Originally published in Centretown Buzz
by Sarah Gelbard
September 12, 2014

When we think of urban renewal, we tend to think of one of two images. Either the decay of a neglected neighbourhood, or the sparkle of one freshly cleaned up. We imagine the old heritage buildings to be (or have been) restored, local economies to be (or have been) reinvigorated, culture to be (or have been) reinfused.

We tend to think in before and after photos like a TV makeover show, as though there is a finished product, a goal line to cross. But the reality is that cities and neighbourhoods rarely exist in a steady state. They are constantly transforming and adapting. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes in decline. Sometimes change is just change.

Whatever we choose to call it — urban renewal, revitalization, gentrification — it is a process. More important to remember, is it is a process that impacts people, their lives, their livelihoods, and their relations.

At its best, urban renewal aims to reverse trends of decay and neglect, and reestablishes a sense of pride and ownership to a community. At its worst, it displaces vulnerable communities and shifts the problem elsewhere.

The neighbourhood I recently moved to in Montreal, like many core urban areas in North America, is undergoing a conscious process of transition. It is gentrifying and, I fear, leaning towards the latter result of displacement.

Condo/shopping cart juxtaposition. Photo by Sarah Gelbard.

Derelict but low-rent apartments are demolished and replaced by high-priced luxury condos. But ironically, during the process, the entryways of the newly constructed but not yet moved into condos are inhabited by the homeless with their mattresses and shopping carts.

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Originally published in Centretown Buzz
by Jeff Salmon
August 22, 2014

Development—the dirty word that draws the ire of local residents who may otherwise be uninterested or uninvolved in their community.

Of course, this is an obvious generalization, because in every community there are a committed group of residents volunteering on community associations, or staying current with the events of the neighbourhood.

The threat of development, however, seems to be the rallying cry needed to grab the attention of the many residents who do not actively participate in community affairs on a regular basis.

It seems that the collective fear of development is a product of two things in particular—the precedent of uninspiring and insensitive projects around the city and a prevailing NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude.

There are, of course, plenty of examples of condo and infill projects that have missed the mark, and it is natural to worry that the proposed development near you may as well. However, we should not overlook the increasing number of quality projects popping up in Ottawa.

It is easy to be pessimistic, but redevelopment can enact positive change within communities as well as increase the value of properties in the area over time.

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yowLAB is proud to announce that it has partnered with Ottawa Architecture Week and ByTowne Cinema to launch our fall season with a screening of Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel, followed by a panel discussion.

OAW Film Night Website ImageLast Call at the Gladstone Hotel, directed by Neil Graham and Derreck Roemer, follows the revitalization of Toronto’s century-old Gladstone Hotel from flophouse to arts and music hotspot.

“Shot over five years in a cinema direct style, Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel is an intimate, compelling portrait of the effects of urban renewal upon the poor, exposing a pattern of displacement repeated in urban centers worldwide, and revealing the unintentional roles we often play in the process of gentrification.”

The film screening will be followed by “Inhabiting gentrification” – a panel discussion on urban revitalization, social housing, and the arts scene in Ottawa and their impact on the existing character and characters of neglected heritage neighbourhoods.

Mitchell Kutney Co-founder, JustChange Ottawa / member of Citizens Academy leadership team

Ray Sullivan Executive Director, Centretown Citizen Ottawa Corporation

Rhiannon Vogl Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Canada

Sarah Gelbard co-director yowLAB / PhD student McGill School of Urban Planning

Laurence Wall (moderator) News Producer, CBC Radio Ottawa

Tuesday, September 30 8:30-10:30pm
$15 Admission
$10 ByTowne members
Advance tickets at ByTowne.ca and Eventbrite

Join the Facebook event page

Welcome to the yowLAB Film Festival discussion for our sixth film, Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock. Our reviewer this month is yowLAB co-director Sarah Gelbard. Her review/synopsis is included below.


