Driven to do better

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Aug 10

(This article first appeared in OBJ, It is the final installment in a 2-part series.)

City of Ottawa planner Alain Miguelez is nothing if not a
planetary citizen—born in Argentina, Alain and his parents moved to Ottawa (via
France) when he was 2. 


Alain Miguelez 

After growing up in this city, becoming an urban
geography buff (with a focus on old, local movie theatres), being fluent in
three languages (Spanish, English and French), getting his masters in planning
from the University of Montreal, doing an internship with the National Capital
Commission and later joining planning and engineering group Stantec, followed
by a four year stint at Canada Mortgage and Housing (CMHC), Alain was ready to
shake up a staid planning department from the moment he joined in 2002, a year
after amalgamation of 11 municipalities and one regional government by the
provincial government into the thing we now know as “Ottawa”.

If that resume hasn’t exhausted you yet, Mr. Miguelez
somehow found time to get married, father two children and write two books, the
most recent being a coffee table monster titled Transforming Ottawa, Canada’s Capital in the eyes of Jacques Gréber,
Old Ottawa Press, 2016. It seeks to explain why Ottawa looks the way it does, and why it has
evolved the way it has—based as it is largely on the Gréber Plan, completed
shortly after the end of World War II.

But it was his stint at CMHC that opened Alain’s eyes to the
realties of housing—everything from helping underwriters (who approve each and
every home loan in Canada including yours and mine) with a soup-to-nuts
analysis of single family and multi-residential construction to looking at how
to make the public room (streets, squares, public spaces) more interesting,
more animated and safer to taking down barriers to make it simpler for
homeowners and developers to add their bit to the mix.

What Alain didn’t expect to find was: “There is a legacy of
fear and paranoia among residents… a deep concern over how to achieve greater
proximity (planner-speak for higher density and more intensity, the latter
meaning mixing different types of uses together in the same space or very close
to each other). People are trying to find culprits. As in, ‘Who ruined my

The answer, Mr. Miguelez says, after a moment’s reflection,
is: “It’s a shared responsibility. First, we got sprawl via the introduction of
the private car. Then we became over-regulated by policy that tried to control
everything. Look, detailed regulations remove creativity; they take too long to
satisfy, and there are too many fees.

“Did you know that it would be impossible, impossible, to build a desirable
community like the Glebe today? It was once considered a suburb, you know. So
why can’t Kanata, Riverside South, Orleans, Barrhaven look more
like that?”

The answer according to Alain and his boss, John Smit, is
two fold: a) prescriptive zoning codes that have put development in a
straightjacket, and b) developers themselves need to break free of a car-based
mindset that took hold in the 1960s and 1970s and has been flourishing, to the
detriment of our city, ever since.

“We need to focus on developing personalities for different
enclaves,” says John. “We have great neighborhoods like Little Italy,
Chinatown, Centretown, old Ottawa South, Lansdowne, Vanier,
Byward Market, Lower Town, Britannia, Mechanicsville, Hintonburg,
Overbrook, and Manor
Park. We have to build on
what we have, and then make sure we don’t leave suburban places out of this new
approach to community development. This is crucial—we need an Ottawa
brand that can match that of Mississauga or, for
that matter, Toronto.”


John Smit

Alain eagerly completes the next lap in this two-man relay
by adding, “We have an acronym for it too, Bruce: BBSS.”

I take the bait as I busily take notes on my tablet with my
three finger typing, “What? What does that stand for, Alain?”

“Building better smarter suburbs,” he says with a charming

Only members of the armed forces like acronyms better than
urban planners, but I take their point—Ottawa
can do, and is doing better.

I have a sense that the millennial generation, unfairly
criticized as the “140 character generation”, will be a great one—maybe their
achievements in robotics, artificial intelligence, medicine/wellness, business
models, green tech, farming (grow local), driverless electric vehicles, virtual and augmented reality, social media, communication, space travel, mass customization… will
rival that of the generation that took humans from horse-drawn trolleys circa
1899 to the moon in 1969.

So the foremost challenge this community (and, frankly,
every city, town and village) faces, is to keep and attract millennials. Ottawa’s planning
department will do their part to make this city a more attractive place for
them to live, work, make and create if Alain and John get their way.

M Firestone, PhD, Ottawa Senators founder, Century 21 Explorer Realty broker.
Follow him on twitter @ProfBruce

part 1:

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.