The pandemic drove more of us to think about the 15 minute neighbourhood. As we pivoted to a life closer to home, many of us started to ask questions like- what if I didn’t need my car to get eggs? Could my kids learn to swim around the corner? Could my road be temporarily pedestrianized?
Those questions led to bigger stances - I want to help improve my neighbourhood. I am going to raise my voice in my community and influence change!
Sadly, most of us quickly become apathetic and dismiss the possibility of being able to make a difference. We then jump into the car and retreat to Costco for 7kg of peanut butter lamenting failed traffic calming measures along the way.
Impacting your surroundings is easier than you think.
Here are three ways you can influence the growth of your neighbourhood: volunteer, take an interest in municipal affairs and support local business.
There is sometimes trepidation on behalf of residents to begin a volunteer relationship with their community. Fear of longwinded meetings, incurring unforeseen costs or serving out hot chocolate to ungrateful kids are some images that come to mind. Truth is, volunteering is managed by the individual. Your time, your choices. In most areas of the City, you can find a role that is interesting and right for you.
Many communities have associations. Typically a decent reflection of the area’s population, community associations manage initiatives such as events, fundraisers and political advocacy. With a role for all strengths, a well-managed community association can be the lifeblood of your neighbourhood. Politicians at all levels often look to their community associations for on the ground information and guidance. On the front line of the mundane as well as the controversial, community associations are often the springboard for local movements.
Whether you join a community association or remain a solo act, managing a healthy interest in municipal affairs can improve your home and its surroundings. The least sexy level of government, municipal is the most utilitarian and most often affects your daily life. You need not pen weekly letters to your Councilor. Staying on top of developments, streetscape projects and safety issues in your neighbourhood, is as easy as skimming over a weekly newsletter, joining a social media group or picking up your local (printed!) paper.
Finally, support your local, small businesses.
It is unlikely that Giant Tiger will open up down the street. If you want services close by, it’s the ardent entrepreneurial operations that will fill that void. However, they must see viability in the opportunity. If small businesses are moving out of your area due to lack of local support, the chances of new services moving in are pretty slim.
It is crucial that budding businesses are encouraged. However, the pressure is not all on the consumer. In the age of box stores, some outside of the box thinking is required on the part of small business owners.
In addition to outdoor farmers’ markets, Ottawa Street Markets manages an Online Market featuring 40 local businesses. To host our online pickup points across the City, we purposely partner with community oriented, small businesses. They get the additional feet in the door, our local vendors have an all year round point of sale and residents regularly visit a business that they may have not otherwise discovered.
City staff, Councilors and the many mandated arm’s length organizations (BIAs, Ottawa Public Library, Ottawa Community Housing) are all dedicated to bettering Ottawa. Although their intentions are good, they cannot always be on the ground with the average resident. Community associations, local businesses and individuals serve as necessary representation and are of immeasurable value to the aforementioned powers that be.
In short, it is up to us to create additional tools for the City and its partners. As well funded as they are, they may not always spend your money in ways that you feel best benefits your neighbourhood. With so many options to voice your opinion, donate your time and intentionally direct spending, the ability to improve your neighbourhood awaits you.