A few weeks ago I had the chance to attend my first series of consultations held by the city of Ottawa. These consultations were regarding the future of parks and recreation in the city and consisted of 6 separate 2-3 hour long sessions. I must admit, at first I felt very out of place as I am only 18 years old and was surrounded by citizens that were often twice my age. While thrilling, I do not think I would have participated in these consultations if it wasn’t for my involvement with Ecology Ottawa. Nonetheless, it opened my eyes to the importance of getting involved in the community to impact positive change.
The impressive diversity of citizens who attended the consultation allowed various concerns to be discussed, increasing the odds/likelihood that the population's best interests were taken into consideration. The maintenance of existing parks and the creation of new ones with the city's continuous expansion was also taken into consideration thanks to the group’s discussions. One point that was not necessarily always addressed but seemed to be popular as soon as I brought it up was naturalization in city parks. It is evident that the city of Ottawa is struggling to achieve naturalization targets and it was great to see interest arise when the topic was brought. This also brought the possibility of co-benefits where some citizens can have needs, such as more shade in city parks, fulfilled through naturalization initiatives.
But what is naturalization? Naturalization is the process of allowing vegetation to become established through a combination of natural regeneration and deliberate plantings of native species to emulate a natural area. The planning of parks and recreation in Ottawa presents the perfect opportunity to promote naturalization, which was my main focus when participating in group discussions. Using a naturalization lens/incorporating naturalization principles can solve multiple problems at once. For example, the lack of shade in Ottawa parks was often brought up as an issue, and can be solved with naturalization initiatives, such as allowing not only shrubs and grasses to grow, but also larger trees that offer a natural solution to the shade problem. This also contributes to achieving various parks’ canopy objectives. Also, there was a strong interest in connectivity between city parks. Well, through this connectivity, it would be possible to create wildlife corridors contributing to the preservation of biodiversity within the city while allowing ease of travel between city parks. This is only one of the many examples that show the links that were made between different needs while promoting a cleaner, greener Ottawa.
This brings me to the importance of such consultations when developing the city because of the variety of ideas shared in order to resolve linked issues brought up by various citizens. In fact, these consultations, which are driven by small group discussions, allow citizens from every age group and background to come together to discuss their needs and work in collaboration with the city to ensure that everyone’s needs are met. While there is a significant lack of youth representation during consultations such as the one I attended, this offers room for improvement where the youth can get further involved with progressive change in their city. After all, democracy only works properly if citizens get involved in their community, and consultations are the perfect and simplest way to get involved. That is why I urge all who wish to be heard and have bright ideas to attend consultations and have an active role in the sustainable future of the city. For all youth interested in having a meaningful impact on the future of the city, I invite you to visit the city of Ottawa’s public engagement page linked below to learn more on how you can get involved with the city. Have a lasting impact on the future of Ottawa and get involved.
Written by Mathis Filiatrault
Mathis is an 18 year old student from Ottawa who is a member of the council watch team and will be studying political science and law.