On Monday, city elections will be held throughout Ontario. You'd never know from the extent of the media coverage around Ottawa that it was so imminent. There doesn't seem to be a Big Issue this time, like Lansdowne Park was last time around. LRT? Well, it's still an issue but most people seem to feel that at least now the shovels are in the ground, we'll eventually get SOMETHING and it would be folly at this stage to try to turn back the clock. The surprise issue, for me anyway, has been garbage - not the obscene amount of money wasted on the Orgaworld contract but rather, the impetus towards reinstating weekly garbage pickup. As for the top job, there are plenty of contenders on the ballot but even the closest runner-up is unlikely to supplant the incumbent.

As far as garbage and recycling service is concerned, I'd be happy to see the trucks come around only every two weeks, but pick up everything at once. That way, you wouldn't have to keep looking at the calendar to figure out what colour of receptacle should go out to the curb this week. Yes, it would mean a longer stop at each house, but surely it would save something on fuel and labour costs. I'd also like to have the option of putting ALL recyclables in a single container with the sorting being done at the other end - I think that would certainly bring more people onside with the green initiatives - but I recognize that that would involve a lot of renegotiating of contracts with third parties and could not be achieved overnight.

Another perennial issue is library service. Generally, I'm pleased with it. I think it's one of the greatest bargains we get from our tax dollars. With respect to bricks and mortar libraries, I think there have been some excellent expansions and renovations to branch libraries in the 'burbs. But I firmly believe we need a new central library downtown. In our ward, we only have two candidates for councillor that I know of. One of them, the incumbent, is in favour of a new central library while the other is opposed. Guess which one I plan to vote for?

It's always a challenge to figure out who is running for school trustee. Part of the problem is that while councillors have "wards", trustees have "zones". There are more zones than wards and your zone number may be nothing like your ward number. In our zone, we again only seem to have two candidates, and on their websites they mostly seemed to have motherhood (teacherhood?) type statements about helping every child reach his or her or their potential. We don't have any children in the school system so it's a bit hard to make an informed choice, but I think once again I'd lean towards voting for the incumbent.

I will say here that there are a couple of issues which DON'T seem to be on the candidates' radars that really OUGHT to be.

First off, community mailboxes. The municipal government didn't have any say over the phasing out of home delivery but inevitably, most of these boxes are going to end up on city property and the city is going to bear some of the brunt of maintaining the conditions around them. Shouldn't candidates at least be consulting with their actual or prospective constituencies to see WHERE people think they ought to be located for maximum convenience and accessibility?

Secondly, let's see if we can get rid of some of our nuisance bylaws. The latest is that posts for driveway-clearing services must not be put up before November 1. But it's certainly not unheard of for us to get snow in October. Ironically, I think that's probably precisely the reason that city elections were moved up to October from November! There are going to be a lot of unhappy snowbound customers around if we get a major blizzard and their plough doesn't show up because they can't be readily identified!

In general, I guess I'm a bit of a libertarian when it comes to city bylaws. I think within reason, you should be able to do what you want on your own property. If you think that "monster home" across the street is an eyesore, then get over it already and draw your curtains. The owners probably pay a lot more in taxes than you do! Then there's the business of making it illegal to chop down your own large tree on your own property. Yes, "mature trees" do add a certain pleasant ambience to the neighbourhood. But if their roots are drinking the soil dry and destroying the foundation of your house - and if the city then declares a watering ban because it needs to repair the sewers it hasn't properly maintained... well, the problem is only compounded. And you can bet the city isn't about to reimburse you the thousands of dollars it takes to repair your foundation!

Thirdly, I definitely think we need some sort of naming policy for city streets, buildings, parks and whatever else may need a name. I was annoyed when Jim Watson caved to public pressure and backtracked on naming the new city archives after Charlotte Whitton. Not that I don't have the greatest of respect for James Bartleman - I just think Whitton was a much better choice for a city building. She was such a trailblazer and so involved in civic affairs that surely she deserves at least one building named after her.

