WOW was my first reaction when I read the Ottawa Citizen Editorial Board’s opinion piece this morning on “Why We Support The Salvation Army”. One of the main reasons the Editors are supporting the Salvation Army project on Montreal Road in Vanier is that the site has already a “rundown motel and poorly maintained parking lot” along a stretch of Montreal Road where few would dare to walk along in the day never mind the night. Presumably, this is because of the rundown character of the area and because, as they state, “many potential clients for the new social services hub are already in this area”. The Editors also claim that there are no developers planning “classy condos” in the neighbourhood. The WOW factor became even more pronounced when reading their statement that they doubt the Salvation Army will not “drag things down much” more than it is and that “Vanier residents…are arguing to protect a gentrified community that doesn’t yet exist”.
The Editors, in making the above observations, basically concur that the Salvation Army will have a negative impact on the surrounding community but that is OK because the community is already depressed economically and socially. Their statements also suggest that you can forget about any future commercial revitalization along Montreal Road or residential revitalization in the surrounding community and that the goals of both the local residents and businesses as well as of the City’s Mainstreet plans are not achievable anyways.
I remember that it was not that long ago that the Westboro Business Improvement Area was experiencing commercial stagnation and was in need of new investment stimulation. The same can be said about Wellington Street in Hintonburg or St. Joseph’s Blvd in suburban Orleans. Nobody gave up on those Mainstreets. What makes Vanier any different? Maybe because it has always been seen as urban Ottawa’s poor cousin even before it was amalgamated with the rest of the City or when it was known as Eastview.
Even if one accepts the Editors’ viewpoints, the corollary to their position is that if it is OK to relocate the Salvation Army shelter to Vanier because it is already disadvantaged then it must NOT be OK to keep the shelter at its current location in the Byward Market. Is this because of all the new “classy” condominiums that have been built there over the last decade where the more affluent can now live and/or because it is a destination for tourists, foreign dignitaries, and business visitors? Incidentally, there is a planned new 22-storey condominium and renovated hotel conversion on the property immediately beside the existing Salvation Army Booth Centre on George Street. In effect, the Ottawa Citizen’s position is a type of spatial capitalism or segregation – where the City’s downtown / Byward Market is increasingly being occupied by the wealthier pushing out the less desirable land uses to disadvantaged neighbourhoods. This is a topic that Richard Florida, one of most quoted urbanist and well known for his thinking about the rise of the “creative class”, has recently written about in his new book called the New Urban Crisis.
As a footnote to my main subject line, there are a couple of smaller wows. First, the large majority of Vanier residents do not oppose the Salvation Army and the valuable service they provide to those who need help the most. Instead, their concerns are related to the size or scope of the proposed new centre and its location on the community’s traditional mainstreet. Second, the point made by the Citizen Editors that this is not the time to “abruptly” draw the planning line at the Salvation Army because City Council has routinely allowed developers in the past to go beyond its initial planning intentions is simply, well, totally irrational.