Ottawa City Winning Awards, Councilor Jan Harder
It is no secret that Ottawa wins many Canadian and International awards. You know it and so does Invest Ottawa (www.investottawa.ca). Among the many recognitions, Ottawa ranks the first in “Best Place to Live”, “Best Tech Hub to Live and Work in Canada”, “Best Place to Live for New Canadians’, and “Lowest Cost of Living of 5 major Canadian cities.” To rank so highly both nationally, and internationally, is a wonderful accomplishment for those of us who live and work here.
It may come as a surprise to many, when we think of the populations of Toronto and Montreal for example, that Ottawa is the largest municipality in the country by land area. In fact, the land area of Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver can all fit within Ottawa’s Urban Boundary with 100 square kilometers to spare! The City of Ottawa is 2,796 km2.
This also makes us a very diverse City as inhabitants spread out over the City campus. Some choose or have rural roots, others love the suburban life and many gravitate to the urban heart of Ottawa. We have lots of choice. With such a large land area, and a much smaller population than bigger cities, funding to keep Ottawa in the top rankings is always a constant challenge. With a much smaller population tax base, and a larger area mass, there is always the uncomfortable balance between financing a city’s needs and the cost to the taxpayers. As well, residents and businesses anywhere expect and deserve a common level of service.
Then there is the reality that Ottawa is aging, not just our people but all infrastructure as well. We need to renew our aging infrastructure. The public transportation system is also in dire need of modernization outside of the soon to open LRT Stage 1 of course. Changes in how we work and travel are requiring a new vision. Environmental concerns also require us to think of a different way to build and sustain our practices in a responsible manner.
At the City, we are fully aware of these challenges and we have been making strident inroads so our city can continue to grow at a sustainable rate. A good example of this is the Light Rail Transit System (LRT). Recognizing the need for a greener and more efficient way to commute, Ottawa has invested $3.5 billion so far in light rail transit. A smaller carbon footprint, less pressure on our roads and an affordable method of travelling, will change the face of commuting in Ottawa. This will prove even more so when the LRT serves the four corners of Ottawa.
On the other hand, a city is not simply buildings and cars. To make a city truly livable and attractive, the best investment is in our people. It is vital to keep younger generations in our city and to attract new people who bring fresh talent and knowledge. How will we keep our youth here? How will they know that Ottawa is the best place to work and live?
An active lifestyle is of utmost importance to many and the City has promoted a healthier lifestyle with mandatory parks in new residential developments and many more pedestrian and cycling routes. As more and more people are making environmentally sound choices, the City is implementing more charging stations for electric vehicles.
Certainly, in today’s age, being a smart city is the way to keep Ottawa on the cutting edge of global competition. We need to invest in Dark Fibre and solutions to provide connectivity throughout Ottawa so that all can have access to fast and reliable internet. Today, we not only need fast internet for work but for personal use, and our children and grandchildren need it for school. The day of the textbook is far behind us and families must invest in apparatus to support technology changing by the moment. Of paramount importance is the need to connect rural Ottawa. For our farms, connectivity equals increased production and food security….just as a start.
Finally, the arts and culture are the icing on top of the proverbial cake. From art galleries and performing arts centres to community theatre, it is vital to support the creative forces that make people want to live and participate in a vibrant city. The City recently revitalized the Arts Court. It will soon become a hub for a new injection of arts into Ottawa plus an opportunity to sustain the current scene.
Our City has so much to offer and it does indeed take a community to keep it running as a prosperous, healthy place to live, work and play. What steps are you taking to absorb and participate in all this city has to offer?