Federation of Citizens Associations (FCA) Comments on Ottawa-Carleton Economy (1996)

FCA response to Perspectives on the Ottawa-Carleton Economy
(Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, May, 1996).  Prepared by Chris Bradshaw, board member, Glebe Community Association.

The Federation of Citizens Associations of Ottawa-Carleton agrees
with the RMOC’s “community vision” and with the general thrust of
the “Grow In, Not Out” document and the draft Regional
Development Strategy.  However, we are concerned about the great
pressure that the various sectors of the “business community”
exert on the Region.

By adopting the vision of compact, mixed-use development as the
basis of future growth, we are willingly opening the door on some
major changes in the 180 or so residential neighbourhoods in the
region, and facing a difficult job in convincing our members that
their quality of life will improve as a result.

We are willing to consider changes to our neighbourhoods in order
to take a long-term approach to dangerous, dirty, and noisy motor
traffic, to high taxes and cost of living in communities isolated
from workplaces, shopping, and recreation, and to growing crime
and unemployment rates.  We, however, find that business is not
so willing to change:

*  Retailing continues to rely on imported goods which are
dispensed in chain stores in malls that are not accessible
from neighbourhoods except by car.  This is accompanied by a
disdain toward the small independent businessperson in
retailing and in other fields.

*  Over-emphasis on jobs that are “global” and on downsizing in
all sectors without regard to impacts on people and
communities

*  A lack of sufficient corporate support to community needs
through foundations and gifts-in-kind, compared to even U.S.
standards (although we admit that that is partly the result
of our reliance on goods produced elsewhere, rather than
developing our own).

*  Impatience expressed toward community interests and
limitations in local taxpayers largesse, rather than a
willingness to have a dialogue to find solutions that meet
many needs simultaneously.  There is also a resistance to
allow more autonomy to neighbourhoods, even though that would
produce, not a “gated community” mentality, but a willingness
on our part to be constructive and feel more responsible for
its residents’ welfare, individually and collectively.

*  An emphasis on education only to produce graduates with
skills needed by business, rather than the broader wisdom and
independent and critical thinking that come with a
liberal-arts education needed by communities at all scales.

*  An over-reliance on copying and following trends, in
inventing and marketing goods and services that are not
supportive of good quality of life, rather than exporting
sustainable and kinder, gentler ways which we have invented
locally, such as some of the ideas the now-defunct the
Region’s TEAP (Transportation Environment Action Plan) that
brought together the broadest array of green-transportation
groups of any city in North America (Ottawalk, Citizens for
Safe Cycling, Auto-free Ottawa, Transport 2000 and its
Transit Advocacy and Commuter Rail projects, the Ottawa
Co-Transportation Organizing Committee, not to mention two
international Internet “mail-list” discussion groups: pednet
and alt-transp).

Integrated neighbourhoods are real incubators, of life and of the
commerce that is at the basis of life.  Further, spending money
on locally-produced goods and services and on sustainable
transportation produces more jobs than spending the same money on
distant goods and services.

As a result we have the following comments to make:

From page 5, in the executive summary:

6. IMPLICATIONS FOR REGIONAL PLANNING

* Continue to Enhance the Quality of Life

Quality of life includes more than the regional-scale facilities
and provincial and federal institutions in the region; it also
includes a high quality neighbourhood and street for one’s family
and one’s own leisure hours.  While a Corel Centre, a National
Gallery, and a major bi-lingual university are important, a look
at any “best metro areas” guide will point to qualities that are
dependent on feeling safe on the street and at home, comfortable,
convenient community centres, and walkability.

The quality of life at the neighbourhood is just as important.
It is at this scale that children, many disabled and the
recuperating, the poor, the unemployed, and the elderly find most
important and relevant, since they often have neither the means
of transportation nor the price of admission (or the interest) to
make use of the one-of-a kind, large-scale regional facility.

