Small, In-Person, and Outdoors

The 1980s saw the dawn of the Personal Computer. What had been an enormous bulky machine occupying an entire room, shrank to something the size of a cardboard box. Early enthusiasts made, what seemed at the time, wildly unrealistic claims about the potential for computers: that they would compile our grocery lists, write our essays, plan our vacations. But even the most extravagantly optimistic PC owner of 1982 could not have envisioned 2022. Our worlds have both shrunk and expanded beyond belief. Every bit of knowledge the world has ever recorded can be accessed in seconds, but only through a tiny screen, as we sit at home trying to not give each other Covid.



Last year at this time we were still using those three little words: “back to normal”. I haven’t heard “back to normal” much in 2022 though. It is getting increasingly difficult to imagine that we’ll see a return any time soon to the thousand-person lecture hall, the ten-thousand-person nightclub or the hundred-thousand-person stadium.

"Perhaps summer will become the time to learn, exchange information, socialize, interact, and produce."

The alternative, we’re told, is to do everything on line. Everything is still better on a massive scale; it’ll just all be virtual. And so we have a world where second-year students have been “attending” universities located ten thousand kilometres from their home, without ever having set foot on campus. Zoom is touted as the safe alternative for birthday parties, office cocktails, personal training sessions.



There is a third option though, beyond the mega-venue and beyond Zoom. Anthony Fauci identified it early in the pandemic when he said something no one has yet been able to refute: outdoors is always safer than indoors.


If we’re entering a world where Covid is a constant threat, lingering in the background, worse in the winter, and less bad in the summer, maybe we need to rethink some of our expectations of the right seasons for work, education and recreation. Perhaps summer will become the time to learn, exchange information, socialize, interact, and produce. Perhaps winter will have to become a time to stay put, recharge batteries, consolidate and evaluate the gains of summer.

"The redevelopment of a number of infill sites in Ottawa in the coming years will give us a chance to build venues for small, safe, outdoor continuing education and exchange."

A mere hundred years ago, this is how most Canadians lived anyway, because a much higher percentage of the population had livelihoods tied to agriculture. Nature seems to be nudging us back in that direction. Rising food and fuel prices suggest that Canada should get back into the food self-sufficiency game, rather than enlisting temporary foreign workers to grow food for export while we sit in our cubicles earning interest on hedge funds. Recurring Covid variants suggest that we should be prepared for winter shutdowns and summer re-openings.



The redevelopment of a number of infill sites in Ottawa in the coming years will give us a chance to build venues for small, safe, outdoor continuing education and exchange: community gardens and micro-composting, bike repair, carpentry, urban forest and flood management, language, music and cultural exchanges. Our underused school grounds are one example of ample space for summer outdoor learning.


Or maybe these are just the incoherent ramblings of someone who is tired of Zoom.



~ JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa