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All In Hand

Here you'll find the sum total of Miss Vicky's Remarks thus far.

Best Spot for Bridgehead in the 'Burg?

Miss Vicky Sat Jun 30, 2007

One of Miss Vicky's intrepid readers, frustrated with the lack of seating at the Bridgehead on Wellington, took it upon herself to write the company and urge them to open a shop in Hintonburg.

She writes: "They just responded that they have indeed been looking for space in the Burg, but can't find any. Hmmm??? Seems like there's a lot of empty storefronts on the main strip. They commented that they rely on locals to help them find good space, (they need about 1000 sq.f) and so I thought I'd pose it to you. Any ideas?

So, faithful legion, what do you think? Miss Vicky has one thought: Euphoria hair salon will be leaving the corner of Fairmont and Wellington to merge with the folks at the Cutting Edge. That space is probably the right size, and it's on a great corner right by the church, and near the community centre.

There is also a 1500 sq foot location where the florist used to be, at Stirling and Wellington. Needs a lot of work, though.

Foolishly looking for help

The Webgeek Fri Jun 29, 2007

Become a Fool
Just a quick note from an old Improv friend (and Big Fool) Scott Florence of "Company of Fools" fame

It's time to admit it - you are a Fool! Well, don't be shy, step up and join our volunteer team. We need energetic and sociable bodies to help us with Front of House staffing this summer. If you are interested in spending a delightful evening of Shakespeare under the Sky, then please contact us and we will happily bring you into the fold. The Fool Fold. Who can resist?

Feel free to Contact them (http://fools.ca/about/contact) if you are interested


Strategic directions: reading between the lines

Miss Vicky Wed Jun 27, 2007

I have had a look at the 10 pages of the council's draft "Strategic Directions". This is the result of 17 sessions with a professional consultant (and buddy of Mayor Larry) at the Pineview Golf Course and elsewhere. The strategic directions are supposed to guide municipal decision-making for the next 3 years. Aside from an online survey and a grudging few chairs at the back of the room for citizen observers,there has been no public input into these priorities. The document was released last Friday, public delegations will be heard by council members of July 9, and they are voting on this thing on July 11.

My first impression: it reads like exactly what it is, a corporate planning document put together by a facilitator who knows little about the functioning of a democratic entity and has no understanding of the public realm. It is about opaque as a document can get, full of vague statements and corporatespeak. And as far as directions go, some are hardly strategic and a few are downright dangerous.

At first I thought to myself: Miss Vicky, maybe you're overreacting. Your literary training has taught you to read texts too closely, and read too much into them. Then I went to Imagine Ottawa's forum on Monday and had all of my suspicions confirmed - and a few more added to boot.

It's difficult to disagree with much of the document: "Finish the Transitway by 2015", "Close the gap in sidewalks, street signals and stop sign renewal by 2010"..... Fair enough. But a lot of it fails to outline how certain objectives are to be achieved: "Reduce residential dependence on landfill/dumps by 30% within 1000 days." What does this mean? Will we be burning garbage? Composting? More nice, ineffective posters? "Become the leading edge in community and urban design". Sounds great, but how? Where? And who gets to determine what "leading edge" means? Some directions are just dreaming in technicolour: "Upload social services, social housing and public health". Even with a provincial election coming up, I highly doubt this is going to happen any time soon (even though it needs to). "In cooperation with federal and provincial partners, end homelessness in Ottawa in 10 years". Ummmm, OK. 'Cause we've been making such great strides so far, like all those affordable housing units on Lebreton Flats. Oh wait, there are no affordable housing units on Lebreton Flats.

And then there are the statements that are just simply wishy-washy: "Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20% by 2012". UP TO? I put the laundry out to dry yesterday instead of putting it in the dryer; I guess we've met that target now. Or "Meet the intent of the LEED standard by 2020". The intent? And which standard? Gold, Silver, Platinum? And who's meeting it - the private developers, the city buildings?

But it's the governance and service delivery sections where things get disturbing. Because from the looks of this process so far, "Develop a more effective process to maximize input from citizens at large and ensure the right tools are in place to encourage broader participation in policy development" does not mean participatory budgeting or meaningful public engagement. I'm guessing more on-line surveys. And what exactly does "increase the appropriate delegation of authority to Steering Committees, ward councillors and staff to improve Council's ability to provide strategic direction and reduce transactional approvals" mean? The words "transparency", "accountability" and "inclusiveness" are strangely absent.

The Service Delivery section begins with an objective to "Create a client service culture". In one brief sentence we are no longer citizens, with a democratic right to engage in our city. We're clients. Speaks volumes, doesn't it? The next objective promises to "Establish an outcome-based management approach to service delivery". But some outcomes and some services are difficult to quantify, like day care for example. The next two directions are "establish an agreed-upon [by whom, I wonder?] set of flexible and appropriate service standards (one size does not fit all) across the corporation" [corporation?] and "deliver agreed-to level of service at the lowest possible cost." So we determine a bottom line, and get the lowest bid to deliver services? This is the "it's OK to outsource" section. We should be very wary of this, as outsourcing almost universally leads to diminished quality and higher long term costs.

