Panda-monium yet again
The Town and Gown Committee was set up more than six years ago as a forum for stakeholders in Sandy Hill to work more closely together, anticipate and resolve problems and keep communication channels open. Staff from the University of Ottawa, various departments of the City of Ottawa (police, bylaw, solid waste etc.), the Eastern Ontario Landlords’ Organization (EOLO), student representatives, and volunteers from Action Sandy Hill attend. We meet several times a year, with Councillor Fleury as chair, to hash things out. Residents are welcome to attend, and should contact the councillor’s office to receive a meeting invitation.
The group has been working to provide direction through all the ups and downs that the community has seen since 2013. Increased university enrolment has led to pressures that you, as a Sandy Hill resident, no doubt already know about. A few years ago the community submitted a petition of over 1000 signatures calling for more residences on campus, and ASH continues to work to influence the university’s long-term strategies. At the tactical level the T&G committee has been more successful: the coordination of move in and move out and education of new students about noise, garbage, etc. are priorities.
One of our challenges in the past few years has been the “street party” that happens on one block of Russell Avenue on the day of the Panda Game. It is now ridiculously easy, via social media, to organize events like this that attract hundreds of participants, very few of whom actually live on the street. Each year huge amounts of City, university and community time and money is spent planning how to respond. Our main objective is safety. We are enormously concerned about large crowds and the consumption of alcohol that the day is famous for. Two years ago one group of young people were being encouraged by the crowd to “surf” on a plastic table from the roof that they had climbed. It didn’t happen, but you can imagine the consequences if it had. The other concern is the security of the people living on the street and their property. There are no washrooms set up for an illegal street party; trespassing to urinate on someone’s property has been commonplace even when the police have been there in numbers. And given the enormity of the event it was not surprising to learn last year that there were attempted break-ins in broad daylight and property damage.
In contrast, this year the university student union did the community a service by setting up a licensed “tailgate” party at Sandy Hill arena to encourage students to move to an open space. It had music, free food, shuttle buses and allowed bring-your-own alcohol consumption. Simultaneously, badly outnumbered police tried to manage the partiers on Russell Avenue. Although there were 1600 “pour outs” and 42 alcohol-related charges in Ottawa that day, results were once again limited. Russell Avenue residents told us that they didn’t have the support they needed.
Away from the fun of the game, the cost of Panda in policing and other emergency services is enormous. The two universities and OSEG were told by the City that they are expected to pay a large fraction of these costs. We heard at the November 28th debrief that Mayor Watson has reduced this amount, meaning that Ottawa taxpayers will be paying the difference.
Next year the student union will be hosting a larger tailgate party, likely at the arena. The T&G committee will continue to press for more to be done to keep the day safe for all.