Category Archives: Community

Developing a Personal Point of View

I stop for a latte and drink in the view. The café, six tables and a banquette against the plate glass wall, offers a window onto the Byward Market and the Gatineau hills. Wind pushes the clouds across the city in an ephemeral drama of light and shadow. A commercial crane, red and ten stories tall, anchors the scene.

I blink and the operator appears in the cab, a glass pod of levers and the nerve centre of his crimson behemoth. He takes his lunch – a bowl of noodles judging by his gestures – enjoying a mirror image of my view. The café is a democratic place to see and be seen.

Since the founding of Ottawa, and its designation as the nation’s capital, unimpeded views have been commonplace within the downtown core. With the easing of height restrictions, a trade-off for increased density and “highest and best use of land,” new buildings push the limits.

Before me, the once-180 degree view has been reduced by a third with the installation of a dozen-floor condo development. To its right, the crane, with its unrelenting appetite for height, will ensure that the middle third of this long view disappears within weeks or months. As years pass, fewer will enjoy what many have taken for granted: a big sky and a way to navigate the city by natural means. However, development offers its own perspective.

I scan the condo windows for signs of life but all is quiet. Moments later, a woman in a white robe and hijab moves into the frame, a truncated theatre of the body from the waist up. She bobs into view then disappears as she prepares for midday prayers. The hills tell me she is facing east although her precise direction will be predicated upon the position of the sun and the particulars of her geographic location. As a follower of Islam, she will enact this ritual as many as five times a day like clockwork: before dawn, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon and evening.

Aside from being a personal act of faith, ritual is a subset of placemaking and timekeeping like the secular sights, sounds and smells that populate our public and private lives. I know, for example, it’s 9:00am on Sunday because the church bells ring or that it’s 7:00am because my neighbour runs past my house every day at the same time. In a few hours people will return to these windows to prepare dinner, drink with their friends, or, like me, take in the sidewalk ballet. As onlookers, we reflexively perform the role of one another’s keepers with an arms-length connection to the overarching narrative of daily life.

Lunchtime is over and the crane is moved to action with its box step of ordered predictability: swing, lower, raise, repeat. I drink up and drive home, still taking in the view.

Developing a Personal Point of View

Developing a Personal Point of View

Developing a Personal Point of View

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A Ride Home from Prison

I don’t have any time to waste on jail anymore ~ Stanley Bailey, newly-released former inmate

Carlos Cervantes, a former inmate, says every ride home from prison is different. He picks up men released from life sentences after California reformed its three strikes law in 2012. Most of the men don’t have family or friends anymore; they’re starting from scratch.

Imagine what it must be like in those first few hours, after not having walked on grass, sat under a tree, or watched the comings and goings of modern life for nearly three decades. According to Carlos, and his latest rider, Stanley Bailey, it’s overwhelming.

More than half a million people are released from prisons in the U.S. each year, often without services to help them reintegrate. In a graceful act of personal kindness, Carlos helps make those first critical hours a little less terrifying.

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More Than Enough Refugee Blues to Go Around

Refugee Blues was published by writer and poet W.H. Auden in 1939, at the start of World War II.

It’s safe to say not much has changed and, perhaps, it never will if war and hatred continue to be our modus operandi. The million dollar question is this: Are we doomed as humans to this destructive cycle of scapegoatism and righteous indignation? Or is there truly a possibility – a probability – for something else?

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, “They must die”:
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

Continue reading More Than Enough Refugee Blues to Go Around

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What I See When I See Smiths Falls – Part 2

This is the second in a series of visual love letters to Smiths Falls, one of my favourite towns in Eastern Ontario.

You can find the first installment here.

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Skating the Rideau Canal in Burritt’s Rapids

I love living in a place with distinct seasons. What I particularly love is that just when I start to really, really enjoy something – swimming in the river, gardening, snowshoeing, falling leaves – it’s gone. Skating on the Rideau Canal in Burritt’s Rapids is like that. And its fleeting and unpredictable nature makes me appreciate it that much more.

Skating the Rideau Canal in Burritt's Rapids
A panoramic of Burritt’s Rapids and its natural skating rink on the Rideau Canal

Continue reading Skating the Rideau Canal in Burritt’s Rapids

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What I See When I See Smiths Falls

This is the first in a series of visual love letters to Smiths Falls, one of my favourite towns.


I’m from Vancouver, and while there are great things about the westcoast, I have called rural Ottawa home for the past 20 years.

The single best thing I love about living in the east is the riches of small towns and villages, roads that lead everywhere, chalk-full of opportunities to stop, talk to people, poke around and discover. Smiths Falls, just 20 minutes from where we live, has been my second home since the birth of our first child, when my in-laws sold up in Sudbury and moved to be close to us. Continue reading What I See When I See Smiths Falls

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The Sham of Highest and Best Use

This triplet of houses in Québec City defies the modern logic of “highest and best use” and its inherent rule of being “maximally productive.” It flaunts every last morsel of economic thought except one: It is a keeper of history, and provides a vital and extraordinary point of interest in the city’s viewscape, arguably contributing to the profits realized by the city’s tourism efforts. Continue reading The Sham of Highest and Best Use

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Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 2

Click here for Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 1


Having finally seen Washington, DC for myself this summer, it was great to connect with this presentation by Marcel Acosta, Executive Director of the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the Federal Planning Agency for America’s Capital. In it he discusses how the city came to be shaped, and how it will continue to be shaped in the future.

Acosta and Beth White, NCPC Commissioner, were guests of the National Capital Commission (NCC) in Ottawa, presenting in September as part of the NCC’s Capital Urbanism Lab public lecture series. Continue reading Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 2

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Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 1

In spite of the oppressive heat and humidity of August in Washington, D.C., I did what I like to do best: I walked around, looked at things and talked to people. This being my first trip to the capital, I focussed on the National Mall, exploring adjacent neighborhoods, and my relentless pursuit of Guastavino tile

In D.C., security is the conversational opener in the same way people elsewhere talk about the weather. 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing were cited as the salvo, the traceable moments in time when Everything Changed. Reduced accessibility was visible on the streets, in screening procedures employed at every public building, and in architecturally-based security features. And what you couldn’t see – the behind-the-scenes invisible – hung in the air. Continue reading Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 1

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Looking at Dogs (and Cats) in Windows

It’s simple. It’s brilliant. And it’s better than tv.

Instead of tucking doggy daycare in the back of a building, why not put it out front? Add plate glass windows and a busy pedestrian street and you have universal entertainment and an instant joy generation machine.

In the few minutes I stood there watching, a small crowd gathered –  smiling, laughing and exchanging pleasantries – before carrying on with their day.

Guess we can’t make fun of cat cafés anymore because it seems they’ve had it right all along. 

Looking at Dogs (and Cats) in Windows
Streetside visitors to Ma Langue Aux Chats on Rue St. Paul in Quebec City, QC

 

Looking at Dogs (and Cats) in Windows
Curious cat and visitor

 

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