Ottawa’s Creativity-Reality Gap (Part I) Guest Blog- Martin Canning

In 2009, the Martin Prosperity Institute – a creation of Richard Florida – partnered with the Ontario Government to benchmark Ottawa-Gatineau’s competitive performance in the so-called creative economy. Our ’3Ts’ were evaluated: technology, talent, and tolerance. Surprisingly – or not – we placed number one. According to Florida’s creativity index, Ottawa-Gatineau is the most creative among the metropolitan peer regions that were selected in the study, and third most creative among all 374 metropolitan regions in North America (as well as first in Canada, overall). This senior ranking is interesting on many levels but it’s particularly interesting because of the partial mismatch with how we have built our city.

One indicator of municipal policy effectiveness and taxpayer value is a city’s sustainability performance. Although the process of realizing or operationalizing sustainability approaches obviously takes time, the general argument for the principals of sustainability is essentially over – from waste diversion to alternative energy the shift is taking place. Today, the primary debate exists mostly around timelines and will, whereas the administrative trend is clear: there is no alternative.
Observing from a City of Ottawa perspective, our sustainability performance, oddly, never ranks first, regardless of the evaluation, and despite our disproportionate and impressive level of creativity. Over the last five years, numerous evaluations have been administered within local, provincial, national, and international contexts, and Ottawa rarely displays more than a mid-level performance. See Table1 for an overview.[1]
Table 1. Summary of Sustainability Performance Reports, Ottawa
Ecology Ottawa: Council Watch Report, 2011
Community Foundation of Ottawa: Vital Signs, 2010
Pembina Institute: Ontario Community Sustainability Report, 2007
5th of 27
Corporate Knights: Most Sustainable Cities, 2011
8th of 11
World Wildlife Fund Canada: Earth Hour List, 2011
0 of 10
Conference Board of Canada: City Magnets II, 2010
29th of 50
Seimens: US and Canada Green City Index, 2010
12th of 27
Mercer: Quality of Living Survey, 2010
3rd of 221
TomTom North American Congestion Index, 2012
10th of 26
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: the core of the most creative region in the country; the capital city of a G8 nation; centrally located in one of the most developed countries and economies in the world; home of our Prime Minister and a National Capital Commission that amplifies our municipality’s resources and capacity; and yet, we remain middle-of-the-road when it comes to our sustainability performance.
In part, this is not a uniquely Ottawan experience. Municipal-level public administration and participation is sometimes perceived as a less significant matter than at other levels of government. But a new political landscape is emerging and cities around the world are increasingly becoming central actors. They are harnessing their creative capacities and focusing their potential toward their built environments. Canadian cities that are leading our country in economic growth – like Toronto and Vancouver – are also positioned as urban sustainability leaders, other top metropolitan economies are working to reach that coveted position, as well (ex. Edmonton’s investment in its City Centre Redevelopment plan, which includes the development of a massive carbon neutral neighbourhood). There are sound, economic explanations for this common feature among our country’s leading urban centres. In simple terms, sustainability makes business sense.
In Ottawa, according to objective accounts, there is a clear gap between the creativity that makes us Ottawan and our ability to harness that creativity into building an era-appropriate municipal performance. One clear choice that will help bring Ottawa’s economic prosperity to a competitive level with other Canadian cities would be to close our creativity-reality gap. Increasing our strategic resources to better integrate sustainability into our built environment would constitute a major step in the right direction.

[1] Most of the evaluations listed focus on the City if Ottawa (i.e. the municipality) and not the metropolitan region (i.e. Ottawa-Gatineau). It should also be noted that certain evaluations display greater methodological rigor than others. Seimens, Conference Board of Canada, and the Pembina Institute displayed the highest level of validity of the reports listed; Mercer and the Community Foundation of Ottawa displayed the lowest. The TomTom report presents ratings from worst to best (i.e. Ottawa is the 10th most congested city of the 26), whereas all the other reports listed present their ratings from best to worst.

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