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Ottawa's Standing Up for the Cities We Want

By: Manjit Basi, Entrepreneur & Co-Founder, Citizens Academy 

We invited Ottawans to participate in envisioning a path forward for Canadian cities. They came and dreamed big. Citizens not only care about their city, but also have an abundance of wisdom, experience, skills and ideas about making their city and neighbourhood more vibrant and livable.

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At two recent We Are Cities roundtables held in Ottawa, approximately 40 people showed up to imagine what they want for their city. Despite their diversity, their ideas add up to an exciting collective future. Here are the highlights of the two discussions:

  1. Simplify the governance structure so that Ottawa -- the city -- can improve decision-making and autonomy. Some went so far as to amalgamate Ottawa and Gatineau, across the river in Quebec, to form a capital region. Let’s empower city government.
  2. Create vibrant, walkable communities – essentially a network of villages. Imagine each neighbourhood with a co-working, co-playing hub where citizens have the opportunity to bump into each other, make connections, and exchange information or goods. Each “village” has a robust local economy and mixed-use buildings and streets. Create communal spaces and the possibility to work and live nearby.
  3. Strengthen active transportation networks so neighbourhoods can connect to one another. Limit car access in the urban core and experiment with summer time road closures in the downtown area. Adjust parking and transit fees to further discourage car use. This would make the city greener, and people healthier.
  4. Build social housing across all villages -- funded through a federal innovation fund for affordable housing. Neighbourhoods are safe, caring, accessible and culturally diverse. And,
  5. Wouldn’t it be terrific if a 4 day work week was mandatory allowing the 5th day of work to be a “citizen day” when people have the time to focus on community/city building activities?

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These two roundtables produced a powerful vision of a collective future shaped by citizens – who are the city. A city that awoke from a dream and realized it wanted to be a participatory, grassroots democracy with citizen-led decision making for an equitable, green city supported by local, neighbourhood governing structures that nurture vibrancy, creativity and a healthy environment. So, what are we waiting for?

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Citizens Academy is a grassroots start up in Ottawa. Its mission is to help accelerate change for the common good. Our work focuses on creating the space for inquiry, learning, reflection, inspiration, and action to support people and organizations in their work to enrich Ottawa’s civic culture and stimulate civic innovation.

Citizens Academy is the Ottawa convenor for the We are Cities.