Op-Ed article

Published on March 1, 2022

Post-convoy, let's focus on shaping a more beautiful, resilient Ottawa

I took the opportunity to go skating on the Rideau Canal the other day. After lacing up and pushing off, what struck me most were the smiling faces and engaged chatter. Once again open to the public, after two doses of freezing rain and mild temperatures (only in our nation’s capital are winter thaws cursed and the return of cold weather welcomed), I relished the ease and lightness I witnessed on this amazing piece of ice. It signalled to me that we had not only our skateway, but our city back. A city and capital region that is at once home to more than a million inhabitants and held in trust for over thirty million Canadians. A capital marked by public spaces of extraordinary kinds – monuments and pathways, fat bike and ski trails, parks and forests, from Gatineau Park to Rideau Hall – that belong to everyone.

Now, post-convoy, we have the chance to think more deeply and clearly about the future of our public spaces, to be designed for people, not payloads, and guided by principles of tolerance, co-existence and inclusion. That re-think can begin at the symbolic heart of our nation along Confederation Boulevard by considering how Wellington Street could both enhance the character and splendour of the most important buildings in the country while offering more space for citizens to gather, whether it be for celebration or protest.

Reimagining this stretch of Wellington Street, including as the alignment for a future capital transit loop between Gatineau and Ottawa, could occur in the context of a number of ambitious capital- and city-building projects currently underway, including the extensive restoration of the Parliamentary buildings.

To the east, the capital’s best lookout point, Nepean Point, with spectacular views over Parliament and the Ottawa River, is being revitalized and connected to adjoining Majors Hill Park via a new pedestrian bridge. Better connections between the rocky escarpment west of Parliament and the river below will be secured as part of an ambitious renewable energy plan, led by our partners at Public Services and Procurement Canada, that includes installing elevators and vantage points within a retrofitted publicly accessible power plant perched on the edge of the cliff.

Further afield from Parliament Hill, other projects will change and improve the character of the nation’s capital in the years to come. After decades of being fenced off, undeveloped portions of Lebreton Flats, west of downtown, are coming to life, connected via the city’s light rail transit system, and replete with new pathways and public art, with planned affordable housing and mixed-use development next to the future joint federal municipal public library.

Connecting across the river in Gatineau, the beloved but failing Alexandra Bridge will be replaced, showing off the best of modern engineering and architecture, offering platforms and viewpoints to take in the sights and reinforcing the interprovincial character of the capital. Over half a dozen new cafes, bistros and restaurants along the shorelines will have opened by the end of 2023 giving residents and visitors of the capital unique opportunities to take it all in. To get there, they can not only walk or cycle, but ski on a growing network of groomed urban trails.

Meanwhile, thanks to the success of pilot projects born of the pandemic crisis, our parkways, long reserved almost exclusively for cars, are being shared with people. Parallel to the Rideau Canal, the Ottawa River and in Gatineau Park, people are happily flocking to enjoy the peace and safety of car-free roads in numbers far exceeding the use of those roads when car-full.

It was tempting to feel defeated by the horns and the headlines. But in this moment and in this place, where cold weather brings hope and happiness, there is opportunity for vision and renewal. Through ambition and cooperation, investment and risk-taking, the capital of our nation stands to be a more beautiful, inviting and resilient place.

Tobi Nussbaum
Chief Executive Officer
National Capital Commission

Read this letter published in the Ottawa Citizen on Tuesday, March 1st, 2022.

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