Large Cities struggled through this pandemic.
Our main streets’ survival is undoubtedly at the centre of a rethink going into 2021.
For many, this pandemic has involved struggling to survive, maintain, close then reopen businesses.
Online ordering seems to be a way of the future; only how can we ensure we order from local businesses and do so reasonably and ethically, allowing local businesses to thrive?
There is no doubt the viability of our local economy and, more specifically, our community’s lifeblood is our Mom and Pop shops’ along our main streets.
Like many, I dream of the day when we will go back to pre-March 2020.
Looking back, initially working from home appeared fun for many in March. However, months later, many families can’t wait to go back into their workspaces.
I believe we will get there at some point in late 2021. Until then, let’s engage in a public debate about re-establishing priorities for our City that will ensure investing in areas of need to make us more resilient for our future.
As a society, we are only as strong as our weakest link.
And with that in mind, here are a few areas I think could be retooled for 2021 and beyond.
• Survival of our Main Street retail – How can we ensure local shops prosper regardless of the challenges put forward?
• Funding OC Transpo (operational budget collapses with competing realities lower ridership and planned increases of fares)
• Affordable childcare in support for parents and our economy.
• Investing in housing – Let’s focus on homes and move away from the outdated shelter model.
• Income challenges – This pandemic is not the first time the use of food banks has been high, but it has put a more significant strain on our lowest income residents.
• Aging in place support for seniors – loneliness, health care needs, food services, financial supports… are but a few areas that need to be rethought to help make aging in place feasible.
• Modern recreation facilities in every community
• Creation of public spaces and support for outdoor activities – This pandemic has shown that outdoor areas are essential to mental health, physical health and joy for residents in this City.
The list could go on and on, as many structural cracks within the system have emerged, including Long Term Care.
Let’s push all government levels to conduct a review that will make investment priorities aligned with lessons learned from the COVID pandemic.
To support our local economy: housing, transit and childcare services all need a reset.
Despite the pandemic, housing prices continually increased, and demand for housing has exceeded expectations.
However, many homeless in this City have had no choice but to share bedrooms during a pandemic where distance remains an integral point to staying safe and healthy.
Another reason why the shelter model proves to be outdated.
Ottawa has 13,000 residents awaiting affordable units. Every day we continue to have people on a waiting list is one more day too long.
Affordable housing needs won’t be resolved in a small-scale way. Pushing the housing solutions for thousands of residents four our future is costly. Pushing the financial reality of this challenge: building more housing later, will ultimately be more expensive.
Ensuring all residents have a key to a unit with a lease is the better way forward.
Childcare must be available and affordable – allowing parents to get back to work without worrying about high daycare fees.
Parents at work and children in schools and childcare support our local economy.
As a City, we’ve invested in the future of transit; it is the City’s most important spending. Although ridership targets are skewed due to pandemic realities, it is clear that addressing a need for yearly fare increases and balancing our transit operations budget requires a new approach.
Many provinces invest yearly to cover expenses relating to local transit systems’ day-to-day operations, which allows fares to remain low.
As the City continues to invest in redoing streets, it must take lessons learned from the current period, including the need for safe outdoor spaces that are usable throughout the year, including Ottawa winters.
We can do this, starting with investments in the new ByWard Market Public Spaces Plan, which is designed for all ages to enjoy.
Newer communities in Ottawa have had the advantages of modern recreation facilities. Those facilities have benefited from programming during the pandemic due to adequately designed spaces that meet COVID-safety measures. Unfortunately, the same is not true for our City’s oldest neighbourhoods with smaller and aging facilities that have remained closed throughout the pandemic due to programming/capacity limitations. We must prioritize the renewal of these City assets. We have left many older neighbourhoods, some with more significant programming needs without spaces and programming throughout 2020.
WE CAN GET THERE TOGETHER
My hope is we see the pandemic as an opportunity of a lifetime to reset priorities, funding programs and address these weak links.
Ottawa is a beautiful City. Leaders have always worked in collaboration to plan for this City’s future. We celebrate 20 years as a big City on January 1st of 2021.
Twenty years since amalgamation, and in the middle of a pandemic, this City has a chance to create an even more equitable, green, safe, resilient and economy with opportunities for all.