I agree with the chair of the Quartier Vanier BIA when he asks “Why can’t Vanier have nice things too?”.
Of course, how one defines “nice” is what is missing from this discussion to date. The City’s Community Improvement Program in theory makes a lot of sense. It is a valuable tool to promote economic development in a particular community or neighbourhood. However, the City’s $64 million renewal program in Vanier has the potential to do what similar programs have done throughout North America and that is to drive gentrification which leads to the loss of affordable, inclusive and equitable neighbourhoods. Does anyone remember Hintonberg? I would argue that if the businesses and residents of Vanier truly want “nice” things, then the City needs to support a “community wealth building” (CWB) approach to the neighbourhood. What does this mean? Well for starters it’s about asking the residents what sort of community they wish to live in. What do they value when it comes to housing, small business, community services etc. History has taught us that simply relying on a “trickle down” approach to economic development will not end up well for Vanier or any other community facing development pressure.
A CWB approach makes use of new tools, like Community Benefit Agreements, social purchasing and community land trusts to ensure that affordability whether for housing or commercial space is protected or developed. The City claims that this grant will net the City $1 million dollars. Where is that going to end up? How about a revolving fund to support small business and social enterprise in Vanier? How about supporting apprenticeship programs for youth from the neighbourhood? These things would be “nice”. It is time for the City and Invest Ottawa to recognized that economic development is not just about big tech. We need an economic development ecosystem that supports neighbourhood-based community economic development.