My Centretown is mixed and adapts

Image source: The media co-op

Central, the new condo complex on Bank and McLeod currently in construction of Phase 2, has stirred up Centretown residents who object to developer Urban Capital’s campaign to rebrand the stretch of Bank Street from the Queensway to Somerset as “South Central Ottawa“. Last week, protestors crashed the launch party at the James Street Pub [see coverage by CBC, Ottawa Citizen, OpenFile, and Media Co-op]

There are obvious problems and legitimate concerns with the South Central campaign but I don’t believe protest is the most productive or appropriate way to voice those concerns and create open dialogue.

I’ve lived in Centretown as a student, as a young professional, and now unemployed. Centretown has accommodated me as all three. It has more than accommodated. It has been my home and my neighbourhood. It isn’t a poor neighbourhood. It isn’t a wealthy neighbourhood. It isn’t even a middle-class neighbourhood. What makes Centretown such a great place to live is that it is diverse and welcoming regardless of income. High or low.

It’s the mix of people and the mix of retail and activities that they bring that makes Centretown interesting. You walk down the street and see parents playing in the parks with their kids, friends grabbing a few pints together at the pub, people in suits on their bikes on their way to and from work, families sitting on their front porch, an elderly lady tending to her garden, couples going for an evening stroll and walking their dogs, guys picking up bottles with their shopping cart on garbage night. We shouldn’t forget that the diversity of people is in part due to the diversity of housing; single-family homes, duplexes, multi-unit rentals in converted homes, apartment buildings, and yes, even condos.

I’ve been known to partake in some condo-hating but the reality is condos are in many cases an appropriate option for a number of reasons for a number of different people. As just one example, rather than displacing young families with children out to the suburbs, condos are an opportunity for the families who want to stay in the core or return to their beloved Centretown neighbourhood to do so. I have many friends, young couples, who feel they have no choice but to move out of the core to buy their first home and start raising a family. They are in a financial and life position where they no longer want to rent but can’t afford the $600k+ it takes to buy a single family home downtown. Keeping middle-class kids in the neighbourhood means children in the neighbourhood play and go to school with kids of mixed cultural and economic backgrounds. Condos are an option that helps us keep our neighbours in the neighbourhood as their life situations change.

Centretown is a constant balancing act. I think it is a mistake to think the only way to preserve our Centretowness is to freeze it and resist change. We should let Centretown do what it always does – adjust. I’m not saying we should sit back and let whatever happens happen. We should take a pro-active role in developing, accommodating, adapting, and compensating for change. Re-actively fighting against change is far less productive and potentially does more harm than good.

I’ll take the developer who is talking about the impact their building will have on a neighbourhood, even if it is presumptuous and idealized, over one who swoops in, plops down a building and disappears. If we believe Urban Capital is making plans without understanding who we are, let’s show them, let’s work with them. Or at least try open respectful dialogue before creating conflict.

Condos aren’t bad. Bad condos are bad.


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