“It’s like a think tank on steroids!”
One thing I’ve noticed in my four months as councillor, based on the emails I receive and the comments I get on social media, is that a lot of people have a very specific understanding of what my job is and how I’m supposed to do it. And they like to me tell their thoughts on this.
These comments typically sound like “Who asked you to...?!” or “No one elected you to...!” or “Just stick to what you’re supposed to do!”
Even though we’ve only been at it for a short time, my team and I think our job description is quite simple really: to try to make our ward and our city a better place to live. For all of us. And there are so many ways that we do that, on a daily basis. Whether it’s trying to get the snow cleared off your street or getting By-Law to respond to an illegally parked vehicle, or negotiating with a developer about their building plans, or making difficult decisions about our city’s budget, or meeting with food bank directors to find out how to get them more resources, there’s many ways that we do our job.
And sometimes what we do is start conversations that no one else is having.
A few weeks ago, we all heard the announcement that Nordstrom was closing their retail stores across Canada. It was a huge piece of news.
Later that evening, I put out a thread on Twitter that went mini-viral. In it, I simply put out the question of whether or not to consider using the space in the Rideau Centre soon-to-be vacated by Nordstrom for housing, instead of replacing it with a new anchor retailer. I argued that big-box retail is on the decline with the change of consumer habits, and that cities across North America are experimenting with transforming malls into housing.
Basically, I ignited an interesting discussion. Soon enough, over 44,000 people had seen the thread, and I’d done two radio interviews about it. Why? Probably because it was a conversation worth having. Was my idea perfect? Of course not! I’m not an architect.
But my idea did address real and tangible concerns. Our city needs innovative solutions to our housing crisis, as well as the need for the economic revitalization of our downtown core.
Like any good conversation starter, it’s the ideas that flowed from the initial spark that get truly interesting. And there were many ideas that were put forward that emanated from what I originally proposed. At one point, some commenter posted: “There are so many radical ideas here. It’s like a think tank on steroids!”
And can’t that be seen as part of my job as City Councillor? I have a platform, plus a tendency to think outside the box (based on three decades working in the arts). I can use that platform to help support creative discussions that summon the ideas of many of our city’s brightest minds. What a great thing to do. Ottawa has an abundance of innovative, passionate, thoughtful, highly educated and extremely experienced people. Why not engage them in our goal of finding the best solutions to our common problems?
Later in this newsletter you’ll read about how I’m using this collaborative approach in hosting group conversations about our Merivale Renewal Project, as well as a new format for one of our community engagement processes, based on a “think tank” model.
I hope you will allow me to include this as part of my job as your City Councillor. And I hope that, when the opportunity presents itself, you will join us.