Sun. Dec 5th, 2021

After nearly two years with COVID, nearly 85 percent of government employees now want a mix of working from home with occasional office visits. The city must either adapt to this or face a gradual decline.

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For decades, the mindset among Ottawa’s politicians and politicians was that the city center north of Laurier Avenue was something to go to, rather than be from. That meant building a center based on a workforce Monday through Friday, with companies equipped to serve only office workers and a public transportation system designed to transport people into the core from the surrounding suburbs.

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Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the nature of the work here in Ottawa. Teleworking has emptied the heart of the city center, and there are few signs that the old ways of working are returning. After nearly two years with COVID, nearly 85 percent of government employees now want a hybrid approach to work, a mix of work from home with occasional office visits. Despite efforts by some political leaders to return to the status quo, hybrid work has come to stay.

The center of Ottawa must either adapt to this or face a gradual decline. History has taught us that when downtowns begin to spiral downward, it can take decades to reverse the trend. To prevent this, we must begin to transform the center of Ottawa into a habitable and viable space where residents can live, work and play.

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To do this, we must first begin to abandon Ottawa’s predilection for bureaucratic processes and inertia and adopt the ideas of “tactical urbanism.” In short, tactical urbanism offers rapidly implemented and inexpensive changes to downtown environments as the first step toward long-term change. We have already seen this in action in Ottawa as the city quickly implemented looser rules to allow bars and restaurants to open terraces once indoor dining was closed. We need to look at how we can transform underutilized or vacant spaces into micro parks, creative streetscapes and dynamic event venues throughout the core.

Second, we need to revise our zoning requirements for the city center to increase housing. This will require cooperation with the federal government as it seeks to reduce its permanent footprint in downtown Ottawa. The monoculture of office towers can give way to adaptable spaces that can include commercial spaces and residences in the same building. Zoning should become more flexible so that spaces can become different venues depending on the time of day.

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In addition, the city must work with the private sector to ensure that the city center is not deprived of grocery stores or hardware stores. Residents in the city center should not be forced to go to Nepean or Gloucester to purchase an extension cord. Already, we see retailers like IKEA opening smaller, downtown-oriented stores in cities like Toronto to service areas with a high density of condominiums and apartments. By encouraging this, we can make the concept of the 15-minute neighborhood in the heart of the city center a reality.

Finally, we must make the city center core habitable at street level. This means long-term investment by the city in larger sidewalks, accessible public spaces, comfortable seating, public toilets, more green space, interesting public art and a sensible tree planting program that allows space for roots to grow and a canopy. emerge. Replacing concrete ravines with green street pictures would transform the core from a place made for cars to a place made for people.

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We are going through a great moment of economic and social change. COVID-19 has raised expectations for the functioning of businesses, cities and governments. We have an extraordinary opportunity to transform the city center. It will not be easy. It will require political leadership and political will, dynamic new ideas and relentless ambitions. Together, we can transform one of the most dull and lifeless spaces in Ottawa into an energetic and vibrant neighborhood, a neighborhood that is finally worthy of Canada’s capital and all of its citizens.

Stuart MacKay is a community activist and transit advocate living in Centretown. Twitter: @Mackay_Stuart

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