Then there's the matter of suddenly changing the name of something that already has a perfectly good name that everyone recognizes. The Ottawa River Parkway becomes the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway. The Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge becomes the Vimy Bridge. Even though we already have things named after Sir John A, and Vimy (Vimy Place, where the war museum is located, is surely a more appropriate forum for honouring those who lost their lives in the Battle of Vimy Ridge). If we want to make the nation's capital tourist-friendly, surely it's better to use names that describe where they are located rather than honouring folks who, while no doubt honourable, have no real connection with their namesake places.

Of course, naming rights is a whole other can of worms. The Palladium becomes the Corel Centre becomes Scotiabank Place becomes the Canadian Tire Centre... and even Google Maps can't keep up. It's confusing enough for those who live here, let alone visitors! I guess maybe public-private partnerships are here to stay but personally, I'd be more inclined to boycott a business that splashed its name all over some highlight of the city that more properly should be either named after someone worthy of the honour or else after the area in which it's located (which, of course, might itself be named after someone).

Anyway, it will still be interesting to see what happens on Monday... in other people's back yards. In some wards, longstanding councillors are not running for re-election so there will be at least some new blood on the new city council.
On June 5, 2012, I wrote about having been in the wrong place at the right time, also in regard to a trip to Toronto. I relived that sensation last week - although this time the tragedy occurred in Ottawa.

Last Monday, I took the 8:30 train to Toronto for my Ex Libris board meeting, which was on Tuesday. I stayed an extra day and night, returning to Ottawa on Thursday on the 4:20 PM train - which I selected deliberately as it normally is a non-stop trip from Toronto Union station to Fallowfield (ending at the main Ottawa station) and takes slightly less than four hours for the complete trip. This time, however, we were only able to go as far as Brockville by train and then had to board one of three buses - to Ottawa's main station, the Barrhaven (Fallowfield) station, or Dorval/Montreal. Which meant arriving over an hour late. If I'd waited till Friday to go home, I could have gone the entire way by train. And yet, if I'd gone two days later, it would have been so much worse.

News of the catastrophic bus-train collision that killed six people (and a number of others may still be hanging on by a thread) was all over the news on Wednesday - not just in Ottawa but also in Toronto, Niagara and no doubt elsewhere. Even the much-maligned Toronto mayor was making all the right noises, extending sympathies and offers of assistance (whatever that meant) to Ottawa and Ottawans. Of course, there were probably quite a lot of Torontonians on that train too! As a train passenger, I probably would not have been injured even if I'd taken the Wednesday train - physically, at least. The psychological and emotional turmoil, however, would have taken considerably longer to overcome! I do know people living in Barrhaven; I think I may even have met at least one of the people who died, though I certainly didn't know any of them well.

So where should we go from here? I'm not sure if we'll ever know quite what caused the crash. But additional safety measures could certainly be implemented. I think an overpass or underpass is definitely in order, although that obviously can't be built overnight. Meanwhile, I'm wondering what numbskull decided that trains mustn't blow their whistles at certain times of day - funny that the City can get exemptions to allow construction noise at Lansdowne Park at 3AM but trains aren't even allowed to blow their whistles in the suburbs of Ottawa during daylight hours!

Should the number 76 be retired? Although I have the utmost sympathy for the people involved in the disaster, I vote no on that one. The gesture would be at best symbolic. It's confusing enough when buses change their numbers without substantially changing their routes (as, for example, when the 71 became the 86 or the number 53 was used for a new route that was nothing like the old 53 route). And it's not like hockey or other sports players where a specific number corresponds to a particular person: there must have been dozens of people behind the wheel of the 76 over the years it's been in existence.

I still think that on balance, train travel is very safe. But that doesn't mean we should get too complacent, as this episode makes clear.
According to an article in today's Citizen, the City of Ottawa is only managing to collect about 2/3 as much green-bin recyclables as it is paying for. The author seemed to think that that means a lot of green bins lying fallow because the households they belong to are not separating their waste properly. I'm not so sure that's the case.

