I recently acquired a bicycle for use as my primary means of getting around. Ottawa, where I reside, is neither a public transit utopia nor a city known for bicycle-friendliness, so this decision and my broader commitment to never driving a car might puzzle some of my readers. What did I hope to gain by adding a bicycle to my life, and how did I hope to make it work in this often infuriatingly car-centric city?
Navigating this city by bicycle for the past two months has imposed quite a few lessons upon me, some more surprising than others. Let’s begin.
Continue reading “What My Bicycle Taught Me”
As my hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada lurches dramatically into the coldest chunk of winter for several years and I prepare for some balmy foreign travel, it is difficult to avoid thinking about how much more pleasant my existence in this snow-choked city could be. Winter often brings critics of urbanism smug satisfaction, as they look down at us mere transit users from their heated vehicles that migrate from sealed garage to sealed garage. They watch us trudge through snow or sigh in defeat when paths are blocked, often by snow cleared for cars’ benefit in nearby areas, and imagine that this imbalance is a fact of nature. Well, very little about our relationship with automobiles is a fact of nature. Contrary to their privileged imagination, it is not the dashboard vents delivering slightly burnt-smelling warmth to frozen hands on steering wheels that make winter so much easier for them. Cities are systems that reflect the forces shaping them and past the most basic physical realities, every factor that makes winter feel like motorist territory that has trapped the rest of us until spring is the result of human decisions. And different decisions could have been and could still be made.
Continue reading “Snow Demands Urbanism”
As someone who does not drive, should not be trusted to drive, and is not legally allowed to drive, I spend a fair bit of time on public transit. It’s not as much as other people I know—working from home within walking distance of most of my groceries is pretty great—but it’s enough to develop a lot of feelings about the ways that public transit can fail. Much ink has been spilled about things like making sure a system’s vehicles arrive at consistent times, go places where people want to go, are frequent enough to make looking at a schedule optional, and so on, and today, I want to focus on an underrated aspect of making a transit system upon which a person can truly rely: edge cases.
Continue reading “The Edges Build the Center: Transit You Can Rely On”
People act like urban design is just something that happens, a fact of nature that unfolds as passively as wind patterns and desire paths. Developers develop parcels, drivers drive roads, commuters take buses, and it all happens piecemeal, one step at a time, all of them disconnected from the others and together forming a city as an accidental, organic, wild thing.
That just isn’t how this works.
Continue reading “The Power of Urban Planning”
Delivered as a speech for Canadian Heritage on 16 November 2022.
We usually hold these events for ourselves. Trans Day of Remembrance is a somber occasion we mark with candlelight, elegies, and promises to the future. Every year, hundreds of us breathe our last in Brazil and Turkey and the United States and, yes, here in Canada, and every year those of us who feel safe all being in one place at a known time gather and make our sad pledge: remember the dead and fight like hell for the living. They died unloved and endure one more cruel indignity by way of obituaries and funeral services that don’t acknowledge who they really were, and we place one wholly inadequate bandage on that wound by insisting: they never saw your light, but we did. And we will not forget.
Continue reading “Elegy for the Ones Who Never Got to Be: Trans Day of Remembrance 2022”
For the past several years, I have known that I had space for exactly one more aquarium in my office and my tank-maintenance routine, bringing the total in my home to three. I have been hemming and hawing about what, exactly, to do with that space ever since. My original hope was to set up a marine system designed for a mantis shrimp, in fulfillment of a childhood dream, but my research into that quest showed it to be far more expensive and challenging than I was prepared to take on, especially as a third system. I ultimately settled on a different childhood dream to pursue: a paludarium. Continue reading “Operation Paludarium”
It is election season in Ontario, and for the first time, I’ll be voting. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, my citizenship is complete and my voter registration is in place. I can call myself “Canadian” with that much more conviction now, and the attention I pay to this country’s politics now weighs on a vote where it previously weighed on just my thoughts. In this unusually portentous time, I have been confronted not only with the mainstream parties, but with the tiny splinter parties trying to gain a foothold in real politics, as they litter public spaces with their signs and pamphlets. And they have reminded me that Canadian conservatives are pit-in-the-stomach terrifying compared to their American counterparts.
Continue reading “Canadian Conservatives Scare Me More Than American Conservatives”
I’m trying something a little different today. By popular request, I’ve filmed a video going over the contents of my 125-gallon (473-liter) aquarium. Come for the aquarium insight, stay for my clothes, leave knowing more about turtle penises than you ever wanted to know. Have fun!
Continue reading “A Quick Tour of Alyssa’s 125-Gallon Aquarium”
“Thank you,” I told them. “Thank you for being so much better than an occasional phone call asking if I’ve given up yet.”
Zoë Michelle Knox and Amanda Jetté Knox were already famous in Canada for the improbable beauty of their journey when I met them. They were the family that had gone from the picture of white suburban normalcy to a beacon of queer hope, as father and son rediscovered themselves as wife and daughter, made public by Amanda’s blog and Internet presence, and they had been all over Canada’s magazines and web sites. The fact that they were local meant that my friends and extended circles were particularly aware of these lovely people, and made sure I heard when their speaking tour brought them to an auditorium within not-too-forbidding walking distance of my home. They spoke about Amanda’s then-nascent book, Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family, about trans issues in general, about how society fails us and how people can make sure the transgender family members among them feel loved, supported, and cared for despite widespread social disapproval and even violence.
Continue reading “Love Lives Here: A Review”
A few months ago, I wrote a fantasy scenario for an expansive train network for Ottawa. The revised version of that that I posted in March was head and shoulders above that original. Now, it’s time to think even farther into the fantastical future. This article is meant to be a complete reference as well as a commentary on its predecessors and also contains some readability improvements on its map.
Continue reading “Imagining Ottawa’s Metro, Round Three”