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July 2, 2015

Golden opportunities’ for change in Heatherington: Coun. Deans
By Erin McCracken

Heatherington is primed for change.

If the community’s councillor has her wish fulfilled and earns the support of council on July 8, a new form of revitalization and redevelopment could come to Heatherington, sooner rather than later.

Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans is asking for $250,000 from the city’s strategic initiatives fund for a pilot project that was recently passed by the city’s planning committee that could help transform the area into one with more mixed residential homes  that would attract more families.

“It’s about revitalizing that community and redeveloping it and trying to not have so many low-income people in a neighbourhod, just to change the mix a little bit,” she said of her desire to see future development in the community branch out from more social housing.

“It’s not about gentrification,” she said.

“Every community needs to be a mixed community to be a healthy community, and when you have too much poverty in one neighbourhood, problems arise,” she said.

“This is about the entire community and it’s about looking at what we can do to make it a healthier community.

“Maybe it’s changing the mix of housing a little bit, having more moderate income homes,” said Deans, who did a year’s worth of research on the pilot project with Heatherington in mind due to its “golden opportunities.”

The city has already devoted a number of resources to Heatherington to try and curb problems, but typically only after they arise.

“It’s all after the fact. It’s not trying to address the root cause, which is constructing too many homes where there is too much poverty,” said Deans, who has spoken with Somali mothers in the neighbourhood who say their children have been approached by drug dealers at the bus stop or mail box.

Dean’s proposal “is a good start,” said Peter Stockdale, a longtime Fairlea resident and president of the Fairlea Community Association.

Mixed housing is part of the solution, but not the only improvement that may effect change.

“I would say employment and integration of youth, especially male youth, to get them out of guns and gangs and radicalization would be my number one priority,” Stockdale said.

Prevention is key and is the goal of the strategic initiative, said Deans, who believes now is the ideal time to launch the pilot.

“There’s opportunities in that community that exist that don’t exist in other communities, like land holdings that we have.”

The city owns a three-hectare parcel of land in the area, and with community input, that space could be developed into a valuable resource, such as a community garden. Hydro Ottawa also has nearby property that it might be looking to sell.

Deans envisions the creation of a community garden and kitchen, but said people who live in the community will be the designers of change. Already many improvements have been made by collaborating with community leaders.

“This is a really strategic time to be having a conversation with all these opportunities aligning themselves,” said Kelli Tonner, Heatherington-based program director of community services with the South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre.

Taking that one step further would be engaging residents and community partners to learn what their vision is for the neighbourhood, she said.

Deans said this would be a crucial ingredient.

“I want it to be a bottom up consultation and have the community tell us what needs to change there, what they’d like to change there, what would improve their community,” she explained. “I want to start there.”

Walkley Road, between Bank Street and Heron Road, was also recently designated as an arterial main street, which would pave the way for more mixed-use residential-commercial buildings.

“So that’s a new opportunity because you want to have jobs where people live too,” said Deans. “There’s lots of opportunity there. We just have to seize it while it’s there. I don’t want to wait and mire this in bureaucracy. I just want to get on with the project.”

If approved, the first step would be to develop a request-for-proposals to find a partner to help facilitate the project.

“There’s a lot of people in North America that have been doing these kinds of projects. Ottawa is really behind,” Deans said.

Deans has also found support in John Fraser, Liberal MPP for Ottawa South.

“A new model of social housing, more mixed use and developing the community in a different way and using available land that is there that is owned by the city – I think it’s a smart initiative,” he said.

“I think that anything that further develops communities and connects communities together, connects people together, is going to help reduce things like crime and give more opportunities for young people,” Fraser said.

Mayor Jim Watson declined to comment on the proposal before it goes before council July 8.


May 18, 2015

The Heatherington community usually makes the news for not-so-good reasons.

In 2014, Walkley Road — at the north edge of the neighbourhood — was the scene of multiple shootings. Seven people were arrested in January of this year in a suspected home takeover in the area. Heatherington and its environs are well-known to police who continue to investigate suspected gang activity.

