Original By John Ibbitson

PRESS: Globe & Mail: Ottawa Evolving into Dynamic City

Everyone loves to look down on Ottawa.

“The town that fun forgot,” columnist Allan Fotheringham liked to call it. Last year, the website SmarterTravel ranked Canada’s “quiet and dull” national capital one of the nine most boring cities in the world.

But Ottawa’s reputation for bland is out of date. Mostly by accident, but also partly by design, quiet and dull has given way to vibrant and diverse.

It’s time to stand up and declare: Ottawa has arrived.

The city has always been more interesting than its critics contend, gifted with pleasant neighbourhoods and an abundance of green space. It’s also one of the few genuinely bilingual parts of Canada, where French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians co-exist more-or-less happily.

But for most of its history, this has been a one-industry town, with government the industry, giving the city a rep for being as bland as its bureaucrats.

In recent years, however, the city of a million people has shown a new vibrancy, thanks to three major trends. The first started a couple of decades ago with the migration of Gen Xers and then millennials from the suburbs where they grew up to the core, transforming once-staid neighbourhoods such as Hintonburg and Westboro into vibrant urban hubs.

By James Park/House of PainT

“There is so much that has happened to Ottawa,” says Zara Ansar, 36. Raised in the eastern suburb of Orleans, she lives now in Little Italy, just west of the downtown core, and hosts a website (xovelo.com) dedicated to cycling and fashion.

“The Ottawa I grew up in was very small-town, not very diverse, until maybe the late nineties, when things started popping up,” she says. Now, “there’s always something happening.”

That increasing diversity is another reason for the city’s transformation. A generation ago, Ottawa was as white as it was white-bread. Today, one quarter of the population belongs to a visible minority. Among other things, immigrants have helped transform the city’s culinary landscape from roast beef and Yorkshire pudding to trendy bistros and cuisines from countries as diverse as Malaysia and Ethiopia.

When Josh Bishop started working in Ottawa kitchens almost three decades ago, the restaurant scene was “lots of wings, lots of ribs, sizzling platters. Today, says the founder of Whalesbone, a groundbreaking seafood restaurant (there are now four of them, in one iteration or another), the food and bar scene is “as good as or better than anywhere in Canada.”

The only difference between Ottawa and Montreal or Ottawa and Toronto, he says, is “maybe it’s a little tougher to be bad in Ottawa,” although the 43-year-old father of two, who is now out of the restaurant business, says you can still be bad “if you know where to look.”

The cultural scene is far more diverse as well. On top of Bluesfest and the other major festivals, local activists organize ad hoc street celebrations, bike rallies and workshops, employing such alt-art venues as General Assembly, a performance space; Enriched Bread Artists, a visual-arts collective; the House of PainT hip-hop jam (which takes place under a bridge); and Apt613, a highly popular community website.

“When you have people who are diverse − diversely interested and diversely skilled – who choose to stay in the city, they’re going to create the city they want,” says Laine Johnson, executive director of Synapcity, a local non-profit that encourages people and organizations to work together to improve the city. “And that’s starting to happen.”

Read full article here.