Listening to Lees: renewed effort to connect with apartment tower residents

The Old Ottawa East Community Association has a message for residents of five apartment towers on Lees Avenue: you matter to us.

The group has launched a wide-ranging effort to bring the often-neglected part of OOE back into the fold. It wants to understand the needs and concerns of people who live in the apartment buildings in the area’s northeast fringe, make them better aware of what’s going on in the community at large and encourage more of them to take active roles in its affairs.

At its January meeting, the OECA considered holding a special session for apartment residents in March.

“I really don’t think it needs to be a particularly massive proposition,” OECA president John Dance said, in a widely circulated e-mail. “Better to simply get this going and begin to ‘open the doors.’”

The five towers represent two in five OOE households – almost 3,000 people. And yet, several factors contribute to a sense of distance, both literal and figurative, between apartment residents and the rest of OOE.

Aside from their geographic location, well away from the Main Street axis of OOE, the apartments tend to attract a more fluid crowd made up of students and newcomers to Canada, long-time residents say.

Residents generally come and go more often than elsewhere.

“It’s hard to develop a sense of community,” said Bill Baldwin, who, along with his wife, has lived in the tower at 190 Lees Ave. since 1998.

A retired priest, Baldwin represents the Lees towers at OECA meetings and sometimes brings along an interested neighbour.

The effort to bridge the gap with the Lees towers is only the latest of similar ventures in the last decade. The Community Activities Group of OOE and the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre have spearheaded moves in the past.

“It’s a population that turns over,”  said Carol Workun, executive director of CAG. “You make some headway and then you lose ground.”

Workun said past attempts haven’t been in vain, adding the connections between the Lees towers and OOE’s various community organizations are stronger than in the past.

She called the latest bid “excellent.”

Early signs are promising.

Since January, Ron Rose, advertising manager of the Mainstreeter, has secured funding to pay for the next four issues of the newspaper to be delivered to the towers by Canada Post.

Funding, which had previously come from the SHCHC, had dried up last year, leaving apartment residents without community news.

The health centre, the OECA, an anonymous donor and Capital ward Coun. David Chernushenko each agreed to cover the delivery costs of one Mainstreeter issue to the towers.

Rose is continuing to look for more sources.

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