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Old gives way to new

August 28, 2013

It doesn’t take much more than a short stroll along Rideau Street in Ottawa to realize that old is reluctantly giving way to new. Small pockets of vintage signage and old school architecture punctuate a rapidly changing urban landscape. I am briefly reminded of a stroll along Bole Road in Addis Ababa less than five years ago. One in which the middle class was conspicuously absent.

Two years ago, I stumbled quietly into my fifteenth year in suburban Ottawa.  I not so quietly renounced it and all of its trappings. It took some time to find solid footing in my urban relocation, but I did it. There was a time I truly believed that our government was helping our neighbours in need. The cold, hard truth is that they are not.

As I continued my morning walk along Wellington, I spotted our Peace Tower obscured in the fog: an opt metaphor for 2013.  There was so much more of old giving way to new, in every direction my eye could see. Equal parts conservation and demolition, I would say. We call it urban renewal.

I had some banking to do. I’ve been able to save money in downsizing, and was looking for a better interest rate than the one my redeemable GIC was currently pulling in. I tried to withdraw the money, and was escorted swiftly to a back room for a formal interrogation by a man as though the female teller had not understood my clear instruction. I might add that this occurred only after I had signed a receipt but before the cheque had been released.

A sad truth in contemporary Canadian banking is a service model fully geared to consumer lending. The conscientious debt-free saver has become an enemy of the state. I live in the future.

What I saw along Bank Street as I continued my walk was appalling. I walked past the first man on the street who was begging for breakfast. Then I spotted another. They were battle weary, not aggressive. It didn’t look like sport busking to me.

I turned into Bread and Sons bakery to pickup juice and croissants for both of them. By the time I left the bakery, a woman had appeared across the street in a similar position. I shared with the two who were in closest proximity, and then I moved quietly along.

As I was passing Hartman’s, I was wished a nice day by a quiet man sitting on the steps. He had a freshly dressed wound, and was not wearing any shoes. When I returned with groceries, I learned he’d just had surgery.

Two years ago, I would have believed that the government was helping and that our social safety net was working. It isn’t. I do not know where these people are sleeping or how they are getting through the day. The woman troubled me the most. She didn’t appear much older than twenty.

She is Canada’s future. This might worry you too.

Those who have more must share with those who have less. We must accept that the line between our social classes is at best a gray one. It soon will not be clear which side of this line we are on. We must look for ways to share what we have, and stop believing that to act once is doing something. To overlook this social responsibility, is to advocate in full for a society that does not support a middle class.

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