For one thing, many households undoubtedly do their own composting. We do, although we still put out a few things that would take longer to decompose in a small household unit - like pizza boxes and paper towels - or which we worry might pose a health hazard - used tissues, kitty litter, etc.

Beginning in November, the City of Ottawa will only collect garbage every other week, while the green bin collection will remain weekly (instead of reverting to biweekly as it used to do for the winter months). Okay, so we've had the stick. Now how about the carrot? Maybe they could catch fewer flies with honey than with vinegar, to use a dreadful mixed metaphor. Here are a few ideas they might consider.

1. EXPAND THE LIST OF ITEMS WE CAN RECYCLE - Before Ottawa became one big supercity, they used to let you put out used clothing in an ordinary garbage back tied with a scrap of cloth so its contents were apparent. The city would sort through these bags, donating the better items and recycling the rest for rags. Yes, there are charities which will pick up these items, but my experience with them has been less than positive. For example, one day when the charity was supposedly going to be in our area, I put out a bag in the manner prescribed, only to find out at the end of the day that it had not been collected. When I phoned the next day to inform the charity of the situation, I asked that they just let me know when they would next be in the area - at which point they got quite belligerent and said they wanted to pick it up THAT VERY DAY! Why were they in such a rush all of a sudden? Needless to say, if we had not been there to take back the uncollected bag, there would have been a security concern as well: potentially advertising to prospective break-in artists that no one was home!
Clothing is just one example. They also used to pick up used plastic bags, for example. I see no reason why they can't pick up diapers and feminine hygiene products, especially as kitty litter is accepted. And just how do they distinguish between cat waste (accepted) and dog waste (not accepted)? The mind boggles!

2. INSTEAD OF ONE-DAY HAZARDOUS WASTE DEPOTS, HAVE DOOR-TO-DOOR SERVICE
That way, if you're an environmentally responsible person who doesn't operate a car, you could also dispose of hazardous waste in an environmentally responsible manner on a regular basis instead of having to rely on someone with a vehicle. There would also be fewer vehicles on the road doing the transporting to often far-flung waste depots and that in itself means less gasoline used, fewer emissions, less time wasted, less private expense of the vehicle owner, greater compliance and less illegal dumping... and so on. Surely a win-win-win... situation!

3. HAVE JUST ONE BIN FOR MIXED RECYCLABLES; LET THE CONTRACTOR DO THE SORTING
They do that already in Gatineau. The recyclers can then take whatever they can use and the City doesn't have to put together a ridiculously convoluted calendar of different collection weeks for differently-coloured boxes. Plus, the simpler it is, the better residents will understand it and the higher the level of compliance.

4. EASE UP ON POINTLESS BUREAUCRATIC RULES
You mustn't set out your garbage before 6 PM the evening before collection. Nor must it be after 7 AM (even, presumably, if it never gets collected before 4 PM). Containers must be removed from the curbside by 10 PM on collection day. Then we have all the restrictions on the containers themselves. For instance, it's technically against the law to have the lid attached to the container by a cord. Whoever put that clause into the Bylaw has obviously never had to stop the car to move lids that blow all over the road on a windy day!

I may have left school long ago but I still struggle with the 3 R's!!
And do we want to walk indoors, outdoors, below ground or above? It seems to me that Ottawans love the idea of western-European-style walkability in THEORY but once it comes about, they (or the people with clout, anyway) decide that it doesn't fit with their lifestyle.

