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Clogged and congested, drivers suck back exhaust during their commute to and from Montréal’s gridlocked island.

Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Tony Tremblay
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City Repair Ottawa: a different approach to achieving social sustainability
By Rathiha Egbert

The popular trend of owning more than one vehicle per household, not to mention modern-day urban development in general, makes cities better designed to embrace motorized gas-guzzlers and concrete structures than the element that is key to building sustainable cities: citizens.

A grassroots group named City Repair Ottawa hopes society will return to this idea of people-centeredness when designing cities.


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Leigh Thorpe, a core team member of City Repair Ottawa, appreciates the fact that cars serve many purposes, but says the main disadvantage cannot be ignored. When everyone has a car, then you build your city around the car instead of building it around the people. Cars really do isolate us from each other," she says.

Filling potholes or mending roads and infrastructure is not what City Repair Ottawa is concerned with. The organization is comprised of citizen activists seeking to cultivate social sustainability in cities and neighbourhoods. They believe people tend to get actively involved in decisions that affect them more frequently as a community than they would on an individual basis.

They function more as advisors to neighbourhood groups to arm them with ideas than as the actual initiators of projects. The main activity of City Repair Ottawa is to encourage neighbourhood groups to have street parties by closing the road off to vehicles for a few hours. Groups are also advised to work together on small projects before attempting bigger ones. The organization is looking forward to Earth Day 2006 and plans to have a fun activity on Sparks Street, a pedestrian-only fairway in Ottawa’s downtown core.

Thorpe reiterates the principle of achieving social sustainability by saying, If you want to participate in street life, it’s not going to happen if you’re in a car."

The City Repair vision originated in Portland, Oregon and their success has inspired groups across Canada to encourage social interaction among neighbours.

Visit www.cityrepair.ca for more ideas and resources on starting up community projects.

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