Each of us has a role in recovery, working together

Sarah Viehbeck

President GCA

As I write this, Ottawa is just starting to emerge from our months-long lockdown. I am relieved to have a slightly larger orbit, though rightly cautious in how I will operate within it – masked and physically distant will be how I roll – and also heartened by the evidence of how community has come together while being required to stay apart.

As challenging as the pandemic has been and will continue to be, I have and will continue to try to think of the good. I have enjoyed seeing families out on bike rides all together in the early evening, children and carers out for daytime meanders as spring was doing its thing and plants came into bloom and birds of all types singing loudly amid the reduced traffic and noise. I’ve loved spotting hand-painted “inspiration rocks” tucked into gardens or left at tree trunks with messages like: Be strong, Ça va bien aller, Stay home and safe, Healthcare workers rock. I’ve appreciated the windows of houses and businesses displaying motivations and expressions of gratitude: #StrongerTogether, Glebe strong, You can do it! We will be together again soon, Thank you essential workers. There are also the window scavenger hunts to make walks more interesting, the “joke-of-the- day” house on Fourth Avenue and the decorations on Mutchmor School. Neighbours on some streets have come out every Wednesday to say thank you to healthcare workers by banging pots and pans – that’s the kind of noise that we can all agree is OK. While these small gestures are individually dear, they also cumulatively signal a community trying to stay connected.

That said, there have been some more obvious signs of the pandemic’s toll. With the Glebe Community Centre, schools and childcare facilities closed, many families have struggled to manage family and work obligations. Special milestone events where community traditionally comes together have been cancelled or postponed, whether they be religious ceremonies, weddings, funerals, graduations, sports playoffs or year-end recitals. Most Bank Street businesses have been shuttered for months.

Many businesses were recently criticized for not wanting a lane closure on Bank Street. The GCA did not take a position on this issue, but we did follow it closely, engaging in dialogue with the councillor, business stakeholders and residents. Having done so, I can say with certainty that the way the media and social media have framed this issue as businesses being anti-cyclist or anti-pedestrian and the way the mayor escalated it into  a city-wide issue rather than one about three blocks on Bank Street has had a real impact. Little of it is good. Businesses like the ones on Bank Street need support now more than ever to recover from the devastating economic impact of the pandemic. Let’s take the heat out of this issue and others that will come up during this stressful period by working collaboratively through meaningful engagement to understand all perspectives and to reach solutions that work in the interest of the residents, businesses, visitors and public health.

We will all have an important role to play in this recovery effort, whether it’s continuing to stay physically apart, wearing a mask or adapting to a more purposeful use of Bank Street for curbside pick-up, modified shopping or take-out rather than the more leisurely Bank Street Shuffle we all love doing through the heart of our neighbourhood. As we navigate through this, I commend the businesses that have tried to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic by making adjustments to how they operate and how they connect with customers whether they bike, walk or drive.  I also commend residents who are doing their best to protect the health of themselves and the community.

At the GCA, we’ve also adapted. Our annual door-to-door membership canvass has switched to online only. We hope that this shift will still result in many hundreds of households saying that there’s value in our work and supporting us through a $10 household membership fee. The GCA uses membership fees to hold community meetings, sponsor community events or projects and run committees.

Our monthly meetings have gone to Zoom – they’ve still been a lively way to connect on community issues, and many members have joined with a glass of wine. Our advocacy has also been virtual – our presentation to a committee of City Council to hold the line on the urban boundary was by video rather than in person.

The annual Great Glebe Garage Sale was cancelled but the spirit of it remains, and many residents answered the GCA call to continue the tradition of donating to the Ottawa Food Bank. What hasn’t changed, though, is the care folks feel for the community and their desire to continue to make it better. The GCA solicited feedback on the Mutchmor rink via a survey rather than a community meeting.

On a personal note, I had to take a step back from the GCA due to professional obligations in March and April, and I must thank those who adapted and stepped up to chair meetings, handle key files, manage correspondence and write the Glebe Report column. I owe particular gratitude to June Creelman, the vice-president, who went above and beyond to support me and the association during this time.

Until we can meet in person again, consider joining the GCA monthly meeting on June 23 via Zoom, and remember to become a GCA member. Go to glebeca.ca or @glebeca.

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