Dude, where's my city?

So there’s a door, right? And on each side of the door are two vastly different worlds.

On one side, the world is smaller, but it’s bright and warm, and the people are content as they move around from place to place, laughing, socializing, eating, and of course, consuming. On the other side, everything feels cold and uninviting. There are people here, too, but they are fewer. They often seem harried and anxious, and they will avoid eye contact with every passerby they see.

 Downtown is hauntingly dead at 1:00 PM on a Saturday

Downtown is hauntingly dead at 1:00 PM on a Saturday

This isn’t the premise of a Neil Gaiman-esque fantasy tale. This is downtown Ottawa at midday on one of the last nice Saturdays of the year. And the door leads from the Rideau Centre to Rideau Street.

See, even covered in scaffolding during its facelift, the Rideau Centre is still a warm, cozy environment, with its upscale shops and new food court—which looks like it belongs on a spaceship. We love to talk about how it’s shaping into a sexy, modern shopping centre.

Which is great for the mall, yeah. But we seem less up to talking about the neighbourhood around it. As I observed over this weekend, and many times before it, most everyone seemed to be rushing from one nice spot to another, anxious not to spend too much time outside. This was especially true if they had children.

 Rideau Centre slowly unveils its new skin

Rideau Centre slowly unveils its new skin

As it turns out, having a space-age shopping centre in the middle of your neighbourhood does not actually do much to clean up the place. It doesn’t put roofs over the heads of the homeless (in fact, it seems to be taking them away, as little nooks and crannies once used for shelter disappear in the new design). It doesn’t clean up the streets. It certainly doesn’t stop downtown from being a hub for street harassment—many women I know refuse to go there alone at night, and some won’t even go alone during the day.

When I settled in Ottawa in 1999, things were not like this. I could walk pretty far from my mother’s hand without being pulled back in worry. But neighbourhoods change. Some improve, some get worse. I hope that just because it’s worse now doesn’t mean it won’t be better in the future.

Hollaback! is an initiative to end street harassment.

The Ottawa Mission, Harmony House and The Youth Services Bureau all offer shelter for people in need, and all accept donations.


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Zac Emery

Zac Emery is an Ottawa-based writer, amateur photographer, and karaoke enthusiast. When he’s not pursuing his interests as a writer or doing course work for Algonquin’s Professional Writing program, he can usually be found pretending to be a rock star in front of a mirror or collecting comic books.

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