WestSideAction: time for a change?

Leap year offers an opportunity that seldom comes to look backwards a bit. I’ve been blogging here for 7 years or so. There’s been 2000 articles. Daily readership of about 400.

Originally I chose to focus on the west side of downtown Ottawa for a number of reasons:

  • it was (and often still is) a skip-over area. There’s downtown extending over to Bronson, and then the world resumes somewhere west in mid-Hintonburg. Just ask Bookmark the Core.
  • the entire neighbourhood has no accepted name. Realtors call it centretown west. As do some city maps. The community association prefers Dalhousie, as it was that ward name from 1890’s to amalgamation in 2001, but ironically Dalhousie St is no where near here, causing further confusion. So I called it West Side [of the downtown]. I stuck in Action in a direct copy from ActionSandyHill.
  • the area is undergoing tremendous change, in fits and starts, some of which is awful (Booth Street, Bronson Avenue) and some of which is better, and occasional bits that are worth emulating. Urban form is a diagram of the forces acting during growth,  I am trying to help shape those forces.
  • we need a forum for alternative ideas on neighbourhoods and transportation applied to our specific locale, as the city supplied infrastructure can be lacking and the kludgeocracy in the city planning dept aren’t exactly our friends
  • we need to keep and eye on the details of what the city plans, since the headlines are wonderful (eg multi-use neighbourhood) but the gritty details are often not (any house can and will be converted to businesses).
  • our current ability to shape growth and influence change is limited, partly by who we elect, the ideology of the dominant political factions, and partly by a lack of self confidence; we need alternative voices.
  • a blog offered quicker response to planning issues than monthly community newspapers
  • I controlled the content, not you a committee

Anyhow, throughout the fall of 2015 I felt increasingly ill at ease with this blog, its focus, and whether it is worth the effort to write the stories. Too many stories were becoming rote repetitions of the same old issues, the same old complaints. Intellectual challenge yields to snarky remarks. Are blog stories too long in a twitter universe of one photo+one caption line?

I also felt that I was relying on benchmarking type stories too much, showing examples of how other cities achieve progress in contrast to our modest ambitions (otherwise known as how I spent my travel time). Our problems in Ottawa aren’t so much we don’t know what to do, as that we don’t reach high enough, and we spend wa-a-a-a-y too much money doing / subsidizing the wrong things. We spend billions each year, and I don’t think we do it wisely. We don’t need bigger government, we need smarter government. Less beggar-your-neighbour policies (the basis of Ottawa zoning after all is pushing the unwanted onto the less powerful) and fewer policies and rules, but much more widely applied. Spend more time on results and less on process.

A number of people tell me they like the snapshots of other cities and how they do things. Others want coverage of their neighbourhoods too. A few suggest I stop writing this and submit articles to The Citizen. Some use occasional reads here as a substitute for getting involved and making a better neighbourhood. Political agendas abound.

A trend in blogging as far as I can see is a stronger emphasis on Branding. Sometimes this is so the author will get more consulting work (BTW, I am not employed, and am staying that way. I pay my own travel.  Paid work is vastly over-rated). What would one brand this blog anyway? EricDarwinUrbanist? EricDarwinComplainyPants? EricDarwinUrbanObserver? EricDarwinSnarkyFool?

Stay the course? Change direction? re-brand? I’m listening.

PS – I also changed the web site page WestSideAction.com to show recent articles in a more inviting, summary format.


20 thoughts on “WestSideAction: time for a change?

  1. I’ve been told that this area was called ‘Old Ottawa’. Our home on Bell N. was built in 1903. I like what you’re doing with this blog and can’t think of any changes that I would want to see. Always enjoyable and informative. thanks Eric.

  2. You know I’m a fan Eric. I’m also one of those “branding” guys – professionally speaking (although I see that as being only tangentially related to my community and urban growth interests). So here’s my 2.75 cents’ worth (+HST).

    “West Side Action” is the right name and the right concept to capture:
    1) Your focus on the near-West side of Ottawa but without exclusively focusing on one sub-neighbourhood;
    2) The deeper level of *action* and engagement you demonstrate and argue for – always cutting through academic or bureaucratic gobbledegook to get at the actual things we should be acting on; but
    3) All the outside-the-bubble perspective you bring to relevant issues from your travels and research. It all works under the name, so I’d say keep that!

    I read your blog because it pulls stuff apart, looks at the details, and challenges the BS. And it’s way more fun to read than City planning reports.

    Oh, and I miss it when it’s not coming out for a while.

    So, how to keep it going without burning out? That’s another question. And as you can probably see from my meager blog post output over the last few years, not a question I’ve answered for myself either. I’m interested to see what other West-Siders have to say.

