determining previous climates.

RIP, Fritz.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Obama and Clinton

This has nothing to do with Ottawa, but...

Does anyone else think that there's some strategy to the Democrats continuing on with a 'race', even when it's pretty evident that it's over? Sure, there's infighting, but everyone's talking about the Democrats, and having their names out there a lot more than McCain is likely going to be to their benefit. The Republicans, who've proved much more capable recently at the mud-flinging that accompanies a campaign (until this year - I think the Clintons are giving them a run for their money), still have to hedge their bets and dig up dirt on both candidates - that's twice the effort, and twice the cost (granted, it's a small cost overall in a race). Maybe there's a bit of logic to them dragging this out, perhaps until August, even if most of us know that the race is over. Of course, this means doubled efforts on the Democrats side to take on the Republicans.

Anyhow, recent developments in the campaign have made it easy for me to decide who I'd prefer to see win. Obama's policy stands on energy and the environment have been far ahead of McCain's, and ahead of Clinton's. His stand against a gas tax holiday was a courageous move, in comparison with the populist pandering that McCain and Clinton showed.

This is my voting issue - whichever party comes up with the best environment/energy platform in the next Canadian election will get my vote. Even if, as it appears right now (sigh), it is the Liberal Party...

June 4 Update: Oops, guess I was wrong on this one...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Charles Caccia

I haven't posted in a while, but I feel this is something worth posting about.

On Saturday, Charles Caccia, one of the few men who tried to make Ottawa green instead of beige, passed away. I had a chance to see Mr. Caccia speak last fall. He had much stronger pro-environmental views than virtually all other parliamentarians. He was not afraid to make his views known. It probably cost him upward mobility in the Liberal party post-Trudeau.

His "resignation" from the Liberal party roughly coincided with when I gave up on the Liberals as well.

RIP Mr. Caccia.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cards close to the chest

Lately, I haven't written anything of consequence that would have Ottawa at its centre, for better or worse, as the original intent of the blog claimed. Inspiration was coming from all sorts of oblique angles and strange, unlikely, sources but never from the capital of beige.

As usual, it takes a visit to Montreal, rushing to the rescue of senses. But it also took a visit from an out-of town friend to refocus and reload, so to speak, to gain further ammunition in the back-and forth shoot-out over Ottawa. The combination of the two perspectives, plus maybe the sunny, crisp weather we'd been having, it all helped crystallize a few more impressions.

First, Montreal.

Unlike many of the locals, my roots or family or even university experiences have nothing to do with the city of Montreal. My eyes, when I go there, are strictly the eyes of a visitor, perhaps beyond the mere tourist stage, but definitely an outsider. I don't know all the street names, McGill is a bunch of historical buildings, not my alma mater, and I never got to "party" in Montreal, most likely because all my partying happened in Alberta...or Ottawa. Therefore, when I go to Montreal, I am still in awe of the stained glass windows on Notre Dame, I eat crepes somewhere in the Vieux Port, I repeatedly climb 'the mountain' and revel in Mt. Royal's natural views as well as the, let's say observation of local humans in their natural habitat. My senses still get relatively intoxicated by the fine curves and angles of 18th and 19th century architecture and equally by the fine curves on the Quebecois ladies. And I'll add that the opening hours of restaurants seem a bit weird, my stumbling through la langue francaise quickly leads to a normal English conversation. But I do appreciate the slightly off-the beaten path attractions, will have a beer or a coffee at a 'local' joint as opposed to something completely touristy, and I have scoured the museums and galeries, perhaps more than the locals do...because locals, everywhere, tend to get complacent. To me, Montreal has always had this slightly heroic stature; things are faster, more colorful, heavier-hitting than in English Canada. Church spires straight from the old continent almost rub shoulders with risque sex shops, and anarchist punk kids do their thing in city parks. One can actually run into a street demonstration of some sorts, on most weekends. One will always hear new music or see very original art in Montreal. And then there are the statues of important men, with and without horses, including Dollard d'Ormeaux who'd saved, in the 1640s, the then-fledgling French settlement from a big Iroquis raid. A geniune hero, in the physical mould, pictured in the Three Mousqueteers era garb. My friend simply remarked: "hey, this is old, because the guy is dressed like a mousqueteer...we don't have d'Artagnan in Western Canada".

Pondering what that statue of a guy from the 1600s meant, my reaction is not (anymore) the polite and deferential Western Canadian "this is old and gorgeous stuff". It is more along the lines of "Ottawa has some great bronze statues of some important people, too, but none of them kicked ass like that." Which brings me right back to the meaning of Beige.

