Peer pressure from dead people and beautiful things for your sidewalks

Peer pressure from dead people and beautiful things for your sidewalks
Photo by Sondoce wasfy / Unsplash

My eldest had her favourite cousin spend March break with us and, seeing as the cousin had never been to Quebec City I decided to take both of them last weekend to end their week off on a high, French note.

I took them on a quick walking tour of Vieux-Québec to give them a sense of where things are. I then left them to their own devices to explore on their own. This accomplished a few things, in addition to filling their heads with original ideas and great memories: It gave them a great way to practice their French without me around to bail them out, it taught them how to discover a new town and orient themselves in unfamiliar surroundings where the signs are not in their first language, and it gave me a great opportunity to do my own work and spend quality time with Beloved. Money very well spent indeed.

The thing about Quebec City that everyone on the planet knows is, it’s real pretty. The touristy part, especially. It’s very old but it’s well-maintained, and there is that je ne sais quoi that makes French-speaking towns prettier than their Anglo counterparts. Style, I guess.

In my Citizen column this week I comment, not favourably, on how Ottawa deals with built heritage and also basic property maintenance. Some days it feels like we’re keeping ugly decrepit stuff around just because it’s old and frankly there is no need to do that. It was the writer Eliot Schrefer who said that tradition is peer pressure from dead people and honestly we don’t have to be bullied by ghosts. It’s not because something’s old that it should be kept at all costs.

But more than getting heritage right, we can do so much in Ottawa to make the place beautiful. Or at least less ugly.

Quebec City has a particular kind of beauty that’s really hard to emulate, but Ottawa could be so much prettier than it is. For one thing, it could be cleaner. There are so many buildings in the Market and around Parliament Hill (our showcase areas) that are covered in grime and have dirty windows. It’s not a great start.

Our sidewalks. Can we talk about them for a minute? They are full of cracks. Even the relatively new ones. Why? Don’t tell me because of winter. Quebec City has winter too. They’re not all pristine everywhere. But they’re nowhere near as bad as they are here. It’s almost as though Ottawa sidewalks were deliberately built in a shoddy manner just to generate more patching business.

Oh yeah, and those patches made of cement or asphalt don’t improve the look or feel of anything. In my misspent youth I read a lot of libertarian literature and one French economist in particular, Frédéric Bastiat, wrote way back in 1850 about the broken window fallacy and while it’s possible to stretch this too far it’s a step I enthusiastically take to argue that things broken by neglect that are allowed to stay broken decrease our overall ability to enjoy nice things. We get used to ugly and broken and forget what it’s like to walk in lovely surroundings. Where people put out flowers and have pleasant chairs to sit on and clean windows to look through and beautiful buildings to take pictures of. And easily accessible and clean public toilets.

We can do so much better.

And now for something completely different

My legal writing this week includes a piece on the cost recovery framework for individuals who were deported and another one on whether we need to update our copyright legislation in the age of generative AI.