  3. I’ve been reading this blog for years now. I always found it useful, informative and interesting, especially when I was new to the area; but also, during the 15 years I lived here I always used WSA to keep informed about what was going on in my neighbourhood. It kept me (way) ahead of my friends. 🙂

    Having read your bio, I know your background is in city planning, and it’s interesting to read the words of an expert who has no other axe to grind than what’s good for the neighbourhood. In the process I’ve learned a lot about proactive rather than reactive city building.

    I moved from Ottawa in 2014. I still read the blog – to keep me in touch with the old neighbourhood, and because you write interesting (and educational) articles. 🙂

    Please keep the blog.

  4. Eric, has it really been 7 years? Wow, time flies when you are having fun. And I hope that you have been having fun.

    Your dedication (for a LOT more than 7 years) to working to improve the West Side has, without doubt, had a very positive influence on what has happened there; not only because of your Blog, where you keep us informed, but in the many, many hours that you have spent in meetings, at ‘consultations’, and in one-on-one discussions with the City’s politicians, staff, and consultants. Your contribution to betterment is much appreciated.

    Although I don’t necessarily agree with 100% of what you write in your blog, I am always glad to get your perspective on the issues that you present. I find that to be an invaluable benefit. One person can come up with a number of ideas; another person can add a number more, because they come at the issue from a different viewpoint. It is by collecting many such diverse ideas that solutions can be refined and improved. By freely offering your ideas and opinions, you contribute greatly to the good, the better, and the best.

    I know, too, the feeling that you are wasting your time doing something that is having little effect. But then there are those times when something that you said suddenly appears in a design, or you get a tidbit of feedback that your idea is the one that they are going with – for a small part of a project, anyway. It is those small ‘wins’ that can keep you going. But, if you look back over a longer time period, you might see more of the influence that you have had. Look back at plans from 7 years ago and then at some from this year. I think that you will see that there has been a slow change in the what is being planned; a change for the better. And I would say that you provided some of the local impetus for that change – even if it was only so that ‘EricDarwinComplainyPants’ didn’t rip the design apart in public.

    You have kept us (Your reach is much broader than just the West Side, by the way.) informed and entertained for 7 great years. Your analysis, comments, and even (occasional) praise has helped make things better for us all. Even if it is just that your critique of a project supports our own reservation about it. You have built a community around your blog, and I think that you already have a ‘brand’ from it.

    Well done, Eric. I appreciate the time that you put in to your blog (and other efforts). I’m looking forward to the next 7 years; what-ever direction it takes.

  5. “Our problems in Ottawa aren’t so much we don’t know what to do, as that we don’t reach high enough, and we spend wa-a-a-a-y too much money doing / subsidizing the wrong things” is a direct quote from your blog above. I state it because it sums up so succinctly your ability to distill the essentials. And yes, as others have said, your influence goes ay beyond the West End.

    I have become an avid reader of your blog and most times find interesting ideas in it. If you contemplate change, think of the attention span of readers. It is shorter that it used to be. Perhaps hit even harder but somewhat shorter. The title is great unless you wish to be identified as an OTTAWA at large commentator. That is up to you.

    Back to the quote: we struggle with how we could get our (we know what to do) ideas to the folks that actually shape our urban space, both in buildings and systems. I would like to get some answers and mutate to an action group. You are of course right about the spending part, and we have many examples of futile waste of funds for the glory of it rather than parsimonious spending on healthy ideas building on what we have. Our “leaders” may suffer from visions of grandiosity.

  6. Eric, I am a relative new comer to the WestSideAction website. That your focus is on the communities just to the west of downtown is not a concern to me, as many of the topics you address are applicable across the city. For example, your February 8 article on traffic calming gave me some ideas that we are now trying to implement in Centrepointe, as “temporary” steps while we await the completion of a more comprehensive traffic calming study.

    I have taken the time to look at the other articles on the website and find them more insightful than inciteful. That they may rock the boat at City Hall is actually a good thing. While some people want a revolution in planning (and I use the term loosely) in Ottawa, the more likely outcome will be evolution, and evolution is the result of constant pressure on the status quo, like that applied by the blogosphere, as certain sites gain traction.

    Finally, the recent change in layout is great. It is far easier to navigate to the site.

  7. Eric, I happened upon your site several years ago when I was doing some personal research into what was happening with developments along the o-train at Carling/Preston-ish.

    Since then I look forward to your blog posts. You manage to render the gobbledgook down into something accessible for ‘lay people’. I find your posts interesting and insightful.

    Keep up the good work!

