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Infrastructure woes, lousy transit, health-care waits beset Ottawa



Infrastructure woes, lousy transit, health-care waits beset Ottawa

The system is beyond broken. Where is the outrage? Where is the leadership? writes Alexandra Zannis.

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I’ve been in Ottawa for six years and feel like I’ve given it a better college try than most.

I moved here in 2017 to go to university, but after the O-Train closures in July, I don’t think I can take much more.

Despite thinking I would only be here for two years, I’ve developed a life I’m proud of in Ottawa even if I haven’t figured this place out. I brushed off the people who told me it was “the city that fun forgot.” I was excited about diving into my new home, and as someone who has moved around and travelled to lots of remote places, I was confident in my ability to make my own fun.

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But as my time in Ottawa progressed, I realized the small-town feel makes it hard to live daily life. More concerning than the lacklustre Spark Street, or the car-infested ByWard Market, was the inability to access basic services or find common-sense city planning, making normal life a struggle.

I noticed almost immediately upon moving here that public infrastructure is far behind that of other major Canadian cities. I quickly learned that although the heat and humidity were more unbearable than in Calgary or Vancouver, there are virtually no water fountains or public outdoor pools — at least, not in the city core. Despite having beautiful green space along the rivers and Rideau Canal, and the amazing trails at Dow’s Lake and the Arboretum, there is virtually nowhere to fill up a water bottle for you or your pet. Bike lanes are also abysmal: people die each year due to the lack of good bike lane or pedestrian infrastructure.

With a lack of such infrastructure, you would think the city would invest in a robust transit system, but that is not the case. Coming from Calgary, I know the C-train system, which has been around since the 1980s, is reliable, and withstands both the heat and cold. The horrifying O-train and OC Transpo system in Ottawa makes it almost impossible to not have a car.

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And access to health-care services is near impossible in the downtown core. Despite my being on a waitlist for a family doctor for four years, medical services, walk-in clinics, laboratories and diagnostic imaging are a complete joke for those living in the city centre. No labs are open downtown past about 3 p.m.; there are zero ultrasound services and the one (sometimes two) walk-in clinics will run you six hours to see a physician — but only if you’re in line 45 minutes before registration begins. There is also only one sexual health clinic.

My sister and I both had similar experiences recently: she (in Calgary) went to urgent care and waited 1.5 hours, while I went to a walk-in here and waited 6.5. This system is beyond broken, so where is the outrage? Where is the leadership? The mayor seems more concerned with bolstering police budgets and ensuring streets are open to cars than fixing any of this.

I’m not surprised that Ottawa struggles to retain businesses downtown or keep young, ambitious people who want to reimagine a better city. When I heard of the politics here like the NCC cracking down on kids for operating a lemonade stand, or noise complaints during the one music festival a year held at Lansdowne, I am disheartened.

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Not to mention that the big arena is miles away from me, and  the hoped-for inner-city location has an O-Train platform that can’t manage “large crowds.” My list could go on and on.

If this were Calgary or Vancouver, I would imagine people rioting.

I’m no longer apologetic when people come to visit and are shocked that this is our “capital city.” I’m disgruntled at the lack of leadership from the Ottawa-Centre MP, MPP and those  municipal officials from the suburbs who don’t have to struggle through real Ottawa problems.

I love my neighbours, appreciate my job and respect the historical significance of this place, but it’s really almost impossible to stay and envision life here for me or my prospective family, especially knowing how much better it is elsewhere.

It really raises the question: how long can you love a place that refuses to love you back?

Alexandra Zannis is a social worker who lives in Ottawa Centre.

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