I like to bike. I bike to campus. I bike to the store to pick up groceries. I bike to the gym. And even when I used to work out in Kanata and live in the south end of Ottawa, there were some times when I would bike to work on a nice day. Biking is simply the best way to get around Ottawa, especially during the summer. It’s exciting to be a part of an organization that looks to make Ottawa’s streets more bike and people friendly, along with the great work they do fighting climate change and protecting our water and trees.
Being a university student at Carleton, biking makes it much easier for me to get around town on my own without needing to spend my tuition money on a car and gas. While public transit is definitely an option, if you’ve lived in Ottawa and come to know it well, chances are you’ve realized by now that it isn’t the best as you become increasingly dependent on bus schedules. That is why it can be much more freeing to go by bike, getting up and going as you please. From the number of cyclists I see on Ottawa’s streets, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.
What you might not think of, however, is that unlike driving or busing, biking makes it possible to get to know your city and neighborhood better. It is faster to get from one location to another by car, and usually much easier. Unless of course it’s downtown – in which case, have fun finding a spot and paying for parking. However, that also means you might not be as aware of who and what you live with in the city: the elderly man who has difficulty crossing an intersection in time, the farmers’ market that runs on weekends and sells local produce way cheaper, and so many other things. In short, you can become less aware and less concerned about your surroundings while sitting behind a window, as I realized whenever I commuted to work.
I would not say it was an accident, then, that I first heard of Ecology Ottawa when I was biking one day. I had been biking near Sawmill Creek on my way home when I noticed there was litter all along the banks of the creek, and that some people were hard at work trying to fill up some bursting garbage bags with the trash while I was just rolling by casually. Curiosity of how they were ever going to manage to clean up all the small bits and pieces took the better of me, and I got off my bike to go down and see what they were up to. As it turned out, they were members of Ecology Ottawa -just other people from the area who had volunteered and picked this section of the creek to call their own and clean up.
After getting involved in the rest of the clean-up that day, I realized one day wasn’t enough and we would definitely have to come back. Just dropping by and finding from the later times I went for clean ups again that the creek was improving – slowly, but surely – I decided that since the creek was not the only problem I had seen, this meant it needn’t be the only area where I could help. That is how I joined the group, and have helped out since then.
As I discovered later, Ecology Ottawa members do much more than just go around town and pick up litter. They manage both small and large projects, ranging from making bike lanes wider in the city to suggesting alternatives for the Energy East pipeline to Parliament and fighting to prevent the untold damage it could have on Ottawa’s local environment.
Being a part of the group, in some cases I’ve personally become aware of how it is really possible to make the city more sustainable, even though that did sound, at first, to be endless work. For instance, not too long ago Ecology Ottawa fought against the millions of litres of raw sewage being dumped into the Ottawa River every day, which could cause unsafe drinking water and lead to beach closures. After years of lobbying and 12000 signatures petitioning for storage tanks, the Ottawa River Action Plan was passed. This was real success!
Now Ecology Ottawa is looking to take the same efforts with the complicated issue of climate change and how it even relates to us as citizens in this city. The recent Town Hall in Ottawa South was a perfect place to begin the discussion on this subject. There were about 120 attendees at this event, which turned out turned out to be a resounding success. Having played a role in organizing this Canada Climate Consultation, I am proud to say that it is so far the only climate consultation in Canada organized entirely through a grassroots initiative. My organization group from Ottawa South, with guidance from Ecology Ottawa, organized the consultation and had MP David McGuinty, MPP John Fraser, and city councilors attend and engage with the people on important topics. This was huge success in terms of attendance and community engagement, but also because of the sense of hope and urgency each person brought to the table.
Having the open discussion at tables with many different aspects of climate change being considered, this past Town Hall really did help everyone learn about what you can do as citizen. Even though there was talk of how much effort the government should be putting into passing policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there was equal emphasis on how that could be shared with effort you do alongside your neighbors. This is an important part of solving the big and small problems Ottawans face. From complete streets to cutting down trees without replanting to pipelines risking our local environment, each of us has a role to play in making Ottawa the green capital of Canada. With more Town Halls such as this being planned for the future, and all the work being done to make Ottawa a cleaner city, you might miss out if you decide to roll your window up now. So embrace the city and your fellow neighbours, and help Ecology Ottawa by spending some of your extra time volunteering like I do!