  8. I’ve been reading your blog for several years (via RSS) and would hate to see it go. It is a main source of news about Ottawa for me. However, I would understand it if you packed it in, it must get discouraging that there are so many opportunities to recite rote repetitions of the same issues. I’d encourage you to try to get a wider audience, perhaps via op-ed columns in the Citizen or perhaps something on local CBC radio or TV. Ultimately change will only come via the political process, imperfect though it is. A more informed citizenry etc. Whatever you decide, best wishes, the blog has been an education.

  9. I think you shouldn’t feel handcuffed by the location and theme of your blog (it’s not really like you have been). Definitely keep WSA going as much as you feel inclined.

    I too, am happy to read new posts. Even though I live in the Glebe, not the WestSide, I still really appreciate your hyper-local fine-grained observations about the day-to-day changes taking place in your hood.

    You’re lucky that you don’t have to worry about paid employment anymore, but maybe you could broaden your influence? More contributions to Spacing, or maybe something for the Project for Public Spaces? Although professional planners don’t give much respect to gadflys, there is certainly a place for them.

    I’ve been a complainy-pants in the Glebe about the Lansdowne scheme, but haven’t been organized enough to actually collect my thoughts into a proper blog. Instead, sniping from the sidelines via social media or 311.
    And although there seem to be plenty of people who don’t appreciate my interventions, there are others that do. So, I keep snipping and sniping from time to time.

  10. I enjoy your Blog as it is, although I do longer live in downtown Ottawa West. It is very useful to have your perspective on what is happening in your part the City as well as good examples of good urban planning in other cities, as it may in future be applicable to where I live now; River Park; as the LRT , Linear Park and intensification expands westward.

    As an aside: you may be interested in the following Leeds University Study on the potential positive and negative impact of Driver less cars on the Urban environment


  11. Keep up the great work. Personally, I like the focus on the area west of downtown (but then I do live in it)!

  12. I really enjoy your writing. It isn’t too stuffy (eg. the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway) but it always takes itself seriously enough to be educational. You have certainly had some influence on me. I’ve gone out to open houses and city presentations because you mentioned them in your blog. I’ve also asked questions and made comments that were derived from ideas that I read here.

    If you are running low on ideas I suggest you bring in some guest bloggers or do some interviews. Perhaps there are people in other communities who would like to talk about similar issues. I figure there must be quite a few issues in the redevelopment of Westboro, but Westboro seems to be a bit beyond your self imposed boundaries for WestsideAction.

  13. I read nearly every post of this blog. It teaches me things about the city, both old and new, that I would otherwise not know. I don’t feel like you’re trying to sell me anything, just inform me. And you write well. I encourage you to keep going if you can.

  14. Hi Eric,
    I got to know of your blog through a fellow reader. I live in the area and find what you’re writing about interesting and topical. Thanks and I hope you keep it up.

  15. I came across your blog a few years ago when I moved into the neighbourhood and was looking up something transit related ( thank you google). I have been a regular follower ever since. I love the local (west side, but also generally ottawa – centric) focus. It’s one of the sources I’ve found for what’s going on in my community from a development perspective and I think it’s a shame more people don’t pay attention to local issues. If you stopped writing the blog, I’m not sure where else I would go to get a similar kind of insight and analysis.

  16. Hi Eric- I love your blogs and perspective as a former city planner. The only thing with the title is how far west is west? I asked West Ottawa News to stop delivering to my address as the articles had nothing to do with my neighbourhood. It’s covered in the two Centretown papers. But please don’t stop blogging. You’re always interesting and timely.

  17. Thanks for the past and present posts. For the future there is nothing I would want removed, just a couple of possible intermittent additions. (1) Occasionally writing opinion pieces for the Citizen would be good. The two advantages there are broader reach for the published opinion, and more exposure for the blog, pulling in more readers and commenters in the long term. (2) Solicit post ideas from readers and if you like an idea but feel [s]lazy[/s] like someone else can do it better then ask the requester if they would be interested in writing it as a guest post, with you as editor. I’d love to read pieces in the same vein by Dennis or Richard.

  18. Eric I can’t remember how I discovered the blog when it was over on blogspot but I have been a faithful reader ever since. As a resident of the “Westside” I appreciate your insight into local issues and I have been motivated to contact my local representative on a few issues due to your blog. I enjoy following your travels and study of how other urban areas work and the practical applications it could have for Ottawa.

  19. Hey – this is _your_ blog; take it where your heart leads you. You don’t owe us followers anything; it’s we who are in your debt. If you take the blog in a different direction you might lose some followers as you pick up new ones.
    Followers are like habits: good helpers but bad masters. (I’m sure I’m misquoting somebody.)
    (I’m a relatively new follower – 3 years. I read most issues thoroughly, some issue briefly, and some issues not at all, guided by your titles and introductions.)

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