But Coun. Diane Deans wants Heatherington to make news for a very different reason: She wants the community to be the test case for a new way of developing social housing in the city that would result in a broader mix of people and housing or, as she puts it, “a healthier community”.

“We should be looking at the way we have addressed affordable housing issues in the past and making a change, because it hasn’t worked well,” says Deans. “We’ve built communities where there’s been too many low-income, vulnerable citizens placed in one area. I think you need to have a mix of socio-economic backgrounds, a mix of cultures, a mix of everything to make a community work effectively.”

And Deans believes that the Heatherington community in her Gloucester-Southgate ward is the perfect community in which to try out a new (at least for Ottawa) social housing model.

First and foremost, it’s a vulnerable community that needs “lifting up”, says Deans, although the folks who live in Heatherington would likely not take kindly to being characterized as such. And there’s plenty positive in the neighbourhood, from the kids who cram into the nearby Albion-Heatherington Rec Centre, to the optimistic tenant leader in one of the social-housing towers named Yvonne who has simply decided “to look at the positives, not the negatives”.

That’s a great outlook, of course, but it’s hard to ignore some of the facts about Heatherington: significantly lower-than-average income, significantly higher number of social housing units than other parts of the city; higher than the city average for single-parent homes. The neighbourhood is frequently visited by police, often for mental health-related calls if not crimes. There are concerns about drugs and gang activity in the area.

In other words, the community is struggling. It could use some help.

The other factor that makes Heatherington a prime location for a social-housing re-think is available land. In particular, the city owns 3.2 hectares at 1770 Heatherington Rd., formerly a city works yard that was decommissioned in 2012, while Hydro Ottawa would soon like to sell about four acres of its Albion Road facility.

Deans’ concept — and it’s been tried successfully in other cities — is for a private partner to develop those lands. Her own idea is that a developer would build a mix of market-rate and affordable housing units, along with a community garden and kitchen, on the city lands. And perhaps housing aimed at middle-income families could be constructed on the Hydro Ottawa property. Or at least something along those lines.

And the last element working in Deans’ favour is that Walkley was designated in 2013 as an “arterial mainstreet”, which means the city’s planning rules now allow for a mix of retail, office and residential spaces in buildings up to nine storeys. New developments would bring more people to the area, as well as possible jobs for teens.

“This is not about gentrification of the neighbourhood,” says Deans, adding that the plan would be to include at least the same number of social housing units in a redeveloped community. “This is about changing the mix. It’s about making sure every community is a healthy community and a safe community.”

Now all Deans needs to do is convince her council colleagues to identify the project as a priority project for this term of council in the upcoming strategic initiatives discussions. That’s the process starting next month whereby councillors decide how to divvy up about $32 million in funds for everything from cycling infrastructure to climate change initiatives.

Deans was looking for $500,000 for a firm to consult with residents on what they’d like to see in their neighbourhood, and come up with a blueprint to make it happen. Involving the community from the start is key if you want the current residents to buy into the process.

The last copy of the strategic initiatives Deans saw did include $250,000 for consultation, but did not specify that it was for the Heatherington community. (The public will get its first glimpse of the list of proposed projects later this month.)

The councillor isn’t discouraged, though. She’s going to argue to allocate those funds to Heatherington when the strategic initiatives list gets to the planning committee in early June.

“The first part of the strategy is to pick one neighbourhood and work through a process, and then use that as a model for how you might do that in other neighbourhoods,” says Deans. “But you have to start somewhere.”

As for the remaining consultation funds, others might be persuaded to kick in. Hydro Ottawa CEO Bryce Conrad likes the sound of Deans’ initiative if only because he’s “in favour of anything that could increase the value of our land before we sell it.” He hasn’t been formally asked for money yet, but says he’d certainly take any requests for help to the board of directors.

It’s clear that the social housing model in Ottawa is broken. No one disputes that. But no one is doing anything about it, either. We need some bold vision, and Deans’ proposal gives us the earliest glimpses of one. But if we aren’t even willing to support a community consultation, then what hope do we have that we’ll ever improve the issues surrounding social housing complexes in this city, and more to the point, the vulnerable people who live in them?

