Next up in the candidate Q&A series…Thomas McVeigh, who is running for city council in Ward 14 Somerset.
As mentioned, I’ve decided to use the blog as a bit of a platform for Ottawa Election 2014. These posts are not endorsements; any urban Ottawa candidate can participate and I’ll be asking everyone the same four questions.
Here we go…
1. Tell us a little bit about your background and why you are running for City Council. What do you have to offer Somerset Ward?
Like many of us, I grew up with Sesame Street showing us an idyllic version of an urban street. One where the grocer was Mr. Hooper, and the street people were grouchy but nice. In a way, I think that ideal is what we’re all trying to recreate when we choose to live downtown.
That idyllic downtown is safe, has schools, businesses, lots of diverse people, and occasional ensemble song and dance numbers.
I have a background in small business, and have been involved in business associations for the last couple of decades, including a long stint on the Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s Street Issues Committee. Currently I am on the board of the Wellington West BIA. I have been involved in community associations since the founding of the Downtown Victoria Residents Association over a decade ago, and I’ve been involved in the Centretown Citizens Community Association for the last six years. I have been a small part of various arts groups, promoted live music, arts festivals, and been active as the treasurer of a Linux Users Group. I am a proud parent to a four and a half year old boy and a newborn girl, so soon I’ll probably start becoming part of the school community.
Which is a long winded way of saying that I get involved in my community, and I am always trying to make it better. I have a broad range of experience that will benefit the community should they elect me as their representative on city council. I have the wisdom to know that there is always more than one way to do it, it’s just a matter of figuring out which way works in a given situation.
Just don’t expect an ensemble song and dance number on Bank St. In my first term.
2. What are two of the biggest challenges facing your community and what do you plan to do about them?
Managing development and traffic in the downtown core are the two biggest challenges in my ward.
Most of the people who choose to live downtown accept that there is going to be a lot of intensification in our wards. We welcome our new neighbours and the added amenities that they bring. The vision that Ottawa has chosen is one where we accept higher density in one area in order to protect other areas. The Centretown Community Design Plan calls for higher buildings along the Catherine Street Corridor and in the Northern Character Area. In exchange we get to protect the low rise areas in the Golden Triangle and in the areas west of Kent St. In Little Italy, they were very accepting of the towers being proposed along Carling Ave., and outraged that a mid-rise tower was proposed on Norman St. in the middle of the low rise areas. I plan on making that stance even more explicit, and will fight very hard for the character of our existing low rise neighbourhoods, as well as working with developers to make the new high rise neighbourhoods as well designed as possible. We need to protect the diversity of our housing stock. We’ll be seeing the Chaudiere Island redevelopment start in the next term of council, and that will probably set a very high bar for how development should be done, in terms of consultation, environmental sensitivity and urban design.
The other part of improving livability in the core is managing traffic. Between my home and my son’s school are Kent, Bank, Metcalfe and O’Connor. Making these roads into something other than on and off ramps for 416 is a challenge. Many of the parents in the ward see Preston and Rochester as similar obstacles as thousands of cars and hundreds of trucks daily use these roads as their route to and from Gatineau and their children go to Devonshire and Connaught or Fisher. Albert and Slater will be bus routes until the Confederation line is finished. Creating safe routes for pedestrians and bicycles along and across these flows of automobiles and heavy trucks is going to be a challenge. One of the best solutions will be making many of the one way streets into two way streets. Lowering the default speed in the city would be one very good way to make the roads in our community safer.
3. What can be done to improve Ottawa’s urban neighbourhoods for families and get more families living downtown?
Ottawa’s urban neighbourhoods are already great for families. I chose to live downtown in large part because the time I don’t spend commuting is time I can spend with my family. We need more and better parks, sure, but I can walk with my kids to the Museum of Nature, the National Art Gallery and the Museum of History. I’ve walked with my son to a local restaurant to sit at the bar. I’ve had a beer and he’s had an apple juice and we’ve discussed the finer points of Digimon. I can walk him to school. Although some of the streets in my neighbourhood are scary to bike on, my kids can learn to bike on the tree lined street I live on. I may not have a big backyard, but Dundonald Park, McNabb Park and the parks on Elgin St are all within a few blocks of my home. My wife and I can go out for dinner or a drink at some of the best restaurants in the city within easy walking distance.
Really, the main reason families choose not to live downtown is affordability. There simply is too high a demand for housing for families, and not enough supply, so prices are high. The kind of house in which you can raise a family, located in the downtown neighbourhoods like Sandy Hill, Centretown, The Glebe, Hintonburg or Westboro has become too expensive for most. We need to increase the stock of buildings in our inner core with more than bachelor and one or two bedroom apartments. New mid- and high-rises should be encouraged to include a diversity of apartment sizes, as well as other formats like stacked town-homes in order to accommodate lower income families in the core who probably cannot afford the price tag of a hundred year old brick single family dwelling in the inner neighbourhoods, with the accompanying maintenance costs. We also need more housing for seniors in the core, so that some of the folk who have lived in our community for decades can give up the homes they can no longer look after and still be in the community.
4. In one sentence, what’s the best thing about Somerset Ward?
Diversity. Diversity of culture, of income, of age, of love, of experience, of everything.
Thomas McVeigh’s website
Thomas McVeigh on Twitter
If you’re running in the upcoming municipal election and would like to participate, let me know at email@example.com