When I first arrived here, my first reaction as I navigated through a snowy downtown Ottawa was how clean the city appeared. Over the past six months, my initial impress has not changed. Part of it is the weather and the way the city deals with it. Snow gets plowed almost immediately after hitting the ground and there’s enough of it that the fresh white top-cover gets a regular renewal. The city also invests in services that keep streets and sidewalks swept, steam cleaned, and cleared of debris. As the nation’s capitol, Ottawa serves as huge tourist destination for Canadians so there also seems to be a strong interest in keeping the monument areas pristine.
Mostly, however, I believe it’s a Canadian thing. Forbes Magazine in 2007 published a list of the world’s top 25 cleanest cities. Canada ended up with an impressive five cities on the list, including the top spot (Calgary) and four in the top ten. Ottawa was a respectable No. 4. There doesn’t seem to have been much change in the last three years.
Although there are exceptions, there doesn’t seem to be nearly the degree of miscellaneous graffiti tagging in the downtown area as I’ve come to expect in urban centers. The City has designated a few spots, urban walls and a skate parks, as exempt from the anti-graffiti laws. I took a road trip out to one of these sites and found a series of “Jersey barriers” set up predominantly as open graffiti canvases. Some are detailed works of art while others provide a spot for taggers to mark their spot.
There’s quite the debate about whether the legal graffiti zones curb or incite more illegal graffiti in the surrounding areas. Compared to San Francisco and Boston (forget about New York or Chicago), however, Ottawa seems to be way ahead of the game.