Thursday, May 10, 2007

Andrew Cohen

It looks like everyone is talking about how utterly uninspiring Ottawa is these days, including Andrew Cohen in today's Ottawa Citizen. I just read parts one and two of the excerpt from his book The Unfinished Canadian: The People We Are. I love the title "A city that has given up" because, well, that's how it feels.

He captures all the criticisms we've heard many times before but manages to explore some areas I haven't personally been able to put words to, such as the generally crappy layout and architechture. Or the fact that Ottawa is talked up as being a great place to get away from. Here's a hint, if you don't actually have a car or want to go to the countryside - that's not actually a selling point.

I've heard Ottawa called a lot of things but exciting was rarely, if ever, one of them. Hence the point of this blog. Except by that one guy from Calgary but he loved politics and was amazed that there was, you know, actual historic buildings. Quebec City would have made his head explode.

Andrew Cohen manages to get to the point we're trying to make here on a certain level. When the goal of 95% of the denizens of Ottawa is to have a job with benefits, yeah, not a world leader except maybe in mediocrity. The beige extends its tentacles because the basis of this city is selfish - just look at city hall, or the NCC. It's not about reflecting Canada or Canadians, or heck even having national pride, it's about being beige so nobody says anything about anything. Selfish and meek all in one horribly bland ball.

Thankfully, all that bland let's the diamonds shine all that brighter.


Jan Triska said...

It's really well written, funny and perceptive. He also points out our central problem (truly central) - lack of an urban master-plan. Plus the 70s era ugly buildings.

I do have to respectfully disagree on several points, though.
Cohen goes on to skewer the 'easily pleased' audiences at cultural events in Ottawa. That's not fair. He obviously hasn't seen a play or a concert in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton. Those audiences are even easier to impress than ours. Nowhere does he mention the GCTC is one of Canada's top and most interesting English-language theatre companies (I've seen some really funky and interesting performances there).

He also blasts our urban landscape. Well, welcome to urban Canada. All of our big cities are a mess in that way. Edmonton is never-ending hideous suburbia. Toronto, aside from its touristy centre, has killed its waterfront. Vancouver is beautiful and yet contains the biggest skid row on our half of the continent - east Hastings. Montreal and Halifax have charming neighbourhoods but also a lot of ugly concrete monstrosities and dilapidated overpasses.
I say Ottawa actually does very well for itself in a country of largely modern, shapeless and car-oriented cities. Aside from Quebec city, no foreign visitor goes to CANADA in search of pretty cities and towns.

joncormier said...

That reminds me of something Douglas Adams once wrote. I'm paraphrasing from memory of course - It is no accident that the metaphor 'as beautiful as an airport' doesn't exist.

I guess the same goes for most Canadian cities.

I think there was some specific forgetting but I think he nails it for the most part. The city has more or less given up. I mean our down town core empties, not just a little bit, but totally empties. That's just off.

Matthew Clarke said...

that was the most notable thing I... well... noted when I came to Ottawa. the downtown was deserted after business hours. WTF?

I recenttly spent a night on QUeen Street in TO. Say what you want about TO, but that street rocks... 3 art openings, countless funky bars, live DJ's and bands everywhere, random street encounters galore... hot chicks biking to the bar. (OK that's just my thing...) :)

Jan Triska said...

I hear ya' on the downtown being all empty after business hours. But that's because all the night life (or evening life) shifts to either the Byward or to Elgin Street/Glebe. It is almost like unintended zoning effect.

Edmonton, again, has that same unfortunate but inevitable dynamic. It has the least appealing, deadest downtown imaginable after 6pm...and yet the Old Strathcona district on the south bank of the river is hopping, with Whyte Avenue providing all the live music and bars necessary.

I think the best city centre in Canada is still Montreal. It just pulsates with life and you see it all, from high-end joints to groups of punks with mohawks, from 5-star restaurants to take-out shwarma, and, of course, the most openly sexual and sleezy street in Canada, the St. Catherines. Like, what guy has not been to a strip club there, at least once?

joncormier said...

That's where I celebrated my 18th birthday.