  • If you have not yet watched the film, it is available on iTunes and at OPL.
  • To contribute to the discussion, please feel free to use the comment section following the review.
  • You are also welcome to post links to your own reviews if you prefer to publish on your blog or website. Please make sure to link to this page on your end.
  • We also welcome guest contributions. Please contact us at info.yowlab@gmail.com if you would like to submit a review to be posted to the yowLAB blog.
  • Or tweet your comments @yow_LAB #yowLABFilmFest or on the Facebook event page

We hope you enjoy the film and the discussion. Without further ado. . .

As is to be expected of a Hitchcock classic, the plot of Rear Window has found itself spoofed many times in pop culture. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you’ve probably seen a few dozen tributes without knowing it. The Simpson’s episode “Bart of Darkess” is an especially well recognized one, but I also of course always think of Due South’s Letting Go episode.

Without specifically considering the timing of this month’s selection, I coincidentally found myself caught in my own version of Rear Window – though admitedly far less thrilling. I’ve recently moved from Ottawa to Montreal and was initially quite thrilled that my new apartment looks out on a shared courtyard. With my movers delayed, I’ve found little to do in my empty apartment but look out the window – especially during the couple days without so much as an internet connection for distraction. And to add to the verisimilitude, I pulled a hamstring and while not confined to a wheelchair, I have been limping around the apartment.


With a clear view out onto 35 apartments across the courtyard from where I’m sitting, staring competitions with my cat have been far more entertaining. Nearly all the drapes are drawn with only the occasional blue flickering light of a TV. There hasn’t been any spark with which to let my imagination run wild, to start constructing fantasies about the lives of my neighbours.

The communal courtyard is supposed to be the cure to the inhospitable, dead, urban city block. It should create familiarity and a sense of community with your nearest neighbours. In theory. But there’s a coldness to the unobstructed view across the yard. I also suspect the concept doesn’t scale up well to accomodate the 100s of apartments and 7-12 storey buildings surrounding my particular yard. But at the same time, no one could accuse my new neighbourhood of being dead – a little slummy maybe. So what exactly is the courtyard attempting to “cure”.

I was also disappointed to discover that when the sales rep assured me that I would have access to the courtyard as a tenant, what he meant was there is a self-locking emergency exit into the courtyard but no way back in. Well of course it’s going to be a dead space if tenants can’t truly access it. The development’s desire to be inward looking instead of participating in the street life of the larger neighbourhood is pretty apparent in the fact that all street level access to the courtyard is also gated and locked. I suspect the developers were hoping for a faster turn around on the gentrifying effect.

I keep wondering how I would re-write one line from the film:

We’ve become a race of peeping Toms. What people aught to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change.

We certainly still are a race of peeping Toms. Though we now achieve it through our tv’s, computers, and smartphones. Perhaps what we aught to do is get outside our digital homes and connect with the people and spaces on our block.

Care to share stories and observations about what you see out your rear window?

#yowLABFilmFest goes fiction for the summer.* The third of our three selections for the season is:

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window
Online review: to be posted Aug 21

A wheelchair bound photographer spies on his neighbours from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.

*as a distributed film festival, the idea is to watch the film on your own (or with friends) before the posted date. Details for shared online reviews and dialogue will be posted here soon. The posted date also coincides with the next yowLAB PubNight for those who want to discuss in person.

DVD are available from:

Ottawa Public Library 
London Public Library

Online rentals available from:

Google Play

Special announcement about our Fall lineup coming soon!

Sarah Gelbard:

yowLAB break-off Impromptu Playground are at it again!

Originally posted on Impromptu Playground:

Impromptu Playground sets the stage for the 2014 edition of Musical Underground! Thanks to Awesome Ottawa.


Sunday, July 27 noon to 4pm
O-Train path and Queensway underpass [see map]

Musical Underground Ottawa is joining forces with members of Impromptu Playground to create a pop-up temporary outdoor venue.

Musical Underground is a grassroots project that originated around the idea of “reverse busking”. Passer-by musicians stop by to play a tune and sing a song. This year, in addition to offering a chance to win the guitar at the end of the season, we’re offering a public stage!

In keeping with the tradition of busking, part of the spectacle is the disruption and transformation of everyday space.

Set the Stage will be a whacky contrast to the drab hard concrete; a the playful, colourful and soft place for the audience. It will be near impossible to miss!


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