* Wise Infrastructure Development

We herald the inclusion of the adjective “wise.”  Too often the
Region has simply yielded to requests from anxious developers for
the extension of services to their property, far ahead of
development.  With centralized economic development efforts,
those needed serviced land should be directed to good sites
already serviced, based on very food information.  The “Grow In,
Not Out” approach will make use of infrastructure already in
place and paid for.  We also point out that our vision of
mixed-use, compact neighbourhoods provides for better use of
infrastructure by making use of piped infrastructure over more of
the day and week and less use-per-person of the more expensive
transportation infrastructure intended for motorized modes.  This
will involve sharing that “wisdom” with the general population in
ways that they can see the advantages, not only in economic
growth and savings in taxes, but in an improved quality of life,
and in ways that will induce them to gladly change their own
behaviour to complement the regional changes.

* Target the High-Growth Economic Sectors

We generally agree with this point, but remind the region of two
important points, both made by Jane Jacobs in her 1984 book,
Cities and the Wealth of Nations, and in Neal Peirce’s 1993
book, CitiStates.

1) Provide the many local resources that such industries need in
order to start, to grow, and, in a minority of cases, to
relocate here.  This not only includes the diffuse quality of
life, but good education, many small support/service
business, as well as a capable public sector.  The
“export-oriented sectors”, e.g., Corel, Newbridge,
Systemhouse, are simply the most visible part of our
economic “iceberg”; they are visible above the water-line
only because of the many actors in the “supporting cast”
below the surface.

2) Reduce dollars leaving the region.  One way to do this is by
“import replacement”: producing locally that which is now
available only through the purchase of goods produced
elsewhere.  The other is through the simple reduced reliance
on these “imports”.

Both of these rely on vibrant neighbourhood life and on the
grow-in concepts of compact, mixed use development.  Reduced
personal
use of a car, substitution of local festivals for travel to
others’ festivals, and less reliance on amusements and substances
that are rewards for putting up with low-quality environments
(lack of control, fear of crime, etc.).  Community revitalization
also can increase sharing of expensive infrastructure and to
provide social support and economic stimulation to displace
reliance on social and income-support public-sector programs.

*  Need to Advance Economic Development Through a United
Approach

We have already supported this initiative that is already being
implemented.  We would add what Neal Peirce says, that all
citizens interest groups need to be involved, and that
neighbourhoods need to have some powers devolved to them.. We see
community associations having not just a NIMBY-style
save-the-neighbourhood posture and modus operandi, but an
active role in determining each community’s imbalances in
services (each a business opportunity), servicing-demand
mismatches, and other programs to enhance local quality of life.

*  Use the Regional Official Plan as a Tool for Strategic
Economic Development:

The official plan in the past has definitely lacked this feature,
but not just because it did not try to have this feature, but
because the many, many players were not actively involved in the
process.  The consultation process tends to follow the
development of “numbers” and policies by staff, rather than
immerse staff in the many communities throughout.  The Ideas Fair
and the Community Vision exercises were somewhat the right thing,
but were too formal and stiff; little of their impact is visible
in the latest spate of documents from the Official Plan team.

Further, the proposed consolidation of the planning staff of
three RMOC departments still leaves out the planners in OCEDCO,
and those in the Health and Social Service departments, not to
mention the many private sector and other public sector planners.
Planning, in fact, could suffer if it is too separated from
implementation and delivery, both of which bring a great deal of
feedback on how things “out there” really are.

We also want to make the following points that fall outside the
about five-point plan:

1. Taxes — Our vision of the integrated community-as-village
and the specific policies we propose will reduce both the
capital and maintenance costs of infrastructure: the amount
of roads, the deficits of transit, the amount of police,
social, and health services, and even the general
administrative costs due to acrimonious consultation and
court challenges.  These revitalized neighbourhoods heightens
transactions between people who live near each other often
are part of the “shadow” or grey market, which produce
overall economic benefits including taxes.

2. Home-based Work — One of the major trends is the growing
percentage of the workforce who work at home.  This trend is
due both to the enabling computing and telecommunication
technologies, but also on “rightsizing” in private businesses
and public organizations, which both leave experienced,
long-time employees without jobs, but also are relying more on
consultants to provide focused, short-term services, advice,
and expertise.

Perspectives on the Ottawa-Carleton Economy points out that
many of these jobs will be located, not in the workers’ homes,
but in neighbourhood mini-office enclaves, with shared facilities
like LANs, board rooms, and reception areas, but still be close
enough to home to see the kids and do errands during the day.

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