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transitions and growing pains : on hintonburg, communities, and local economic development.

05/06/2011

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I spent the morning cycling through my neighbourhood yesterday for the Hintonburg Community Garage Sale. Greeting neighbours, chatting with children, keeping an eye out for those strange items I’ve had on my list of « things to find/buy » for a while* and for handmade ceramic mugs (one of my fatal flaws is an over-exuberant love of potter-made kitchenware). By and large, my best finds were in discarded « free piles », the best table was on Armstrong where two six year olds were selling their stuffed animals, and my fave conversation was with a four year old who had just scored herself a new doll, complete with hair clips.

After emptying my change purse I set off for the Enriched Bread Artists building at 951 Gladstone, open to the public for ‘Doors Open Ottawa’, peeked into colourstrewn, drafting supply-packed spaces, filled with envy, and ventured to the pottery co-op, the Gladstone Clayworks Cooperative, on the ground floor. Kind co-op members showed me around, told me about the history of the place—eighteen years now that folks have been splitting the cost of rent to work clay together—and explained the glaze-firing combos they were working on.

I fall head over heels for places like this. ‘hoods like this.

A place you can really sink your teeth into. Sink your heart into.

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That being said, I’m worried.

Because of development, of the mass crop-up of condos, of chains, the closing of the KFC, the expropriation of a row of houses on Westmount Ave to widen the 417, the atrocious proposal of a 36 storey monster on the Carleton Tavern’s block on Parkdale, the encroaching Westboro look and feel (complete with our very own bridgehead).

(I wish I had studied urban planning and knew how to intelligently articulate this feeling of what smart and sustainable economic/social development could look like, and to artistically/financially contribute to and support a ‘hood without it leading to gentrification, to unaffordability and homogeneity.)

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I lived in Halifax for a bit, on Gottingen in the North End. A rough-ish spot, with housing being a huge challenge for community and service providers. It had seen its fair share of up-and-coming businesses and folks coming in while I was there, but the existence of a shelter, of the Salvation Army, of a Community Health Centre right on Gottingen, of an artist/student/activist community fairly committed to the soul of the place, of lasting economic precarity and a slew of other factors, have, to my knowledge, kept the North End mostly (or at least “as”) affordable and accessible. I look forward to going back later this year and getting a feel for the pulse of the place.

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I’ve been attending the Hintonburg Hub meetings, following the development of the project, writing letters and talking about it to folks. In a nutshell, what the partners seek to do is to create a hub of services—health, social and affordable housing—in a neighbourhood that’s been or becoming a desert of all three. Having worked at a Community Health Centre for almost a year now, I know how smart a project this is : localizing services, bringing them closer to home, and fostering seamless, holistic and integrated health and social services. This is the stuff community health is made of. It’s a money saver (with health promotion, education and chronic disease management), it’s a community builder, and from an environmental standpoint, it’s a no-brainer (close to clients, fostering a walkable, liveable environment).

At the last community meeting last week, it was made pretty clear that everyone was on board—the community, the health, social and housing partners, our MP Paul Dewar and our MPP Yasir Naqvi (unfortunately, City Officials seem to have a hard time making meetings). The issue is funds—funds to buy the chunk of land on Wellington at Rosemount where the Salvation Army’s Bethany Hope Centre is now located. Some creative ideas came forward and I want to be optimistic about outcomes.

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(But I’ve got to say, it is supremely disheartening, as a youth, to see what our governments have funds for and what they “don’t” : To read policies about how the city wants to “encourage active transportation in the west end” and see them rebuild roads, add parking lanes on both sides and not so much as a safe half-meter for folks who choose to cycle, leaving us to fend and contend with doors opening in our wheel-span. To see the city scrap the ‘Community Sustainability Fund’ without consultation. To see United Way defund orgs because they don’t fit new and tight criteria or because programs don’t have clear ‘deliverables’. And I could go on but I won’t. The short-sightedness of our non-planning just feels like a good shot in our collective foot—pour ne par dire a good punch in the heart.)

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Having said all of this, I woke up this morning thinking that I should somehow start a small business/social enterprise in one of the vacant store fronts on Wellington between Sherbrooke and Bayswater. Snatch up the space before it’s too late, counter the corporate land grab in the ‘hood, take ownership and buy in, literally. As sceptical as I was when my (small business, farmer) co-star said that more people need to start starting their own businesses, I do think that if we don’t, we’re limiting our ability to choose and support local endeavours, and to put our money where our mouth is as community members and organizers.

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I remember walking along Wellington a few weeks back and overhearing a father tell his toddler son that “you make money by getting a job and then someone pays you” and thinking “huh, we really need to loosen our white-collars here” and recognize that we make money by creating value, whether that be through our labour, directly by producing goods, or with an idea.

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I hope to find a solid way to create homegrown economic development and sustainability in this neighbourhood of mine (preferably without going back to school). And I beseech our governments and fellow community members to Make the Hub Happen.

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(*) for the record, and in case someone reading has extras of these, my long standing list of « things to find/buy » is:

-a metal ladle

-a paper cutter (‘une tranche’ en français) those big office paper slicer devices

-a waterproof camping bag (with the roll top and snaps)

-a good/small sewing machine

-a food processor

-a loom

-a spool (big enough to be a coffee table type structure)

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