When you look across the still frozen Ottawa river back to the Parliament Hill, sharp in the morning air, with the noble spires rising out from the equally impressive natural setting, it is a view to admire. My friend really liked it. Many of my visitors, in fact, have remarked about the scenic and tranquil walk across the Alexandra bridge (facing the parliament and Chateau Laurier, not the other way around) - it was almost the best city skyline in the country, according to one person.

What Ottawa has and what Ottawa does very well are the facades, the large cultural institutions, the occassional dash of neat and always monumental architecture. It is what capitals are made for, after all. What Ottawa does not do as well, especially if the Montreal comparison comes into play, is the life that animates these spaces. Not that there aren't the ever-present tourists; au contraire, the tourists help make the Byward market the place that it is and the tourist always come. There is no truly low season for visitors. But what happens with the touring itself is that Ottawa is a disjointed mosaic of several interesting areas, centered around the Hill and the Market, with the rest of the city being spread very thin and quite unremarkable. Instead of the expansive and lively streetscapes of Montreal (old and not-so old), the streets here all exist in isolation. Elgin Street is a microcosm. Sussex drive and the adjoining few blocks present another microcosm. Wellington street is the "power corridor" inhabited by suitcase-carrying nervous types, usually in a hurry to make that next meeting. Ottawa shows the visitor a tableau of disjointed, albeit stimulating, urban existence, a grouping of insular communities that rub shoulders..and rarely come together. In Montreal, the spirit of the city, even though it is a very diverse and complicated city, is something that just hangs in the air. It's a restless and simultaneously hedonistic spirit. The spirit of someone who is not in a hurry for that next appointment.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Snowjob 08'

No, I am not referring to the annual MuchMusic concert series held at some ski hill. And no tongue-in cheek references to anything else, including sex acts in snowbanks.

I am simply wondering where all the headlines about global warming and global climate change retreated, indeed retreated like glaciers do, since this mega-huge, unheard-of late winter onslaught dropped another metre of snow on our collective doorsteps.

So, Ottawa is up to 411 cm of cumulative snowfall. Interesting time to wade into the, hmm, the proverbial snowbank in search of some lost some factual items. The National Post writer, in the meantime, exploits the relatively slow newsday by another Gore-bashing article.

What I have never understood about the climate change debate, about the politicized end of that debate, is the grasping at the straws by proponents of both the extreme accounts of the theory - either you hear the 'global warmers' shout at any instance when some warming trend has been detected somewhere...or you will hear the 'deniers' pointing out some trend that does not correspond with the alleged warming prediction. But not much middle ground.

So, I ask, where is the "change" in the climate change political equation?

When the original theory of climate change came out, and when the first large-scale computer modelling of its effects started, the buzzword was change. Including erratic patterns, unpredictability, loss of reliable benchmarks for certain weather related processes. Parts of the Earth were going to gradually warm up, even dessicate, while other parts would experience cooling. Cyclical effects such as La Nina and El Nino were going to be accentuated or more pronounced. Everyone was told -look, we can't predict a reliable range of outcomes but let's prepare for the unexpected. And let's study the issue further.

By now, you see an article after article about Anctartic ice sheets breaking off, extent of northern sea ice (it's actually bigger this year than it has been for a while), disappearing snows on Kilimanjaro and the more frequent flooding in places like England that haven't seen any major floods in decades. It's all got a negative, almost apocalyptic narrative running through it.

I admit, climate change is afoot. No doubt. I will even say, based on some education in the matter, we are partially to blame for it. But don't feed me the diet of "Earth is steadily getting warmer". That's too generalistic and will simply not mean a damn thing if I am to be the decision maker in some specific place, in a specific polity. There's no such thing as some generalized citizen of the world.

Consider Ottawa, with the Ottawa valley and the nearby Laurentians as the local region, local ecosystem. Are we experiencing climate change?Maybe. Are we getting warmer...? No one will be able to say "yes" if you ask a person on the street today. But are we experiencing more and more of the so-called extreme weather? That, in my mind, ought to be the question. The scientific and political question.

So, let's look at the past five winters:

2003/04 - very snowy, lots of cold spells

2004/05 - more snow than previous year, colder, too

2005/06 -mild winter, ended early

2006/07 - another mild winter, with a very warm January

2007/08 - long winter...411 cm of snow..but not the coldest on the record

Anyone detect a bit of chaos in this 5-year pattern?

Just a thought.