Why must na­tion’s cap­i­tal be ‘soul­less’?

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Tim Harper Tim Harper is a na­tional affairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices. tharper@thes­tar.ca

Maybe it’s a prod­uct of everdeep­en­ing snow banks or the win­ter winds that threaten to snap your ears in two, but a quin­tes­sen­tial Cana­dian de­bate has emerged here yet again.

Is our cap­i­tal the worst among G7 cap­i­tals?

Given that the com­pe­ti­tion con­sists of Paris, Ber­lin, Rome, Lon­don, Tokyo and Wash­ing­ton, you wouldn’t think this would be much of a de­bate.

And it re­ally isn’t, but the skir­mish that has bro­ken out on the pages of the city’s flag­ship news­pa­per, the Ci­ti­zen, re­ally boils down to an­other es­sen­tial ques­tion — how bad is it here?

The au­thor and colum­nist, An­drew Co­hen, called the cap­i­tal “soul­less” in a piece en­ti­tled Ottawa is the Worst Cap­i­tal City in the G7. “If New York is said to be a town with­out fore­play, Ottawa is a town with­out cli­max,’’ said Co­hen. Here, he wrote, not much ever hap­pens, and when it does, the earth doesn’t move.

That sparked a re­sponse from an­other colum­nist, Ran­dall Denley who de­fended this place with a piece adorned with the most Ottawa-ish head­line ever: Ottawa is, in fact, not as ter­ri­ble as you think. “Ottawa is chang­ing rapidly and for the bet­ter,’’ he told his read­ers.

This de­bate should be ex­panded be­yond the city be­cause we’re not dis­cussing the mer­its of Este­van, Sask. This is our cap­i­tal, our face to much of the world. That face will be very much on dis­play next year, our coun­try’s 150th birth­day.

There is a new govern­ment, with new en­ergy and in­fra­struc­ture money, in town. There should be some hope for this place.

I have moved here five times (don’t ask). I have owned homes here, my daugh­ter was born here, I have ac­tu­ally, at times, put down roots in the cap­i­tal tun­dra.

Over those years, the tor­por in this town has never lifted. There has never been any ur­gency here.

Noted Ottawa ar­chi­tect Barry Padol­sky says the city is riska­verse when it comes to de­vel­op­ment and has been vic­tim­ized by fed­eral in­dif­fer­ence and three lev­els of govern­ment un­able to seize op­por­tu­ni­ties to show­case the cap­i­tal.

He prop­erly points to the dig­nity of the Par­lia­ment Build­ings and the Rideau Canal but he would like to see more de­bate about the fu­ture of this town as 2017 ap­proaches.

On its main thor­ough­fare, Welling­ton St., the dom­i­nant fea­tures are hard hats, con­struc­tion cranes and scaf­fold­ing.

A de­bate has now bro­ken out over the type of scaf­fold­ing needed in 2018 when ren­o­va­tions be­gin on the Cen­tre Block.

Across the street, the for­mer U.S. em­bassy has sat empty since 1999. It was to be a na­tional por­trait gallery but Stephen Harper killed that and right now, it is noth­ing.

The for­mer train sta­tion, across from the Chateau Lau­rier, is shut­tered. All great cities have a down­town rail hub, but trains have not stopped there for 50 years. In­stead, the build­ing will house Sen­a­tors dur­ing Par­lia­ment ren­o­va­tions. Ottawa’s trains stop at a sta­tion perched on a windswept field in the middle of nowhere east of down­town.

Ottawa seems de­ter­mined to pre­vent peo­ple from do­ing things. If you want to watch the NHL Sen­a­tors, the arena is 30 kilo­me­tres from down­town.

The fu­ture of a huge tract of fed­er­ally owned land, LeBre­ton Flats, is the sub­ject of de­vel­op­ment pro­pos­als to be un­veiled this month. Again. It has been the sub­ject of de­bate for 50 years.

Th­ese pro­pos­als ap­pear to in­clude a new hockey arena and, it was re­ported Thurs­day, a new li­brary. Many years ago it sparked fierce de­bate over a pro­posed aquar­ium.

Rideau Street, two min­utes from Par­lia­ment Hill, is a mélange of holes in the ground where light rail tran­sit sta­tions will one day emerge, an an­ti­sep­tic shop­ping mall, tat­too par­lours and dol­lar stores.

Even the prime min­is­ter’s home is fall­ing apart.

LRT is ( fi­nally) com­ing to the cap­i­tal. Mu­se­ums are be­ing up­dated and re­fur­bished. A mon­strous me­mo­rial to vic­tims of com­mu­nism has been shrunk and moved from a prime lo­ca­tion the Con­ser­va­tives wanted. McKenna is court­ing ideas for the for­mer em­bassy and there is that new fed­eral-mu­nic­i­pal li­brary pro­ject.

Ev­ery­one wants some in­fra­struc­ture money but a pri­or­ity should be the cap­i­tal. It should be where we boldly cel­e­brate this coun­try. It, too of­ten, has the am­bi­ence of an in­dus­trial mall.


The West Block on Par­lia­ment Hill in Ottawa is un­der­go­ing a com­plete ren­o­va­tion of the land­mark build­ing in this Septem­ber 2015 file photo.

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