Another tempest in our obesity-ridden, unfulfilled teacup …. Holly Chabowski, of England, and Nanna Sorenson, of Denmark, are very disappointed with Canada. They came here on a vacation, and toured Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, Quebec City and Halifax, along with some naturally scenic areas, such as Algonquin Park, the Bay of Fundy and the Gaspé region. They, apparently, did not enjoy their trip. They wrote an open letter to a few Canadian politicians, including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, colourful Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, denouncing Canada’s cars-first culture, pollution and fat people. Oh, and also, the “unfulfilled communities”. Their overwhelming impression of Canada is “great oceans of car parks”. Downtowns, which were “quite pleasant”, were surrounded by “this sea of Tim Hortons and McDonald’s and Walmarts and another Tim Hortons”. Poor Ms. Chabowski and Ms. Sorenson say they had to “fight” their way through to get to the nice stuff. Ms. Chabowski, although she cycles to work every day at home,”wouldn’t have cycled in any of the cities in Canada”. You know, all five that she visited …. In talking to like-minded people, they found a few choice sound-bites to bolster their argument, and away they went.
Chabowski admits European cities are built differently, most cities having been designed with pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages in mind rather than cars …. and therein lies the rub. Canada is over two hundred times the size of Denmark, and did alot of its growing during the golden age of the automobile. The infrastructure reflects that.
As citizens of Ottawa, we work with what we have. It’s fine for tourists to complain that public transportation is not given enough emphasis; they don’t have to use it every day to get somewhere on time. If they did, they might understand why people use cars. In most parts of Ottawa, taking the bus doubles your time in transit. Yes, it’s true, we have alot of parking lots. However, Chabowski and Sorenson were probably shopping for, at most, a few souvenirs and an emergency tube of toothpaste. If I’m shopping for my family’s groceries, plus the bulky packages of toilet paper and tissues, liquour, back-to-school supplies and perhaps even furniture, I’m not lugging it all on the damn bus. I’m taking my car, and I need somewhere to park. I might even be doing this shopping on my lunch break, or during rush hour, which means I need to take the fastest possible way: my car. Have they considered the fact that many people’s trips include small children, the elderly or mobility challenges? Or do they assume that most of us are couch-surfing twenty- and thirty-somethings with nothing to think about aside from ourselves, and all freakin’ day to gaily cycle wherever we want?
And then there’s the issue of the type of establishments the two Europeans encountered …. On a vacation, I can spring for expensive coffees, products and services. In my everyday life, I rely on the rock-bottom prices offered by places like Tim Hortons and Walmart – and so do most people I know. Yes, Holly and Nanna, go ahead and enjoy the delightfully twee upscale shops found in the downtown of many cities – you should. You’re on a holiday. But bear in mind that, if I pay those prices for my morning joe or my household goods every day of my life, I’ll be in the red fairly quickly. I, and other ordinary people, need these big-box eyesores to get by. Since you had to soil your eyes with them for less than a week of your entire precious lives, perhaps you’ll forgive us.
In short, I live here, and I need it to be liveable. Yes, public transportation could be improved – and we’re working on it. Yes, we need to get around the almighty car to explore other modes of getting from point A to point B. In the meantime, though, we’re doing our best to deal with what we have. And we really don’t need condescending drivel from people who spend about three days in our city as visitors, then bitch off back to Europe to whine about how the city we live in doesn’t suit their fancy. The people who have to deal with the city day-in-day-out are the ones who should decide what happens in that city – not tourists.
As an aside …. What does “unfulfilled community” even mean, anyway? And how in the name of cufflink fasteners did they come up with that verdict?