A City of Canyons and Towers or a City of Neighbourhoods

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: People’s Official Plan coalition responds to the revised Official Plan: a ‘City of Canyons and Towers’ or a ‘City of Neighbourhoods’?

 

(OTTAWA) Friday, August 20, 2021 – The People’s Official Plan coalition – made up of over 20 Ottawa-area grassroots groups working on environmental and social issues – opposes the canyon and towers approach proposed in the City’s revised Official Plan. It is calling on City Councillors and residents to take a close look at the stark growth management choices in the new Official Plan, slated for Committee consideration on October 14. Despite the complex documentation involved, thousands of residents city-wide reviewed and expressed alarm with the earlier November 2020 draft.

The latest draft reinforces the city’s emphasis on a so-called ‘hubs and corridors’ approach, with policy direction to enhance density along transportation corridors and transit hubs. The City’s revised Official Plan continues to ignore opportunities to enhance neighbourhood-level ‘gentle density,’ which – if done well – could enhance walkability, accelerate progress on climate change and address social challenges such as affordability and access to local food.

The Peoples Official Plan coalition has consistently supported intensification, supporting more density rather than urban expansion and sprawl. But it has called for the kind of gentle intensification that benefits residents and enhances social cohesion and amenities. The coalition’s ‘City of Neighbourhoods’ approach favours compact, green, walkable, connected, healthy and inclusive communities – the kind of intensification residents could support. 

The coalition is calling for a ‘YIMBY (yes in my backyard)’ development process that involves neighbourhood residents themselves in planning the transitions to walkable 15-minute neighbourhoods.

Paul Johanis, of the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital says: “This is not a neighbourhood-centric approach, which preserves neighbourhood identity and fabric. It is an arterial-centric approach that cleaves neighbourhoods into a very dense built up part, totally out of character of the neighbourhood, and a remnant of the former neighbourhood.” In Johanis’ reading, the revised draft Official Plan drops density investment in neighbourhoods (except for the narrow strips that are immediately adjacent to hubs and corridors). He points to the maps in the newly published Schedule B-2 as a formula for a city of urban canyons and towers. “I think the alternative we have been promoting, a city of neighbourhoods, is more sustainable, will achieve required density less painfully and is less likely to lead to future urban sprawl.” 

“This is about what kind of a city we want to build. The Official Plan sets the direction of travel. We need goal posts where the growth management plan for our city explicitly and concretely targets the affordable housing/homelessness emergency and the climate and biodiversity crisis that we are facing”, says Angela Keller-Herzog Executive Director of Community Associations For Environmental Sustainability (CAFES).

“Density is one the most powerful climate tools in cities’ toolkits, so we need to see it deployed strategically and systematically in any new Official Plan adopted by the City of Ottawa,” said Robb Barnes, Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa. “Smart, context-sensitive neighbourhood-level intensification is a critical ingredient in more vibrant, climate-friendly neighbourhoods and the preservation of precious greenspace and farmland at our city’s edges. We’re urging councillors to be bold and understand that we can build a better city while tackling the climate crisis.” 

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This is the stark choice that the City of Ottawa is facing as it as rushes to pass its new Official Plan by the end of October. The City started out by talking a good game in putting forward the idea of organizing residential intensification around 15 minute neighbourhoods. But it never came clean in terms of exactly where and how much. In the schedules released with the draft Official Plan in November 2020, it showed that this intensification could happen anywhere from Bayshore to Beacon Hill, in densities some neighbourhoods perceived as inappropriate. The roll out was so badly managed that it scared off residents city-wide. 

The Peoples Official Plan has always supported intensification, in fact called for more of it to avoid any urban expansion, which is the only sane position to take in the face of the ever more pressing climate emergency. But it called for intensification that benefitted residents, bringing social cohesion and amenities to the neighbourhood level commensurate with equity considerations and forecasted population increases in order to create compact, green, walkable, connected, healthy and inclusive communities. A kind of gentle densification that could meet intensification targets while improving liveability – the kind of intensification residents could support. 

It is for this reason that that POP called for an increased focus on neighbourhood intensification, providing clarity on where and how much, and involving neighbourhood residents themselves in planning this transition to walkability. It also recognized the need to intensify at hubs, including a focus on affordable housing. Hubs are generally areas of major redevelopment, and are not now built up residential neighbourhoods. We support the draft OP proposal for them to be rebuilt as complete walkable communities, but this reconstruction is very different than intensification in existing neighbourhoods, and should be dealt with separately in the OP to provide clarity.

However, POP strongly opposed intensifying along corridors. The reason for this is that corridors provide long linear strips of intensification which cut off and isolate neighbourhoods, while continuing to serve their main purpose as fast pass throughs for motor vehicles. Development on corridors is car-centric, attracting car-centric shops that challenge viable models for small walkable shops.               

Instead, the revised draft Official Plan calls for intensification at hubs and corridors, and drops neighbourhoods completely (except for the narrow strips that are immediately adjacent to hubs and corridors). A quick look at the maps in the newly published Schedule B-2 confirms that this a formula for a city of urban canyons and towers.

Our vision is of urban villages, not urban canyons, and for communities built around neighbourhood identities and fabric, clustered around local amenities and gathering spaces, where there is room for trees and greenspace, with housing diversity and affordability for all. It’s possible, we have modeled it. It just needs foresight and leadership on the part of our City leaders to do the right thing, not cut and run and go for an easy fix like what they are proposing.

This is not a neighbourhood centric approach, which preserves neighbourhood identity and fabric. It is an arterial centric approach that cleaves neighbourhoods into a very dense built up part, totally out of character of the neighbourhood, and a remnant of the former neighbourhood. 

The People's Official Plan (POP) is an informal alliance focused on bringing greater urgency and ambition on climate and social justice issues to the development of Ottawa's Official Plan. It includes individuals from over 20 leading groups and organizations across Ottawa. For more information visit: www.OttawaClimateSolutions.net

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