April 16, 2015

Hunt Club Park Beavers, Cubs get unique tour of OC Transpo Facility
By Erin McCracken

They're still too young perhaps to know whether they want to be public transit operatoes when they grow up.

But all of the more than 30 Cubs and Beavers were all etes when they were given a behind-the-scences tour in the top deck of a double-decker bus of the OC Transpo garage on Industrial Avenue Monday, April 13.

"Cool" was eight-year-old Michael Vlamis' reaction after he disembarked from the vehicle with the rest of the youngsters with the Hunt Club Park-based 137th Ottawa Scout Group, their leaders and several parents.

"I didn't use any tickets," marvelled another boy, before the tour ended with OC Transpo officials presenting the boys and girls, ages five to 10, with keepsakes.

Prior to heading out on the ride-along, the children were also treated to several interesting facts about OC Transpo operations courtesy of Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans, whose ward includes the home base of the Scout group: St. Thomas More elementary school in Hunt Club Park.

Read the full story here.

March 13, 2015

New splash pad, play structures in the works for Hunt Club Park
By Erin McCracken

Plans are underway to install a new splash pad at Calzavara Family Park in the Hunt Club Park community in late August.

And while the initial hope was to construct the play feature the same year two playgrounds at the same park would be replaced by the city, there is no money in the budget this year for the replacement project.

Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, whose ward includes the park, acknowledged that the two play structures at the park, located at 1602 Blohm Dr., are at the end of their lifecycle.

But capital works dollars in the city's community and protective services budget won't be spent this year to replace play structures in parks across the city even though there is a backlog of waiting projects estimated to cost in the millions, Deans said, adding that means Calzavara Family Park won’t receive new playground equipment until 2016. 

“It's concerning to me that the lifecycle maintenance has been all pushed off into 2016,”said Deans, chair of the city’s community and protective services committee. She raised the issue at a recent committee meeting.

“Basically they're spending the money this year on an electrical issue that they have to fix and on (provincially mandated) accessibility standards that they have to reach and it meant there is no money for lifecycle (renewal) for any park across the entire city of Ottawa,” she said. “You can imagine in a city this size, that's quite a few.”

That is adding to the backlog of play structures in need of replacement.

“The larger problem is that there's too much demand and not enough money being put into that fund to deal with the lifecycle renewal,” Deans said. “I'm worried that we're creating expectations that we're not going to meet.”

She pointed to plans to resurface the Greenboro pathway system in this term of council, which is included in the budget, but which may be delayed.

"But now I'm just very concerned it's all going to get pushed out because there's such a backlog,” she said.

Still, news of the new splash pad is causing excitement among residents in Hunt Club Park.

Construction of the feature at Calzavara Family Park will begin in early August and is expected to be finished in late October. It will ready for use next summer.

“A bunch of us have small kids and we told them that this happening, and just the joy in their reaction,” said Jennifer Hirst, communications liaison with the Hunt Club Park Community Association.

When she told her four-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter about the plans, they happily jumped up and down.

“They were so excited. It’ll be great for them,” she said.

Adults in the community are equally enthusiastic about the splash pad, which is the community's first.

The nearest splash pad is at Winterwood Park behind Roberta Bondar Public School in Greenboro.

“People are like ‘Wow, this is so great!’” said Hirst.


Calzavara Family Park has seen better days.

Two play structures there, one for younger children and toddlers and another for older kids, are outdated.

The structure for older children is wooden.

“It's also getting pretty haggard,” Hirst said, adding that when the city replaces the structures next year, both will be situated together in one centralized area at the park, near the splash pad, “which is so much better for parents.”

The current structures at the green space are at opposite ends of the park.

Deans recently told association members that a sun shade will also be constructed at the wide-open park where residents say there are few options for cover when children are playing.

Knowing the playgrounds were due to be replaced, community association members approached their councillor to see if a splash pad was doable at the same time.

