Artists, councillor want hopscotch players to take back Ottawa streets

A group of Ottawa artists and a city councillor are taking action after city crews power washed a children's hopscotch game off the sidewalk in the Glebe neighbourhood earlier in May.

A group of Ottawa artistsand a city councillor are taking action after city crews power washed a children's hopscotch game off the sidewalkin the Glebe neighbourhood earlier in May.

The artists havechalked drawings, poems and numbered squares labelled "random act of hopscotch" on sidewalks across the city.

One group calling itself the Ottawa Community Chalk Network covered four city blocks in one nightwith slogans and doodles that led right to the front door of City Hall.

"I can see it as a statement against the heavy-handedness or even blatant incompetence of city hall," said Max,an Ottawa street artist who goes only by his first name and leaves his multimedia creations in public places.

But primarily, he said, thechalkers are trying to express their desire to claim public space.

Motion would protect hopscotch, street hockey

At least one councillor agrees with that sentiment and is taking a more formal approach.

Clive Doucet, the councillor for Capital Ward,is planning a motionthat would exempt sidewalk chalk from the city's anti-graffiti efforts and legalize road hockey. He hopes his motion will generate discussion at the May 23 city council meeting about who should be allowed to use city streets.

"For generations now, we've made them basically exclusive right of ways for cars," he said. "And I think now, finally … people are suddenly realizing: Maybe we should be thinking of our streets as public spaces for people as well as cars."

The ideahas gained support amid concernsabout climate change and the way peopleare living, said Doucet, who calledstreets"the biggest public asset the city owns" and said they formup to 35 per cent of Ottawa'spublic space.

Doucetsaid he expects opposition to his motion from city staff and council colleagues. He noted that the city is toughening its anti-graffiti program and a child was injured in 2006 while playing road hockey, a sport that is not allowed under provincial laws governing city streets.

Hopscotch erased after neighbour's complaint

Doucet said he crafted the motion afterhe heard about the demise of the massive multicoloured hopscotch game that children living on Third Avenuechalked around the entire block earlier in May.

Local resident Stephanie Small said the game drew people from all over the neighbourhood.

"A woman who lives in the highrise apartment, 90 years old, came out and started hopping and talked about doing hopscotch when she was a little girl in Toronto," she said.

Small's daughter, Daisy Bonsall, 7, was one of the children upset when city crews hosed away their work the next day, after a neighbour complained about the drawings.

"Well, we were really disappointed and we didn't really feel very good, because we were all very angry, kind of," she recalled Sunday.

Doucet said a neighbourhood resident stopped him on the street to tell him what happened.

"I couldn't believe it," he said, adding that other neighbours later stopped himto tell their own version of the story.

City officials have said they regret removing the sidewalk chalk.