Having recently returned to Ottawa after 10 years working abroad, I have been thinking about this city.
And I think Ottawa has the potential to be the creative capital of Canada and, perhaps, the world.
This may sound odd. Everyone knows that Ottawa is as dull as dishwater, everybody works at boring government jobs, and they roll up the sidewalks before the sun goes down.
But it's not true.
Ottawa is actually one of the coolest, funkiest places on Earth.
I have lived, worked or visited most major cities in the world and Ottawa has the best environment for creativity than any city I have seen.
There are two reasons: cost and freedom.
It doesn't cost much to live in Ottawa.
I currently have a lovely bachelor apartment in a fine, well-managed building in Centretown. For the rent I'm paying, when I lived in London, England, I would be hard pressed to find a house-share with half a dozen other people in a dodgy neighbourhood.
And creativity requires cheapness.
The Beatles came out of Liverpool because they could live there on next to no money while they honed their craft. The Rolling Stones popped up from East London when it was run down, but as cheap as chips.
Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and others moved to Paris in the 1920s, not to see the sights. They went there because they could live for next to no money and pursue their writing.
Ottawa is like that.
If you can get a full-time job, even at the minimum wage, you can support yourself while you do what you need to do to launch a band, become a painter, write a novel, a screenplay, or some music.
You can't do that in the major cities. Which is why, except for established big-name stars, there is no new creativity coming out of London, Paris or New York. You can't live in these cities working in a coffee shop. If you're not a high-income investment banker or a heart surgeon or some such thing, you can't survive.
But you can in Ottawa.
The second thing is that, of all the many places I have been in my life, Ottawa is the most free and open.
If you walk down the street in London talking to yourself, people look at you funny. Talk to yourself in Paris and the police will be on you.
Walk down Elgin or Bank in Ottawa and nobody cares. It's your business and you ain't hurting anyone so nobody thinks a thing about it.
And you can dress the way you want. In the so-called "world class" cities, everybody dresses the same. In London the girls are all in skinny jeans and the guys in cheap suits with expensive shoes. Paris is all about the latest look from the catwalk. Lisbon is frumpy but kind. Toronto is run-down and shabby. Vancouver is outdoorsy. Amsterdam is beautiful people in simple clothes.
But Ottawa is everything.
I look at people going by and they're in all manner of stuff – bike shorts, jeans, shorts, all manner of shirts, odd hats, interesting accessories, t-shirts with provocative slogans, flip-flops in January.
There is no single look. No pressure to conform.
It's Ottawa and you can do your own thing.
Which is why I think Ottawa could be a creative capital.
I would like to think that, at some point, we might get to a time where creative people across the country might think to themselves "I need a place where I can support myself while pursuing my artistic passion, so I'm headed to Ottawa."
Dare to dream.