The city that fun forgot?

As someone working in the “creative community”, I frequently get asked about my opinion about the scene (or lack thereof?) in Ottawa. I wrote a column about it last Fall in “Creating a Creative Commons” and Jeff revisits and expands on it in this month’s column “Creative Undercurrents“.

And of course, the yowLAB breakoff team Impromptu Playground has a mission to “reintegrate and celebrate play in urban space through architecture and design”.

So, a couple months ago when I heard about the local documentary “The City That Fun Forgot?” I was curious to see how my experience and thoughts on the matter lined up. I was terribly disappointed that I had to miss the first screening back in March. When I saw there would be a second screening I ordered a ticket immediately.

Last Wednesday (heartbroken to miss the lecture on the project to conserve the Strutt House), I crammed into the full house at Raw Sugar for the screening and excellent audience discussion that followed.

There was mention of another screening next month. So if you missed the last two, keep an eye out, you’ll have a chance to see it soon.

I won’t give any spoilers for the documentary but I would like to share some of the points brought up by the audience and some of my own thoughts.

Ottawa as a “university town”: One audience member brought up the university life in this city and that it is a bit strange that unlike other university towns (Halifax, London, Guelph, Waterloo), Ottawa doesn’t seem to capitalize on the energy and activity around the universities and colleges. This certainly reflects my disjointed experience of Ottawa. I moved here in 2001 to study at Carleton and had six years of being overwhelmed with activities and community (mostly architecture related because we rarely mingled with the outside world). After graduating there was this gaping hole. I now had way more time to be social and had no idea where to go to do it. In university, you have a social world pushed on you, you can’t escape it. Then, you’re off campus, your friends move away and you’re on your own. It took me a few years to figure out (a) I had to go look for it, (b) where and how to look for it, (c) if I didn’t find it, I should get off my A%@ and do something about it.

Transit as a barrier to entry: Where is our lightrail? Seriously, I moved to Ottawa in time for the launch of the OTrain, the pilot project for rapid transit. 13 years later. Uhm. So. Have we made a decision yet? Sure, digging is underway. But at this point I’ll believe it when I see it. Connecting the people in the city is as much about activities as getting them to those activities and back home. Traffic, parking, expensive taxis, buses that stop running long before the bars close or parties end. And because I would lose total street cred with #ottbike if I didn’t bring this up, MORE BIKE INFRASTRUCTURE, please.

Waiting for permission: Obviously no discussion of Ottawa life is complete without bringing up the predominance of the government/office worker. I think that overly official and bureaucratic mentality bleeds over into community life. Community associations and citizen interest groups tend to be modeled on government committees. I’ve tried to participate but I just can’t sit through meetings that involve presenting a motion and seconding a motion and voting on a motion to create a sub-committee to investigate the possibility of… Great ideas get bogged down in waiting for approvals and rubber stamps. The Village was brought up as an example of how slow the city is at approving community initiatives. Personally, the last thing I would do would be to get city approval. I would just get out there and start building the unofficial community. Start organizing events. Get the local businesses participating. Get people to adopt the branding and think of it as the Village so they don’t need street signs. Official recognition can come later. Meanwhile, you are building community now. It’s too easy to lose momentum because you’re still waiting for approval.

The great urban/suburban divide: I found it curious that the only mention of the suburbs was related to (a) transit and how to we get suburbanites downtown, and (b) the misguided decision to have a suburban arena that results in ridiculous traffic on hockey night. For some reason, I’ve been talking a lot about suburbs lately. I’m a Centretown girl. I don’t generally go anywhere that isn’t within a 30-minute walk or bike. And that gives me a lot to chose from. There is a lot going on. But whereas the transit issue asks: “how do we get people from the suburbs downtown to participate?” perhaps we should also be asking “why do suburbanites have to come downtown to have fun?” It’s a bigger planning issue. Suburbs tend to not be self-sufficient communities and maybe we need to start working towards that. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had access to lots of fun options within a 30-minute walk/bike from home?

Getting the word out: From my personal experience, Twitter has played a huge part in my connecting with great stuff happening in the city. It’s how I’ve heard about stuff and also how a lot of people have heard about me (@sbg_arch) and yowLAB (@yow_LAB) and the (hopefully) cool stuff we do. Often because it feeds into other great sources. It was my initial point of contact to Pecha Kucha, Creative Mornings, Apt 613, Arboretum, Couch Assassin, #ottbike, CHUO Click Here, Awesome Ottawa, food trucks, restaurants, craft shows, music shows, art shows, and tons of super interesting people. All of those have introduced me to even more awesome stuff. I ritualistically check Apt613’s weekend roundup and Couch Assassin every Thursday. And while the audience lamented the loss of Ottawa XPress, a big thank you to the one audience member who pointed out that Xtra Ottawa is still there and a great resource for what’s happening in town (and not just if your part of the GLBT community). I humbly admit I hadn’t thought of it. Thank you.

And the list goes on.

Were you at the screening or the previous one? Have any other ideas you’d like to share? Please feel free to post comments below. Or tweet your heart out. @yowLAB @cityfunforgot #cityfunforgot

Congrats Amen and Nathan. Thanks for hosting the screening and discussion!

  1. amenjafri said:

    Sarah, you captured the discussion from the screening so well, thank you :-)

    • Sarah Gelbard said:

      My pleasure!

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