The final directive in service delivery, "improve staff engagement", is just a joke. Especially when you consider the way staff were talked about during the election, how they become the scapegoats for the crisis that inevitable occurs every budget cycle, how many are overloaded because of cutbacks in staffing over the last several years on one hand, and prevented from being creative and innovative on the other (witness the length of time it has taken to get the Neighbourhood Planning Initiative going, and how lame it has been so far). Or how the years of work on the light rail was thrown away after the election. Yeah, that's really motivating. What they are engaged in, in my opinion, is pure survival.

Especially disappointing is the lack of real information about how all of this is going to be achieved financially. Because no matter how the city "Campaign[s] by October 2007 to upload provincial services" and they "seek out new sources of funding (like gas tax revenue)" and "achieve efficiencies in City operations", the fact remains that this city has a revenue problem. We are stuck with a profoundly unfair property tax system that sees no net increase in revenue for the city despite increasing property values. We are stuck with having responsibility for all kinds of social services, for which the provincial government frequently reneges on their share of the financing. We are stuck with increasing costs for equipment, supplies, fuel and labour. And we are stuck with the inability to look beyond property taxes for other sources of revenue, unless the provincial government decides to get real about municipal financing.

So, for all of this we paid $100,000 to consultants who happen to have worked with Mayor Larry in the past. Hell, I would have facilitated planning sessions and written a report for a lot less than that! I guess Miss Vicky just doesn't have the right connections.... I cannot really see how taxpayers are getting value for money with this process. And with this we seem to have forgotten that the city has already set out a strategic, long-term vision with Ottawa 20/20, a process which did engage the public and which represents a real consensus about the future of our city. Unfortunately there is very little of 20/20 in these strategic directions. In my opinion, they should be strategically ditched and council should return to the commitments it has already made in that document, in the Transportation Master Plan, in the Air Quality and Climate Change Master plan, and others.

Imagine Ottawa is encouraging people to register to speak to Council when they hear public delegations on July 9. There are plenty of resources on their site, and you can register by calling (613)580-2424 ext 28136.


What's City Council Up To?

Miss Vicky Sun Jun 24, 2007

So the Mayor and council members have been meeting outside of City Hall for the past couple of months in a series of visioning sessions, all part of the Mayor's "transformation agenda". After embarrassing the Mayor into making the sessions public, citizens' groups have been monitoring the sessions and keeping an eye on things. The draft strategic directions report is out as of Friday. Miss Vicky hasn't had a chance to go over it yet (stay tuned), but others have, and they will be filling us in at a forum tomorrow night.

What's City Council Up To?
Monday, June 25
7:15 pm, Bronson Centre, Mac Hall
211 Bronson Avenue

Special guests:

Christian Rouillard, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa
David Macdonald, Economist, Embryonic Consulting
Jane Stinson, Activist, writer, CUPE staff
Stefan Reinecke, Ecology Ottawa

This will be the only opportunity for public discussion of the council's strategic directions before the public delegations on July 9 and the vote on July 11. Ah, democracy!

Give away Day

Miss Vicky Fri Jun 22, 2007

Miss Vicky must confess: she has a few furnishings that were rescued from the streets on garbage day. She learned this skill from some dear friends in grad school. Those were lean times, to be sure, but it was also fun to go scouting for finds. Her friends have made a number of wonderful discoveries, refurbished them and put them to good use in their home. Miss Vicky was never as dedicated as they were....

Seasoned garbage pickers and amateurs alike should note: tomorrow is the first official Ottawa Give Away Day. Residents are encouraged to put unwanted but reusable items on the curb between 9am and 4pm, and treasure-seekers can wander the streets and find items they want to salvage. It's not quite as fun as the stealthy garbage night runs we use to do in grad school, but it's a great idea.

Miss Vicky will be putting out a well-loved small dog crate, a dresser, some dishes and other items. How about you?

UPDATE: red dresser, white wicker bedroom set and dog crate are GONE. We put them out at 9; they were gone by 10:15. Whoa.

Hintonburg Outdoor Cinema

Miss Vicky Thu Jun 21, 2007

Hintonburg's annual outdoor cinema season begins this weekend! This is a wonderful (and free!) family event. Bring a lawn chair and head down to the Community Centre this Saturday for the first show, which will include a Dance Showcase at 6:30 featuring the Hintonburg Hip-Hop dancers, re-Ballerinas, and Swing and Merengue dancers.
The indoor movie, High School Musical, starts at 7:15. The outdoor flick begins at 9:30 with shorts by the Hintonburg Youth Video Project, followed by Stomp the Yard at 9:50.

Neighbourhood Planning

Miss Vicky Wed Jun 20, 2007

So last night's open house seemed to be a success. There were quite a few people there when we arrived around sevenish. We grabbed a hot dog (which seemed to be very popular with the kids from the local soccer league) and after some brief chats with friends in the lobby of the community centre, headed in to check out the displays. Because, predictably, the open house consisted of a bunch of diagrams and information on panels that one could browse at one's leisure, and a blank feedback form to fill out and hand in. Engineers, consultants and city staff were on hand for informal discussions, questions and explanations, but that was pretty much it. Not exactly what I would call public engagement.