I was about six when the Sparks Street pedestrian mall first opened as a summertime mall. That first year, there was a children's play area, including seesaws (which I hadn't yet had an opportunity to see and experience in real life). Several years later, perhaps as a centennial project, they decided to make Sparks Street a year-round pedestrian mall. In its heyday, it had a couple of major department stores (Morgan's and Murphy-Gamble); a cinema (where I went to see "You are what you eat" and possibly "Wild in the Streets"); The Treble Clef, which sold LP's and tickets to all the major rock concerts in town, as well as sheet-music and instruments downstairs in the Bass Clef; a Coles bookstore as well as the W.H. Smith up by Elgin Street (now known as "Smithbooks"; in its days as W.H. Smith it also had a basement which sold toys); the Green Dragon (still there, but more junky and touristy); the Arcade at Sparks and O'Connor, which had numerous little boutiques as well as a Nate's restaurant; Birks; several shoe stores (including Armstrong and Richardson) and women's clothing stores including Middleman's; The Snow Goose (still there); Four Corners (ditto, although they used to also hold concerts upstairs in their gallery); several dimestores - a Woolworth's, a Metropolitan and a Zellers (which is still there); a Davis Agency; E.R. Fisher menswear; Dover's hardware and sporting goods; Sherman's record shop; at least one drugstore; O'Shea's Market Ireland (which only disappeared quite recently); a United Cigar Store; Morrow's nuts and candy; Orientique; a Honey Dew coffeeshop (with mirror-tiles on the walls so I could see myself looking at myself in the mirror looking at myself in the mirror looking at...); and probably much much more that I don't remember.

Nowadays, I sometimes walk along the Sparks Street mall on Wednesday mornings after my Toastmasters meetings. But alas, it cannot really be called a pedestrian mall any longer. Because even on weekday mornings after the stores are open, there are ALWAYS vehicles on the mall that I have to dodge as I go about my business! I e-mailed councillor Diane Holmes to complain about this, but never got a response, and that's sad as I always thought her views were generally in keeping with my own - something that cannot be said about most Ottawa councillors these days. And the mall is basically deserted except on weekdays between noon and about 1:30 when people are on their lunch breaks, and perhaps for a week or two in the summer when the tourists come and the buskers hold their festival.

Round about the centennial, when the year-round mall came into being, St-Laurent Shopping Centre was built. It was the first above-ground all-indoor shopping centre in Ottawa but existing outdoor malls like Billings Bridge, Carlingwood and Westgate soon rushed to follow suit and become indoor spaces. The one existing indoor mall in the downtown core, Place de Ville, was thriving at that time. It was modelled after Montreal's Place Ville Marie but unfortunately seems to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ottawa in its wisdom moved the inter-city bus station from Albert and Kent, and moved the train station from downtown (converting that space first into the "Centennial Centre" and then a government conference centre). That's all very disappointing now that we're finally getting light rail in downtown Ottawa, because these spaces could have been the centrepieces of a wonderfully cosmopolitan downtown capital.

The Rideau Centre led to further decline on the Sparks Street Mall. But even it started with some high ideals. We had a glassed-over pedestrian walkway on either side of Rideau Street and once again, no general traffic was allowed on Rideau, though we did have buses and taxis.

But unfortunately, when the enclosed sidewalks became havens for winos and the homeless, the hue and cry of businesspeople was to scrap them altogether - and that's what eventually happened. I would have much preferred that they had spiffied up the existing enclosed sidewalks, had good lighting and security, a few more plants, fountains and so forth - but I guess that would have been too logical.

Then there's the Congress Centre. I can remember how impressed everyone was with it when it was first built. I still think it could have been improved instead of torn down. I couldn't believe how rapidly it was demolished and a new one put up in its place, particularly when you consider how long it takes to get anything done anywhere else in Ottawa (think Lebreton Flats and Lansdowne Park, for example). I guess it was well-heeled business-people with major clout who lobbied a very business-oriented mayor and city council and then... well, you can't fight city hall or a wealthy and influential Business Improvement Area.

Most new shopping centres these days are Big Box Cities, the big boxes being made out of ticky-tacky and all looking just the same. Will we ever see a return to smaller, more interesting, more unique shops with superior customer service? I'm not holding my breath!

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