Just because you and I live in Ottawa doesn’t mean we live in the same Ottawa.
Each of us lives in a neighbourhood, the place we see with our own eyes every day, and the particularities of which shape our direct experience of the city. Kanata isn’t Rockcliffe isn’t Hintonburg.
This postal code effect is on my mind because I’ve changed neighbourhoods, leaving Centretown and with it, my version of Ottawa, where everything I needed was in walking distance and I saw enough of the same faces every day that it felt more like I lived in a town than in a city of 800,000.
The first difference I notice about my new home in Cummings, just east of Vanier, is the traffic on multi-lane Montreal Road. It’s hard to miss. I see lots of drive-thru windows, and acres of parking lots constantly sucking cars in and spitting them out. It’s a landscape built for automobiles.
The Ottawa Neighbourhood Study, published by the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Population Health, and packed with data on the city’s 97 neighbourhoods, seems to confirm the impression.
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While 43.7 per cent of Centretown residents walk to work, in Cummings, it’s 5.9 per cent. I don’t own a car and have no plans to change that, but getting around will be trickier.
Crime rates are about the same in the two neighbourhoods, both above average for the city. Demographics are similar, too, but Centretown is home to more young adults, Cummings to more children and teens. Kids at play are a relatively rare sight in Centretown outside of schoolyards. My street seems busy with rug rats, and that makes me smile.
With a city election in the offing, I can look forward, ambivalently, to shorter lines at the polls. Voter participation in Centretown is about average, but Cummings, according to the ONS, is one of the least politically engaged neighbourhoods in the city. Average voter turnout across the city for the last municipal election was a woeful 48 per cent, but in Cummings, only 24 per cent cast a ballot.
Comparing my old and new neighbourhoods with the ONS is a diverting exercise, but we didn’t crunch socio-economic numbers before we moved in. We found a house, fell in love with it, and the rest just followed. And the numbers can’t tell you the whole story of your neighbourhood. It just has to be lived.