My father brought me the main section of today’s Ottawa Citizen - December 1st. In it was a letter to the editor from local resident and sometimes MPC contributor, Douglas Cornish. Mr.Cornish was asserting that Beechwood Avenue (I prefer Beechwood Village) did not fit into the latest urban-planning speak of a 15 minute neighbourhood. In fact, it had become a 30 minute neighbourhood due to the need to walk to Byward for most amenities. Since Mr. Cornish was willing to put his opinion forward in such a public forum, I am going to assume that he is open to criticism. So, here it is. He is wrong.
At most, we are a 21 minute neighbourhood. (The additional six minutes comes from trips to the various discount stores on St Laurent Blvd, Trainyards or to make use of your $60 Costco membership. You simply cannot get a 3kg jar of peanuts in Beechwood Village.)
Suggesting we need to leave our corner of the City to find basic amenities not only denigrates the services that do exist in Beechwood Village, but suggests that the majority of locals are not in support of our small businesses.
There is much to celebrate in Beechwood Village. I would suggest that Mr. Cornish slow down in his haste to reach the Byward Market and take a closer look at what is available in Beechwood Village.
Books on Beechwood, Jacobson’s and the Beechwood Market all offer personal service, unique items and rarely stick you with a lineup. Our eatery choices also offer an attractive variety. Visits to Bibi’s, Chilaquiles, Fraser’s will satisfy more than a few culinary cravings. We also have a butcher, shoe repair shop, seamstress and topnotch hair stylist. If you are paying attention, you will discover even more shops and services.
Of course, there is room for improvement; not for a minute would I deny the fact that we are missing a few integral services. But, too many of us point at an insufficiency, moan about it, accept it and choose the next thing in line.
The go to excuse for Beechwood Village being held back from becoming a 15 minute neighbourhood is the cost of commercial rent in our new builds. This is indeed an impediment.
Here’s an idea to help Beechwood Village move from a 21 minute neighbourhood to a 15.
Just as there are incentives to build affordable housing – tax breaks for exceeding seven units, rent subsidies for up to 20 years for landlords and so on - there could easily be incentives to open up affordable commercial space to more stores and services. Mandate developers and landlords to offer a quarter of their commercial square footage at a reduced rate. Since the concept already applies to residential units, why not commercial? In doing so, local residents get a service for which they have been asking , small businesses get a chance to prove themselves and landlords fill spots which may have stayed empty for years.
The City of Ottawa talks a mean streak when it comes to supporting local enterprise and bolstering small businesses in order to create 15 minute neighbourhoods. However, extending patio licenses into the coldest months, offering up endless food truck licenses and promoting an obscure ‘buy local’ passport are, at best, band aid solutions. Bring in solid measures like mandated affordable commercial space and you’ll see chocolate shops, family owned hardware stores and bakeries reappear.
Adopting such measures would make Mr. Cornish’s walk that much more fulfilling (and shorter). Far from impossible, these sorts of movements often begin with an idea.