a peek inside the fishbowl

15 Jun, 2019

Weekend reading: June 15 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: Memory Man, by David Baldacci

08 Jun, 2019

Weekend reading: June 8 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

There was a community-wide garage sale in my area last weekend, which coincided with a dozen other events I wanted to visit and photograph for the Kitchissippi Times. On Saturday morning I got up, made a coffee, and drew up a game plan. As much as I would have liked to hit up multiple yard sales I knew could really only handle one, so I opted for the “Wild Wild Westboro” garage sale. It’s held in the park every year right beside the Dovercourt Recreation Centre and proceeds of table rentals go to the Westboro Community Association (of which I am a member).

I did the rounds, chatted with people, and then got sucked into a table that had a box of vintage medicine bottles, including this cool bottle of castor oil:

Castor oil anyone?

I didn’t buy it, but for two bucks I did buy a figurine of a dog that reminded me a bit of Piper:

New Knick knack.

I had to go back past our house to continue the route I had planned for myself, so I put the figurine in my pocket and tucked my new-to-me hardcover book under my arm, and biked home. I dropped them off, and as I continued on my way to the next event on my list, it occurred to me that the very act of buying a figurine has pushed me further away from my Youthful Days of Adventure and Bold Choices. I bought a figurine, therefore I must be officially entering the realm of old ladies. My teenage self would never have believed that I was someday going to buy DOG THEMED KNICK KNACKS. Now that I’m not cool anymore, maybe I’ll start browsing Hummels on eBay.

01 Jun, 2019

Weekend reading: June 1

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Earlier this year there was online chatter about cool city-building Ottawa could consider now that the population is about to hit the million mark. It came about after an article was published in the Ottawa Citizen (“Ottawa hits a population of one million: Big ideas for a big city“). Suggestions from a select group of individuals included adding more lights, taking better advantage of our waterways, finding more public uses for the Experimental Farm, increasing density, doing more for our city’s youth, building a biodome, creating an “esthetic committee to make sure ugly buildings do not get approved and built” … among others.

There are some great ideas there, for sure – I would love to do more for Ottawa youth! – but I would like to put forward an idea of my own. If there were funds available now that we’re a bigger city, wouldn’t it be nice if money was invested in beautifying the ugliest parts of Ottawa?

The other day we drove downtown along the parkway. It’s a marvelous route, going eastward towards downtown from Westboro. The river travels with you and the city unfolds beautifully as you approach. Our downtown is quite pretty, with heritage buildings amid modern, green spaces between the concrete (there was a rugby game happening in front of the Supreme Court), and planters stuffed to the brim with tulips. Sculptures round all of this all out of course, along with decorative fencing (I’m thinking specifically about Parliament Hill) and sweeping staircases and bridges. But that’s downtown. My neighbourhood is just off Carling Avenue, which, along with Merivale Road, is probably on the list of top ten ugliest roads in the city if there was such a list.

One could argue that downtown Ottawa is the most beautiful because that’s where all the tourists go. And tourists spend money, so it makes sense to Keep It Beautiful. But what about the rest of Ottawa? Don’t the people who live here deserve a daily dose of beauty as well?

There are so many things that can be done, whether it’s repairing sidewalks, installing planters, or streetlights that are a shade more decorative than the utilitarian flagpoles that loom over all of us.

Carling Avenue is so stark. What if there was a row of crab apple trees planted right down the grassy centre medium?

I was thinking about urban beautification while biking to the Westboro Superstore the other day. In fact, I biked there twice in two days so I had double exposure to this particular space. (SIDEBAR: I forgot to buy chicken for the chicken Caesar wraps I had planned to make for dinner. Ha. On the way back I was biking along the Byron Linear Path when I heard a very loud NO, followed by an even louder NO. I turned my head to see what was going on and saw a very large dog on the cusp of breaking into a gallop. I swear, his front paw was poised in mid-air and he looked ready to leap. Clearly, the smell of roasted chicken that was emanating from the bag dangling from my handlebars was proving very hard to resist. But I digress.)

While I cycled through the parking lot I was struck by how ugly it is. When I drive there I don’t pay that much attention to the surroundings. I zip in, park, shop, and try to make a swift exit, but my slower speed gave me ample opportunity to fully absorb my surroundings. Obviously, parking lots consist of a lot of pavement. They are purpose-built, primarily for cars, although the one at the Superstore has some sidewalks breaking them up. The primary goal of a parking lot is to fit in as many cars as possible. It’s a necessary evil at this point in our history, when most of us have one car or two. There must be a fear that adding anything beautiful will cost too much money and take away precious parking spaces… but does that have to be the case?

When did people stop considering aesthetics during parking lot design? To be fair, there are some attempts to make things not so horrible at the Superstore. This particular lot has a row of mature trees at the end, which obscures the cars a bit from a side street. (Although to be frank, trees are always in jeopardy from being removed here in Ottawa.) There are flower beds here and there as well, but this is typical.

Not surprisingly, parking lots look the same everywhere.

Why can’t parking lots be beautiful?

Why can’t parking lots be beautiful?

Why can’t parking lots be beautiful?

Why can’t parking lots be beautiful?

Here’s the thing. I know these spaces can be better – greener, prettier, happy-making – but I’m not sure how to accomplish it. Surely someone in the world – and landscape designer who has urban planning experience perhaps – has come up with ways to design an attractive parking lot that is pedestrian and bike-friendly AND meets the needs of drivers.

I wonder if sunken parking in some areas of a parking lot is one solution. Even if it goes down a metre from street level it might improve the overall view, especially if light fixtures or trees or something else (art? decorative screens?) filled in the in-between spaces. Some of these things don’t need to take up any space at all. What if one row of parking was lined with crabapple trees, another had maples, and another had gingkos. It might force you to learn some basic tree identification skills if you wanted to remember where you parked your car!

What if these spaces could generate solar power? Catch rainwater? What if it was a giant canvas for street artists? I’m not an expert but there are possibilities. They’re not cheap, but it would do a lot to improve our cityscape.

Although it’s true that we don’t linger in parking lots (at least I haven’t done this since I was a teenager), there’s still a case to be made for their beautification, especially since they take up so much visual real estate. And maybe if they were more beautiful, we would enjoy them more. What do you think?


Have a great summer at Saunders Farm!

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  • Jinjer: I love that dog figurine so much!!!!
  • Dani: It's morrel season. Woot! https://photos.app.goo.gl/bE76iBETEpkDGU7w5
  • andrea tomkins: I will definitely check that out Tiana!
  • Yana: There is one near the train in Carleton Uni
  • Tiana: Oh there's a great book, if you haven't read it already - Gathering Moss by Robin Wall-Kimmerer.
  • Quail: Mushrooming is a fantastic hobby. Take a course in late September. These fun fall outings are usually very productive and often led by keen experts.
  • a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive More about mushrooms - a peek inside the fishbowl: […] week I shared a quick recipe for mushrooms on toast. I deeply regret not running out and shoring up my mushroom supplies because I have a se

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


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