By Chris Penton, Beechwood Market president. This article appeared in the April 2021 edition of the New Edinburgh News.
Much noise has been made of the race to create 15-minute neighbourhoods in Ottawa. Beechwood Village is certainly part of that race. Like many neighbourhoods in the urban core, we have a variety of amenities. But, also like many neighbourhoods in the core, we are missing some too. Beechwood Village is more of a … 21-minute neighbourhood.
Arguably every corner of Ottawa is a 21-minute neighbourhood. The additional six minutes comes from trips to Costco for 3kg of peanut butter, to the dentist you have been with since you were a child and, ironically, to fill up the tank for the next trip for peanut butter.
In a city ruled by strip malls and suburban development, the need to leave your neck of the woods has become inevitable. To feel shame about the departure is not only wrong, but futile. Beechwood area businesses don’t need your guilt; they need your help. They need your business and they need you to truly get behind the #SupportLocal movement. It is too common for Ottawans to point out what is missing, quickly groan, and then jump into the car to get it.
For years you have been told that there is no hardware store, chocolate shop, or vintage diner because commercial rents are too high. This is probably true.
What if there was a way the City could step in and help change our shopping landscape? Consider the following.
Just as there are incentives to build affordable housing (tax breaks for exceeding seven units, rent subsidies for up to 20 years for landlords and so on) there could easily be incentives to open up affordable commercial space to smaller stores and services. Mandate developers and landlords to offer a quarter of their commercial square footage at a reduced rate. Since the concept already applies to residential units, why not commercial? In doing so, local residents get a service for which they have been asking; small businesses get a chance to prove themselves; and landlords fill spots which may very well have stayed empty for years.
The City of Ottawa talks a mean streak when it comes to supporting local enterprise and bolstering small businesses in order to create 15-minute neighbourhoods. However, extending patio licenses into the coldest months, offering up endless food truck licenses, and promoting an obscure ‘buy local’ passport are band-aid solutions. Bring in solid measures like mandated affordable commercial space and you’ll see ice cream shops, family-owned hardware stores, and bakeries reappear.
In order for these sorts of things to happen, residents must buy in. Firstly, continue to support your existing main-street businesses. Secondly, ask your local politicians why commercial rents are so high. Tell them which amenities you’d like to have within walking distance. Another sensible step is to call the Quartier Vanier Business Improvement Association (QVBIA). Charged with attracting new businesses to your main street, they want to hear from their shopping public.
There is no reason why Beechwood Village couldn’t be a 15-minute neighbourhood. But it will take more than talk to allow us the short walk.
Chris Penton is the President of the Beechwood Market, Ottawa’s online farmers market: beechwoodmarket.ca. A community builder, he is a past-president of the Vanier Community Association, current board member of the Vanier BIA, and ran for municipal office in 2019. A version of this column appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on Feb. 12, 2021.