“We’ve been talking about the sad Calzavara Park as it is right now,” said Hirst. “There’s room for something exciting to happen there.”

While Hunt Club Park residents enjoy using the wading pool at Elizabeth Manley Park near Conroy Road and Blohm Drive, where the association hosts its annual summer carnival, for some families it's just too far to walk to, particularly for many living in co-operative housing on Forestglade Crescent off Blohm Drive.

“That's a good two kilometers for them to walk,” Hirst said. “But if they go to Calzavara, it's like half a kilometer. That’s perfect.

“Now we’ve got our bases covered. There’s something for everyone in Hunt Club Park to walk to.”

Some funds for a community improvement project had already been set aside when the surrounding development was constructed by Larco Homes several years ago. That pot of money is, in part, allowing the splash pad dream to become reality.

While Deans declined to provide the estimated cost of the splash pad ahead of the tendering process, she said the new junior play structure is estimated to cost $73,000 while the play equipment for older children is budgeted at $105,000 for a total of $178,000.

Community association members and residents are invited to view three splash pad designs and three play structure designs as well as an overall concept for the entire layout during a Hunt Club Park Community Association meeting on March 26 at Thomas More Public School in the library at 7 p.m.

March 11, 2015

More women needed on city council to reflect female residents: councillor
By Erin McCracken

Seventeen per cent of Ottawa city councillors are women – not enough, says one veteran councillor.

“That’s four of 24. It’s the worst it’s ever been in my time on council,” said Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, who has been a councillor since 1994. “The United Nations says that you need a minimum of 30 per cent women to reflect the values and the goals and the needs of women.”

Provincially and federally, the numbers aren’t much better, and at the municipal level, Ottawa is going the wrong way, Deans told the crowd of women – community leaders, city employees and business owners in Ottawa – who gathered for a breakfast at a condominium ballroom in the Hunt Club community on March 6 in recognition of International Women’s Day.

“And so we have work to do on the next ballot at the next election,” said Deans.

She first hosted her women’s day breakfast in her Hunt Club home in 1997. It outgrew the space and was relocated to the highrise on Rivergate Way 11 years ago.

“We need to have competent, confident women on that ballot and we need to get them elected and we need to help them.

“And it doesn’t start in 2018. It starts now.”

Rosemary Thompson, who, for 22 years, was a journalist with CTV News before becoming director of communications and public affairs at the National Arts Centre five years ago, also shared a positive message that was printed on invitations for the event: “Be idealistic, be brave and believe you can build a better Canada.”

By taking on risks and challenges, Thompson “has changed the world of those around her and she continues to inspire that change as a leader in our community,” Deans said while introducing her guest speaker for the breakfast.

As a journalist, Thompson covered wars, terror attacks and seven federal election campaigns.

“When you look back at her achievements, she covered the 1995 referendum in Quebec. She was the first woman to be named a CTV correspondent in Washington where she covered the 9/11 attacks, she organized the royal visit to NAC and last, but by no means least, she’s a mother and she’s raising a family,” said Deans.

In her speech, Thompson largely talked of the NAC’s vision, but also about her career at CTV News.

Thompson said she always worked for male bosses in what traditionally has been a male-dominated field, some of whom helped propel her journalism career, “particularly the one who sent me to Washington,” she said of Henry Kowalski.

“He hired me when I had a six-month-old baby and he said to me, ‘Rosemary, I don’t mind that you’re a mother. I think this is a good thing. I’m going to make you the Montreal bureau chief.’”

When Thompson had her second baby, Kowalski told her, “‘Babies are career enhancing. I’m sending you to Washington,’” she recalled. “So he was a very important, sort of, mentor in my life that was a man.”

In addition to reminding those gathered that there is still work to do in achieving “absolute equality,” Deans also assigned them some homework

At the dinner table, through chats with neighbours and their children, Deans encouraged her guests to promote women, which she said will go a long way to making a positive difference.

“I think it’s certainly important that we tell our stories, and that we get up there and talk about women and leadership, we talk about advancing women and help each other,” she said.





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