However, the content of the panels was very encouraging. There are 3 processes going on under one banner. The Neighbourhood Planning Initiative focuses on Hintonburg and Mechanicsville and seeks to develop a broad plan for city services in the area. Its displays focused a number of vision statements, and was probably the most vague of the lot... it was pretty hard to disagree with what they'd come up with. So we didn't spend a lot of time in that area, and headed up to the Gym where the action was: the Wellington Street Community Design Plan and Road Reconstruction.

The Community Design Plan is supposed to develop guidelines for urban design and land use planning along the Mainstreet. They are fairly far along, from what I could tell, and have set out some fairly concrete principles and objectives - like protecting views and vistas, establishing a clear network of people spaces, building a pedestrian and transit-friendly environment, and so on. Their maps identified places along the mainsteet where opportunities exist for each of the objectives. There was some skepticism among the folks present that the ideals would not be achievable (especially in some of the areas most in need of revitalization), but this is a long-term plan, and the principles will require community action and vigilance if we are going to

make them happen.

The Road Reconstruction panels attracted the most interest, since they were able to put something concrete on the principles outlined in the other sections. Well, it wasn't all concrete, since part of their proposed functional designs include plans for a heck of a lot of trees. Planters too, and even a few benches. They had some examples of streetlight styles, and there is talk of a green roof project to help reduce the amount of storm water runoff from neighbouring buildings into the drains on the street.

The design proposes some substantial changes to the street - wider sidewalks in many paces, shortened crosswalk distances, bulb-outs and bus bulges and some changes to problematic intersections (like Rosemount and Wellington, for example). And here the controversy begins. Some folks love the bulb-outs. Some hate them. Some worry about the lack of on-street parking. Some want to see the parking gone. Cyclists are worried about negotiating shared lanes. Transit enthusiasts are concerned the buses may not be able to navigate the new streetscape. Pedestrians are keen to have the extra sidewalk space.

When Creative Neighbourhoods took the giant maps to community events over the past year or so, a common refrain was to bury the hydro lines. There was a whole panel devoted to this issue, basically letting us know that it is prohibitively expensive and encouraging us to focus on improving the look of the street by getting interesting lighting. I kind of figured this would be the case, and frankly, I'd rather spend the budget on street lighting and furniture anyway.

Now that plans are beginning to take shape, I hope the city will consider some different approaches to public engagement. This is a pretty passive way of getting feedback, and you practically need an urban planning degree to interpret some of the panels. I'd like to see something a bit more dynamic and interactive, and beyond just the usual suspects. When I talk to folks on the street or at the pool or at Bridgehead, I'm impressed by the interesting and creative ideas people have, and the their concern and care for the neighbourhood and its future. Surely the city could find a way to channel some of that. Or at least find someone who can (Creative Neighbourhoods, perhaps?).

Were you at the open house? I'd love to hear some thoughts!

Call-out for volunteers

Miss Vicky Tue Jun 19, 2007

The Hintonburg Centennial 5k Run/Walk takes place July 15. It should be a fun event - serious (or not so serious) runners and walkers can do the 5 k, and there is also a family/kids 1k run. It starts at Parkdale Park and the course winds its way through Hintonburg... the historic Hintonburg, that is, including the streets west of Holland.

The run needs volunteers to act as course marshals, making sure the runners are safe and letting them know where to turn. It won't be an onerous job, and it will only take a couple of hours out of your Sunday morning (from 8:30ish to 10:30ish, I am told).

If you can help, contact race organizer Jeff Leiper at 613-868-2375. Miss Vicky will be helping out (she was fully intending to run, but her pesky thyroid is acting up. So course marshal it is!), and she will likely rope in the Webgeek as well. Join us!

Neighourhood Planning Open House

Miss Vicky Mon Jun 18, 2007

The Neighbourhood Planning initiative for Hintonburg and West Wellington will be holding an open house tomorrow at the Hintonburg Community Centre. This will be one of the few opportunities we'll have to find out about the progress of the 3 planning processes currently underway.

The Neighbourhood Planning Initiative includes the Hintonburg/Mechanicsville Neighbourhood Vision, Wellington Street West Community Design Plan and the Wellington St. West Road Reconstruction projects. The open house starts at 6pm and runs to 9. There will be a BBQ and an opportunity for participants to view information exhibits on the three studies and to discuss views in a casual environment with community volunteers, city staff, and consultants.

Miss Vicky will refrain from comment on what sounds like exactly the same public engagement strategy as any other city process, at least not until after the open house.


Travels in the 'hood

Miss Vicky Fri Jun 15, 2007

So we finally know what's going in the location of our former LCBO - a CAA Travel office.

I guess we'll be able to afford to go somewhere, with all the booze we're not drinking!

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